Operation Overlord: D-Day
By: Maddie Capps and Kay Reserva
US troop landings on the Beaches
Before the designated operation, paratroopers and gliders established a secured area before the invasions began the next morning. On June 6, 1944, almost 200,000 Allied soldiers landed on five beaches near Normandy, France. These invasions were planned months before and landings were on codenamed beaches Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. Each beach contained American and British troops with specific plans and tactics.
Omaha Beach was the most protected beach but, experienced tons of bloodshed. Over 2,000 American troops were found dead or wounded and many missing. It was the hardest beach to be on because German soldiers were underestimated and only two of the twenty nine amphibious tanks reached shore. Machine-gun fire was extreme but, men were able to arrive to the safety of the seawall and by that night were able to gain a one and a half mile advantage in.
Gold Beach was maintained by British troops and was in the middle of the other four beaches. Before the initial fighting, aerial bombardment wiped out much of German defense. Armored vehicles, known as “Funnies”, destroyed obstacles and secured several exists pushing inland. After this, troops from Gold Beach were able to capture Arromanches and make it a loading harbor.
Survivor from the Beach: Robert Edlin
Robert Edlin was a member of the 2nd Ranger Battalion that joined the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach.
Our assault boat hit a sandbar. I looked over the ramp and we were at least seventy-five yards from the shore, and we had hoped for a dry landing. I told the coxswain, "Try to get in further." He screamed he couldn't. That British seaman had all the guts in the world but couldn't get off the sandbar. I told him to drop the ramp or we were going to die right there.
We had been trained for years not to go off the front of the ramp, because the boat might get rocked by a wave and run over you. So we went off the sides. I looked to my right and saw a B Company boat next to us with Lt. Bob Fitzsimmons, a good friend, take a direct hit on the ramp from a mortar or mine. I thought, there goes half of B Company.
It was cold, miserably cold, even though it was June. The water temperature was probably forty-five or fifty degrees. It was up to my shoulders when I went in, and I saw men sinking all about me. I tried to grab a couple, but my job was to get on in and get to the guns. There were bodies from the I I6th floating everywhere. They were facedown in the water with packs still on their backs. They had inflated their life jackets. Fortunately, most of the Rangers did not inflate theirs or they also might have turned over and drowned.
I began to run with my rifle in front of me. I went directly across the beach to try to get to the seaway. In front of me was part of the II6th Infantry, pinned down and lying behind beach obstacles. They hadn't made it to the seaway. I kept screaming at them, 'You have to get up and go! You gotta get up and go!' But they didn't. They were worn out and defeated completely. There wasn't any time to help them.
I continued across the beach. There were mines and obstacles all up and down the beach. The air corps had missed it entirely. There were no shell holes in which to take cover. The mines had not been detonated. Absolutely nothing that had been planned for that part of the beach had worked. I knew that Vierville-sur-Mer was going to be a hellhole, and it was.
When I was about twenty yards from the seaway I was hit by what I assume was a sniper bullet. It shattered and broke my right leg. I thought, well, I've got a Purple Heart. I fell, and as I did, it was like a searing hot poker rammed into my leg. My rifle fell ten feet or so in front of me. I crawled forward to get to it, picked it up, and as I rose on my left leg, another burst of I think machine gun fire tore the muscles out of that leg, knocking me down again.
I lay there for seconds, looked ahead, and saw several Rangers lying there. One was Butch Bladorn from Wisconsin. I screamed at Butch, 'Get up and run!' Butch, a big, powerful man, just looked back and said, 'I can't.' I got up and hobbled towards him. I was going to kick him in the ass and get him off the beach. He was lying on his stomach, his face in the sand. Then I saw the blood coming out of his back. I realized he had been hit in the stomach and the bullet had come out his spine and he was completely immobilized. Even then I was sorry for screaming at him but I didn't have time to stop and help him. I thought, well, that's the end of Butch. Fortunately, it wasn't. He became a farmer in Wisconsin. As I moved forward, I hobbled. After you've been hit by gunfire, your legs stiffen up, not all at once but slowly. The pain was indescribable. I fell to my hands and knees and tried to crawl forwards. I managed a few yards, then blacked out for several minutes. When I came to, I saw Sgt. Bill Klaus. He was up to the seaway. When he saw my predicament, he crawled back to me under heavy rifle and mortar fire and dragged me up to the cover of the wall.
Klaus had also been wounded in one leg, and a medic gave him a shot of morphine. The medic did the same for me. My mental state was such that I told him to shoot it directly into my left leg, as that was the one hurting the most. He reminded me that if I took it in the ass or the arm it would get to the leg. I told him to give me a second shot because I was hit in the other leg. He didn't.
There were some Rangers gathered at the seaway - Sgt. William Courtney, Pvt. William Dreher, Garfield Ray, Gabby Hart, Sgt. Charles Berg. I yelled at them, 'You have to get off of here! You have to get up and get the guns!' They were gone immediately.
My platoon sergeant, Bill White, an ex-jockey whom we called Whitey, took charge. He was small, very active, and very courageous. He led what few men were left of the first platoon and started up the cliffs. I crawled and staggered forward as far as I could to some cover in the bushes behind a villa. There was a round stone well with a bucket and handle that turned the rope. It was so inviting. I was alone and I wanted that water so bad. But years of training told me it was booby-trapped.
I looked up at the top of the cliffs and thought, I can't make it on this leg. Where was everyone? Had they all quit? Then I heard Dreher yelling, 'Come on up. These trenches are empty.' Then Kraut burp guns cut loose. I thought, oh God, I can't get there! I heard an American tommy gun, and Courtney shouted, 'Damn it, Dreher! They're empty now.'
There was more German small-arms fire and German grenades popping. I could hear Whitey yelling, 'Cover me!' I heard Garfield Ray's BAR [Browning automatic rifle] talking American. Then there was silence.
Now, I thought, where are the 5th Rangers? I turned and I couldn't walk or even hobble anymore. I crawled back to the beach. I saw 5th Rangers coming through the smoke of a burning LST that had been hit by artillery fire. Co!. Schneider had seen the slaughter on the beaches and used his experience with the Rangers in Africa, Sicily, and Anzio. He used the smoke as a screen and moved in behind it, saving the 5th Ranger Battalion many casualties. My years of training told me there would be a counterattack. I gathered the wounded by the seaway and told them to arm themselves as well as possible. I said if the Germans come we are either going to be captured or die on the beach, but we might as well take the Germans with us. I know it sounds ridiculous, but ten or fifteen Rangers lay there, facing up to the cliffs, praying that Sgt. White, Courtney, Dreher, and the 5th Ranger Battalion would get to the guns. Our fight was over unless the Germans counterattacked.
I looked back to the sea. There was nothing. There were no reinforcements. I thought the invasion had been abandoned. We would be dead or prisoners soon. Everyone had withdrawn and left us. Well, we had tried. Some guy crawled over and told me he was a colonel from the 29th Infantry Division. He said for us to relax, we were going to be okay. D, E, and F Companies were on the Pointe. The guns had been destroyed. A and B Companies and the 5th Rangers were inland. The 29th and Ist Divisions were getting off the beaches.
Story from a 101st Airborne Division Solider: Ed Fredericks
Ed Fredericks, 76, was part of a glider crew in the 439th Troop Carrier Group of the 101st Airborne Division.
Like many of his generation, he downplays the importance of his contribution and said that "the real heroes were buried at Normandy."
The gliders were one of the many unique tools used to gain a foothold in Normandy. Made of metal tubing similar to that used in building bicycles, canvas and plywood, C-47s towed the gliders aloft with a thick nylon rope which Ed recalls as an exciting experience. The rope would stretch as the C-47 rolled down the runway. When the tow rope drew up taut, the glider and the 13 men and equipment were rocketed forward to catch up with the tow plane as they strained into the air.
Ed's glider flew over the Pont du Hoc on D-Day and landed about 10 miles beyond the shoreline. He returned to England four days later and then in late June was part of another glider train that flew into the European Theater of Operations. On this second trip into France, his glider was part of a glider train of 30 aircraft and gliders. Ed recalls, "I looked down as far as you could see the ocean and beaches were just black with ships and vehicles."
Ed later did a glider landing near Bastogne after the battle was over. Ed and the men of his glider unit were then posted to a place he remembers as something "Chateaux Dun where they operated from until VE day. After that the were moved to Camp Lucky Strike where they got orders for what they were certain was a trip to the Pacific Theater of Operations.
After VJ day, Ed was released from service in late August or September and sailed from the port of Le Harve. "When you went home all depended on a point system. You got so many points for every battle star your unit had, Distinguished Unit Badges. When I mustered out I had 2 years, 9 months and 10 days under my belt."
Story from a Civilian: Marie-Louise
During the night of June 5-6, 1944, Marie-Louise's sleep is disrupted by the sound of cannon fire and aircraft overhead.
The commotion intensifies and the Germans start packing equipment into trucks in preparation of leaving the area. Confused, Marie-Louise is unsure whether the aircraft and gunfire are German or Allied. We join her story as dawn breaks on the 6th of June 1944.
"Little by little the gray dawn comes up., but this time around, from the intensity of the aircraft and the cannon an idea springs to mind: landing! I get dressed hurriedly. I cross the garden, the men recognize me. In one of the foxholes in front of the house, I recognize one of the young men from the office; he has headphones on his ears, the telephone being removed there. Airplanes, cannon right on the coast, almost on us. I cross the road, run to the farm, come across Meltemps. 'Well!' I say, 'Is this it, this time?' 'Yes,' he says, 'I think so, and I'm really afraid we're in a sector that's being attacked; that's going to be something!' We're deafened by the airplanes, which make a never-ending round, very low; obviously what I thought were German airplanes are quite simply English ones, protecting the landing. Coming from the sea, a dense artificial cloud; its ominous and begins to be alarming; the first hiss over our heads. I feel cold; I'm agitated. I go home, dress more warmly, close the doors; I go get Bernice [a neighbor] to get into the trench, a quick bowl of milk, and we run - just in time! The shells hiss and explode continually.
In the trench in the farmyard (the one that was dug in 1940) we find three or four Germans: Leo the cook, his helper, and two others, crouching, not proud except for Leo, who stays outside to watch). We ask them 'Tommy come?" They say yes, with conviction. Morning in the trench, with overhead the hisses and whines that make you bend even lower. For fun Leo fires a rifle shot at a low-flying airplane, but the Spiess[the German Sergeant-Major] appears and chews him out horribly; this is not the time to attract attention. Shells are exploding everywhere, and not far away, with short moments of calm; we take advantage of these to run and deal with the animals, and we return with hearts pounding to burrow into the trench. Each time a shell hisses by too low, I cling to the back of the cook's helper, it makes me feel a little more secure, and he turns around with a vague smile. The fact is that we're all afraid."
1. "D-Day - June 6, 1944: The Civilian View," EyeWitness to History, (2000, revised 2010).
2. Invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944: On the Beach" EyeWitness to History, (2010).
3. "D-Day and the Battle of Normandy: Your Questions Answered." D-Day Museum and Overlord Embroidery. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
4. "Military.com Content." Military.com Content. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
5. "D-day Information." D-day Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.