Merderet River

The Merderet River flows from a point two miles southwest of Valognes in a southeasterly direction. Four and a half miles south of Montebourg the Merderet changes direction sharply and continues to the south where it meets with the Douve River one mile northeast of Beuzeville La Bastille.

The primary mission of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day was to secure or destroy certain bridges that crossed the Douve and Merderet rivers, which both ran behind Utah Beach. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd was tasked with capturing the bridges at La Fiere and Chef-du-Pont, both of which crossed the Merderet. The 82nd's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment was to destroy bridges crossing the Douve at Beuzeville La Bastille.

Although the 82nd Division paratroopers were supposed to land in three groups to the east and west of the Merderet River, various problems resulted in the men being scattered over a wide area. Portions of land surrounding the Merderet river valley had been flooded by the Germans to hinder airborne operations, and many paratroopers drowned under the weight of their equipment when they landed in these flooded areas in the dark of night. Much as other units had suffered from disorganization and dislocation, the paratroopers of the 82nd dealt with their problems and proceeded to accomplish their missions to the best of their abilities.

On June 13th, 1944 a group of 101st Airborne Division paratroopers were ordered to hold a bridge that crossed the Merderet River at the village of Ramelle. The only other intact bridge spanning the Merderet was at Valognes, the other bridges having been destroyed by air attacks and by paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. Together with a group of Rangers led by Captain Miller, the paratroopers were able to hold on long enough for Allied reinforcements to arrive and drive off a German attack that had been meant to take control of Ramelle's valuable bridge.


The river seen in the film is a man-made construction that was only three feet deep. Although this "river" divided a set that represented both Ramelle and Neuville, the river cannot be seen during the action that takes place in Neuville.

Facts vs. Fiction

Although the Merderet River is real, the village of Ramelle has no counterpart and is entirely fictional. Due to the concentration of 82nd Airborne soldiers in the area, it is odd that Ramelle ends up being defended by 101st Airborne paratroopers, who were generally concentrated to the southeast of the Merderet River. It is possible that the 101st was used since the character that Private Ryan is based on, Sergeant Fritz Niland, was a member of the 101st in World War II.