The best books about D-day. Find them here... Father's day gift?
Richard Bostwick, 401 GIR 101st ABN DIV.
In the evening of June the 5th, we were further briefed on the situation and reminded of the proper behavior if captured by the Germans. The more we discussed our current circumstances, the more I began to feel the gravity of the situation. This was no dry run, we would invade France in the morning.
Sleep was difficult, a series of 40 winks. I felt that I must sleep....get all the rest that I could because I would need every ounce of energy in the morning. I prayed, and I prayed.
At one point during my battle to sleep, I became aware of the drone of many aircraft passing overhead and decided to go above and have a look. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of aircraft, their exhaust flames as so many matches glowing in the night sky. I should have liked to have read the thoughts of those men up there.
Never having been in combat, I experienced mixed emotions. I felt fear, my stomach churned and I felt as though a heavy load was on my back. Perhaps I imagined the pains in my back but the weariness I felt in my legs was not my imagination. Returned to my bunk for another 40 winks.
At about 5 AM I was shaken awake and heard the words "let's go"! Reaching topside I discovered that a dull murky grey color had replaced the black sky. I felt cold...oh so cold. Troops stood shoulder to shoulder on deck. I looked toward the coast of France, there were many columns of smoke rising skyward. Close to the beach, maybe at the water's edge a large fire was burning fiercely. Enough darkness remained to give the fire a spectacular effect. We couldn't have been more than a mile and a half out. Booming, blasting explosions, one upon the other, took place all around us. The light of a new day began to emerge, assuring the enemy a better target.
Enemy artillery fire began to find the range. Exploding shells were falling close by showering everyone with sea water. A ship to the right of us was hit and sunk in a matter of minutes. Men were everywhere in the water and no one seemed to pay attention to their predicament; no doubt there was a master plan to deal with such a happening and somewhere in the melee a rescue craft was on its way.
Above the din (the noise level continued to increase) Capt. Mac was heard barking orders, directing our unit to the side of the ship at which point we would off-load into the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) located along side of, and directly below us, bobbing like a cork on the sea swells and crashing against the side of the ship. Getting into the LCI was tricky and timing was all important. The LCI, loaded to capacity, fighting heavy waves, headed toward the beach. The fire that I had observed earlier, was still burning away, columns of smoke rose from every sector of the beach. Shells continued to explode in the water creating geysers and swells, that caused our craft to heave violently. Now and then an artillery shell would skip off the water much like the stones we used to skip off the Red River. These erratic trajectories produced frightening sounds.
Standing forward in the bow of the LCI, near the ramp that formed the front end of the craft, I would be among the first to face whatever there was in store for us. I peered over the side of the craft and noted that ours was one of many LCIs headed toward the beach. I had known fear in a form that sent a chill up my spine, suddenly a new type of fear was experienced as an incoming shell came screaming at us..thought it would land in our craft. A terrific explosion rocked us silly. One of the colored men tending the barrage balloon had been sitting at the rear of our craft in an elevated position, he was killed instantly. There was blood all over the place. My God, I was scared.
The beach now appeared as a ribbon of sand some distance from us. Suddenly our craft lurched heavily to one side, there was a grinding rasping sound as we slowed and then stopped dead in the water, we appeared to be stuck on a sand bar. The Navy pilot tried every maneuver to free the craft, the whine of the engines changed pitch when in reverse and in forward. We were pitched from side to side as the pilot used left rudder, and then right rudder, reverse, forward, repeating the cycle again and again. We remained fast. The tempo of the action appeared to be accelerating. Enemy artillery shells were screaming in every direction. American naval guns added to the din. American fighter planes swooped low overhead as they made their run inland.
The order was given to abandon ship, there was no alternative. We were sitting ducks. Our only hope was to get off the craft and into the water. Suddenly the front section of the craft was lowered into the rough sea. Staring straight ahead, as I was about to enter the water, I scanned the sandy beach and the high bluffs beyond. I had no memory of the bluffs behind the beach, they hadn't been displayed on the sand tables that we had spent so much time studying.
The water was cold. I slowly inched my way down the ramp. The water was up to my knees, my belt line, my armpits; I hesitated as water sloshed over my shoulders; wondered how deep it would get. When my feet touched bottom the water was at my chin, and, at times, surged over my head. Frequently holding my breath I struggled toward the beach. The weight of an ammunition box in each hand helped to steady my advance but even then had a helluva time staying on my feet. Shorter troops were held up to keep from drowning. I don't think it will ever be known how many troops drowned on D-Day. Hundreds of steel helmets dotted the water.
A soldier to my right suddenly slipped under the surface and I lunged in his direction only to find myself slipping down an underwater incline. I grabbed his shoulder strap and hung on for dear life...I couldn't pull him up..we were going deeper and I needed air. I was about to let go..needed air. A hand caught hold of my shoulder strap and slowly the two of us reached the surface. It all happened so fast; I remember the murky grey color of the water. A great deal of hacking and coughing, spitting and snorting followed. We had no doubt run into an underwater shell hole. The water was at my shoulders.
In spite of all the obstacles I finally staggered onto the beach. In the process, I lost one of the ammo boxes. To hell with it. I moved across the beach in a helluva hurry. Bullets whined and ricocheted all about. I ran to the shelter of the bluff. Among the dead lying about, there was a handsome blond young man..his right temple looked like raw hamburger.
Moving clumsily, I moved over the bluff and onto a beat-up roadway that lead inland. I was aware of the warnings that the ditches and roads were mined but with the sound of screaming artillery shells, I found myself flat in the ditch. I was certain about the artillery shells, but not so sure of the ditch. All hell was busting loose and shrapnel whined in all directions. When the stuff eased up we continued on a short way but was soon hugging the ground again. I lay there for an indefinite time before deciding to dig-in. The soil was sandy and I had little trouble digging from a prone position.
The best books about D-day. Find them here... Father's day gift?