Saturday, June 20, 2020

The 20th of June, 1944 - D + 14, The Storm

Storm on "Gooseberry"
Dwight C. Shepler

(Source)

The rain was pouring down and the wind was howling without cease. From their position near the coast, they could see that the waves in the Channel were the kind that kept anything smaller than a battleship at home. The storm on this side of the Cotentin (the western side) hadn't really picked up until today, two weeks after they'd come ashore.

Sgt Bill Brandt had been to the battalion aid station that morning and had talked to the battalion surgeon. Seems that Charlie was going to be okay, the Kraut bullet had missed everything vital but had nicked his large intestine. Doctor Sidney Corcoran had patched him up and told Bill -

"I had to open him up to repair a minor tear of the bowel, amazingly the bullet passed through him fairly cleanly other than that, very clean wound track. The man is being sent back to England to recover. It's going to be a few weeks, provided everything goes well."

"Thanks Doctor, no trip home huh?"

"Not this time Sarge, but he is a lucky man for all that."

Sgt Brandt looked back on yesterday, didn't see anything else he could have done. The Kraut sniper wasn't that good, fired at the wrong target, then moved too soon afterwards. Good for us, bad for him.

(Source)

Sgt Brandt looked out at the Channel, then back at his men. Huh, "his men," I'm starting to think like a sergeant I guess. While the guys were pretty happy that Charlie was going to be okay, they had given Pvt Woodrow Simpson a new nickname, "Duck."

"As in 'forgot to'," laughed Cpl Jack Wilson. Simpson figured that Charlie had saved his life. He didn't like the new nickname, but he also knew that if he bitched about it, it would definitely stick.

Duck looked over at Pvt Jackson Hebert, "Hey, A Bear, you got any cigs in that ration pack?"

Though his name was pronounced "Hee Bert," Tremblay insisted on pronouncing it the French way. Jackson, never Jack, hated it and let the guys know. So naturally it stuck. Hell, even Sgt Andersen and the L. T. called him "A Bear." Sgt Brandt had shortened it to just Bear, "Because you're always cranky!" The Sarge had quipped. I guess that was alright then, Jackson thought to himself. Sarge is a good egg.

As Bill chuckled at the back and forth, he noticed that their foxholes were starting to fill up with water.

"Time to bail fellows! Use your steel pots, otherwise you might drown in the night. Didn't realize you'd joined the Navy, did you?"

He sure wished that this damn weather would clear. Rumor had it that the division would be hooking south soon and not be marching on Cherbourg, which was fine with him. SSG Andersen had told him that if they could get around St. Lo, it should be clear sailing to Paris.

"Yeah, like we'll get to see Paris." Bill muttered.

"What's that Sarn't Bill?"

"Nothing Jack, any crackers and peanut butter in that ration pack?"

"Nope. Sorry."

And it kept on raining.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division in the Normandy Campaign 1944

Jan Kołodziej was wearing a British uniform. He was now officially Private Paweł Kowalski. The Polish guys he'd met in a little village had helped him slip his American babysitter and got him a uniform. When they discovered that he had been a mechanic's apprentice before the war, among many other things, they convinced their company commander that Jan, now Paweł, would be a great addition to the 1st Polish Armoured Division.

The captain had simply shrugged and said, "Why not, it's not like we will get replacements from Poland now is it?"

New uniform, new nom de guerre, Jan was happy to get away from the Americans. A couple of old grandmothers they were. He figured the best way to get back to Poland was to fight the Germans. He hadn't mentioned his late service in the Wehrmacht, short lived as it had been. While he remembered a couple of the Germans he'd served with fondly, he still didn't care for them as a people. He really hated Nazis, and this was a way to kill Nazis!

Bundesarchiv

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner, wearing his full black Panzer uniform, had been to see the battalion commander, Major Rolf Fromme. He was now the new company commander. A company of six tanks. The Tommies were killing them, bit by bit, every day. He was very pleased that the heavy rains had kept the English armor at home. The roads were getting muddier with each passing hour. Nothing like Russia, sure, but it was getting sloppy.

They were performing some overdue maintenance on their crate, they even had a full tank of fuel! The big shots up at battalion knew that the Tommies had to take Caen, otherwise they'd be stuck on the beaches for the rest of the war.

"You look pretty Boss!" Feldwebel Willi Hoffmeister catcalled from the top of the turret when Lindner arrived at the tank.

"Lick my arse you alter schwäbischer Hund!¹" Lindner barked back at his best friend.

The crew all laughed, Lord knows they needed the break from action. Humor was good, it helped. Though Lindner thought that beer would be better.


The storm the soldiers are experiencing was a very real event in history. The Allies knew that they would not be able to sustain their armies logistically just using the landing beaches. They needed a harbor, but until they captured an intact French harbor, they would need something to fill the gap. So the Mulberry artificial harbors were created and towed across the English Channel. You can read more about those here. A brilliant idea, but Mother Nature intervened on the 19th with a storm which raged for three days -
Construction of the Mulberry harbors continued for the first days of the invasion. The Gooseberry blockships, had been added to the design because of concern as to how the Phoenix caissons would fair in the giant waves brought on by Channel storms. And on June 19, D-day plus 13, a fierce storm began which lasted for three days and was reportedly the strongest summer storm in forty years. It caused much damage to the in-progress Mulberry harbors. Image above shows a wrecked pontoon causeway from the American Mulberry A artificial harbor at Omaha, following the storm of June 19, 1944 which destroyed the Mulberry A harbor.
The storm broke loose the Bombardon, (an outer ring of floating breakwater) and it was free to crash into the remaining harbor structures for the duration of the storm. At the American Mulberry A, several Phoenixes were badly damaged. Barges and other craft inside the harbor were thrown about by the giant waves. These vessels inflicted much damage as they repeatedly crashed into the whale roadways. By the end of the storm, Mulberry A was considered a complete loss, and any salvageable harbor components were sent to British Mulberry B, which was somewhat sheltered by a reef and suffered less damage. But most of the equipment and harbor components which were in transit were lost and the continued rough water caused delays in transporting remaining loads. (Source)
The Americans and their British, Canadian, French, and Polish allies may find supplies hard to come by for a while.

We shall see.




¹ Old Swabian dog, Hoffmeister is actually from a small village in Bavaria, not far from Swabia. He hates being called a Swabian.

40 comments:

  1. This is really GOOD writing Sarge! Accurate stuff from the personal level set in well-documented frame.
    Boat Guy

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  2. I worked with a fellow from Swabia. He claimed that Swabian cuisine was the best in Germany.

    I also like the timely masthead of "Scotland Forever".

    And keep the episodes of the Normandy invasion coming!

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    1. I did a quick search on Swabian cuisine, it certainly looks tasty. According to the article, the food is Swabia is rustic. It noted that nearby Baden's cuisine was French influenced.

      I like rustic!

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    2. Interesting that 'rustic' food is looked down upon by food-snobs, yet many of their most snobby foods are based on rustic dishes.

      I also like rustic. And hearty. Both mean 'flavorful' without being 'freaking weird like eating live octopi or food so hot it scorches you.'

      Mmmmm... rustic heartiness.... mmmmm...

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    3. After my second or third deployment I too came to enjoy rusty food.

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  3. I remember watching an episode of Victory at Sea about that storm.
    I think it part of the episode about the Normandy landings.
    Wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near that.

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  4. And yet, even though Mulberry A was destroyed, it was rebuilt (to an extent) and supplies continued to land and wounded continued to leave via the beaches until the end of the war. Very typical of the 'Can Do!' attitude of the times, maybe even an example of 'Must Do!'

    And we Americans really excelled at creative workarounds. Yes, the concrete platforms and caissons were British by design, but American engineers took standard barges, and lashed them together to make floating docks from the beach out to deeper waters and even huge barge constructions powered by very large 'outboard engines' (big V8 truck engines mounted on huge outboard lower units clamped and bolted to the rear of barges) that could and did go out as far as 1 mile from the coast to unload ships and bring supplies back to the beach.

    Improvise, adapt and overcome they did.

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    1. The Rhino barges, back when American ingenuity was a thing.

      I'm sure it still is, just not among the entitled classes (those who think the world owes them, yet they are pretty much incapable of doing anything productive or constructive).

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    2. A week earlier and it might've been much worse for the Allies.

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    3. They hit it just right in many ways.

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  5. As to wet foxholes, that just sucks. A fortunate few could build fighting positions above the ground, using the abundant stone walls and bocage to serve as the primary cover for the hole, with dirt and stone making the other walls. Of course, as soon as one made such an excellent place, it would be time to move.

    At least it was nominally summer. Fall rains in that area get quite cold and bonechilling.

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    1. I am very familiar with fall weather in that area of the world.

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  6. Arrived in the Netherlands in early Sept. 83 as part of the advance element of C2/103 FA 155 (towed) RIANG. Raining. Bus ride for 2 hours to a Dutch depot to await arrival of ship with guns & prime movers, etc. First thing I noticed on arrival (after the US and Dutch combined security with K9 supplement was a Lt. Col. emerging from a shelter half. The weather went down hill from there. A Regular Army battalion stationed in Louisiana had so many cases of hypothermia after 2 days everyone was evacuated to an empty hangar. That was the beginning of my awakening that at 42 years old I was rapidly approaching the cut-off date for such activities and upon return to CONUS I transferred to the Navy Reserve. Old Guns

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    1. Wet and cold.

      There's a saying in the part of Germany I lived in - "How can you tell it's summer? The rain is warm."

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  7. The very first picture just looks absolutely miserable.

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    1. The Naval History and Heritage Command has some good paintings of that storm, that's one of them.

      Yeah, looks a good day to be indoors!

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  8. Sarge, when I read the parts in italics I can't help but think of Carwood Lipton in Band of Brothers as he narrated what Easy Company did in that last year of the war. I'm going to enjoy the HBO series of this someday.

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    Replies
    1. Well, that would be nice. Instead of a book, go straight to a screenplay.

      High praise Tuna, thanks.

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  9. I flew over that countryside 40 years later in a Sea King that had been built only 16 years after D-Day. I thought 40 years was a lot but 16 wasn't all that much. We had a day of heavy weather in the channel and after landing back aboard in true zero viz and being chocked and chained on spot 5 I could still only intermittently see the island. Normandy is not exactly the south of France.

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  10. Probably most daunting challenge of D-day was finding window of Channel weather calm enough to do it...
    Rommel was absent from D-day amongst other things due to storms on 5th. Allied meteo guys spotted that good-enough-weather on 6th... Germans did not.

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    1. Not to mention the need for a full moon, not to mention the need for low tide being at a certain time in the morning...

      Lots of moving parts in that plan, wouldn't have taken much to have something go horribly wrong!

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  11. https://youtu.be/p-9w2J5s0xU Mark Felton strikes again with Caen battles and background
    and slight correction, Jan Kołodziej could not join 1st Armored Div yet, it arrived only by late July...

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    Replies
    1. Ah, but how do you know he's still in France?

      (Grumble, grumble, duly noted...)

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  12. (Don McCollor)...if the Allies had postponed for two weeks till the next low tide period, it would have been a disaster...

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    1. That storm would probably have extended the war by six months!

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  13. (Don McCollor) Edward Ellsberg in "The Far Shore" gives a behind the scenes picture of the Mulberry deployment. He did not mention other brave and unsung Merchant Marine who brought the 'Ghost Fleet' across the Atlantic in a very slow convoy to be sunk as part of the outer Gooseberry breakwaters. Concrete ships built in WW1, old rusty freighters nursing worn out engines, newer vessels too damaged to repair, some with gaping holes in their sides. The useless, lame and crippled making their last sacrifice...

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    1. Logistics may not be glamorous, but it wins wars.

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    2. (Don McCollor)…"You never know unless you try"...Ellsberg notes that the DUKWs were the ones that first helped save the logistical crisis. They were safely ashore during the storm - deuce and a half truck that could swim round and round out to deep water, take a load off a ship, then swim and drive back to the supply dumps LSTs and coasters were grounded to unload at low tide. In July, twice the projected supply tonnage for Mulberry A was being put ashore across open beaches...

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    3. Ah yes, the ubiquitous DUKW. They have some up in Boston, in running order. Not sure if they take them out in the harbor.

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    4. (Don McCollor)...My aunt's 2nd husband was in a DUKW at Normandy shortly after D-Day. There was a German night bomber buzzing around (with the concentration on the beaches, any bomb was likely to hit something). The were strict orders not to fire back, but they mounted their 50 cal and hosed of a burst of tracer in his general direction. Then the whole beachhead and all the ships out to sea erupted with AA fire. They dismounted their gun, crawled into their pup tent, and pretended to be asleep...

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    5. I probably would have done the same!

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  14. Since the weather here again played a significant part (destruction of the Mulberries), it is worth noting, even as a side note, that it was an American meteorologist, Irving Krick, who was, as is so often of the professional weather guessers, very wrong. In fact, Krick had forecast for excellent weather for the entire first half of June. Yet, if he had prevailed against differing opinion, the invasion would have fared far much worse. It is obvious that in time of war, wrong decisions carry disastrous consequence. Here, the subject was no less than the invasion at Normandy. IIRC, even the 6th was too soon but Eisenhower would not allow more time to pass as the Allied forces had been amassed at England and there was always the consideration that the Germans would discover the true location of the beach landings.

    Mr. Krick had organized the first civilian weather service. Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold recommended that Krick head an American weather division to 'oppose' the European meteorologists, notably British meterologist James Stang. Krick advised the invasion take place as originally planned for June 5th. In the acrimony which followed, it was Stang who won out and rightly so as history has proved.

    After the war, Krick's firm was hired by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to produce a monthly weather chart which was included in the association's magazine, Pilot. AOPA took a lot of heat from pilots who decried the use of Krick's charts for they were too often wrong. AOPA did not stop printing the monthly weather charts, instead they inserted a disclaimer that neither AOPA nor Irving Krick & Associates would be held liable. Krick's charts finally disappeared in the late 1960s.

    The tidbits of history often pop up unexpectedly and in unsuspected places. It make the history that more fascinating.


    Rick

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    1. Didn't know that about Krick. There is much about "Hap" Arnold that does not impress me.

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