Going Ashore at Utah Beach

by Kim on August 9, 2013

Photo-Scanning-Austin-WWIIOn June 6th, the Liberty transport ships were loaded and Dad proceeded to the staging area at South Hampton England and was told he was headed to Utah Beach, which was less brutal terrain than Omaha Beach. Because his unit had military experience, they were chosen to go onto the beach days after the initial attack. Eisenhower had decided to expand the invasion of Normandy to include five landing places, three of them to be taken by the British and the rest to be taken by the Americans. Utah beach in the St. Mere Eglise area was named an American name specifically for invasion planning.  It was chosen because of the mess that had occurred at Omaha beach and because the approach was flatter to come ashore. He was supposed to be on the second day of D-Day, but storms delayed the departure by one day and the officers decided to take an additional day to better prepare the equipment for the sea voyage (wax epoxy was placed on the electrical wiring and snorkel extensions were put over the carburetor air intakes). They sailed from Dorchester, England on June 9th, 1944, taking two days to cross the English Channel at the furthest distance from Dorchester.

Dad’s boat was one of the fifty fleet transports to cross that day. He was aboard a LCI, a landing craft that would hold 20 – 30   Infantrymen. He boarded the smaller boat from the Liberty transport ship at 0430 and they landed at 0930 on June 11th,. The tide was low, but the men still had to march a hundred yards to get to the beach, all while wearing woolen pants and carrying their guns, their helmets, the gas masks, and back packs with their shelter – ½ of a pup tent -, an equipment belt containing their ammunition, K rations, first aid pouch and a water canteen. There was also a life belt with CO2 cartridges for inflation. It was reported to be about 50 pounds of equipment, not counting the heavy guns that they had to carry. We think Dad was carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle – that weighed 60 pounds. He would have walked ashore holding the gun over his head to keep it dry.

Austin-photo-scanning-HedgerowsThe Battalion marched through one of few causeways inland and then through a marshy area seven miles to Sebeville, France. There were a few casualties along the way: German soldiers, American paratroopers that had previously stormed the area to clear out the enemy and even a few French citizens. The hedgerows in the area were a problem to start. These thickly hatched bushes from 4 feet to 10 feet tall in rows along the road to demarcate farmer’s fields allowed the enemy to hide in the area and prevented the troops from marching straight over the marshes to their objective. The tanks were also not able to follow the path of the troops due to the obstacles of the hedgerows. A real breakthrough came when a tank sergeant improvised a large cutting blade to attach to the front of the tank to plow over the hedgerow, much like a snowplow. The troops dug trenches and settled in to enjoy their K rations, which came in a box about the size of cigarette cartons and was coated to keep it waterproof. In it were tins of Spam, cheese, powdered coffee, sugar, and a fruit bar. Hard chocolate was sometimes available but often they were so hard they were inedible. The regiment remained in bivouac at this location until June 13th preparing for their first attack to commence on June 14th. This battle would be the regiment’s first since the Sicilian campaign in August 1943, 10 months earlier.

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