The Normandy Invasion

My Old War Map, 1944

THE 56TH SIGNAL BATTALION AT OMAHA BEACH - NORMANDY
INITIAL ASSAULT

The First US Army was composed of two separate Corps, the 5th and the 7th. The 5th Corps was composed of two Infantry Divisions, the 1st and the 29th. Each with about 10,000 troops. Advance radio and wire teams of our Communications Signal Battalion unit with a combat strength of about 200 initial landing troops were assigned to support the action by providing communications between the 5th Corps Headquarters and the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisional Headquarters. Selected wire communications teams, loaded on separate Naval LST craft, were assigned and attached to the two Divisional Infantry Initial Assault Groups. The landings were planned to be at Omaha Beach in the vicinity of St.Laurent-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer, Sectors FOX- EASY-DOG-CHARLIE. The assigned duty of our Signal Battalion forces was to also furnish a communications link between the various support troops attached to the 5th Corps; Hospital units, Artillery, Supply, Intelligence, Anti-Aircraft, Engineering, and so on. The method of transmission by telephone during the initial assault was mostly by stranded wire, placed on the ground surface, in ditches and trees. In addition, Short range Radio also was used. That was our mission during the initial assault at Omaha Beach Easy Red sector.

THE ENGLISH CHANNEL CROSSING - JUNE 5-6, 1944
My assigned wire team was dispatched from our station in Taunton, England in the early morning hours of May 23, 1944, heading for a location unknown by most, but somehow we knew that there was no doubt that this was going to be the awaited real action. Never before did we see such readiness and total security. Our unit arrived by vehicle convoy at a tented camp in the vicinity of Truro, England at 3:30 pm. After one year of training in the USA and two long years of stationed service in the United Kingdom, the waiting and apprehension of the beginning was calmly felt by all of us. After the complete isolation period, on June 1, 1944 at 7:30 pm, our advance unit boarded LST #54 at Falmouth Bay, England and sailed for France on June 5, 1944 at 1:00 am. All troops were provided with floatation gear and vehicles were prepared for a coastal watery landing. Here at last was the beginning or an ending of a different course. My personal feeling was that no matter the outcome for me, at least it was time for the happening and there was no way I could get back to my wife and family without this event getting underway. The thought of approaching the unknown and not surviving was lost in the anxious circumstance of the moment. The rehearsal beach landings with units of the Royal Navy Academy at Dartmouth, England located at Slapton Sands in Cornwall, England during the early Winter of 1943, were now a reality.


An LST is called a Landing Ship Tank and is about as long as a football field and 50 feet wide. The front end opens with two large metal doors for loading tanks and vehicles in both the lower deck and top deck by means of an elevator. Under ideal conditions the ship usually can reach the shallow shoreline and unload the vehicles directly onto the beach shoreline.] On June 5, 1944, after a few hours en route, due to rough seas and inclement weather, the landing craft ship turned back and the entire flotilla returned to port due to bad weather and departed early in darkness the next day, June 6, 1944 on the same course. As LST#54 approached the Omaha Beach site , DUKW Radio vehicles were discharged from our ship into the waters and as they approached the shoreline, immediately began to be under heavy enemy fire, inflicting loss of life, considerable vehicle damage and radio equipment. Upon direct arrival at the Omaha Beach disembarking location in the early morning hours on June 6, 1944, due to artillery fire and the lack of estimated land penetration by our forces, our ship was forced to anchor offshore less than a mile from the Omaha Easy Red beach. Many other landing craft began to build up behind us in the area, and as I can recall, only landing ships containing tanks were permitted to approach the beachead to discharge troops and cargo. This was our crossing of the English Channel aboard LST #54 and our DDay arrival at the assault site at the shores of Normandy at Omaha Beach - Easy Red Sector [Exit E-1] with the troops of the 1st Infantry Division courageously leading the way inland.

OMAHA BEACH EASY RED SECTOR - MY FIRST LANDING
JUNE 7, 1944, 1000 Hours

On this day, as we waited for our call to approach the beach for unloading, it was apparent that our unit was held back due to the lack of our troop penetration and that again, we would not be permitted to land on this day either. In order to get some information as to the conditions ashore, as it related to our communication activities and proposed Command location, one of our officers and I decided to board and go ashore on one of the Navy Higgins craft that was going back and forth from our waiting ship, returning loaded with wounded and disoriented enemy prisoners. We dropped down from the rope ladder onto the craft and began the approach to the beach. The water was filled with debris and floating youth in the recognizable OD uniform. The tide had not yet begun to erase the oil and diluted redness of life. As we stepped off and waded onto the beach, drifting sand partially covered the results of that first day of terror, both body and machine. There was no direct small arms enemy fire, only the explosion of occasional enemy artillery round which did cause concern. We proceeded to Exit E-1, up the hill, with the damaged GERMAN WN#65 armament concrete bunker to our right and headed for St. Laurent-sur-Mer which was our intended site.


After going about a half mile inland along with the troops of the 1st Infantry Division we quickly found out that this was no place for our communications skills and lack of confrontational training. Sniper fire was always a danger and hedgerows were not always cleared of enemy resistance. We finally gave up our unsuccessful search after about 3 hours and returned back to the shore. Truckloads after truckloads of our fallen comrades were being loaded and heading somewhere for close-by burial. No proper time for fear, tear or sadness, no time to think of why. We quickly found another landing craft going back to our LST #54 and returned in company with a few hapless looking German prisoners whose war was over. It was their own wartime ending in survival, but only an anxious beginning for us, with so many unforgettable unknowns yet to be.

OMAHA BEACH EASY RED SECTOR - MY SECOND LANDING
JUNE 8, 1944, 0945 Hours

The disembarking of our Signal units from LST #54 was made on June 8, 1944 at 9:45am. The vehicles were loaded offshore to Navy Rhino vessels which were US Navy motorized mesh rafts. After loading our unit with troops and vehicles, the craft headed for the Normandy shore onto the beaches to about 3 or 4 feet of water to the area of Omaha Beach, Exit E-1. There were no cleared avenues of shoreline landings for large LST craft available due to enemy place waterline obstacles. As we approached closer, to the beach area a small pathway between the enemy placed mines and obstacles had been cleared and no difficulty with the landing was experienced. The vehicles had been previously waterproofed and were able to make shore. No visible silent body remains of our troops were in the water or on the beaches, but debris was everywhere. Clothing, boxes and equipment floated by as we approached the shore. Damaged landing craft of all descriptions were partially submerged and resting on the bottom. Our vehicles were de-waterproofed at the shoreline and the wire laying communications began to be organized immediately amid occasional enemy artillery fire.


This was our crossing of the English Channel aboard LST #54 and our landing on the shores of Normandy at Omaha Beach - Easy Red Sector [Exit E-1] along with the troops of the 1st Infantry Division. Allied Navy battleships and cruisers offshore were firing rounds far inland and the overhead roar was for us a welcome encouraging sign. There was an abundance of smoke and fire on the immediate horizon ahead. Returning enemy artillery fire continued to strike the beach area, but had lessened considerably from the first days, as we had observed from the view in our anchored landing craft. This first evening ashore, while gathered in an apple orchard in the darkness of early morning hours just off in the St. Laurent-sur-Mer Omaha Beach area, a low flying enemy air raid, of what seemed like baskets of anti-personnel bombs dropped directly overhead, caused 28 casualties of wounded and killed, to our unit alone. Our baptism to the realities of war had begun in a very short time. The roar of the overhead plane engines, the ground explosions and the returning anti-aircraft fire, all occurring at the same time, produced a fearful completely deafening sound. Surprisingly, there was no time for fright or fear in most of the members of our group as we all tried to attend and gather the injured in the darkness. This was the thought and action of war we envisioned would be and were trained for, but until it actually occurs, the real affect and reaction is hardly known.

About the 56th Signal Battalion
The Normandy Invasion