Source:Imperial War Museum, Sound Archives, Edward Wozenski interview in two parts, accession numbers 3014/2/1 and 3014/2/2. Transcription by War Chronicle
Edward Wozenski Military Record
Born: 9 July 1915 / Birthplace: Bristol, Connecticut / Commissioned (USAR): 9 June 1937 / Entered active service:16 July 1941 /Separation:10 March 1946 (as Lt. Col.) /Appointed to Connecticut Army National Guard: 14 July 1947 / Retired as Brigadier General: 1 June 1972 /WWII decorations and citations: Distinguished Service Cross Hq 7 Army GO 43 w/ Oak Leaf Cluster GO 82 Nov 44, Silver Star Medal GO 38 Hq 1 ID Aug 43 w/ Oak Leaf Cluster GO 38 1 ID Feb 45, Bronze Star Medal GO 131 Hq 1 ID July 45, American Defense Medal, American Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge GO 33 FUSA 44, World War II Victory Medal, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal w/ Bronze Arrowhead, French Croix de Guerre, Belgian Fourragere, French Fourragere / WWII Campaigns: Algeria Fr Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Central Europe / Later overseas service: Served in Germany with NATO forces during the Korean Emergency.
The narrative below is from a television interview recorded in 1972. The recording (made by Thames Television for a TV program on D-Day) is now part of the Imperial War Museum’s oral history collection.
The interview was transcribed and edited as a single narrative. Topic headings have been added to aid the reader. Editorial interpolations for intelligibility are in brackets.
At the time of this interview, Ed Wozenski was a retired brigadier. On D-Day, Wozenski was commander of E Company, 16th Infantry.
Edward F. WozenskiCaptain on D-Day, E Company, 16th Infantry, 1st Division.
Interviewer: Thames Television (1972).
Edited as a narrative by War Chronicle.
Colonel George A. Taylor, our regimental commander, gave us freelance in training. I had the liberty of training my people in any way I wanted to. I knew the job that had to be done and if I wanted to train three days continuously, day and night, that was my option. I could do it. And then I could knock off for three or four days and people could go off to London or wherever they wanted to go. And I think we set a record. I don’t recall one AWOL in England. When we worked, we worked hard, and when we played, we just did it all the way.
As an assault division, however] We were over trained. This is a thing that I learned. We had number one man in number two boat team going for aperture number three in pillbox number seventeen. So if you missed your whole target area by a thousand yards, you were in another family of pillboxes and the whole thing went completely askew.
I objected to the formation of boat teams in the first place. I thought we should stay with our basic organization as near as we could possibly stay. We were told that we would stay with boat team organization until we were well inland and then on a given day orders would come down we would revert from boat team organization back to our standard organization. Best of my knowledge, that order never did come through. So we changed as rapidly as we could, with the few people that we had left, we went back to our standard organization.
We had been led to believe that a preponderance of firepower was going to be available to us [for the landing]. But by this time we had learned the hard way. *1* I would not allow my people to depend on any of this fantastic firepower that was going to support us. And we provided for all of our own means: Communications from radios to flares even to engineer tape.
Despite all the fantastic gear that was supposed to be laid out for us, [I said to my men] have faith in what you have in your hand.
And thank God we did.
D-Day support: rockets
I can recall back to the days at Slapton Sounds in England when we were rehearsing. We had nine Landing Ship Rockets. They would trigger off a rocket at a time until [one] walked on the water and hit the beach. Then somebody would pull the master switch and a thousand rockets would take off per ship. In a fantastic display, they just churn up the beach.
In the real show, [the ships] were drawing some shore gunfire. We saw the rocket ships taking some evasive action and somebody panicked and pulled the switch. And we saw this tremendous display but Ill bet my bottom dollar that there wasnt one rocket that came within a half a mile of the beach. Nine thousand rockets, the most beautiful display you ever saw in your life, and Ill swear to God I didnt see so much as a hand grenade crater within a half a mile of the beach that I hit.
D-Day support: air force
Of course, we expected great things of the 9th Air Force too. We had been briefed with their pilots.
John Finke [captain of “F” Company, 16th Infantry], he and I were both briefed. He had Exit E-3, and I had responsibility for Exit E-1. And each one of those exits was to get 186 tons, the figure stays right in my mind to this day, 186 tons of divebombing by the 9th Air Force on Exit E-1 and the same thing for John Finke on Exit E-3. *2*
To this day, I don’t know what happened. As I say, I didn’t see so much as a hand grenade crater there anyplace.
I worked with the 9th Air Force. Fine people. I’m not running down anyone, these things happen. What went wrong, I don’t know. [Laughs] But why didn’t we get our 186 tons of bombs on my specific target! Same with John Finke. Not a trace of anything there.
And then of course the 8th Air Force was supposed to carpet the whole area with 2,000 tons of bombs. Where it went, I don’t know. It must have gone far inland.
D-Day support: tanks
After we debarked into the small LVCPs, I recall any number of characters floating around in the waves with their life vests on. I thought the 9th Tactical Air Force or possibly the 8th Air Force had taken a hell of a beating and these people had gone in. Until it dawned on me what had happened. The amphibious tank battalion that was supposed to hit the beach four minutes prior to H-Hour, apparently all swamped.
When I got to the beach I saw two tanks there. I’m assuming the other 52-odd did go in [that the DD tanks sank] and the crews bailed out. These were the people we went through.
We were all so secretive, sworn to such secrecy, about these famous DD tanks. [But in Normandy,] Sergeant Streczyk, what a sense of humor that man had, called me into a bunker where Germans had one of our DD tanks, painted right on the aperture. [Laughs]
We just resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going on land at daybreak, 0600. We preferred to land at night but once the decision was made we had to go with it.
So you’re always ticked off about that and say you hope to God it never happens again.
We had a very conspicious aiming point toward which our landing craft could shoot. There were very strong crossties coming in there. And at one point I threatened to shoot our coxswain because I wanted him to go in toward this point and he was allowing the whole thing to drift off.
The interviewer asked: “Was the sickness great in the landing craft?” Wozenski answered: “Yes, yes. It was far more than just sickness. Men loaded their pants and everything else. I had rarely seen than before. I tried to stand up and get some sea breeze, but [most of the men didn’t because] instinct would have you huddle down.”
To this day I don’t know what happened to the very fine 116th Infantry of the 29th Division. They were scheduled to move in on our right. The 1st Division, as the records will show, is scheduled to land in a column of regiments, the 16th Regiment leading. In our regiment there were two battalions to lead: the 2nd and the 3rd. And in the 2nd Battalion, John Fincke and I had E and F Company, we were to lead in our battalion.
Three battalions of the 116th Infantry were to hit the beach [along with two battalions of the 16th Infantry] so that there were going to be at least five battalions hitting the beach initially.
I wanted company. I wanted company very badly. I could see John Finke to my left with his seven or eight landing craft. I had mine, but E Company of the 116th Infantry was supposed to be to my right. We crested a wave and the last thing I did before we hit the beach proper was to look. I’m looking for company, I want company, and I could not see them. I imagine I had a good two or three miles visibility. And they were not in sight. Nowhere. And to this day I don’t know what happened. *3*
The beach was bloody awful. We landed, per the navy’s request, at low water and that meant approximately 400 yards of struggle over the sand. So there was 400 yards and we were horribly overloaded. Just before the landing we were taking all of our web gear. Standard web gear, issued gear, fine, battle proven gear. It was taken away from us because some theorist figured that it would be far easier and much more practical to carry a hunting-type jacket. So at the last minute we were issued these canvas jackets with these fantastic pockets all over the place and we transferred all of our gear into these pockets.
So picture: You hit the beach and you’re up and down, you’re in water and then you’re ducking, small arms and everything’s flying all around so you duck down. You’re terrified as anyone would be. And every time I got up I thought that it was pure terror that was making my knees buckle until I finally hit the shale and I realized I had about 100 pounds of sand in those pockets that had accumulated on top of the maybe 50 or 60 pound that we were all carrying in. So it wasn’t just pure terror that was making our knees buckle. Our pockets were full of sand. As I recall when I finally got up the shale I asked my first sergeant, who was right with me, ”For God’s sake, get a pack of cigarettes out.” And then he had to dig out handfuls of sand before he could get a pack of cigarettes for me.
But it was bloody awful really. The first time is rough anytime but this was our third landing. Most of us had seen the intelligence reports on what the Germans had on the beach. It seemed impossible just from the reports. And again our basic reliance on our own communications is finally what saved me and the remnants of my company.
Personally, I could not move out of my place. I just was pinned down. Everybody around me was being shot and I was willing to believe it [that we couldn’t move]. You’d stick your head up and they would just hose you right down. My executive officer, I’m talking to him, and he had one drilled right through his forehead. Lt. Duckworth, married an English girl just a week or so before the landing. *4*
And so we’re absolutely stymied and I was just praying for smoke, any kind of smoke, to act the same as nightfall would so we could get up through this wire. There were automatic weapons trained on us and heroics have nothing to do with it: people can not advance in daylight against automatic small arms weapons.
Others try to land
It’s just impossible to predict and so allocate your forces that everything will come out according to the needs as they arise. Obviously somebody had realized that there would be a heavy need for medical types and they were scheduled to come in. They came in and there was nothing you could do to stop them. We were a thin screen on the beach. We had not gotten up to the tops up the bluffs yet. Looking back, I could look at these Landing Craft Infantry, there must have been at least two of them that I saw there, with their ramps down, and these people just running like mad, almost lock step down the ramps on both sides of the Landing Craft Infantry, down toward the beach and they were being shot down just as fast as they came. The Germans had machine guns trained right on those ramps and they were just bowling them off just as fast as they ran down.
So it was very tragic. It was real sad to see the number of bodies that were in the water. Wave action will normally distribute logs or bodies or anything else head to toe along any given length of beach. But there were so many bodies that I saw a number of areas where they were two and three deep, just rolling in the waves.
Finally we made a lateral movement, but even that lateral movement would have been impossible if it wasn’t for the development of this battle smoke that began to cover the area.
There were some tanks burning, some landing craft caught fire, and the general smoke and haze of a battlefield began to develop. This gave us enough masking so that we could get up the cliffs. It never would have happened if we didn’t have that smoke, that battlefield smoke. And then through all this, off on the flank, I saw a yellow smoke flare.
This was one of our basic signals. All platoon leaders and platoon sergeants had yellow smoke flares. I said, if all else fails, the first son-of-a-gun that gets up on top of that bluff will set off a smoke flare.
And down off to the right there, maybe a thousand yards or so, I saw a yellow smoke flare. We all had trench knives and I said, I’ll try to assemble as many people, alive ones, as I can. Move down to a point, about where I thought that yellow smoke flare went off, and make a move up there. Because somebody got up there and I knew that I couldn’t get up where I was.
So I remember distinctly taking my trench knife and pressing it in people’s backs to see if they were alive. If they were alive, I’d kick ’em or roll ’em over and say, Let’s go. And I picked up a half dozen people this way and we’d move on down. But I didn’t realize that terror could be so great that a man, a live man, would not turn around to see who was sticking a knife into him. And I didn’t [jab hard]’I just did it as a quick test, see if he’s alive he’d better come, you know, we need him. Then later on it dawned on me, after I checked two or three, that some of them were alive but they wouldn’t turn around, just absolute terror. Now I could be in the same boat but at that particular time I was standing.
We assembled maybe a dozen people about opposite this point where I saw the yellow smoke flare. Then I worked my way up along with the half a dozen, I’d say maybe ten people, and I ran into this sergeant who had sent up the smoke flare.
I think that he’s the greatest unsung hero of World War II: Sergeant Streczyk, one of my platoon sergeants. Because he was the first one off the beach. To the best of my knowledge, he was the first one of the beach and it was the path that he took that I picked up. The rest of our battalion followed, 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry, and then later on I think almost the whole corps went up that path.
As I told this character Cornelius Ryan, I’m climbing the bluff and I see Streczyk coming down because he’s happy to see me and he’s got a grin on his face. And I say, ”My God!” as he puts his foot on a teller mine right in front of my nose. I’m climbing up the cliff and he puts his foot on a teller mine. I said,”Wha-?” How stupid could you be?
He says, ”Oh, don’t let it worry you, it didn’t go off when I stepped on it going up. *5*
We got up to the top of the cliff and we found one of our weapons that would fire. I had a head count. *6* I landed with 180 men and eight officers, I was counting myself, we were over strength two officers, and I had a head count and I counted 13 men, one other officer, and myself. And one weapon, one M-1 rifle would fire. So we put that man on guard and the rest of us sat down and cleaned our weapons. First echelon maintenance, right on top of the bluff.
Shortly thereafter I ran into John Finke, I think he had come up and gone off to my left toward his goal, and somebody had winged him through the helmet. He had blood streaming down all over the side of his helmet and I remember my telling him to get his backside back to the beach. Then we worked our way in from there.
In the overall picture, the casualties were light. But when bodies do not find room to roll one at a time, wave action up against the shore, and they roll two or three deep, there’s a lot of people dead around. And there were.
As I say, the overall picture, the casualties were light, but for the units involved at the time the casualties were very heavy. On reaching the top of the bluff, I found one other officer in my rifle company. I started out with 180 men and I found one other officer and 13 men. And the actual figures show, I think, that we had 52 killed and 54 wounded. So were some stragglers that just didn’t get the word on the beach and they eventually dragged [in] but we lost about two thirds of the company in one fell swoop. *7*
*1* A reference to the invasion of Sicily where the 16th Infantry faced a German tank attack without expected aid. Wozenski won his first DSC in this action. (See Men of the 16th.) [Return]
*2* The map of Spalding movements gives some idea of what was meant to happen and what actually did. Both E and F companies should have landed just to the west of their targets. Instead, they were intermingled (along with elements of the 116th Infantry) to the east of the targets. Spalding’s section landed where F Company should have been. Instead, F Company was in the next sector, on Fox Green. Also see D-Day assault company table.
*3* E Company of the 116th Infantry (29th Division) should have landed to the 16th Infantry’s right on Easy Green. Instead, two boat sections (a bit more than a quarter of the company) landed to Spalding’s right. Five other boats sections landed with Wozenski and Finke on Fox Green. By noon, E Company of the 116th was beside G Company (of the 16th) west of Colleville.
*5* This scene is including in The Longest Day. Ryan also notes that Streczyk “almost booted men off the beach and up the mined headlands, where he breached the enemy wire.” Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day (Simon and Schuster, 1994, reprint), pg. 265.
*6* It’s unclear if Wozenski means the whole of E Company or just those elements that landed with him on Fox Green. In the 16th Infantry casualty report, E Company opening strength is listed as eight officers and 211 other ranks.
*7* The “one other officer” may be Lt. Hutch (later captain and E Company commander). The “actual figures” referred to are unknown. It’s highly possible that E Company was at one third effective strength on 6 June, but these numbers don’t square with figures in 16th Infantry casualty report.