Peleliu: US Marines attack towards Bloody Nose Ridge

September 1944 – Shot of the Marines going across the beach and airport on the initial landing.
September 1944 – Shot of the Marines going across the beach and airport on the initial landing.

It was already apparent that the landings on Peleliu were not going to be over within the four days originally anticipated. Despite the blasting that the entire island had received prior to the landings on the 15th most of the Japanese defenders had survived in their bunkers.

Eugene B. Sledge, with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines 1st Marine Division, was keeping notes of his experiences in his New Testament Bible. He was later to develop it into one of the classic memoirs of the war. After being selected for officer training he and many others had deliberately ‘flunked out’ so that they didn’t ‘miss the war’. So it was that he found himself as a Private in the middle of one of the bloodiest operations in the Pacific.

After a sleepless night under shellfire they were all desperately thirsty, but men fell ill after drinking from a well. When water reached them in old oil drums it proved contaminated with rust and oil. That day it would reach 105 in the shade and, as Sledge points out, they were not in the shade. Their job was to attack across the airfield:

“Let’s go,” shouted an officer who waved toward the airfield. We moved at a walk, then a trot, in widely dispersed waves. Four infantry battalions — from left to right 2/1, 1/5, 2/5, and 3/5 (this put us on the edge of the airfield) – moved across the open, fire-swept airfield.

My only concern then was my duty and survival, not panoramic combat scenes. But I often wondered later what that attack looked like to aerial observers and to those not immersed in the firestorm. All I was aware of were the small area immediately around me and the deafening noise.

Bloody Nose Ridge dominated the entire airfield. The Japanese had concentrated their heavy weapons on high ground; these were directed from observation posts at elevations as high as three hundred feet, from which they could look down on us as we advanced. I could see men moving ahead of my squad, but I didn’t know whether our battalion, 3/5, was moving across behind 2/5 and then wheeling to the right. There were also men about twenty yards to our rear.

We moved rapidly in the open, amid craters and coral rubble, through ever-increasing enemy fire. I saw men to my right and left running bent as low as possible. The shells screeched and whistled, exploding all around us.

In many respects it was more terrifying than the landing, because there were no vehicles to carry us along, not even the thin steel sides of an amtrac for protection. We were exposed, running on our own power through a veritable shower of deadly metal and the constant crash of explosions.

For me the attack resembled World War I movies, I had seen of suicidal Allied infantry attacks through shell fire on the Westem Front. I clenched my teeth, squeezed my carbine stock, and recited over and over to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me…”

The sun bore down unmercifully, and the heat was exhausting. Smoke and dust from the barrage limited my vision. The ground seemed to sway back and forth under the concussions. I felt as though I were floating along in the vortex of some unreal thunderstorm. Japanese bullets snapped and cracked, and tracers went by me on both sides at waist height. This deadly small-arms fire seemed almost insignificant amid the erupting shells.

Explosions and the hum and the growl of shell fragments shredded the air. Chunks of blasted coral stung my face and hands while steel fragments spattered down on the hard rock like hail on a city street. Everywhere shells flashed like giant firecrackers.

Through the haze I saw Marines stumble and pitch forward as they got hit. I then looked neither right nor left but just straight to my front. The farther we went, the worse it got. The noise and concussion pressed in on my ears like a vise. I gritted my teeth and braced myself in anticipation of the shock of being struck down at any moment.

It seemed impossible that any of us could make it across. We passed several craters that offered shelter, but I remembered the order to keep moving. Because of the superb discipline and excellent esprit of the Marines, it had never occurred to us that the attack might fail.

How far we had come in the open I never knew, but it must have been several hundred yards. Everyone was visibly shaken by the thunderous barrage we had just come through. When I looked into the eyes of those fine Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester veterans, some of America’s best, I no longer felt ashamed of my trembling hands and almost laughed at myself with relief.

To be shelled by massed artillery and mortars is absolutely terrifying, but to be shelled in the open is terror compounded beyond the belief of anyone who hasn’t experienced it. The attack across Peleliu’s airfield was the worst combat experience I had during the entire war. It surpassed, by the intensity of the blast and shock of the bursting shells, all the subsequent horrifying ordeals on Peleliu and Okinawa.

See E. B. Sledge: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

A wounded Marine, while he waits for the stretcher bearers to come for him, is given a drink of water from the canteen of a buddy while the Marines fight the enemy in rough country on Peleliu Island.
A wounded Marine, while he waits for the stretcher bearers to come for him, is given a drink of water from the canteen of a buddy while the Marines fight the enemy in rough country on Peleliu Island.

See also Peleliu 1944 a website developed by William Eagar in tribute to his Uncle, PFC JOE SOUTH, which contains not only personal memories but a selection of original battle reports as well as artwork and other material.

"2000 YARD STARE" "
“2000 YARD STARE”
“Down from Bloody Ridge Too Late. He’s Finished – Washed Up – Gone”
“As we passed sick bay, still in the shell hole, it was crowded with wounded, and somehow hushed in the evening light. I noticed a tattered Marine standing quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down by the beach again, we walked silently as we passed the long line of dead Marines under the tarpaulins.

One of the original Tom Lea pictures that Life magazine commissioned that reflects the reality of Peleliu, as featured on Peleliu 1944.

The US Marines hit the beach at Peleliu

PELELIU PRELUDE – A massive wall rises from the water of Peleliu as 8.000 lbs. of tetrytol explode to mark the successful conclusion of a UDT mission and the prelude to assault.  The following day our forces swept ashore through the channels cleared by the underwater demolition men and opened the grim battle for the Palaus.
PELELIU PRELUDE – A massive wall rises from the water of Peleliu as 8.000 lbs. of tetrytol explode to mark the successful conclusion of a UDT mission and the prelude to assault. The following day our forces swept ashore through the channels cleared by the underwater demolition men and opened the grim battle for the Palaus.
The first wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches, passing through the inshore bombardment line of LCI gunboats. Cruisers and battleships are bombarding from the distance. The landing area is almost totally hidden in dust and smoke. Photographed from a USS Honolulu (CL-48) plane. Date	September 15, 1944.
The first wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches, passing through the inshore bombardment line of LCI gunboats. Cruisers and battleships are bombarding from the distance. The landing area is almost totally hidden in dust and smoke. Photographed from a USS Honolulu (CL-48) plane.
Date September 15, 1944.

The steady progress of the US forces across the Pacific towards Japan continued. One more island needed to be taken to protect the flank of attacks on the Philippines. The Palau islands would also provide another airfield in the region.

The 11,000 Japanese troops on Peleliu had been busy. Japanese military strategists now favoured developing a defence in depth as they realised they would now be on the defensive. A network of concealed bunkers had been built across the island. Overlooking the beaches a series of bunkers protected with steel shutters hid 20mm guns.

The three day preliminary bombardment by US Navy ships offshore and aircraft hit the 6 square mile island with 519 rounds of 16 inch (410 mm) shells, 1,845 rounds of 14 inch (360 mm) shells, and 1,793 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. The US Navy believed they had run out of targets. On 15th September the 1st Marine Division went in for what was expected to be a four day operation.

Russell Davis was a Marine in the third wave of Amtrac assault tractors, he describes the run into the beach :

We went quickly into line, backing and plunging a bit in the surf like race horses in the starting gate. The control oflicers in the picket boats sighted along the line and then waved us ahead. We took off into the wake of the second Wave, but it was hard to see them when they were in the troughs of the swells.

Everyone was up and yelling but Buck and the squad leader. They crouched low; both of them were young but their faces looked old with determination and fear. When We hit the beach they would have the job to do, and we would do whatever they told us to do.

It was almost a glorious feeling, roaring in toward he beach with fear gone for the moment. We were in motion with thousands of tons of armed might at our backs; and it seemed that nothing could stop us. We were an old and tried outfit, led by men like Buck and the squad leader, who would know what to do when the time came to do it. As we rolled in on Peleliu, and before we were hit, the excitement took us and we were not afraid of anything. Some men began to chant: “Drive! Drivel!Drive!”

I saw the amphibious tractor in front of us go up in a shellburst. For a moment I didn’t realize what I had seen. Somebody said: “Hey, I think they hit him,” in a complaining tone, as though it were against the rules to do that.

The amtrac flamed, spread gas on the water, and wallowed in a puddle of fire. Men spilled from it. The driver of our tractor screamed so loud we heard him above everything. He had seen the hit and he was very frightened.

Wingy also screamed, begging for an order to open fire with the machine gun. The squad leader bellowed at him: “You crazy kid, there’s nothing in front of you but our own guys. If you fire one burst I’ll chop you down.”

The first shell came in and hit in our wake. It sprayed water all over the men in the rear and slewed the back of the amtrac around. The driver fought it straight and we went on. But now we were all trying to cram ourselves back down inside the steel sides. And there was less space, for some reason. Quiet fear shrinks men; wild fear expands them.

Small-arms fire racketed along our side. A man’s shoulder showed a putt and then a dark stain, and he clasped it with his other hand and swore briefly. Buck said: “Machine guns. How can they reach us out here?”

Buck and the squad leader had jumped up when the return fire began. They were the best kind of old men, who never left an inch of themselves exposed when there was nothing to be done. But when there was trouble they were up.

The squad leader stumbled over heads and fell toward Wingy. “What’s going on, kid? Are they reaching us?” Wingy turned his thin face, and it was all big eyes. The rest of his features had retreated. “They’re hitting them all,” he said. Again he complained, as though it were against the rules. “What will we do?”

“Fire at that near point,” the squad leader ordered. “Keep high.” Wingy fumbled with the belt and slide, trying to full-load. But he didn’t fire. He stood up straight and then fell over among the men. And he seemed to vanish. I don’t remember seeing Wingy again, but he must have still been in the amtrac. People and things dropped suddenly out of sight in action. Or at least the memory of them did. The squad leader and Buck began to feed and fire the machine gun.

Fire chopped and roiled the sea around us, and water sloshed in over the gunwales and steamed on the hot metal. Some men were crouched down but others pressed their faces in against the steel sides. We were bumping on something underneath. Buck and the squad leader fired on. The radioman started a gobbling call into his set, even though he couldn’t have been getting through to anyone.

The tracks bumped on, hitting high places in the sand underneath the water. The tracks would hit, grind, spin, and then kick into free water throwing high geysers as the whole amtrac shot forward.

“I can’t get any farther in,” the driver yelled. “Get out of here, before we get hung up.”

“Get in,” Buck yelled. “Get on in farther, or I’ll blow you into the water.”

See Russell Davis: Marine at War

As a rocket-firing LCI lays down a barrage on the already obscured beach on Peleliu, a wave of Alligators (LVTs, or Landing Vehicle Tracked) churn toward the defenses of the strategic island September 15, 1944. The amphibious tanks with turret-housed cannons went in in after heavy air and sea bombardment. Army and Marine assault units stormed ashore on Peleliu on September 15, and it was announced that organized resistance was almost entirely ended on September 27. (AP Photo)
As a rocket-firing LCI lays down a barrage on the already obscured beach on Peleliu, a wave of Alligators (LVTs, or Landing Vehicle Tracked) churn toward the defenses of the strategic island September 15, 1944. The amphibious tanks with turret-housed cannons went in in after heavy air and sea bombardment. Army and Marine assault units stormed ashore on Peleliu on September 15, and it was announced that organized resistance was almost entirely ended on September 27. (AP Photo)

No 4 Commando finally rest out of the line

Troops, including men from No 4 Commando, returning from shore in landing craft after raiding the Lofoten islands, Norway, 4 March 1941.
Troops, including men from No 4 Commando, returning from shore in landing craft after raiding the Lofoten islands, Norway, 4 March 1941.
Men of No. 4 Commando after returning from a raid on the French coast near Boulogne, 22 April 1942.
Men of No. 4 Commando after returning from a raid on the French coast near Boulogne, 22 April 1942.
A German prisoner, Unteroffizier Leo Marsiniak, being escorted at Newhaven. He was captured at the gun battery at Varengeville by No. 4 Commando. The Dieppe Raid, 19 August 1942
A German prisoner, Unteroffizier Leo Marsiniak, being escorted at Newhaven. He was captured at the gun battery at Varengeville by No. 4 Commando. The Dieppe Raid, 19 August 1942
Sherman DD tanks of 'B' Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars support commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, as they advance into Ouistreham, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
Sherman DD tanks of ‘B’ Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars support commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, as they advance into Ouistreham, Sword area, 6 June 1944.

It had ben a long war for some of the men of No 4 Commando, formed in 1940, when the notion of specialist assault troops had been a novelty in Britain. Since the spring of 1944 they had included two troops of French soldiers who had volunteered for the Commandos. The Commando had been a relatively experienced unit when they landed at Sword beach on D-Day and they had been in action continuously ever since.

Now the war was outrunning them and Lieutenant Murdoch C. McDougall had time to take in the sights of the liberation of France before they paused to rest:

It was by now fairly obvious to us all that the war was moving much too fast for us to keep up with it for long. Next day we marched in brilliant sunshine through the town of Beuzeville, where the people crowded out into the streets, cheering and waving, and thrusting bottles into the ready hands of the marching men.

Most of these folk were genuinely delighted to see us, particularly the older generation, many of whom stood, with tears of joy coursing down furrowed cheeks, saluting as we passed. They were saluting not us as men, but the return of their self-respect.

In a side-street a slatternly-looking young woman was screaming and struggling as a group of men with tricolour armbands sheared and shaved the hair off her head. Two or three other young women, already shorn, stood weeping by the roadside, as they helped one another to wrap a scarf or a kerchief around their baldness. They looked repulsively sexless with their white domes above the heightened colour of their faces.

The original version of the famous image by Robert Capa, "Collaborationist is Scorned by the People, Chartres, France", August 18 ,1944 © ICP / Magnum Fotos / Agentur Focus Courtesy: Galerie Daniel Blau Munich/London
The original version of the famous image by Robert Capa, “Collaborationist is Scorned by the People, Chartres, France”, August 18 ,1944 © ICP / Magnum Fotos / Agentur Focus Courtesy: Galerie Daniel Blau Munich/London

About three miles beyond the town we marched along dusty lanes, the hedges of which were already full of ripe hazel-nuts. On either side were orchards in which rosy apples hung heavy on the trees. Here we halted. Each troop was given an area, an orchard with a barn filled with sweet-smelling straw. It was just like heaven. The date was 26 August.

For the first three days we slept for about fifteen hours of the twenty-four. Most of the waking hours were spent lying in the sun, stretching out a lazy hand for another apple, soaking in the warmth of the sun which shone steadily down from a cloudless sky.

Up to the time we reached this haven, we had been in action continuously over a period of eighty-two days and eighty-two long nights, in which time we had not once been relieved. Our casualties in this stretch were more than one hundred per cent of our original strength, for as fast as replacements had arrived, they were hit. In “F” troop we still had about nine of the original sixty-three.

As we lay basking in the sunshine in our Elysian orchards, the war for us was very remote, but for the French troops it was as real as ever. Most of them were frantic for news of their homes and families, which were being liberated daily, as the tide of battle swept past them. The news of the liberation of Paris sent a surge of joy through them all. Several of them obtained leave to go there and find their relations.

See Murdoch C. McDougall: Swiftly They Struck: The Story of Number Four Commando. One of the French officers reached Paris to see his family for the first time in three and a half years, only to discover that his brother had recently been killed fighting for the FFI.

A Humber scout car crew watch for the enemy in Cormeilles as a Churchill tank burns in the town square, 26 August 1944
A Humber scout car crew watch for the enemy in Cormeilles as a Churchill tank burns in the town square, 26 August 1944

Marines fight off Japanese ‘Banzai’ charge on Guam

Marines dig in after hitting the beach. Taking cover from Jap snipers until they can eliminate them.
Marines dig in after hitting the beach. Taking cover from Jap snipers until they can eliminate them.

On Guam the Japanese were once agin well dug in and determined to fight to the death. Despite the overwhelming might of the US Naval forces ranged against they still faced a bloody and brutal assault in order to prevail.

Alvin M Josephy had landed with one of the first waves on the 21st, he was still with them on the night of the 25th/26th as that faced up to a suicidal Japanese counter-attack:

Toward midnight one of the men on watch noticed that the Japs were throwing a lot of grenades. On both sides of him, other Marines were hurling their own grenades back into the night. Many of these burst five and ten feet above the ground, the fragments showering on the wet dirt.

At about three A.M. a rifleman named Martinez heard a swishing of grass out ahead of him, like men moving about. Then he noticed the pang of pieces of metal hitting each other and a busy stirring in the darkness that made him uneasy. He peered into the mist but was unable to see anything.

Then, as he listened, other things happened. A barrage of hand grenades flew through the darkness and exploded behind him. They kept coming, and he noticed mortar shells beginning to crash more frequently on the ridge.

He woke the other two men in his foxhole. They had been curled in their ponchos, and they got to their feet uncertainly. At the same moment an orange signal flare shot up from the Japanese lines. A singsong voice shouted into the night, and an avalanche of screaming forms bounded suddenly into view.

With their bayonets gleaming in the light of sudden flares, they charged toward the Marine foxholes, throwing grenades and howling: “Ban-zai-ai!” like a pack of animals.

The Marines awoke with a start. Along the ridge, wet, groggy men bolted to their feet and grabbed their weapons. Grenades exploded like a crashing curtain against the onrushing Japs. A man on a telephone yelled for uninterrupted flares, and flickering lights began to hang in the air like giant overhead fires.

All along the line the enemy attack was on. Red tracer bullets flashed through the blackness. Japanese orange signal flares and American white illumination shells lit up the night like the Fourth of July, silhouetting the running forms of the enemy. On the right and the left the attack was stopped cold.

Action around two heavy machine guns was typical of what was occurring. A Jap grenade hit one gun, temporarily putting it out of action. The crew members fixed it quickly and started firing again.

A second grenade hit the gun’s jacket and exploded, knocking off the cover and putting it completely out of the fight. The same blast wounded one of the men. His three companions moved him to a foxhole ten yards behind the shattered gun.

One man jumped in beside him. and the other two ran back to the machine-gun foxholes with their carbines. Heaving grenades like wild men, they managed to stall any Jap frontal charge for the moment.

Meanwhile, the other gun was also silenced. Riflemen in foxholes near by heard a sudden unearthly screaming from the gun position. By the wavering light of flares, they saw one of the crew members trying to pull a Japanese bayonet out of another Marine’s body.

The same instant a wave of Japs appeared from nowhere and swept over both men. Three of the enemy, stopping at the silent machine gun, tried to turn it around to fire at the Marines. In their hysteria, one of them pulled the trigger before the gun was turned, and the bullets sprayed a group of Japs racing across the top of the ridge.

Finally the Japs tried to lift the entire gun on its mount and turn the whole thing. A Marine automatic rifleman blasted them with his BAR, and the Japs dropped the gun. Two of them fell over the bodies of the Marine crew. The third pulled out a grenade and, holding it to his head, blew himself up.

A moment later another band of Japs appeared. Again, several paused at the gun and tried to swing the heavy weapon around. They had almost succeeded, when from the darkness a lone, drunken Jap raced headlong at them, tripped several feet away over a body, and flew through the air. There was a blinding flash as he literally blew apart. He had been a human bomb, carrying a land mine and a blast charge on his waist.

See See The Long and the Short and the Tall: Marines in Combat on Guam and Iwo Jima (Classics of War)

A Marine Corps tank stands by as Leatherneck sharpshooters take cover and attempt to pick off the occupants of a Japanese pillbox.
A Marine Corps tank stands by as Leatherneck sharpshooters take cover and attempt to pick off the occupants of a Japanese pillbox.

US Marines assault the beaches of Guam

First flag on Guam on boat hook mast. Two U.S. officers plant the American flag on Guam  eight minutes after U.S. Marines and Army assault troops landed.
First flag on Guam on boat hook mast. Two U.S. officers plant the American flag on Guam
eight minutes after U.S. Marines and Army assault troops landed.
Close after a terrific naval bombardment that smashed Jap shore positions, Marine and Coast Guardsmen hit the beaches of Guam.
Close after a terrific naval bombardment that smashed Jap shore positions, Marine and Coast Guardsmen hit the beaches of Guam.

US forces in the Pacific pushed on to the next island. The original plan had been to invade Guam just a few days after the invasion of Saipan but the Japanese resistance delayed operations by a month. In anticipation of similar resistance on Guam it was battered by bombing and naval gunfire for over six days.

Alvin M Josephy was a U.S. Marine Sergeant and War Correspondent. As such he had a unique view of the war in the Pacific, serving alongside the men of the 3rd Marine Division but not fighting himself. He was in the third wave that assaulted Guam on the 21st July but that did not make his situation any less dangerous, it may well have been more dangerous to arrive later. Josephy has a vivid account of the ride into the beach, during which he made a sound recording of their progress [see comments below]. After their landing craft hit the reef they had to wade ashore, then sheltered behind half-tracks on the waterline:

“Get the hell away from the halftracks. They’ll be hit. They’ll blow up! ” We had to end our recording. Wheaton snapped off the machine and jumped out of the vehicle; We huddled behind it, the water lapping our feet.

All around us, men knelt and lay, most of them bleeding. One, who was hysterical, was being held by a corpsman, while with his free hand the corpsman tried to press a battle dressing against the forehead of a man who lay mostly under the halftrack.

Two other Marines with bloody dungarees watched him, their eyes wide and staring. Another man ran into our group, stumbled over one of the wounded Marines, and shouted at no one in particular: “Jug’s killed! Jug’s killed!” He looked at us wildly. “The Major says to get out of here. The halftrack’s drawing mortars. Get up to the coconuts!” Then he turned and bolted back up the sand.

We helped the corpsman for a moment. Then he dropped the compress on the man half lying under the halftrack. “He’s dead,” he said calmly.

One of the Marines took the hysterical man and guided him away. They walked around the halftrack, moving as nonchalantly as if they were on a Sunday stroll, and disappeared from sight.

One by one we dashed up the beach. From the hills, from their hundreds of observation and firing positions, the Japs looked down on us and let us have it. They had recovered from the initial shock of the prelanding bombardment and had made up their minds that this was to be our main invasion.

Our first waves, which had landed without much opposition, had got halfway up the hills overlooking the beach. But the rest of us were in trouble. The Jap fire was increasing in intensity each minute. Enemy artillery and mortars were being brought from other parts of the island. They were being registered in. Machine guns, Nambus, and rifles were crack- ing at us from all the hills.

We could hear the crashing of mortar shells closer and closer. We could see the black fountains going up on the beach, in the water, and among the coconut trees, and could hear the whistle of bullets flying past our heads. We didn’t want to leave what seemed to be the shelter of the halftrack’s steel body for the dash across the open. But the big vehicles were targets; one might be hit any moment.

Stumbling and sliding through the sand, we ran across the open, a distance of about fifteen yards. It seemed like a hundred. We fell scared and out of breath behind a sand dune and lay on our stomachs panting. Why were we still alive?— No time to think about it. The only thing was to stay alive. Save yourself. Don’t raise up. Don’t move. It was like Tarawa. Men crowded on the sand. When would it end? How would We get out of it?

We wondered suddenly Whether this was any different from what men had undergone during every other amphibious landing in this war. We had sat at home comfortably and read about them – stories under a one-column head, impersonal stuff written at a rear base about our side: landing somewhere, moderate opposition, light casualties, progress made…

There was a terrific crash. Then another, like a house falling down. Sand and coral rained through the air like ashes. A moaning started, high, like a baby whimpering. The odor of blood and cordite filled our nostrils.

A man slid past us, almost crying. His foot was a pulpy mass. “Where’s a corpsman?” he sobbed. “Where’s a god-damned corpsman?”

Somebody motioned back to the water. “Down there, Joe.” The man with the injured foot paused and wiped his nose, then dragged on. “Gotta get a corpsman,” he cried. “Gotta get a corpsman. There’s boys dying back there.”

We knew that at home somebody would soon be getting the news and saying to somebody else: “I see we landed on another little island.”

See The Long and the Short and the Tall: Marines in Combat on Guam and Iwo Jima (Classics of War)

Coast Guard-manned landing barges strike at the beaches near Guam.
Coast Guard-manned landing barges strike at the beaches near Guam.

The ‘Great Gale’ wrecks the Mulberry harbours

The American Mulberry harbour at Saint Laurent sur Mer only began operation on the 17th.
The American Mulberry harbour at Saint Laurent sur Mer only began operation on the 17th.
The storm which hit the Channel from 19th -21st June was of unprecedented strength for the time of year.
The storm which hit the Channel from 19th-21st June was of unprecedented strength for the time of year.

In building their ‘Atlantic Wall’ the Germans had anticipated that any landing on the continent of Europe would have to quickly capture a port. Only a full sized port could sustain the level of supplies that an invasion force needed. So naturally the most concentrated Atlantic wall defences had been built around the ports of northern France and Belgium.

The Allies had neatly side stepped this problem by taking the ‘Mulberry harbours’ with them. Two ports, one in the American sector and one in the British, were brought across the Channel. The fully functioning ports, capable of berthing large supply ships and providing direct road access along piers to the beaches, had been established on the 17th June. Then disaster struck on the 19th.

The unprecedented Great Gale of 19th-21st June nearly wrecked this advantage. The American Mulberry ‘A’ was damaged so badly that it never operated fully again. Bits of it were used to repair the less badly damaged British Mulberry B. It was to become critical to the Allied success in Normandy. The nearest port, Cherbourg, was not captured until the end of the month, and had been so badly sabotaged that it provided little support during the Normandy campaign.

War Correspondent W. F. Hartin was caught on a boat in mid Channel on the 19th:

For two nights, as vessels dragged their anchors, plunged into one another with a sickening grinding sound and were swept by 8-ft. waves, the situation to us who were in the midst of this fury seemed touch and go. We were in mid-Channel when the full force of the north-east wind, meeting the tide, piled up a mountainous beam sea. I was in one of the Navy’s motor-launches, a sturdy patrol vessel used to most hazards of these treacherous waters.

Suddenly, three times in succession, we were nearly capsized. As every man clung to the nearest hand-hold, the water hissed along the deck, burying the starboard half in boiling foam. We looked at teach other without attempting to speak, because the same thought was in all our minds – “This is the end. She is not going to right herself.” Each time the vessel swung back crazily to port it was if she were bracing herself for the final plunge, when she would roll over completely to starboard.

Then the captain, Lieut. G. S. Parsons, R.N.V.R., saw his chance, snapped out an order to put the helm hard over, and the little ship bravely dug into the sea head-on. She shivered as she hit one wave after another, but we were comparatively safe. The story of the next 12 hours is one of relentless fight, zig-zagging across these seas, when each turn might have been fatal.

Hour after hour we tried to edge nearer our part of the French coast. and after 12 hours’ passage we managed to get an anchorage in the lee of some big ships miles from where we were scheduled to arrive. We soon realized our troubles had barely begun. In the eerie twilight of this, the shortest night of the year, we could hear above the hiss of the waves and the shrieking wind the yet more ominous sound of ships grinding together.

Landing craft out of control pounded against us. Our anchors dragged, and we lost one. We, too, were drifting, and before we could tackle the situation the ship was flung heavily on a sandy bottom and pounded by a terrifying surf. In another second we would have been rolled over, a plaything of the storm, but just in time we managed to get our engines going and headed for deeper water. The appalling sight of the beach in the dreary grey of the morning told its own tale of craft that had piled together and been ground to matchwood. Feverish salvage work was going on all round, and most remarkable of all, when we reached our appointed anchorage next afternoon, the laborious process of keeping the Army supplied had not been brought to a standstill.

Still, angry seas were flinging the small craft up and down the sides of the big ships from which they were taking cargoes in slings. It was a feat of seamanship to get these small fellows alongside without getting them smashed. It was another to get them loaded, and yet another to get the cargoes ashore. But despite the combined heroism of thousands of men, the supplies came ashore all too slowly. The tonnage landed that day was small.

It was decided that the next day – whether the weather abated or not – our giant landing ships would go in “taking all risks”, and land direct on to the storm-swept and wreck-cluttered beaches. It was realized that this would probably mean a dead loss of these ships, for it was doubtful if they could ever be refloated in a seaworthy condition after the pounding they would receive.

Fortunately, the wind died down after 3½ days, and on Thursday morning our whole invasion coast lay lapped in a glassy sea. Unloading went on apace, though not all the damage could be put right at once. The serious aspect was the 3½ days’ delay in passing cargoes to France. It took several days of intense activity to make good the depleted dumps ashore. A north-easterly gale of such ferocity – it blew in 70 m.p.h. gusts – is not recalled within the memory of the most experienced Channel pilots, and blowing, as it did, straight into the Baie de la Seine, it piled up such a sea that all calculations of tides were confounded.

This account first appeared in The War Illustrated, July 21, 1944.

An aerial view of the storm damaged American  Mulberry  'A'.
An aerial view of the storm damaged American Mulberry ‘A’.

D-Day in the Pacific – the invasion of Saipan

LVTs running into the Saipan beaches
LVTs running into the Saipan beaches
A view of the landing craft running into the Saipan beaches.

The US Navy was ready for another invasion. This time they would land around 77,000 men, about half the force that landed on D-Day in Europe. But this time they had travelled rather further than across the English Channel.

The Pacific the island hopping continued. This time it was a rather large hop. The group of islands in the Marianas lie only 1,200 miles from Tokyo. The US invasion fleet had steamed 1,000 miles from their Eniwetok supply base. They were a full 3,500 miles from Pearl Harbor.
They had brought with them daunting firepower, not just the Naval guns but massed squadrons of aircraft aboard a fleet of carriers.

Commander David Moore was with the US Navy engineers,the SeaBees, and was a spectator for most of the first day:

About four o’clock in the morning the speakers in the crowded quarters below decks of each LST (Landing Ship Tank) in the invasion fleet called for muster. It was the alarm for the approaching battle; no one had slept. Both the Marines and Seabees aboard had been looking for this long day.

Breakfast was served in winding hot lines in the galley where somber Navy cooks scooped scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, some fruit, toast, and pieces of ham touched with an occasional sheen of green on a metal tray. For those of us who survived, there would always be a strange connection with the ‘green ham and eggs’ fairy tale to the last breakfast aboard the assault LST.

The air in the quarters and on the tank deck was electrified with anxiety. No small talk, no jokes. The troops made last minute checks – adjusting the canvas back packs with its important trenching shovel, checking their rifles, picking up extra ammunition and c-rations for lunch, filling, the canteens, receiving the last word on the landing, and lowering assault boats. This day smiled on those who survived the assault, and frowned on others.

On the top deck in the moonlight, the eye could pick out an occasional flash showing silhouettes of battleships firing salvo after salvo into the coastline ahead. For two days prior to the invasion, some 2,400 16-inch shells had ‘softened-up’ the enemy. These salvos gave an awesome sound. Something like a boxcar swishing around overhead. Possible mining of the area limited the firing line to six miles offshore, and because of this distance, spotters had difficulty in pinpointing dug-in gun pits.

At sunrise our massive fleet became visible extending as far as the eye could see. Someone said there were 600 ships. The record would show Admiral Spruance had amassed for his vengeance 14 battleships, 25 carriers and carrier escorts, 26 cruisers, 144 destroyers and countless transports, truly a fleet that meant business.

When the Japanese officers, including Admiral Nagumo, the villain of Pearl Harbor, looked through their binoculars,they must have firmly believed American ghosts of Pearl Harbor had returned to haunt them. And they had.

Aboard the LST I was on, which was longer than a football field, Marines (2nd Bn., 8th Reg., 2nd Div.) and the Seabees (302 NCB) crowded toward the spacious tank deck to debark. The Marines were to take and hold the beachhead. One of the primary missons for the Seabees was to get food and ammunition onto the beach (where I worked during the battle), and another, under the direction of 18th and 121 NCB’s, was to build the bomber airstrip and bunkers. In the past, Seabees had been attached to Marine units and wore their uniform, so this arrangement was not unusual. There was comradeship and plenty of respect to go around.

The large bay of our LST contained assault amphibian tractors, called AMTRAKs, to carry troops and special amphibian tanks, which had a turret for holding a 75mm canon and a heavy machine gun to blast pillboxes.

Four pontoon barges (22 x 40 feet) , like large cigar boxes, were chained to our top deck. They were used to haul ammunition. Other LSTs carried long pontoon sections strapped to their sides, which were made into a floating pier, allowing for landing craft to unload.

Admiral Turner, rough tongued, astute and experienced in Marine assaults, was in charge, and he knew it. At 05:42 (Navy time) his orders came – ‘Land the landing force.’ Into position about 1,250 yards from the line of departure, 34 LSTs moved into line. Two huge doors on the bow of each ship opened, and dropped their ramps into the water.

Then, out of the front of these LSTs, one by one, the AMTRAKs loaded with toughened Marines clanked down the ramps and into the ocean. A massive total of 719 AMTRAKs separated into special circles at the line of departure. The American Manufacturer’s Association would have been very proud of their fine products being displayed to the Japanese that day.

This line of departure was some 4,000 yards from the beach. Before the Marines moved onto the beach, 24 light gun boats made the first sweep of the beach firing 4.5 inch rockets and 40mm canon. They turned aside at the reef. For good measure, Turner had 7 fighters strafe and 12 bombers hit the area with 1,200 one-hundred pound bombs. All of this strafing and heavy shelling from naval gunfire did not silence the dug in enemy. But this action did destroy vital communication links with their commanders.

Later Japanese intelligence reports showed the enemy believed the Marines would attack at the village of Charan Kanoa near a large sugar mill. The beaches and a limited opening in the reef made it preferable for an amphibious assault. A large Japanese force was ready, and we did not disappoint them.

The run from line of departure to the beach was estimated to be 27 minutes. H-hour for beach arrival was 08:40. The first wave, comprised of amphibian tanks, began firing heavy weapons as it closed with the beach; AMTRAKs followed in waves carrying the troops. Somehow the battle plan went slightly askew. The lagoon between the reef and shore was showered with exploding mortar and artillery rounds. The enemy had cleverly placed sighting flags to better the accuracy of their gunners.

The Army and Navy drivers were very good at maneuvering, losing only 14 units – 98 percent made it to shore – not a bad driving record. Within 20 minutes 8,000 Marines were under fire on the beach, but by nightfall 20,000 Marines were dug in.

With, this assault came a strange irony. On the ends of the long assault line were stationed two old battleships, the California and the Tennessee. Fire power from these battleships was directed by the landing party on various trouble spots. On this assault, each ship fired 100 shells from their 14-inch guns. During the day before the invasion and on ‘D’ Day, they took some non-critical hits because they were so close to enemy guns. They did not mind. Admiral Nagumo’s planes had destroyed these ships at Pearl Harbor. There, the California lost 98 and the Tennessee lost 5 sailors. On these ships, both the living and ghosts of the dead had come to even an old score with the admiral hiding in his bunker.

As darkness fell on “D” Day, the Marines were dug in expecting more trouble. At 22:00 a probing attack failed. Then, in the early hours, around 03:00, a Japanese bugler sounded ‘charge.’ With loud screams the enemy came. Star shells from the destroyers illuminated the battlefield. It was something like the Fourth of July.

The Marines kept firing. Their guns were hot. Some Marine positions were forced back. But mostly the 6th Marines, who suffered the most casualties, held their ground. They were supported by five tanks from Company B and some artillery, which made the difference. Not to be left out of this fight was no other than the battleship California. When the Marines were in trouble, they called for fire from the ships. The California and its ghosts gladly responded. With salvo after salvo, its batteries rained hell and death on the attackers. Daylight was welcome. This battle on Saipan was decisive, leaving 700 Japanese dead on the field.

Red Beach 2 at 1300
Red Beach 2 at 1300

Seabees on the assault LSTs were held back from supplying the Marines, until enemy fire on the beach could be silenced. More destroyed vehicles only hindered landing operations. Waiting patiently – how did the war appear from the deck on my LST? The entire coastline was enveloped in a cloud of dust. After the white water trails of the AMTRAKs disappeared into the cloud, the word came that there was a lot of shelling on the beach. Fighting was very difficult.

Read the whole account at Battle of Saipan

Marines on the beach line during the invasion of Saipan.
Marines on the beach line during the invasion of Saipan.
Japanese oil storage tanks burn in Garapan during the Battle of Saipan.
Japanese oil storage tanks burn in Garapan during the Battle of Saipan.

Churchill makes a day trip to Normandy

Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, chats with Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on the bridge of a warship (HMS KELVIN) during their voyage across the English Channel en route to General Bernard Montgomery's Headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944.
Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, chats with Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on the bridge of a warship (HMS KELVIN) during their voyage across the English Channel en route to General Bernard Montgomery’s Headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Jan Smuts, of the Imperial War Cabinet, (right) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, CIGS (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), on board the destroyer conveying his party to Normandy, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Jan Smuts, of the Imperial War Cabinet, (right) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, CIGS (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), on board the destroyer conveying his party to Normandy, 12 June 1944.

Winston Churchill had wanted to accompany the invasion forces on D-Day itself, and had to be dissuaded by the King. He would not allow the visit to be delayed much longer.

On the 12th june the bridgehead in Normandy was still only a matter of a few miles deep and still under intermittent shellfire, and occasional air attack. Inland the clashes with the Panzer units were becoming more serious. Less than a week after the invasion the commanders in the field might be presumed to be fairly busy.

None of this deterred Churchill. He was accompanied by Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff who recorded the day in his diary:

[The Prime Minister’s party left the train at] 7.30 am to catch the destroyer Kelvin and leave Portsmouth at 8 am. The Americans had already started in a separate party. We had a very comfortable journey over and most interesting. We continually passed convoys of landing craft, minesweepers, bits of floating breakwater (Phoenix) being towed out, parts of the floating piers (Whales) etc. And overhead, a continuous flow of planes going to and coming from France.

A concrete caisson
Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: A concrete caisson weighing 7,000 tons being towed into position in the main breakwater off the coast at Arromanches. These formed part of the Mulberry harbour.

About 11 am we approached the French coast and the scene was beyond description. Everywhere the sea was covered with ships of all sizes and shapes, and a scene of continuous activity. We passed through rows of anchored LSTs and finally came to a ‘Gooseberry’, namely a row of ships sunk in a half crescent to form a sort of harbour and to provide protection from the sea.

A Gooseberry, a line of block ships
A Gooseberry, a line of block ships laid off the beaches at Ouistreham to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry Port was assembled. The Gooseberry includes the old HMS DURBAN and the Netherlands ship SUMATRA. Two DUKWs can be seen moving amongst the block ships.

Here we were met by Admiral Vian (of Mediterranean fame) who took us in his Admiral’s barge from which we changed into a DUKW (amphibious lorry). This ran us straight onto the beach and up onto the road.

It was a wonderful moment to find myself re-entering France almost exactly 4 years after being thrown out for the second time, at St Nazaire. Floods of mem- ories came back of my last trip of despair, and those long four years of work and anxiety at last crowned by the success of a reentry into France.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, guides Winston Churchill to his jeep after the Prime Minister had come ashore to begin his tour, 12 June 1944.
General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, guides Winston Churchill to his jeep after the Prime Minister had come ashore to begin his tour, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill lights a cigar in the back of a jeep as he and General Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, set out on a tour inland, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill lights a cigar in the back of a jeep as he and General Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, set out on a tour inland, 12 June 1944.

Monty met us on the beach with a team of jeeps which we got into and drove off on the Courseulles-Bayeux road, to about 1/2 way to the latter place. There we found Monty’s HQ and he gave us an explanation on the map of his dispositions and plans. All as usual wonderfully clear and concise.

Left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery's mobile headquarters in Normandy.
Left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy.

We then had lunch with him and my thoughts wandered off to 4 years ago when I was at Le Mans and Laval waiting for Monty and his 3rd Division to join me. I knew then that it would not be long before I was kicked out of France if I was not killed or taken prisoner, but if anybody had told me then that in 4 years time I should return with Winston and Smuts to lunch with Monty commanding a new invasion force I should have found it hard to believe it.

Winston Churchill watching air activity with other senior officers above General Sir Bernard Montgomery's headquarters, 12 June 1944. Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O'Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
Winston Churchill watching air activity with other senior officers above General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944. Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

After lunch we drove round to Bimbo Dempsey’s HQ. I was astonished at how little affected the country had been by the German occupation and 5 years of war. All the crops were good, the country fairly clear of weeds, and plenty of fat cattle, horses, chickens etc. (As usual Winston described the situation in his inimitable way when driving with me. He said, ‘We are surrounded by fat cattle lying in luscious pastures with their paws crossed!’ This is just the impression they gave one.)

Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, commanding British Second Army, pointing out a section of the front to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Also in the picture are the Lieutenant General G G Simonds (left), commanding II Canadian Corps and the 21st Army Group commander General Sir Bernard Montgomery (right), Normandy, 22 July 1944.
Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, commanding British Second Army, pointing out a section of the front to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Also in the picture are the Lieutenant General G G Simonds (left), commanding II Canadian Corps and the 21st Army Group commander General Sir Bernard Montgomery (right), Normandy, 22 July 1944.

And the French population did not seem in any way pleased to see us arrive as a victorious country to liberate France. They had been quite content as they were, and we were bringing war and desolation to the country. We then returned to Courseulles, having watched a raid by Hun bombers on the harbour which did no harm.

We re-embarked on Vian’s Admiral’s Barge and did a trip right along the sea front watching the various activities. We saw ‘Landing Crafts Tank’ unloading lorries, tanks, guns etc onto the beaches in a remarkably short time.

German POWs help unload a jeep from a tank landing craft near Ouistreham, Courseulles, 11 June 1944.
German POWs help unload a jeep from a tank landing craft near Ouistreham, Courseulles, 11 June 1944.
A DUKW bringing ammunition ashore at Arromanches, 22 June 1944.
A DUKW bringing ammunition ashore at Arromanches, 22 June 1944.

We then went to the new harbour being prepared west of Hamel.

There we saw some of the large Phoenixes being sunk into place and working admirably. Also ‘bombadores’ to damp down waves, ‘Whales’ representing wonderful floating piers, all growing up fast.

Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: The floating breakwater [bombardons] consisting of hollow steel structures, each weighing 1000 tons, with the waves breaking over them as Britain's Mulberry Port at Arromanches begins to operate as a harbour.
Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: The floating breakwater consisting of hollow steel structures, each weighing 1000 tons, with the waves breaking over them as Britain’s Mulberry Port at Arromanches begins to operate as a harbour.

Close by was a monitor with a 14″ gun firing away into France. Winston said he had never been on one of His Majesty’s ships engaging the enemy and insisted on going aboard. Luckily we could not climb up as it would have been a very risky entertainment had we succeeded.

HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.
HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.

Then we returned to our destroyer and went right back to the east end of the beach where several ships were bombarding the Germans. Winston wanted to take part in the war, and was longing to draw some retaliation. However the Boche refused to take any notice of any of the rounds we fired. We therefore started back about 6.15 and by 9.15 were back at Portsmouth after having spent a wonderfully interesting day.

HMS KELVIN off the Normandy beaches.Winston Churchill is boarding the ship from the Admiral's barge of HMS BELFAST (?) after visiting troops on shore.
HMS KELVIN off the Normandy beaches.Winston Churchill is boarding the ship from the Admiral’s barge of HMS BELFAST (?) after visiting troops on shore.

We got on board the PM’s train where we found Marshall and King. We dined on the way back to London where we arrived shortly after 1 am dog tired and very sleepy!

See War Diaries, 1939-1945 : Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke

Follow up waves arrive on the Normandy beachhead

General Sir Bernard Montgomery passes German POWs while being driven along a road in a jeep, shortly after arriving in Normandy, 8 June 1944.
General Sir Bernard Montgomery passes German POWs while being driven along a road in a jeep, shortly after arriving in Normandy, 8 June 1944.
German prisoners being marched along Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
German prisoners being marched along Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.

The Allies still only had a slim foothold on the French coast. The Germans were stiffening their response, even though Hitler was retaining very significant forces in the Pas de Calais area, waiting for the ‘second invasion’. Those Panzer divisions that were ordered to the front were making slow progress as they encountered the Allied tactical airforces, just as Rommel had predicted.

Jack Swaab was an artillery officer with the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. He had kept his diary throughout the North African campaign and his unit had then returned to England. They arrived off the coast of Normandy on the 7th June and it was some time before they could get ashore:

8th June 1944

1330, near Bayville: Eventually our L.C.T. cast off at about 2300 just as it was getting dark. We spent the night on her in the harbour. The Skipper, a very decent Sub. Lt. R.N.V.R. gave us stew, pudding and coffee and we spent the night on deck with one blanket. Noisy night with the intermittent air raids. The harbour a mass of coloured flak. One or two bombs too close for comfort. 2 ships set on fire and a huge green fire on the beach.

Up early today and bleary eyed. We had to go about 120 yards in 3 foot 6 of water, but made it O.K. and soon after 9 set foot on the sands of France. (I did remember my promise to C.) The beach was covered (it was low tide) with broken obstacles and ‘drowned’ vehicles. All over the upper beach where they had landed at night tide lay the L.S.T.s, L.C.T.s and multiple other craft looking like the skeletons of prehistoric animals.

Then on inland, where all the houses are smashed, tanks lie broken everywhere and all the usual relics (human and otherwise) of war were on view. The few remaining locals were friendly enough and waved a greeting. Signposting and general organisation first class, and the long line of trucks, halftracks etc. rolled inland on the dusty road almost without pause. Mines were numerous beyond belief.

1740: I had to dash off on Recce as I wrote the above. We are now in action near Revier. Bayeux has fallen to us. Have a bloody headache. Yesterday too. Am taking too many Veganin.

Midnight:

Only now am I able to return to this as we’ve been in action since my last bit. Now, at midnight, I am getting tired. Outside comes desultory shellfire, or a shower of flak as a raider comes over and unloads. I can hear the heavy beat of bombs at the moment. Also one can hear m.g. fire and occasionally a nearby rifle or Sten shot as nervous sentries shoot at shadows — or each other — for snipers are still in evidence.

The Middlesex on our position have already had casualties this way jerry resistance seems to be stiffening according to local reports and he is said to have 2 Armoured Divs. in Caen.

I saw about 200 prisoners being marched back today. Some were very young (16 or so), others fairly old. They did not look cowed, but rather defiant, and were being firmly handled by their Canadian guards.

Among things I noted coming ashore were the lovely fields of wild flowers enclosed by barbed wire and the grim skull and crossbones sign of the word ‘MINEN’ — MINES …a wonderful bunch of huge red poppies growing alongside some white peonies … the dusty roads which made one’s jeep throw up a dust wake like a destroyer.

This is a good position overlooking a bakery and in some trees. My Command Post is in an orchard. Stand to at 0545 tomorrow so I’ll turn in soon for some needed sleep as I had only 3 uneasy hours last night and no shave till 1100.

To hear the radio reports of flowers and joy you’d think this was a carnival. Still it’s good to hear the news bulletins if only through knowing one makes them!

See Field of Fire: Diary of a Gunner Officer

A German prisoner captured by Canadian troops of 1st Battalion, North Shore Regiment, Langrune-sur-Mer, 7 June 1944.
A German prisoner captured by Canadian troops of 1st Battalion, North Shore Regiment, Langrune-sur-Mer, 7 June 1944.
German prisoners of war being held in a tank landing craft beached on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 7 June 1944. In the background is LCT 886 which was heavily damaged on D-Day.
German prisoners of war being held in a tank landing craft beached on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 7 June 1944. In the background is LCT 886 which was heavily damaged on D-Day.
Naval beach demolition party in their jeep, with the driver holding a mine shell removed from the top of an obstacle.7 June 1944, Courseulles

Jack Swaab was travelling in a Jeep, as was Montgomery pictured above.

The Jeep was ubiquitous in Normandy

It fulfilled any number of transport roles for the Allies. For those interested in military vehicles, whether to restore vehicles or to build models, the Landcraft series of publications provides all the information anyone might want and more. Published in 2019 The Jeep: Second World War (LandCraft 1)gives the full history of how the vehicle was developed, much technical detail about its construction and a wealth of original photographs of Jeeps in the field, restored Jeeps, and models.

The Jeep was only 52 inches (1.32m) high. The fold-flat windscreen would become a well-used feature, not least as it reduced reflection from the upright glass, a giveaway to enemy spotters. Some Jeep units even had specially tailored canvas windscreen covers to mount over the windscreen and its frame to eliminate the chance of reection from the glass.

The tilt, or hood was made of fabric dyed as close to olive drab as possible, although some beige hoods have been cited. The canvas hood could easily be folded and its steel hoops collapsed. A hood storage locker was supplied in the cabin. The hood’s material was chemically impregnated with a waterproong compound and with an anti-mildew substance. Fire-resistance came from chemical treatment, but this had a short life when exposed to the elements.

A strong, welded-steel mounting pintle was placed between the seats to provide a mount for guns or even a rocket launcher/ bazooka. Perhaps by accident, it allowed a large degree of elevation for such weapons.

Of note: after D-Day, Jeeps in Normandy and its locale were soon seen with a strange vertically mounted metal ‘post’ standing over five feet high from a mounting and bracing on the front bumper. This was a wire-cutting device that would cut any wires placed at head-height across a road that could decapitate the driver and occupants. This trick was a desperate late-1944 tactic deployed by some German units in France and required a swift, ‘bolt-on’ solution by the Allies after several Jeep crews were killed driving at high speed into such razor-wire traps

The addition of the vertical steel wire-cutter was
a vital life saving device in European and Pacic theatres. It was mounted and braced upon the front bumper and saved manyleep occupants from their enemies sabotage habits.

1500: Omaha – the battle continues

Some of the casualties on Omaha beach, vehicles still burning , although it is quite late in the day after barrage ball0ons went up.
Some of the casualties on Omaha beach, vehicles still burning , although it is quite late in the day – after barrage balloons went up.

Utah beach and the British and Canadian beaches had now been firmly established. The first confident reports were reaching the commanders offshore that there had been a breakthrough on Omaha. Nevertheless for many of those on the beach it remained very unclear that they were breaking through.

Sergeant Thomas Valance, age 23, A Company, 116th Infantry had come in with one of the early waves that had been shot to pieces on the waterline. He was a lucky survivor:

I remember floundering in the water with my hand up in the air, I guess trying to get my balance, when I was first shot through the palm of my left hand. I remember feeling nothing but a little sting at the time, although I was aware I was shot.

Next to me in the water a fellow called Hank Witt was rolling toward me and I remember very clearly him saying: “Sergeant, they’re leaving us here to die like rats, just to die like rats.”

I made my way forward as best I could, but I was hit several other times, once in the left thigh, which broke a hipbone, although I didn’t know it at the time. I remember being hit in the back a couple of times and feeling a tug as the chinstrap of my helmet was severed by a bullet.

I worked my way up onto the beach and staggered up against a wall and sort of collapsed there. I spent the whole day in the same position. Eventually the bodies of the other guys washed ashore and I was the only live one among so many of my friends, all of whom were dead and in many cases severely blown to pieces. It was not a very pleasant way to spend a day.

Some men came to assist him in the afternoon but it was not until dusk, which would have been around 8pm, that stretcher bearers arrived for him.

These were the notes made by Major Stanley Bach, British liaison officer to HQ US First Army, attached to advanced headquarters of 29th Infantry Division on Omaha:

1200 Beach high tide, bodies floating … Many dead Americans on beach at HWM [high-water mark].

1215 Heavy mortar and 88 fire started on beach from E. end to W. end – series of five shells in spots – direct hit on Sherman tank, men out like rats — those alive.

1230 LCT hit two mines came on in – hit third disintegrated and rear end sunk – at burst of shell two navy men went flying through the air into water – never came up.

l250 Saw a captain, INF, pull five men to shore out of water.

1300 – Tide going out – now rhino ferry in but bursting shells forced it to go back out to sea after unloading two vehicles.

1320 Saw direct hit on beached LCM, flames everywhere, men burning alive. Beach can now be seen by aid of glasses entire distance about two miles east and two miles west – with tide slowly going out—long runnels appear in beach, also obstacles with deadly Teller mines on top of beach.

1400 Fire on beach increasing – aidman go to help man that was MG [machine-gunned] but hit by bullet himself, another aidman pulled him back to foxhole.

1430 Just heard from above that Capt. T. Ernest of 115th Inf is above us in field hit by bullet – four aidmen go get him—he comes back smiling despite shoulder wounds. Says get two jerries for him.

1440 More mortar fire and more men hit – LCVP unload five loads of men, they lie down on beach, mortar fire kills five of them – rest up and run for foxholes we left couple of hours ago.

1500 Snipers in large brick house on beach only fifty yards from HWM keep men in holes.

1520 Direct hit on 2-ton truck gasoline load — canvas flames – another catches fire — then entire load goes up. Area 100 yards square — men’s clothes on fire — attempt to roll in sand to put out flames — some successful — others die in flames.

1540 Infantry moving by us up path over crest and moving forward — we endeavour to move on — MG holds us for a few minutes, then lifts, we get to open field – follow path — see one man that had stepped on mine, no body from waist down — just entrails and chest organs.

1600 We reach wood through field 500 yards from top of cliff we just came up. See man on knees. We think he is praying or scared, roll him over and he is dead, died on his knees praying.

1630 Barbed wire, mines, mortars, MG rifle and 88 fire everywhere it seems — prayed several times — “Why do these things have to be forced upon men?”

1650 Reach town of St. Laurent 3/4 mile from beach, snipers holding up our advance – established CP and saw first time the 1st Div friends who were quiet, fighting mad — gave me heart, too.

This account appears in Russell Miller(ed): Nothing Less Than Victory: Oral History of D-Day

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

A good view of the high ground at the rear of Omaha beach, known to the Americans as 'bluffs', that made such a natural defensive position. The Naval gunfire had set fire to the grass, which provided a certain amount of unintentional cover.
A good view of the high ground at the rear of Omaha beach, known to the Americans as ‘bluffs’, that made such a natural defensive position. The Naval gunfire had set fire to the grass, which provided a certain amount of unintentional cover.