ensignia of the 79th
I awoke at about 0500 hrs of the 18th. I walked out on deck
but could see nothing but returning convoys, mine sweepers,
and the occasional stray that was having trouble. At about
0600 hrs, I went up on the bridge with Lt. Summers and we
noticed a convoy of large ships off the port bow. Lt. Summers
identified them as three large British battleships, one of
which was the HMS Hood, escorted by several destroyers
and some torpedo boats. By now we could see the outline of
the coast of Normandy. Through my glasses I could see
the hundreds of vessels that were standing offshore awaiting
their turn to unload. Some vessels up to a 12,000 ton capacity.
Off the port bow were many ships that appeared to be lashed
together from stem to stern. I was told by Lt. Summers that
this acted as a huge breakwater. The vessels had been brought
in on D-Day and scuttled in a pre-designated place, creating
a harbor so that other ships may enter and discharge.
This area is known as Omaha Beach. We are near enough
now to see the ships with the naked eye. Our course has changed
and begin skirting the shoreline. We pass sunken LSTs (Landing
Ship, Tank) and LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank-British) that never
made it ashore on D-Day. A pole about three feet long with
a white flag from it is drifting in the water. There appears
to be something at the base of this pole, but I have difficulty
making it out. By looking through my glasses it becomes clear
that it is six human heads
six of our boys who had given
their all. I had a sickly feeling in my stomach, but was unable
to put my glasses down. A small boat appeared to guide us
into the beach. A caterpillar tractor noses out into the surf.
He is there to pull in any of the vehicles that drown out
ashore, which one did. The LCT scrapes bottom and the gate
is lowered in about two feet of water. The drivers are already
at the wheel in their vehicles and begin riding out. I am
on the first vehicle out, a three-quarter ton weapons carrier.
All vehicles are off in less than ten minutes. We are in France
is now 1400 hrs, June 18th 1944
at a point SE of Les Dunes de Varreville.
click to enlarge
were directed to proceed southeast along the beach over roads
made by engineers and seabees using steel matting. We passed
groups of German POWs gathered on the beach to be transported
to England. They appear bewildered at the huge armada of ships
at anchor. We then turn west along a route marked by white
bands of cloth, one inch wide, indicating it was clear of
German land mines. Signs that had been posted by the Jerries
still stood in place; one said Achtung Minen (Beware
Mines) with a skull and crossbones painted on it. We stopped
briefly in a clearing to de-waterproof the vehicles, whose
batteries, air vents, etc. had been equipped with protective
gear. We were off again in fifteen minutes to meet up with
the rest of the battalion. The fields on either side had been
heavily mined and were planted with poles about fifteen feet
high placed no less than thirty feet apart. The purpose of
these poles was to inhibit the landing of aircraft, and judging
by the number of our gliders that were torn apart, they did
their job all too well. As we ride along, hundreds of parachutes
of different colors are scattered over the countryside. We
ride through our first French town, Ste. Marie Du Mont;
a pretty lady, beaten up by the D-Day shelling and pre-invasion
passing through several more small French villages, we arrive
at our first assembly area, an apple orchard that had previously
been an aid station. Littering the ground were hundreds of
bloody bandages, plasma bottles, rubber tubings. Only hours
after landing I saw my first enemy shell blast in a small
town just south of Utah Beach I later identified as
Pouppeville. It was our first enemy artillery fire
action in France. Six dead men. With this first combat, we
were now veterans, but not tried. The men seemed tense, but
through this tense atmosphere there was calm. All the batteries
are close and we move to the assembly area, which is five
kilometers to the west, near Picauville. We are to
follow the 3rd Battalion, 314th Infantry at Les Forges.
It was closing in on 1830hrs as we approached the new area,
also an apple orchard. As we arrived, Joe DeSio S-4, fell
to the ground under an apple tree to rest, lying on his back.
He was terrified to see, as his gaze lifted upward, the hand
and forearm of a man stuck in a limb above his head.
message comes in from Division Artillery instructing the CO
to report to the command post at 1900hrs, but Col. Foote is
still out on a reconnaissance mission, so I report instead
to receive the orders. Col. Wahl briefs the battalion representatives
on the situation. It seems that the division will attack in
the morning, passing through the 90th Infantry Division, with
the 313th Inf. On the right and the 315th on the left, and
the 314th in reserve. We are reinforcing the lines of the
310th and 904th divisions with the 313th and 315th respectively.
We move into position tonight prepared to support attack.
The route to the position area is given and only a few precious
minutes of daylight remain. By the time I get back, the Col.
is there and receives the instructions, making plans for the
move. The night was dark and movement was slow. Didn't have
far to go. The 314th was moving into the line and relieving
the 90th Inf. Div.. Our job was to be in position to support
moving at 2100hrs over the prescribed route, but upon reaching
an MP control point we discover that from there on out the
trail is one-way, so we have to backtrack and use an orchard
as our turnaround point. It is now dark, but in the SW corner
of the orchard we could distinguish twenty bodies in four
neat rows. They were dead American soldiers awaiting transport
to the cemetery in Ste. Mere-Eglise. We arrived at
the position and all was closed in at 2400hrs. After digging
in we laid down for a few hours of much needed rest considering
the hot beachhead we were on and the expectation of a hostile
reception, which, aside from some enemy shelling, there wasn't
any. There wasn't any small arms action except one of our
trigger-happy, untried troops, a cannoneer, which is a common
occurrence in all units.
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Men and materiel with an artillery
unit in the 79th land on
Utah Beach in Normandy. Photo credits unknown.
Location on this day: UTAH BEACH and inland,
(see map 01-6.44)
this day in World War II:
In Normandy, the US First Army (Bradley) cuts off and
isolates the German forces defending Cherbourg. In Italy,
the US Fifth Army (Clark) captures Prugia.
Elements of British 8th Army capture Assisi in Italy.