Excerpt from: Roland G. Ruppenthal, American Forces in Action: Utah Beach to Cherbourg. Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, War Department, 1945.
Major Roland G. Ruppenthal was a member of the 2nd Information and Historical Service, attached to the First Army.
THE SEABORNE ASSAULT
Task Force ‘U’ Moves In
While parachutists attempted to assemble in the labyrinth of the Normandy hedgerows and marshes, troops aboard transports prepared to transfer into landing craft for the assault on the beach. At 0430 (H minus 2 hours) detachments of the 4th and 24th Cavalry Squadrons under Lt. Col. E. C. Dunn landed on the Iles St. Marcouf to capture what was suspected to be a hostile observation post or casemate for mine-field control. Prior to the landing four men armed only with knives swam to what was supposedly an enemy-held shore to mark the beaches. No enemy was encountered, although both islands were found to be heavily mined and some casualties were suffered. All elements of the detachment (numbering 132 men) were ashore and the island occupied by 0530.
In the meantime the unloading of troops into assault landing craft proceeded uneventfully. After the transfer, LCVP’s circled the transports awaiting the order to rendezvous. At H minus 40 minutes (0550) warships of the bombardment group of Task Force 125 began firing on enemy shore batteries. A few minutes later 276 Marauders of the Ninth Air Force dropped 4,404 250-pound bombs on 7 objectives on the beach, extending from les Dunes de Varreville to Beau Guillot. The effectiveness of this attack is difficult to assess. Les Dunes de Varreville seems to have received more bombs than any other target, possibly because the conspicuous tank ditch surrounding the area persuaded pilots to unload on it when briefed targets could not be located. About one-third of all bombs fell between high and low tide water marks. As assault craft started for the beach, the fire support group, consisting of thirty-three variously equipped craft, began the process of beach drenching. Seventeen of these craft mounted rocket launchers and discharged their rockets when the first waves of assault craft were still 600 to 700 yards from shore.
One of the earliest mishaps caused the immobilization of one of the control vessels. At approximately 0455 the Green Beach primary and secondary control vessels and the Red Beach primary control vessel left the Transport Area for the beach. The secondary control vessel for Red Beach fouled her screw on a dan buoy and was unable to proceed. An hour later, while still more than 7,000 yards from the beach and already 10 to 15 minutes late, the Red Beach primary control vessel was sunk, probably by a mine. Shortly thereafter an LCT behind the Green Beach primary control vessel also hit a mine and sank. The run into shore was already behind schedule, and these sinkings caused some of the landing craft to slow down. The Green Beach secondary control vessel therefore turned about to bring the landing craft in closer to the beach and announced that it would lead all amphibious tanks in. The tank-carrying LCT’s were supposed to launch the tanks at 5,000 yards, but to save time they were brought to within 3,000 yards of the beach and then discharged.
The first wave consisted of 20 LCVP’s, each carrying a 30-man assault team from the 8th Infantry (Map VII). The 10 craft on the right were to land on Tare Green Beach, opposite the strong point at les Dunes de Varreville. The 10 craft on the left were intended or Uncle Red Beach, 1,000 yards farther south. The entire operation was timed against the touchdown of this first assault wave, which was scheduled to take place at 0630. Eight LCT’s, each carrying 4 duplex drive (DD) amphibious tanks, were scheduled to land at the same time or as soon thereafter as possible. *1* The second wave comprised another 32 LCVP’s with additional troops of the 2 assault battalions, some combat engineers, and also 8 naval demolition teams which were to clear the beach of underwater obstacles. The third wave, timed for H plus 15 minutes, contained 8 more LCT’s with dozer tanks. It was followed within 2 minutes by the fourth wave, mainly detachments of the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions, to clear the beaches between high and low water marks.
*1* The 32 DD tanks played little part in the assault. The tanks beached approximately 15 minutes after the first assault wave. One LCT had struck a mine when its ramp was lowered and sank, so that 4 of the 32 tanks did not reach the beach.
The first wave arrived at the line of departure on time and all twenty craft were dispatched abreast. Support craft to the ear were firing machine guns, possibly with the hope of exploding mines. When the LCVP’s were from 300 to 400 yards from the beach, the assault company commanders fired special smoke projectors to signal the lifting of naval support craft fire. Almost exactly at H Hour the assault craft lowered their ramps and six hundred men walked into waist-deep water to wade the last 100 or more yards to the beach. The actual touchdown on the beach was therefore a few minutes late, but the delay was negligible and had no effect on the phasing of the succeeding waves. Enemy artillery had fired a few air bursts at sea, but otherwise there was no opposition at H Hour. The morale of the assault troops was excellent. The men waved their rifles as they reached the dry beach, some of them shouting, “Goddam, we’re on French soil.” They were obviously relieved and happy that this was not another “dry run.”
The first troops to reach shore were from the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry. The 1st Battalion landed a few minutes later. Both came ashore considerably south of the designated beaches. The 2d Battalion should have hit Uncle Red Beach opposite Exit 3. The 1st Battalion was supposed to land directly opposite the strong point at les Dunes de Varreville. The landings, however, were made astride Exit 2 about 2,000 yards south.
It is difficult to pinpoint the cause for this error. Both Red Beach control vessels had been lost, and one of the Green Beach control vessels had gone back to bring in the LCT’s carrying DD amphibious tanks. Guiding the initial assault waves to the proper beaches was therefore the sole responsibility of one control vessel. The possibility of error was increased by the strong tidal current as well as by the beach drenching administered by naval fire support craft, which threw up a tremendous cloud of smoke, dust, and fine sand, obscuring the beach for many minutes just prior to and after the jump-off from the line of departure.
Potentially this error was very serious, for it might have caused great confusion. In fact it did not. The original plans, in which each assault section had a specific mission, could not be carried out in detail, of course. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the 4th Division, had volunteered to coordinate the initial attack on the beach strong points until the arrival of the regimental commander, Colonel Van Fleet, and had landed with Company E. When it was realized that the landings had been made at the wrong place, he personally made a reconnaissance of the area immediately to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways which were to be used for the advance inland. He then returned to the point of landing, contacted the commanders of the two battalions, Lt. Cols. Conrad C. Simmons and Carlton O. MacNeely, and coordinated the attack on the enemy positions confronting them. These impromptu plans worked with complete success and little confusion. The errors in landing actually proved fortunate. Not only was the beach farther south less thickly obstructed, but the enemy shore defences were also less formidable than those opposite the intended landing beaches
Clearing the Beaches
Such clearing of beach obstacles as was necessary was the mission of a special engineer force which was scheduled to land directly after the 8th Infantry. The engineer elements were organized as a Beach Obstacle Task Force, commanded by Maj. Herschel E. Linn of the 1106th Engineer Combat Group. They were to clear four 50-yard gaps in the obstacles on each beach from the high water mark seaward by hand-placed charges and tank dozers. Naval demolition teams were to destroy all obstacles under water and Army engineer teams were responsible for those above water. Army combat engineers were from the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion. The detachment of eight tank dozers was from the 612th Light Equipment Company and 70th tank Battalion.
The plan contemplated the simultaneous landing at H plus 5 minutes of eight naval teams to clear eight 50-yard gaps in the first band of obstacles. *2* This wave was to be followed in 10 minutes by 8 LCT’s carrying, in addition to other tanks, 8 tank dozers. Immediately behind the tanks were to come 8 engineer combat demolition teams to clear obstacles above water. A reserve of 3 naval teams and 4 engineer teams was included in the fourth and fifth waves.
*2* The Navy teams contained about 50 percent Army personnel who had volunteered for this mission and had trained and lived with the naval demolition teams.
Like many other D-Day operations, this plan was not executed as conceived. Two LCT’s were sunk while approaching the beach. One LCM, with an engineer demolition team, was hit by shell fire just as it lowered its ramp on Green Beach, and six men were killed. Both Army and Navy demolition teams beached almost simultaneously, together with the four reserve engineer teams which landed on Green Beach. These discrepancies between plan and performance in no case seriously hindered the operation.
The parties left the LCVP’s and LCM’s in three feet of water and waded ashore, each man carrying sixty pounds of explosives. Aerial photos had indicated three bands of obstacles in depth. Since H Hour was timed for a rising tide favorable for landing craft, it was expected that one band would be either in or near the edge of the water. Actually all obstacles were found dry. The Navy teams, however, proceeded as instructed to fix explosives on the seaward band and the engineers moved to the next band. After the first gap at the junction of the beaches was blown, it was decided to proceed at once to the clearing of the entire beach. The landing craft heading for the initial gap were bunching so dangerously, and the obstacles were so much more sparsely distributed than expected, that the original plan of clearing only 50-yard gaps was abandoned.
Major Linn and the executive officer of the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion, Maj. R. P. Tabb, had both planned to direct operations from their M-29’s (Weasels) on the beach. Major Linn’s craft was sunk and Major Tabb’s vehicle sank as it left the landing craft. Major Tabb saved the crew and a radio and made for the beach, where he got in touch with General Roosevelt. There was little of the expected excitement and not much confusion. Control during the landing was never a serious problem because it was decentralized. The fortuitous simultaneous landings of Army and Navy demolition teams made possible the setting and blowing of charges for all three bands of obstacles at once, and consequently saved time.
As expected, obstacles consisted mainly of steel and concrete pikes, some steel tetrahedra, and hedgehogs. Tank dozers worked effectively against some of the piling and pushed the obstacles up onto the beach, but hand-placed charges accounted for most of them. Only a few mines were found on the beach, attached to the obstacles. Belgian Gates were found in small number, a few on the beach and a few blocking the roads leading from the beach. The four reserve teams which landed on Green Beach blew these gates and assisted in blasting additional gaps in the sea wall.
The entire beach was cleared in an hour, and by that time elements of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, the 3d Battalion of the 8th Infantry, and the 3d Battalion of the 22d Infantry were moving across the beaches, while engineer units were arriving to organize the beach operation. The Beach Obstacle Task Force was occupied with odd jobs for several hours more, but before noon had completed its task and reorganized. Of the 400 men involved, 6 were killed and 39 wounded.
Clearing the beach was only the first of the tasks assigned to combat engineers. One platoon of engineers was attached to each assault company of the 8th Infantry to blow gaps in the sea wall, destroy barbed wire in front and to the rear of the wall, and clear paths inland through the sand dunes. These tasks completed, they were then to perform normal assault missions against fortifications. For their initial missions they were equipped with bangalore torpedoes, mine detectors, explosives, and pioneer tools and markers. The demolition of the sea wall and clearance of paths through the sand dunes were accomplished very early. Company A, 237th Engineer Combat Battalion, blew two gaps in the wall on Red Beach, and Company C blew two on Green Beach. In addition Company A blew two Belgian Gates at the entrance to Exit 2 and picked up several prisoners from the pillboxes along the beach wall. The engineers then accompanied the infantry, removing mines and “dozing” roads across the dunes. As enemy artillery began to interdict the entrance to Exit 2, a trail was broken through the fields to the south and joined with the road which paralleled the coast and led back to Exit 2 south of la Madeleine. Many of the fields back of the beach marked Miner were free, but the pattern was such that all were suspect and had to be cleared.
The 4th Division Pushes Inland
While combat engineers prepared the beaches for the follow-up of additional men and materiel, the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 8th Infantry proceeded on their altered mission. When General Roosevelt and the battalion commanders became aware of the error in the landings, it was decided to reduce the enemy strong points immediately confronting them and proceed inland to their original objective (Map No. 8 ). Directly in front of the 1st Battalion was the fortification in and around Madeleine, and facing the 2d Battalion approximately 1,300 yards to the southeast, was another fortification, just south of the Exit 2 road. These were field fortifications placed to cover the causeway roads; they were not formidable. They were all taken by forces of company size or less against light opposition. Other troops cleaned out houses along the road running parallel with the beach. The enemy coastal garrisons, apparently demoralized by the preparatory bombardment, showed little fight; some did not fire at all.
Two or three hours were consumed in eliminating opposition in the beach area and in reorganizing for the advance inland. The two battalions then diverged, the 1st moving north and then inland through Exit 3, and the 2d moving down the coast to Exit 1. By this time additional waves of infantrymen had landed. At approximately 0745 (H plus 75 minutes) the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry (initially attached to the 8th Infantry), touched down on Green Beach and moved north along the coast to reduce beach strong points. The 3d Battalion of the 8th Infantry landed in the same waves on Red Beach and moved inland across Exit 2. Four battalions of infantry had thus landed by 0800. Two more came in at about 1000-the 1st Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the northern beach and the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the southern. According to plan these two battalions were to march inland through Exit 4. Since the eastern end of this exit was still covered by enemy fire and the causeways to the south were already congested, some of the 22d Infantry’s units were compelled to wade two miles through the inundations. Elements of the 12th Infantry, which landed shortly after noon, also waded through the flooded area. The water was generally only waist-deep, but the area was full of ditches and holes, and men frequently dropped into water over their heads. Since the 22d Infantry’s objective lay to the northwest in the direction of St. Germain-de-Varreville, it had to cross the Exit 3 road and wade through the swamps. In doing so it found itself crossing rear elements of the 8th Infantry moving west on the road.
This was only part of the traffic congestion resulting from the errors in landing. The original traffic plan envisaged the use of Exit 2 and Exit 3 for vehicles. Exit 3 could not be used because of the nearness of enemy positions to the north. Consequently all vehicles tried to use Exit 2. The 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry, supported by tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion and engineers of the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion, had begun to move down the causeway to Exit 2. Halfway down the causeway it found that the culvert over a small stream had been blown, and the road was covered by an antitank gun off to the right. The first tank was stopped by a mine. Another was knocked of the road by an anti-tank gun. It was not until a third tank silenced the enemy gun that the column proceeded to ford the stream. The blown culvert never really obstructed traffic; Major Tabb of the Beach Obstacle Task Force immediately brought up a platoon of engineers and built a small treadway bridge.
Meanwhile a great many vehicles accumulated in the areas behind the beach. Enemy shelling of the beach intensified during the morning but fortunately did not hit the parking fields. Beginning about noon Exit 2 became jammed with trucks. Engineer work parties had unloaded bridging equipment on the causeway, an antiaircraft half-track had taken up a position on the road, and a signal truck was slowly laying wire. Exit 2 was narrow and practically without shoulders. At noon, General Barton, concerned over an enemy tank threat, ordered that the road be cleared for antitank guns, even if other vehicles had to be pushed into the swamp. Late in the day there was still considerable congestion east of the bridge because trucks were maneuvering to reclaim partly mired vehicles.
After the capture of the coastal positions the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, moved north and then west on the causeway to Exit 3. Despite enemy artillery fire, it crossed the inundated area and reached the vicinity of Turqueville by evening. The 3d Battalion moved west beyond Exit 2, meeting little opposition until just north of Ste. Marie-du-Mont. There, at Germain, it encountered enemy dugouts, underground shelters, three or four 88-mm. guns, and smaller weapons. After a short fire fight, the battalion closed in. Fifty Germans were cut down as they broke and ran; a hundred were taken prisoner. At night the battalion bivouacked north of les Forges, confronting the high ground south of Ste. Mère-Eglise. Company K took up a position far to the left and sent one platoon to Chef-du-Pont to establish contact with the 82d Airborne Division.
The 2d Battalion moved straight south toward Pouppeville. Colonel MacNeely (commanding the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry), scheduled to land at H plus 30 minutes, had decided to go in earlier. When he landed, Company F was already moving in to reduce the fortification confronting it. Company E had found a path through the mine field behind the dunes and followed it under artillery fire without losing a man. Colonel MacNeely shortly had his battalion in hand and, while Company F was still engaged, he moved Company E around behind Company F and led it down the road along the eastern edge of the inundations. Company G moved south also, hugging the sea wall. The battalion encountered continuous small-arms fire all the way down the coast. Company G received artillery fire as it approached the strong point at Beau Guillot, and ran into a mine field, but decided to move through. The battalion was assembled at the road junction northeast of Pouppeville and then advanced on the village, where first contact was made with the 3d Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry.
The battalion thus bypassed some enemy positions at the southern tip of the inundated area, including the lock north of Grand Vey which in part controlled the inundations. The lock, which was originally the mission of Company G, 8th Infantry, was secured later by Company A, 49th Engineer Combat Battalion. In the course of reducing the surrounding enemy defenses, the engineers took 12S prisoners. The 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, relieved the 3d Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry, at Pouppeville. From there it pushed on west and at night it bivouacked just south of the main road intersection at les Forges.
The 8th Infantry had reached its D-Day objectives. It had relieved elements of the 101st Airborne Division in the Pouppeville area and was in a position to protect the southwest flank of the 4th Division. Only north of les Forges did it encounter difficulties. A finger of strong enemy resistance extended through Fauville to Turqueville. Entrenched along a ridge, the enemy cut the les Forges-Ste. Mère-Eglise highway, and prevented contact between the 8th Infantry and the main body of the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mère-Eglise. Attacked earlier in the day by the 505th Parachute Infantry troops from Ste. Mère-Eglise, the Germans had apparently given some ground to the north but had consolidated again at Fauville.
Late in the afternoon the advance elements *3* of the seaborne “Howell Force,” which was attached to the 82d Airborne Division and commanded by Col. E. D. Raff, followed the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry, across Exit 2. They were to join the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mère-Eglise. When the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry, came up against the enemy positions on the high ground to the north, it requested artillery but did not intend to advance farther that evening. Colonel Raff, on the other hand, considered it necessary to attempt forcing his way through in order to accomplish his mission. He was also concerned over clearing the area to permit the landing of gliderborne artillery units of the division scheduled to come in at 2100.
*3* Consisting of one platoon of the 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron a company of the 746th Tank Battalion and ninety riflemen of the 325th Glider Infantry.
Twice tanks and infantry struck at the German defenses and were turned back. One tank was disabled in the first attempt; two were destroyed in the second. The enemy had not been budged at 2100 when, on schedule, sixty C-47’s appeared over the area with gliders in tow. Despite heavy enemy fire most of the gliders were cast loose over the German positions. Some came down in enemy lines; some drifted farther south; most crash landed with high casualties. Colonel Raff was able to gather only miscellaneous personnel to help set up a defensive line against enemy counterattack. And there in the vicinity of les Forges his force spent the night.
The other two regiments of the 4th Division did not reach their D-Day objectives. After wading through the inundated area, the 12th Infantry came up on the left of the 502d Parachute Infantry south of Beuzeville- au-Plain, and remained there for the night. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 22d Infantry, which also had to wade inland through the swamps and spend about seven hours in the marsh, reached dry land in the vicinity of St. Martin-de-Varreville and moved on to St. Germain-de-Varreville, where they bivouacked for the night. The 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, as already noted, was assigned the task of reducing enemy beach strong points. The battalion moved north past les Dunes de Varreville and the Exit 4 road and reached the southern edge of Hamel de Cruttes by nightfall.
The Landing in Retrospect
The relative ease with which the assault on Utah Beach was accomplished was surprising even to the attackers, and gave the lie to the touted impregnability of the Atlantic Wall. The 4th Division’s losses for D Day were astonishingly low. The 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments, which landed before noon, suffered a total of 118 casualties on D Day, 12 of them fatalities. The division as a whole suffered only 197 casualties during the day, and these included 60 men missing through the loss (at sea) of part of Battery B, 29th Field Artillery Battalion. Not less noteworthy than the small losses was the speed of the landings. With the exception of one field artillery battalion (the 20th) the entire 4th Division had landed in the first fifteen hours. In addition there came ashore one battalion of the 359th Infantry, the 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less two companies), the 70th and 746th Tank Battalions, components of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade which had begun organizing the beach for the build-up, seaborne elements of the airborne divisions, and many smaller units. A total of over 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles reached Utah Beach by the end of 6 June.
Corps headquarters had, up to the night of D Day, participated but very little in the initial beachhead operation. Consequently, all activity centered around the divisions and, more particularly, their subordinate units. VII Corps Headquarters was actually divided on D Day. An advance detachment of the headquarters, under Maj. Gen. Eugene M. Landrum, had crossed Exit 2 late in the afternoon, paused in an orchard in the vicinity of la Houssaye at the west end of the causeway, and proceeded to Audouville-la-Hubert at 1900 to establish a command post only a few hundred yards from that of the 4th Division. But by nightfall higher headquarters still had little contact with most of the units on the Utah beachhead, and direction of the battle remained almost completely decentralized.
The Corps commander, General Collins, was at the close of D Day still aboard the Bayfield with the major portion of his staff. For a number of reasons the Corps commander had decided to maintain his headquarters aboard ship. The Bayfield had been especially fitted with radio communication in order that contact could be kept with V Corps on the left and with General Bradley, whose command ship was nearer the Omaha than the Utah Beach operation. The Bayfield was also prepared to receive radio communications directly from the two airborne divisions and from the 4th Division. Furthermore, General Collins wanted to be near Admiral Moon’s headquarters to insure that landing operations would continue uninterrupted in spite of adverse weather. This decision was fortunate, for Admiral Moon became greatly concerned over the loss of some vessels in the Task Force. Late in the day he considered a recommendation of his staff to suspend landing operations during the night, but General Collins convinced him of the necessity of continuing landing operations as uninterruptedly as possible. This was agreed to.
Among the commanders who were on the ground and whose units were in contact with the enemy there were uncertainty and anxiety on the night of D Day. Most disturbing was the lack of information about other units. This uncertainty had already affected the decisions of many commanders on D Day, and was most keenly felt by the airborne units, particularly the 82d Airborne Division, which had little or no knowledge of the course of the battle on other parts of the beachhead.
The anxiety experienced by some ground commanders on the night of D Day was not as keenly felt at higher headquarters, where a somewhat broader picture of the operation was obtainable. Some assuring reports had reached the Bayfield on the course of the operation. General Collins had heard as early as 0700 or 0800 that the 101st had taken St. Martin-de-Varreville, and by noon he had learned that definite contact had been established between the 4th Division and the 101st and that the beach exits were in their possession. These reports were particularly reassuring, for the greatest causes for concern had been the six 150-mm. guns reported at St. Martin-de-Varreville and the fear that the western ends of the causeways would be mined and held in strength. It was a great relief to learn that the inundated area had been crossed and that the exits were in American hands.
In general, on the Bayfield there was reason to believe that things were going well ashore, except for the lack of information about the 82d Airborne Division. General Collins’ headquarters called the division repeatedly on D Day, but could not raise a single response. Early in the evening a report was received at 4th Division headquarters at Audouville-la-Hubert to the effect that elements of the division were being attacked from the northeast and south; but this message was not clearly identified as to its origin. Two-way communication with the 82d Airborne Division was not established on D Day. The first report did not come in until late during the night. However, with favorable reports from both the 4th and 101st Divisions, General Collins saw no need for any changes in the Corps plans. He was confident that the veteran 82d possessed the leadership and fighting ability to take care of itself until contact was made with other units ashore (Map No. 9).