“16-E on D-Day” is an unsigned and undated field report, though it is almost certainly written by S.L.A. Marshall. In the early 1960’s, Marshall looked backed and said this about his work during the war:
“In World War II, we of the Historical Division, Army of the United States, first imagined and then pioneered the system which made possible…research on the combat field,” Marshall wrote. “In earlier years we had read too much faulty military history: the combat portions rarely rang true; they were over romanticized, inconsistent with human nature or lacking in decisive detail.
Also, in the crisis of action, the field frequently became obscured, and the historian made the sad confession: ‘What then happened was hidden by the fog of war.’ We began with the simple conviction that there must be a way to dissipate that fog. Knowing what we wanted, we went out and found it.” *1*
Unknown military photographer of the Signal Corps, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The written records created by researchers on the combat field don’t always live up to Marshall’s claim. This field report, “16-E on D-Day”, is a case in point. Fog still clouds the picture, and some of the fog is of the historical officer’s making (the report is unsigned so the author is unknown).
Numbers seem pulled from the air: what is the source for the casualty figure? Important evidential detail is missing: how did Capt. Wozenski know Streczyk had broken through the defenses on Easy Red? Inconsistencies are left unsolved: if Streczyk’s action helped G Company get off the beach, how did G Company advance ahead of him? Did the first soldiers to reach high ground, as the report states, and sit for four hours watching the show until they rejoined their company? If this telling is to be taken seriously, one wonders why one of the watchers, Calvin Ellis, was given the Distinguished Service Cross.
A key voice is missing from this report: Lt. John Spalding. This omission apparently came back to haunt historical division personnel when discrepancies were discovered in the E and G Company D-Day reports. “16-E on D-Day”, due to its vagueness and incompleteness, failed to solve the discrepancies. *2*
16th infantry on D-Day
The roughness of the sea, the dense smoke along the beach and some mist at sea contributed to “E” coming in at the wrong place and becoming dispersed over a wide area. (1/Sgt Lawrence J. Fitzsimmons, T/Sgt Joseph A. Toth, and T/Sgt Calvin L. Ellis).
The men noted that the navy crew seemed green and that when fired upon, they would not get to their guns. When at last ordered to get to the guns, they fired wildly and would not expose themselves.
In Ellis’ boat, the coxswain didn’t know where to go and asked Ellis: “What is the objective?” Ellis pointed it out and then noted he was moving too far right. He said: “Bear left!” He then told the coxswain he was bearing too far left, but the man kept on the same course.
Joseph A. Toth, one of the E Company soldiers interviewed for this report. (Photo courtesy Edward Boink and the Toth family. The photo was taken in England, before D-Day, when Toth was a staff sergeant.
The Co boats began stringing out, and finally lost one another. All were supposed to guide on the CP boat, but that boat was bearing too far left and the others realized it. (Fitzsimmons). The men kept yelling at the coxswain: “You’re going left.” He ignored them and kept on the same course. The CP boat landed far left—near 16-3’s sector. The only boats the CP men could then see were Nos 2 and 3, which were a little to their right. (Fitzsimmons). Ellis saw one other Co boat come in about 300 yds from him; that was all. Perhaps 800 yds separated the two flanks.
In all of the boats the in-passage was not too costly but when the ramps were dropped, automatic fire caught the open ends dead on. Some of them were caught in crossing bands of fire. The CP boat took its heaviest losses at that moment and only 12 of 36 men got to the beach. The rest got it in the water, as they waded in from a sandbar, or were hit as they returned to drag in the wounded.
Section no 1, however, didn’t lose a man in the water: the fire against the section was small and erratic. (T/Sgt Phillip Streczyk).
Toth’s 2nd section was dropped in water over its head, the coxswain having started shying off as he drew into the beach. More than half of the men came in swimming; some, it was believed, were carried down by the weight of their equipment. (Toth).
All told, “E” lost 105 men during the day, and only 1 of these was lost during the movement inland. Most of the others were lost in the water: many of the wounded crawled to the edge of the sand, fell exhausted, and were there caught by the tide. *3* In trying to pull these men in, the able-bodied were caught by enemy fire and some of these wounded also died from drowning. The Medical Detachment, coming in on the 4th wave, took enough casualties that its own wounded monopolized its attention. (Lt Thad A. Shaw, Ellis). On the beach, the men of “E” noted only other infantrymen. The wire and obstacles had not been touched. A few minutes later, the men of “E” saw the first engineers arrive and set to work.
Stretching ahead of the Co were 300 yds of sand, and then a steep hill. The seasoned men among them knew that they had to move, but even they felt their strength and will fading. The fire was hot; their loads were heavy. The natural inclination was to stay there. (Fitzsimmons and Ellis). They went on a few feet and then flopped again. The tide came racing in behind them and pushed them on. Fitzsimmons saw two of his men—Pvts. Spencer and Walch—take a few strides, flop down and then be blown bodily into the air by mines buried on the beach. Both were killed.
It took one hour to get the survivors across the sand and to the foot of the hill. They went frd one at a time, figuring that they would be less of a target this way. German riflemen were firing at them from the brow of the hill and they were getting automatic fire from both flanks along the beach. Ellis saw four enemy riflemen fire at his men from atop the hill and then move along it in silhouette. He tried to get some fire on them but discovered that every weapon in his section was out of action. The riflemen disappeared suddenly as if the ground had swallowed them and he figured that they had dropped into an emplacement.
Some of the men froze on the beach, wretched with seasickness and fear, refusing to move. Most of the survivors toiled painfully to the foot of the hill where the enemy might well have found and destroyed them since they had no fire power. (Fitzsimmons).
Streczyk’s section—which was to contribute one of the most intrepid actions of the entire day—came in exactly where “F” was supposed to land. (See overlay: The place of landing was identified by Streczyk’s surviving members and by Streczyk during the interview.) Streczyk got 32 men onto the sands, took 12 casualties mostly from bullet fire in getting across the beach, and continued onward immediately with 20 men. *4* The German SP—covering EXIT 3 on the eastern side—when the debouchement took place was to the party’s immediate right, and from this, they were drawing most of the fire. *5* Dead ahead of them was a small ravine and their approach was direct toward it. This put them a little to the left of the first line of emplacements serving as an outwork of the SP. A communications trench led back from the emplacements. The party moved rapidly up the draw, then went right and slightly up the hill in such a way that they emerged on the rear of the outwork before the enemy had noted the movement. (Streczyk). The 14 Germans inside the work were caught flat-footed. The party attacked them with grenades and bazookas and they made a futile attempt to reply with grenades: several were killed, two were captured and the others got away to the SP.
The party then attacked the SP from the rear, and had its rearward exit covered before a shot was fired. From the cover of an outer trench, they engaged it with grenades. The enemy fire gradually fell off as the occupants went to cover, but there was no sign of a surrender. For 4 ½ hours, *6* Streczyk’s men stayed there, keeping this point neutralized and thereby greatly assisting the movements of “G” and of other units across the beach. Yet they did not feel strong enough to assault it directly and under the conditions in which the men were employed, the Streczyk party was wholly scattered with each man fighting his own battle and doing what he could to harass the enemy. In this time they took 21 prisoners and left an equal number of German dead behind without themselves losing one man. They had kept under cover in the outworks, worked in small groups through the trenches and gradually reduced the enemy strength so that the SP was not capable of any strong action. It had become “contained.”
Streczyk’s men had blown the wire confronting the ravine just after landing. There was thus a convenient avenue for the advance of other troops. Fitzsimmons, who had landed well over to the left, came up shortly after 1100 and learned about the breach. The Co Commander, Capt Edward F. Wozenski, then decided to move laterally along the beach toward Streczyk and he and Fitzsimmons set to work rounding up the men. They could only get about 1 ½ squads together. Wozenski then tried to get smoke laid on the beach to cover the movement to the right but this was unavailing. The party then moved on along the beach.
1st Section had already quit the ground around the German SP and gone on inland when Wozenski’s group came to the route which they had taken up the hill. At the rear of the German SP, they ran into scattered enemy riflemen and some machine gun fire but the enemy resistance was now disorganized.
They went on. About 1200, Wozenski halted his party about 1000 yds S of Exit 3. He sent Fitzsimmons back to the beach to look for more of the Co. Fitzsimmons met Toth and 7 men coming through the mine field. Other small groups were met and collected farther back. The Wozenski group had caught up with the Streczyk party in the interim and with the fresh men brought in by Fitzsimmons, the Co numbered 60 men. They organized in two platoons and continued to sweep toward Colleville where they went into position on the right of “G”. They had encountered some sniper fire on the way and had taken a few casualties but most of the trouble had come on the beach.
Ellis and 20 men were up with Stine and Krukas’ [misspelling of Krucas] section from “G” in the advanced ground, and had in fact been the first men to reach this position. They stayed there 4 hours, getting rifle fire from their rear and being unable to return it lest they fire into the G-E positions. After that, they returned to Bn CP and rejoined the Co. *7*
Lt Shaw was in a party that arrived 2 hours later than the main body. The boat was hit by 3 artillery shells when 400 yds from shore. Three men were killed and 12 wounded; the engine was destroyed. The boat began to drift. There was a tank in the LCT. As the boat drifted, the tanker trained his 75 on the German artillery piece which had put them under fire; he had the good luck to demolish it on the first round. For 2 hours the boat drifted and finally grounded on the rocks, near the beach. Shaw had the ramp lowered. He hit the water with two other men, and one was immediately felled by machine gun fire. Shaw then ordered the men to unload on the other side of the boat and they waded in—21 men from and miscellaneous elements—66 men all told. The fire on Bn 2 beach was still heavy. So they found a section of scaling ladder and went on up the cliff—the 66 men using one 5-foot section of ladder as it was needed. They found German mines all along the ledges, but were able to avoid them.
Streczyk said that after getting to the top of the hill, his party moved west, not east, and that in so doing, they crossed the route by which Dawson and his men had moved inland from the beach. He was positive that the party had moved to the right after reducing the SP. *8* The other men agreed that this was the line taken by the small parties which came up on Streczyk’s rear. Fitzsimmons said that the groups which came up later and took the same route were not seriously checked by fire on the beach nor in their journey up the hill.
For biographical notes on Streczyk and men in his section (including the section leader, John Spalding), see Men of the 16th.
*1* S.L.A. Marshall, Battle at Best (Morrow, 1963), pg. xii.
*2* An historical officer, possibly Marshall, wrote a second report about this discrepancy, Movements of Spalding Group.
*4* “Streczyk got 32 men onto the sands, took 12 casualties mostly from bullet fire in getting across the beach, and continued onward immediately with 20 men.” The loss of twelve men on the beach is not correct According to the best information we have, Streczyk lost four men on the beach, one killed and three wounded. Seven other casualties occurred during the day, including one killed and one wounded outside Colleville. Another man in the section, the medic George Bowen, reduced the section’s number when he was left behind to tend to the wounded.
*5* There were five draws leading from Omaha beach. The St. Laurent draw was “Exit 3.” This can be confusing because Exit 3 was the E-1 draw. Exit 4 was E-3.
*6* “For 4 ½ hours…” This timing is overstated. Spalding estimated, in his interview of 9 February 1945, that the section reached the top of the hill by 9:00 and that Wozenski joined them by about 10:45 at which time the action was over.
*7* “They stayed there 4 hours, getting rifle fire from their rear…” seems highly improbable.
*8* “…they crossed the route by which Dawson…” if, as the report states, Streczyk’s section assisted G Co.’s movements off the beach, how did the section also cross the path G Co. had taken inland? If Streczyk’s moved right after reducing the SP, he and his section would have gone into the E-1 draw and to a second SP.
Historical personnel took two more swipes at this particular foggy patch. The first attempt was a report, Movements of Spalding Group. The second, and more successful, attempt was by Forrest C. Pogue in his narrative based on the John Spalding interview.