During this 61st anniversary of Operation Overlord I have posted an account from my Uncles memoirs about his action during “D-Day”. This was done as a written record for his family back in the early 1960’s. Fortunately my Uncle did survive and went on to fight in all the campaigns that the 1st ID went through. Please enjoy.
My Uncle was a graduate of West Point and arrived in England as a 1st lieutenant in April of 1944. He was quickly assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry Regiment. Because he was newly arrived and spoke German he was assigned to the Headquarters Company. The 16th Infantry Regiment was assigned Easy Red and Fox Green as their beach head during Operation Overlord. The Headquarters Company was to disembark from a British Troop ship and assigned to landing craft in the first assault wave to land at Easy Red at D+35minutes. Things happened differently on June 6…
These are excerpts from his memoirs about that landing….
We spent several days on board the ships in the harbor waiting for the command to start the operation. The weather was bad, causing the operation to be postponed a day or two from the earlier scheduled landing. There was only a period of five or six days in any month when the landing could take place because of the tides and the time of high tide.
The landing was scheduled to take place at 06:30 hours called H hour. Finally on June 5th we got the word that the landing would take place the next day, we moved out of the harbor. The morning of the landing we were awakened at 0300 after not having slept much and were fed breakfast. We then got our gear on and went up on deck.
We climbed down the side of the ship on rope ladders to the small 34 person English landing craft. From there the landing craft took us out to a rendezvous area to meet the other landing craft and continued to circle until the time came to go in. We could hear the bombers flying over and see the battleships and cruisers firing their big guns on the fortifications along the coast. Finally when we left the circling to go to the beach we could see craft loaded with rockets that would blast off about six or eight at a time. It was an awesome sight and sound. Unfortunately the rockets missed their targets in our sector and hit inland and not on the fortifications. The bombing on our beach, Omaha, was not effective but on Utah Beach it was.
Because of the storm, the water was very rough and our little 34 person boat that had a ramp in the front to drop down when we got close to shore, was tossed around in waves that were six to ten feet high. I remember getting very seasick and tossing up in a plastic bag someone gave me. Someone also gave me some Dramamine tables and said they were good to help prevent seasickness. Not having been told any dosage, I took three of them. As we approached the beach, we could hear the German machine guns and artillery firing from the emplacements and fortifications. Of course we saw small craft that had been hit as well as rubber landing craft strewn around.
Finally we hit the beach and our front ramp dropped down so we could run off into a few feet of water among the “hedgehogs” that were steel girders welded together to make a multi-faced X that the Germans had placed in the water to tip over any landing craft that came in at high tide. The first few people off the craft were cut down by German machine gun fire. I was in about the third or fourth group off. I could see machine gun fire rippling the water all around and an occasional artillery or mortar burst. I scooted off to the right diagonal as I went toward the shore. Ahead of me there was a row of hedgehogs in about two to three feet of water. Beyond that the water became a little deeper before it got to the beach above the waterline. I stopped by the left side of a hedgehog because machine gun fire was heavy about five to ten yards ahead in the deeper water. On the right side of the hedgehog were two soldiers – a sergeant and a private. After about five minutes of waiting for the machine fire to lift, I looked to the high ground to my right diagonal to find the source of the machine gun fire. I noticed a ripple of water in a straight line from the right diagonal come up to where we were and then the two men on my right floated away with the tide. They had been hit and killed by that machine gun burst. I decided that that spot wasn’t too healthy and moved on to the deeper water since the machine gun firing had ceased there. While going into the beach, I did not recognize any of the fortifications or high ground that I had memorized from the maps and photos of where we were to land. The reason soon became clear when I looked at the division patches on the men lying around me on the beach. The Navy had landed us on the wrong beach. We were thousands of yards to the right of where we should have landed. It was in the adjacent division area.
For a while we had to dig in or lay on the beach because of the enemy fire. The beach was fairly steep for about 20 to 30 yards and at the top there was a little berm that afforded us a little protection. While laying there I noticed the soldier near me was lying on his back and his whole leg was split open to the bone. He was in shock but there was nothing I could do except keep pulling him up as the water rose. Nearby was a half of a body, the bottom half having been blown away. After being there about an hour, an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) came in. It was a fairly good sized landing craft that drops anchor and goes up to the shore then drops a landing ladder on either side of the bow to let the infantry men down. It could not get in far enough, unfortunately, and the first seven or ten men off on either side went into water over their heads. Many drowned because the assault landing jackets had been put on under their assault life tube and the couldn’t release the jacket buckles to drop the 40 to 50 pound loads. We tried to throw a rope to some but I am certain that at least 10 drowned. Finally the skipper saw what was happening and they pulled up the ramps and backed out.
With Captain Moorehouse having been killed, I was the only officer left from my landing craft. I assembled all the men who made it to the wrong beach from my landing craft. After locating all we thought had survived, probably about ten to twelve, I told them to follow me and we started down the beach to our left to get back to where we should have landed and rejoin our battalion. I didn’t know for certain how far that was but knew it was a fair distance. We crawled at first and crouched and ran at times. Every once in a while enemy fire made us stop and lie in the sand. One time after stopping, I felt someone shaking my leg. The Dramamine had finally kicked in and I had fallen asleep on the beach with enemy machine gun firing going over my head. I finally woke up when a soldier behind me shook my leg. I soon realized what had happened and continued on…I suspect the men behind me who didn’t know anything about me having taken three Dramamine pills thought I was a pretty cool customer under enemy fire if I could take a nap under those conditions.
While going down the beach leading these men we came across everything imaginable in the way of dead and wounded, plus blown up tanks, halftracks, and equipment. Before we started down the beach, I remember one anti aircraft half track coming in next to us. The Captain in charge was pointing out an emplacement for them to fire on. They got off a few rounds and suddenly part of the half track disappeared in an explosion and fire. A German shell had hit it broadside and destroyed it, killing all inside.
While going down the beach to get back to our outfit, I ran across Lt. Colonel Bennet. I had met him before in the D10 concentration area and he commanded a battalion of tanks attached to our regiment. Lt Colonel Benner was tall and quite bowlegged. We recognized each other as we ducked some German fire. He was trying to round up the few tanks that had made it. He later became Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy.
We finally made it to our original landing area probably around noon time. By then our rifle companies in the 3rd Battalion had taken some of the high ground just above the beach and we set up the Battalion Command Post with the men I had with me. It was set up inland up a draw from where we were to land. It was on the left of the draw and in about 200 to 300 yards.
The next day we moved inland without too much opposition. I was in charge of one rifle company for a day or two until a replacement Captain came in. The maps we had and the intelligence were quite good. I remember looking at my map and seeing markings on the map for what was supposed to be buried cable that the Germans used for communications from their fortified emplacements to their command bunkers located inland. I located the spot shown on the map, had a man dig there and, sure enough, we located the cable which we then cut……