With the capture of Cherbourg being the main objective of the American forces following Operation Overlord, the 82nd Airborne were responsible for destroying bridges along the Merderet river in order to delay German reinforcements on their way to the port city or beachhead.
However, in order to complete their own objectives they needed to keep a small number of bridges in tact. Two bridges were spared at Valognes and Ramelle. Due to scattered paratrooper droppings and the general disorganization following D-Day, a mixed unit group of Paratroopers led by Captain Jennings were assigned to move on Ramelle and hold the bridge until mainland forces could secure it.
The Germans shelled the small village, possibly to soften the area for their own capture and hold scenario. The bombings killed Captain Jennings and probably others, leaving Corporal Henderson in charge. It's undetermined how long this mixed unit held the bridge, but it's hinted that they already repelled a small advance, most than likely following the shelling. The paratroopers were clearly not equipped for a lengthy operation.
Captain Miller and his men accidentally run into a 2nd SS unit in a half-track a few miles outside of Ramelle. Miller's men are confused when the half-track is destroyed, until members of the 101st Airborne Division come out of cover. Corporal Henderson relays to Miller that the half-track was a recon unit of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, aware that a German move on the village is inevitable.
Miller seems to be more interested in one of the paratroopers; Private Ryan.
Henderson leads them back to Ramelle where Miller tells Ryan that his brothers have been K.I.A. and that he's going home. Distraught, Ryan refuses to leave the bridge until reinforcements arrive. Putting Miller into a tricky situation and potentially exposing his hypocrisy about the main objective being "to win the war." Miller decides to stay and takes command of the unit until either reinforcements arrive or the Germans attempt to push through to the beachhead.
Given the limited manpower and resources available, Miller chooses to use a traditional kill-zone tactic. He hoped to funnel the enemy onto the Main Street, where crossfire from machine gun positions will shave away troop support to leave enemy armor exposed. He devised the use of makeshift "sticky bombs", Composition B filled socks covered in axle grease to render the tracks of the tanks useless upon detonation, leaving the tank immobile against an infantry attack. The disabled armor, however many, would clog the street, creating a roadblock.
Because of Ramelle's limited infrastructure on the contested side of the bridge , funneling the enemy onto the main street seemed like the only option. It's likely that Miller placed a team of paratroopers on the east side of the main street to put fire on any enemy soldiers who moved away from the kill-zone.
Miller placed Private Jackson in a bell tower on the main street that overlooks much of the contested area, giving Miller eyes on enemy movement as well as sniper cover, along with Private Parker on a 30 calibre machine gun.
Corporal Henderson and Private Mellish are given machine gun duty with the expectation that they'll need to displace to where the enemy is most saturated at any time, while Corporal Upham will follow with ammunition. Privare Reiben would act as bait on the Rabbit vehicle to get the Germans to go down the Main Street. After initial moves, the remaining troops will act as rovers, moving freely through the street or buildings, adapting as the battle unfolds.
If the Germans push the Americans back far enough, the remaining troops will retreat to the "Alamo" on the other side of the bridge and destroy it using planted explosives.
The calm before the storm
The American soldiers lounge waiting for a German counterattack or American reinforcements, with the former being the most likely. Mellish, Reiben and Sergeant Horvath sit and listen to a song by Edith Piaf, while Corporal Upham translates the song as they wait. Private Jackson monitors to see if any Germans approach in the bell tower with Parker while Miller attempts to salvage coffee from a coffee machine in a damage building.
He soon goes back outside only for Private Ryan to ask him what the song is about. Miller explains it is about a past lover whom Edith can't seem to forget. Ryan soon confesses how he can't remember his brother's faces. Miller explains to him to think of a context, something related to them, which Miller gives an example of his wife cutting a Rose bush.
Ryan soon discusses life back home and how one night his brothers woke him up to show him his eldest brother, Daniel Ryan, with a girl called Alice Jardine and how Sean shouts "Danny, you're a young man don't do it!". It soon results in Daniel trying to harm Sean only to end up setting the barn alight. Ryan soon calms down from laughing and asks Miller to tell him a story about back home, only for Miller to refuse.
The unmistakable sound of heavy armor is soon heard in the distance springing them to their stations. Jackson relays to Miller what movement he can see: "Tiger tanks; 2 of 'em. Panzer tanks; 2 of 'em. Infantry; 50 plus change." Miller appears to be calmly overwhelmed before giving the order for his men to spring into action. Private Reiben goes out to meet the Germans, using a SdKfz 2 Kettenkrad to bait them into town.
Last minute preparations are made as men move into position and explosives are armed. Reiben's BAR fire can be heard in the distance and soon the Kettekrad turns back onto the main road. He's dropped off beside the foxhole in the street where Miller and others are holed up.
The sound of the incoming armor echos through the hollow streets and buildings of the village. German soldiers finally appear at the end of the main street and pause. After a few moments they move forward, past the main street, a tank destroyer with troop formation following closely also move past. A half-track with more soldiers moves past. The plan has already failed. Miller looks up to the bell tower, Jackson relays that enemy troops are also moving to the west side of the village, seemingly avoiding the main drag. A tiger tank then appears, cruising on its way east but then stops abruptly. Germans can be heard communicating and after a pause the tiger turns onto the main street and begins heading towards Miller and his men. No one moves as they wait for the opportune time to ambush.
Private Toynbe is waiting anxiously and decides to detonate mines planted near the end of the street. They explode behind the tiger tank but right in the middle of roughly 20 German soldiers following. Henderson on the street and Parker in the bell tower use crossfire with their .30 caliber machine guns to pounce on any surprised German soldiers sprinting for cover, leaving the Tiger Tank exposed. An overly eager paratrooper charges the tank from cover attempting to plant a sticky bomb, but the fuse is too short and he explodes just before planting it, infuriating Miller. The lingering tank destroyer with light troop support then enters the main street in an attempt to save the tiger tank.
Jackson urgently signals to Miller that there is "30 infantry on right flank". Miller screams the same message to Henderson and Mellish as they need to run over and add suppressing fire. The Tiger Tank then turns its turret on Henderson's position and fires into the rubble just as they displace, simultaneously leaving Miller's immediate right flank exposed. They move a few houses down across the street, into the upstairs of a cafe where a hole in the wall gives them a line of site on the first tank destroyer and dozens of soldiers moving uncontested. More urgent is that there is a squad of Germans right outside the hole. They quickly engage them and put much needed fire on the troops on the east side. Up ham arrives bringing much needed ammunition but quickly leaves to get more.
The Tiger Tank makes the mistake of trying to punch through the American line. Paratroopers successfully plant their sticky bombs on the tracks and everyone covers up as best they can. The sticky bombs work, and the tank comes to a halt. With most of the enemy troop support on every street except the main one, the tank destroyer coming in to help the tiger tank is left exposed. Two paratroopers hiding out in a building near the entrance throw molotov cocktails into the open portion of the armor, setting the crew a blaze. The same paratroopers then join Miller and his men as they come out of cover to take total control of the street and disable the tiger tank. The street is calm as gun fire can be heard coming from other parts of the village. Miller orders Ryan to stay in the foxhole as they ambush the tank, but the tiger tank looking to defend itself turns it turret towards Ryan, or possibly the building right in front of him and fires just as Reiben grabs Ryan and pulls him away. Miller empties his magazine into the drivers optic and rushes towards Ryan frantically.
Miller finds Reiben and Ryan unharmed. The paratroopers jump the tank and dump grenades into the open hatch disabling it for good. Immediately a unit of Germans from the east side move on the open right flank with a 20mm anti aircraft gun. The only paratrooper facing the east is Toynbe, he alerts the others to disperse, but the 20mm completely obliterates the paratroopers except Toynbe, dealing a devastating amount of casualties to an already short handed group. Jackson attempts to fire at the 20mm crew directly below him but can't from his position. To see if the Germans are funneling towards Miller, Jackson moves to an east window, and finds that the half-track and soldiers are charging south, towards the bridge. Miller, Reiben and Ryan put fire on the 20mm crew but it only draws the crews attention, and they're forced to fall back a few houses down the street. German soldiers overtake the street and begin to put fire on Miller and the retreating men, killing a couple in the process. Upham gets caught in the crossfire attempting to grab more ammo for Henderson and Mellish, forcing him to take cover with Miller.
Jackson and Parker turn all of their attention to the east side of town in an attempt to stop the German advance but only draw the ire of the first tank destroyer. Jackson picks off one of the crew members and begins to pick off enemy troops. The tank destroyer, not out of action, destroys the bell tower, crippling Miller's ability to effectively defend.
Henderson and Mellish continue to fight on in the cafe, but are being heavily suppressed as they've run out of ammo for their machine gun. Resorting to small arms fire and throwing back enemy grenades, they desperately hold on, calling for Upham. Upham is still in a foxhole with Miller, Reiben and Ryan who are exchanging fire with the Germans up the street, but are being suppressed by the 20mm. Reiben decides he's going to try to single handily flank the 20mm crew. He moves across the street behind the cafe but has to slip between rumble and debris as the tank destroyer fresh off of destroying the bell tower tries to flank Miller.
Henderson and Mellish run out of 30. Calibre, having nothing but their their own rifles to return fire with. Upham finally sprints across the street but hides behind the cafe wall as German soldiers file down the debris into the cafe patio. Henderson and Mellish are still hopelessly exchanging fire with Germans outside when they hear someone coming up the stairs. Mellish yells "Upham?" twice before Henderson fires a burst through the wall, a body falls, and blood leaks into the room. There's a tense moment of silence and confusion but it is broken as a German soldier returns fire through the wall striking Henderson in the throat, the same soldier attempts to blind fire at Mellish around the door. He charges in but Mellish kills him with his last round and is forced to fight the third German soldier hand-to-hand. After wrestling each other to the ground, they both fight relentlessly, neither one staying on top of the other for long. Mellish calls for Reiben to assist but is focussed on flanking the 20mm. Mellish bites the German's hand and beats him. Seizing the moment, he pulls his bayonet but the soldier catches his hand and takes the knife from him. The German soldier then stabs Mellish through the chest despite his pleas, killing him. The soldier leaves to find Upham cowering and weeping on the staircase. Upham is unable to will himself to kill the soldier. The German leaves him be, an emotional wreck, and returns to the fighting.
Sergeant Horvath, who may had gone to retrieve a bazooka, appears from behind a wall and destroys the tank destroyer. The infantry men notice him and open fire, one U.S. A direct line of fire but their rifle jams, the two throwing their helmets and drawing their sidearms. Horvath is quicker but the German lands a bullet in the sergeant's thigh as he falls. Horvath curses the Nazi as he falls behind a wall to check on his wound. Reiben finds high ground in a building and eliminates the 20mm crew. Miller and Ryan run out of ammunition so they begin to toss mortar rounds by hand at German soldiers on the main street and on their right flank, at anything that moves. The final Tiger I, commanded by Major Hoess enters the main street but the destroyed armor do their job and create a blockade. He instructs his crew and soldiers on the ground to flank west. They force Miller, Ryan and Toynbe out of the foxhole and to head for the bridge.
The Americans are in full retreat. Miller and his men on the main and a few paratroopers from the east with the half-track and troop support giving chase. Horvath futilely shoots the Tiger I with an M1A1 Bazooka to help slow the advance. Miller and Ryan sprint to the Alamo to prepare the bridge for detonation. Upham is left by Horvath on the other side of the bridge where he clings to a foxhole while Germans swarm around him, but don't see him. The remaining paratroopers outside of Private Rice are mowed down as they attempt to retreat to the alamo. Horvath is also mortally wounded while retreating. Even Toynbe is struck down. remaining American soldiers, Miller, Ryan, Rice and Reiben continue to fire at the advancing Germans. Miller's hand is scrapped by a stray bullet and his face is cut open. Hoess' Tiger crosses onto the bridge and fires at the building directly beside Miller sending him crumbling to the ground as he moved the detonator to the other side. Another soldier fails to out run Germans and is beaten to death.
Upham notices one of the German soldiers in front of him is Steamboat Willie, the German soldiers fire relentlessly at the Americans across the river. Miller in a dazed stage from the blast stumbles towards the detonator a few feet on the bridge. Steamboat Willie fatally shoots him. Mortally wounded, Miller takes out his sidearm and begins to defiantly shoot at Hoess' Tiger tank crossing the bridge.
The tank suddenly explodes as an American P-51 flies by. Several more bombs drop on the town from other P-51s. The Germans begin to retreat but Upham stops the squad in front of him and kills Steamboat Willie, letting th others flee. Reiben attempts to dress Miller's wound as American reinforcements arrive. Ryan informs Miller of the name of the fighters that flew overhead. Realising Miller needs a medic, he leaves to find one. Miller tells Ryan to "Earn this.", breathing his last. The medic arrives too late, unable to do anything.
The three survivors of the battle look on at Captain Miller's corpse, the battle won at a great cost.
The Battle was won by the Americans, but at a high cost. At least 12 men were killed, and 3 men were injured. Among the dead was Captain John H. Miller, who commanded the combined Airborne and Ranger forces at Ramelle. The bridge was kept from the Germans, and Ramelle came under American occupation after the battle.
- Just like the beginning of the film, approximately 103 deaths are visible in the final battle at The Alamo hideout. For a list of the entire bodycount, see the bodycount here.
- Although the German force depicted is the 2nd SS Panzer Division, the 2nd SS Panzer Division didn't reach Normandy until the end of June having been stationed in Southern France on D-Day.