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Part IV - D-Day Landing at Normandy PDF Print
Written by Charles Harper   
Thursday, 18 April 2002

Most of us slept in our vehicles. At least it was warm where they were. The only way into them was a small ladder and opening just large enough to get through. If it was warm enough some slept on deck. Every night we stayed on deck till almost mid-night and watched the bombers go over then we would wait and see how many came back. We could tell by the formation if any were missing and there usually was.

After loading we pulled out into the channel to wait for the rest to join us. While passing out a large balloon was tied to each ship. It was on a cable and flew about 200 feet above the ship. That was to keep enemy planes from strafing the ship. The second day out we were issued life belts. They had two little cylinders of compressed gas which when broken would inflate the belt. These were to be worn till we landed on the beach in France. We were all lucky and didnít have to use them.

We werenít long in coming to the battle area as one could see parts of ships sticking out of the water as we passed. They werenít part of our convoy though. As we crossed the channel the ship had to travel in a marked path as we were passing through a mine field all the time. Mine sweepers were at the head of each lane to pick up any stray mines. We were given pills to take in case the water was rough, and it sure was rough, the pills did help.

During our crossing the vehicles worked loose. Mine had about 18 inches of slack and it used all of it as the ship rocked. It didnít make a very good bed to sleep on. I finally blocked mine with sand bags that we had to carry. We had to carry nine in each vehicle. They were to help take up the shock in case we ran over a mine. After a few days out a lone German plane would come over every night and drop a bomb. One came close enough to splash water up on the deck of our ship. The second try he was shot down by the shipís guns. The next night another took his place though.

By now we were over the horizon and could begin to see what it was all about. In the distance we could see the smoke and fire of the guns and hear the noise in the distance. We figured we were then about 13 miles from shore. We were moving closer all the time though and soon were where we could see all that was going on at first hand. The night we anchored still about 5 miles out orders came through to silence all guns as a large flight of our planes were to go over and bomb the coast. We later found out that the order was given by the Germans and they were the ones that sent the bombers over. One bomb landed so close it made the ship buck. Only a few minutes later the silence had been lifted and the sky lighted up like a Fourth of July celebration with hot lead from the ships guns. We had the pleasure of seeing the plane shot down and burned that had dropped the bomb on us.
The next morning we could see a ship to our right sinking. With glasses we identified it as the one carrying our 2nd Battalion. We learned that it had hit a mine. In two hours it was under the water. All men on board were saved though but they didnít save any equipment.

That morning we moved to Utah beach and then were in range of the shore guns. They werenít a bit backward about using them on us either. The only trouble was that they couldnít quite get the range. We could see the shells splash in the water each getting a little closer till we were sure the next would hit the ship. But the next would just go over us and land on the other side then they would start all over again. This went on all day and the planes again at night.

The next morning we started to unload. During the night a plane dropped a bomb that landed about two hundred yards from us so no damage and the plane was shot down. Another came over and dropped a flare they are so intensely white that it makes one feel necked as a jay bird. That plane was also shot down. But the excitement wasnít over as some one spread the gas alarm. All our masks had been water proofed and so were air tight. A few seconds later they werenít though. The gas alarm was just a scare so we had to waterproof the masks again. We had a good laugh at some who had forgotten about the masks being waterproofed and almost suffocated before they remembered it.

The next day we and the vehicles we were driving were loaded onto LCI, Landing Craft Inf, boats and run in as close to the beach as they could get. During this time the German planes and artillery were continually throwing lead at us. Our foot troops were already on the beach and the vehicles were unloaded last.

During the unloading of our equipment a German plane intent on strafing us was shot down and in his power dive for the water he missed the LCI by a very small margin. I know because I was on it. I believe I could have touched the plane as it went under if I had tried. Anyway nothing was damaged. A few minutes later we were transported to within about a hundred yards of the beach and from there we had to drive the vehicles in the water to the beach. The water was deep enough to cover the jeep I was driving so I drove to the beach with only my head, part of the steering wheel and chest above water. We had the sharp whine of machine gun bullets, the racket of the planes and shore guns to sooth our nerves as we made the wet landing. For this landing was why the vehicles had all been water proofed in England.

All our equipment got in without mishap except on jeep which ran into a shell hole and sank out of sight. The driver waded out and we got the jeep later. We all ended up at our collecting area late that night. Three of us drivers were together and were turned into a field by a guard. We were the only ones there and still didnít know where the rest of the company were located. As there was nothing we could do we rolled up into our wet blankets and slept till morning then found out our company was located just across the road from us.

To be continued in next week's installment.

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