Thursday, June 4, 2020

The 4th of June, 1944

Father (Major) Edward J Waters, a US Army Catholic chaplain, conducts a service on the quayside at Weymouth for army and navy personnel about to take part in the invasion of Europe, June 1944. Troops from Weymouth were destined for Omaha assault area.
(Source)

Private Jack Wilson, PFC Bill Brandt, and thousands of other soldiers lined up to board the ships that would take them to Normandy, though they did not know their destinations just yet. After what seemed like hours, they finally made it up onto the ship that would take them to battle. She was SS Empire Javelin. After they boarded, Bill swore softly under his breath. Jack was a little surprised, Bill seldom swore.

"What is it Bill? What's wrong?"

"Never mind Jack, it's just that have you noticed, this is a British ship."

"So?"

"The Brits have been in this war since 1939, their food is nowhere near as good as ours. Shortages ya know, we'll probably get porridge or something equally disgusting. Then again, it ain't like this is a pleasure cruise is it? One night aboard, two tops, then we land."

The men were ushered below to a maze of bunks stacked six high. A lot of the ship's hold was taken up by the landing craft that would actually take the troops ashore. The men were crammed in wherever the Brits could find space for a bunk. At least they weren't sleeping in hammocks!

Around 0100 hours, or 1 AM as Jack still insisted on saying, they felt the engines on the ship start up. After a half hour or so, they were shut down.

"What d'ya think that was all about Bill?"

"I dunno Jack. Hey, there's the Sarge, let's ask him."

"Sarge, what's the deal, are we moving out or what?"

"Settle down Brandt, the landing has been pushed back a day, so we'll try again tomorrow."

At that point Bill had to explain to Jack that the trip across the Channel could take an entire day. So he guessed the landing had been scheduled for Monday, now it looked like Tuesday was the day.

"Damn it Bill, I just want this over with, the waiting is driving me nuts. So will we go back to the camp?"

"I doubt it, we're probably bunking here for the next cuppla nights. Ya know the Army, hurry up and wait."

And wait they would.

Though for people in Canada, a news flash had announced the invasion of France had begun. Though immediately quashed as a false alarm, the news spread throughout the Americas. Like Bill and Jack, the world had to wait for the real thing.

Two Marauders strike a road and rail junction to keep German reinforcements from reaching the battlefront at Normandy.
(Source)

Feldwebel Krause bellowed "ALARM" as he jumped into his machine gun position. Coming in from the sea he had spotted a number of low-flying aircraft. Coming from that direction, he doubted seriously that they were Luftwaffe aircraft.

Dietrich was ready on the gun, Kołodziej was ready to feed the ammunition belt. As their position was high enough off the beach, they were in a fairly good position to engage the enemy aircraft. Dietrich already had his sights on the lead bird, this should be an easy shot, he thought, they're coming straight at me!

"Standby lads, standby, wait for my signal." Feldwebel Krause didn't want to open fire too early.

Grenadier Mellanthin wondered why the nose of the lead aircraft had flickering lights mounted on it. He thought that rather odd.

A flurry of .50 caliber machine gun fire from the lead aircraft walked up the side of the bluff and right into Krause's gun position. Only two or three rounds went into the position, but one had hit Dietrich, another the Feldwebel. Kołodziej and Mellanthin were untouched, physically. It had been a damned lucky burst from the American navigator, unlucky though for Dietrich and Krause.

Dietrich was gasping for air, one round had hit the concrete lip directly to his front then deflected downward into his abdomen. It felt like he had been punched in the stomach. On the other hand, Krause was down and wasn't moving. One round had entered the Widerstandsnest precisely through the firing slit. It had hit Krause in the upper chest, blowing a huge hole in his back. It was obvious that Feldwebel Wolfgang Krause was dead. Heinrich Dietrich was in the process of dying, rather noisily Horst thought.

Jan was trying to bandage Dietrich's wound, but he was bleeding profusely. And desperately trying to draw in air. Jan yelled at Horst to go get a medic, "Mach schnell Junge!" Horst didn't even notice that Jan's horrendous Polish accent was gone.

"Sanitäter!¹ We need a Sanitäter, two of our guys have been hit!" Horst screamed as he ran out the back of the gun position. Though the company medic made it to the Widerstandsnest in record time, he entered to find the Pole, Jan, kneeling next to Heinrich Dietrich's lifeless corpse. Sobbing uncontrollably.

Seems that Jan didn't hate Germans that he knew. Not at all.




¹ Sanitäter - Medic.

24 comments:

  1. I look at pictures like the first one, and I wonder how many of those guys didn't live out the week. I look at their faces, knowing there were loved ones at home, but they were there to rescue folks they didn't even know. To end the wholesale evil that was going on in Europe... to fight for their buddy next to them. They look like average guys. Man....

    My buddies dad that was in Patton's army, his name is Marvin, told me that whenever they got the order to move up, the church services were full. Everyone getting right with God. After the move up, when they'd met little to no resistance, the craps games would break out, and guys would find something to drink, and generally go on a tear... He said it was crazy. Happened every time.

    One of Marvin's buddies was a crap shooter. He showed up one night and said, "Marvin, ask me what time it is!" He had watches on his arm clear up to his elbow.... A few nights later, he asked Marvin, "Hey, what time you got?" Easy come, easy go, I guess.

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    1. Yup, every time I see a picture like that, I wonder how many actually made it home again. It hurts to think about it.

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    2. In the movie They Shall Not Grow Old, there is a scene showing a bunch of British soldiers in a sunken lane just before they attacked the German positions at the Somme - most were smiling and of good cheer for the camera. At the end of the movie was a section about how the film was made, and Peter Jackson said they searched and found the sunken lane in that scene, which I thought kind of amazing. But what sobered me up right quick was his next comment: "You have to realize that within 20 minutes after these pictures were taken, all those boys were dead." In a similar vein, I was looking at a 14th Armored Division booklet about their training at Camp McCall in Louisiana, and I had a similar thought along the lines of, "I wonder how many of the guys I'm looking at never made it home?" We owe them all so much!

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    3. They Shall Not Grow Old was very powerful. Colorizing that old footage made those men more real to me.

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    4. The Invasion losses were, though seemingly heavy to us, were surprisingly light to the forces. Except at Omaha. Where it resembled Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa far too closely and for the same reasons - inability to get past the first beach obstacles, not able to get the tanks onto the beach, poor close-in naval gunfire support and the enemy having premium troops.

      Once they got into the Bocage, though, yeah, that was just a nightmare of death every 100 feet. Advance a field, die, take the field, advance another field, die, take another field, repeat repeat repeat. The Cullen hedge-cutter was the saving grace there.

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    5. That hedge cutter got us out of the bocage.

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    6. That hedge cutter saved Europe. If we had been stalled like the Germans planned, until late fall or even early winter, the whole western front could have lasted much longer.

      So, in a way, by freeing our troops to rush east, it actually saved half of Germany from the Soviets' wrath. US getting to the dividing line and stopping and setting up field fortifications must have been quite a shock to Ivan, who expected to continue West at a frightening pace.

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    7. Yes, too bad Roosevelt decided letting the Commies into the West was a "good" idea.

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    8. I've thought much the same when my wife & I bought Fiddler on the Roof several years ago. The music is (mostly) great, but considering the death rate among those who stayed after WII began, it's pretty sobering to think of Tevya's relatives who 'sheltered in place' over the next 3 or 3.5 decades.

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    9. Sarge, I probably already asked, but did you ever see 1917? It's probably available on demand. The famous photo you used reminded me of the USMC Commandants recent guidance. It says that pictures like the one you used will likely never be taken again. Opposed landings aren't operational feasible anymore. However, the WWII Pacific Campaign island hopping is a new focus.

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  2. Haven't seen "They Shall Not Grow Old" yet. I don't know if I want to, and definitely can't watch it while Mrs. Andrew is in the room as she is sensitive about things like that. Which, of course, is one of the many reasons I love her.

    Though, well, with my vivid mind, well, I fill in the gaps between photos way too easily. I grossed out and almost got kicked out of a classroom for too vividly explaining what the real 'Spandau Ballet' was.

    WWI. The American Civil War fought with modern weapons. Or the Crimean campaign fought with modern weapons. All the countries involved had experienced Trench Warfare at it's worst in the late Black Powder days, including accurate long-range rifles, 'automatic' weapons, mortars (albeit more short stubby gun-thingies rather than modern mortars but still) and use of periscopes, telescopes, remote gun systems, mines, explosive torpedoes, even poisonous gas of a sort (burning highly toxic plants and waste so that the wind drifts it over the enemy, sure, not as bad as chlorine gas or mustard gas but sucking the O2 out of the air or sending burning poison ivy/oak/sumac oils downrange for the enemy to breathe...)

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    1. Beans- You MUST go. It is not some sort of pro-war propaganda, or blood and guts marathon. It is a thoughtful and comprehensive look at the WW1 period and what happened, especially the human side. Good, and bad. The narration is almost entirely provided by actual veterans of the war. As with real war, combat is but a small part of a soldier's experience.

      While the movie is indeed powerful, you absolutely MUST stick to the very end and see how they made the movie, from taking the jerky silent films to near modern film standards. The colorization is superb. (The producer is a serious WW1 collector and they drew on his vast collection to get details right!) For narration not provided by vets, they went to the trouble of finding people from the right locales to have the local dialect.

      I was hesitant to go, but finally did, along with my wife and a husband and wife collector couple. We all enjoyed it (for the insights and educational value, not as light entertainment).

      Then, got get some Sonny's BBQ afterwards. Great stuff I grew addicted to from my days in Gatorville, probably before you were born..
      John Blackshoe

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    2. It truly is worth watching. It's also available on HBO.

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    3. Beans, I totally agree with John B's assessment of TSNGO - especially the movie after the movie on how they made it... anyone who would hire forensic lip readers to get the correct dialog from silent movies is OK in my book! And I like 4 Rivers BBQ on SW 35th a bit better than Sonny's. :-). But let us know if there is a better local spot!

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    4. Beans, yes you want to see it! If you need to sneak it past She Who Rules, so be it. It's damned well worth the price of admission even at a theater, plus every thing else!

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  3. The Japanese pillboxes and bunkers I got to look at on Roi-Namur (Operation Flintlock - Seizure of the and Marshalls - seizure of surrounding islands Jan 31, 1944, actual assault on Roi-Namur Feb 1, 1944) paid attention to detail very well and were equipped with splinter shields and bullet catchers, to stop penetrating rounds from bouncing in. That and a large brow ridge covering the top of the gun openings to limit downward fire. Amazing buildings, still in very good shape in 1972. Including one large headquarters building that was just turned into an inferno with flamethrowers. Inside, not so good. Structurally, building held up.

    Of course, after Tarawa, the rule was Naval Gunfire Close. So that pesky cannon? Use a 14" AP round to stun them. It worked, surprisingly well.

    And, well, sucking chest and belly wounds are a rather nasty way to die. Bleh. Hope Jan and Horst make it to be able to surrender, though that's your call.

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    1. (Don McCollor)...In WW1, there was a section of trench aptly named "Coffin Corner" being taken over by a Scottish unit. The canny Scots were placing bets with the unsuspecting Brits that they would come out alive. The Brits did not think through the implications. If a Scot came out alive, they had to pay him. If he didn't and they won the bet, they weren't going to get paid.

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    2. We Scots are a canny lot, make no mistake. We're not cheap, we're what you call "frugal."

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  4. Reading this reminds of Das Boot. I finally saw it last year. Powerful movie.

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  5. Heard a second hand account of a guy who was an army NCO hitting the beach on D day. While they were waiting on the ships, one of he troops was really down, so he stopped to chat with him. Seems the lad was convinced that his number was up and he would not survive landing. The Sarge told him it probably wouldn't be that bad, and that afterwards they would be in France, where the young ladies really liked sharp looking young guys. He convinced the young lad what he needed was a fresh haircut, and personally gave him one. Sometime later the Sarge remarked, "It seemed to cheer him up. At least I hope it did. He was one of the first ones killed going down the ramp".

    Live every day. Tomorrow is promised to no one, even though it has been paid for by those who went before.

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