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Wesley Ross

Omaha Beach

146th Engineer Combat Battalion, Company B


Dear Laurent,

We saw a number of our bombers overhead with alternate black and white stripes on their wings and fuselage for D-Day identification. Later, as we circled around marking time, we heard but didn't see the planes through the heavy mist; and we saw no bombs saturating the beach as promised. We learned later that the bomber crews were concerned that poor visibility would further the possibility of dropping bombs among those ashore, so the bombs were dropped a short distance inland. The only bomb crater seen by me that entire day was the one that was fortuitously placed right where needed--almost dead center in the obstacle demolition area for Gap Assault Team #8--a twenty foot diameter "Super Foxhole" with its surrounding sand parapet!

Suddenly we straightened out and headed for the beach--partially hidden by the fog and mist. Just as we passed closeby west of her bow, I looked up at the name "TEXAS" on a huge battleship. Moments later she fired a broadside from her 14" guns. The flame and dark brown smoke was a quite a spectacle in itself, but the blast was almost unbelievable, and would have blown off my helmet had my chinstrap not been fastened. However, it did cure my seven-barfbag case of seasickness, demonstrating that seasickness is mostly mental! As we moved shoreward we could hear the distinctive "whhuutuu-whhuutuu-whhuutuu" of those 14" shells as they passed overhead on their way to soften up the German gun emplacements.

A few hundred yards off to our right at about 0610, LCTRs (LCTs modified to fire high explosive rockets) cut loose with a number of volleys of several hundred rounds each. The boat's long axis was aligned toward the targets and the rockets were fired when at the proper distance from shore. We watched the winkling on the hill above the beach as hundreds of rockets gave the Germans their early morning "wake up call". Many writers have stated that the majority of these rockets landed in the water. Near the middle of Omaha, where we were heading, the rockets appeared to be hitting the hill beyond the beach, and therefore were quite effective!

As we approached the beach, I began seeing splashes in the water from the mortar, artillery, and small arms fire, so I quickly lost interest in being an observer, and ducked down behind the steel ramp and sidewalls. This was really fingernail-biting time, as detonation of our explosives by mortar or artillery fire would have been devastating. This unfortunate scenario was visited upon two Gap Assault Teams on the 299ECB's eastern sector, when their explosives were detonated prematurely. Both NCDU officers and the majority of their NCDU members were killed. The two army teams, to which they were attached, must also have suffered similarly as 299ECB pro-rated fatalities were almost double that of the 146ECB.

As we came close in, our navy gunner began "hosing down" the beach ahead with his twin .50 caliber machine guns, mounted near the stern of our LCM. This certainly was a morale booster, because as we approached the beach we saw several dead GIs face-down, bobbing and rolling in the surf. This was unsettling--this was just a few minutes after our infantry covering force had been programmed to be the first foot-soldiers ashore. These men may have been tankers in the DD-Tanks that sank in the heavy surf. Had they been in our initial infantry cover force, their under-the-chin assault gas masks should have kept them face-up in the water--even though drowned.

There were no visible tankdozers or infantrymen near our landing area when we scurried from our LCM, five minutes late from our planned landing time of 0633--(per Ensign Blean). This five minute delay had an adverse affect on our mission, as will be seen. Our tankdozer was late, and I had thought that our infantry covering force was also late. (We had landed on Easy Green, approximately 200 yards west of our assigned spot, and the infantry may have landed properly.) The fortified house near the mouth of les Moulins Draw, was a short distance east.

Gap Assault Team #7 was 200 yards to my west, and another team an equal distance to the east (Gap Assault Team 9?). This approximated the planned spacing. All eight 146ECB primary Gap Assault Teams landed on our western beach sector, and all were reasonably near their designated sub-sector areas--even though many writers have stated that the tidal current pushed most of the boat teams to the east. This may have been true for many of the infantry landing craft; and all four of our 146ECB support Gap Assault Teams did land far to the east on the 299ECB beach sector.

With the possible exception of Lt Bill Anderson's Gap Assault Team #2, which may have landed eastward--they were late, because their LCT had been sunk--primary Gap Assault Teams #1 through #8 all beached on the western sector near their designated areas. Gap Assault Team #8 landed on Easy Green, a few hundred yards west (right) of plan. Team #7, which was also scheduled for Easy Green, landed near the Easy Green/Dog Red border, about two hundred yards west of Team #8.

Due to a strong eastward current--and possibly because they were "following the leader"--all four 146ECB support teams landed much later than scheduled on the 299ECB's eastern beach sector. Team #C--the only 146ECB Gap Assault Team without NCDUs, which was supposed to have landed to our right near the center of Dog Red--landed on Fox Red at the extreme eastern end of Omaha Beach where the obstacles ended and the bluffs began. They were off target by about 4,500 yards.
Lt Donald Latendresse, OIC of that Boat Team, was hit in his lower legs by machine gun fire soon after the ramp came down. John Heenan and Albert Tucker left their protected location in defilade below the bluff, and went back into the machine gun swept surf to drag their boat team leader to safety. For their heroics, both received the Distinguished Service Cross, and both ended up in my 3rd platoon two months later. Great guys!

As for Gap Assault Team #8, its members hurried inland 150 yards near our "foxhole", and began placing the C-2 charges. Bill Garland, Earl Holbert, Bill Townsley, several NCDU members, and I slid the rubber raft out of the LCM, containing the backup explosives and bangalore torpedoes. It took some real tugging to skid out the raft, all the while sweating it out while presenting a stationary target with our backs to the enemy. Earl then pulled the raft eastward beyond the edge of our gap and tied the long small-diameter rope to one of the wooden obstacles.

Running a zigzag path up to our Super Foxhole located midway between the wooden obstacles and the steel hedgehogs, I found Sgt W. Grosvenor firing his M-1 at the fortified house near the mouth of D-3 Draw to our left front, attempting to suppress the machine gun fire coming from there. After a short discussion, I grabbed his big Signal Corp wire-reel containing the primacord ring main (two strands of primacord frictiontaped at two foot intervals to a small rope), and took off in high gear.
Running in multiple short dashes and hitting the ground often, denied the enemy gunners an easy target. Bullets knocked splinters from the wooden obstacles overhead after I hit the ground--or so I heard later! I ran the ring main clockwise around the wooden obstacles and Sgt Bill Garland ran his ring main around counter-clockwise. We square-knotted the ring mains together where we met. We then joined the team, who had almost finished tying on the C-2 charges. Sgt Grosvenor apologized for not performing per plan. My response--"we got the job done--end of conversation". It was never mentioned again.

While proceeding with the placement of the charges, I just happened to be looking eastward into the pre-sunrise sky, when an artillery round hit the sand sixty feet away. It ricocheted twenty feet into the air and its pointed nose was clearly visible against the morning sky before exploding. It split along its length and sent a two foot long "V-shaped" chunk of steel flopping over and over toward the northeast! High explosive artillery rounds are designed to produce multiple high velocity fragments, so this was a faulty round--the result of slave labor sabotage?? If so, it was much appreciated!

We were under heavy small arms fire almost immediately and machine guns, mostly unseen by me, were tracking our movement. I saw three riflemen slinking to my left, in defilade behind the natural sandbank seawall above the high water line. They were heading east toward the fortified house near the mouth of les Moulins Draw, but I was too busy to monitor their progress. These men may have been from our infantry covering force--the first contingent ashore from the 116th Infantry--and if so, may have been attempting to silence the enemy machine gun fire from the fortified house.

We began suffering casualties soon after landing, mostly from small arms fire, but our medics were unbelievably efficient and began taking care of the casualties where they lay. Many of the less seriously wounded didn't even bother calling for help. Minden Ivey, a rugged little Texan, took a bullet through the wrist, resulting in a compound fracture; but he kept right on shooting, refusing medical aid in favor of the more seriously wounded--although he did accept some assistance in reloading his M-1.

Without warning and from ten yards behind, our tankdozer fired an HE round into the left jamb of the right window in the fortified house 200 yards to our left front--and me without earplugs! That silenced the machine gunners who had been giving us so much trouble. We had been engaged, and until that blast, I was unaware that Tankdozer #8 had finally landed-about 15 minutes late. It was one of eight scheduled to land at H-3 in the 146ECB sector--one for each primary Gap Assault Team; and was put ashore from LCT #2075, from which we had debarked at 0330.

Less than twenty minutes after landing, Gap Assault Team #8 had the fifty yard section of the wooden obstacles--consisting of posts and ramps--ready to blow. Sgt Garland and I then tied 45-second detonators to opposite ends of the ring main, tossed out the purple smoke cannisters as warning signals to the infantry, and moved a short distance inland. The blast made quite a bunch of kindling and poles, but several of the obstacles were not destroyed in this initial effort.

Garland and I then tied 22 second detonators to opposite ends of the remaining ring main and tried again. Two posts survived that blast, so I ran back and attached an eight second detonator to the short fragment of ring-main, pulled the igniter and splashed shoreward in water up to mid-calf. Successful blast--our 50 yard gap was now clear through the wooden obstacles. Only the steel hedgehogs remained to be blown!

I have no way of knowing, but suspect that the primacord ring main had been cut by the artillery, mortar, or small arms fire--or possibly by our tankdozer. Ensign Blean then asked what his NCDU team should do. Since the NCDUs had Hagensen packs, and no 15 pound Tetrytol satchel-charges destined for use on the heavy steel hedgehogs, I released him, and his 11-men navy/army NCDU team to take cover behind the sand bank sea wall.

A short while later, I noticed a soldier sitting upright on the sand fifty feet to the west, facing seaward at the water's edge. Small arms fire was kicking up the sand around him and I yelled for him to take cover behind one of the steel obstacles. Either he did not hear me, or was disoriented and could not react; or he may have already been wounded.

Soon after, he slumped over on the sand, and the water sloshing around him slowly turned a delicate pink. He probably was killed and may have been from our NCDU #137, as I later learned that Wayne Carroll and Jessie Cleveland--two engineers from that NCDU--were killed that morning.

Heading for the seawall Tom Wilkins yelled for Jessie Cleveland to take cover from the heavy enemy fire. Jessie airily replied "I'll still be going when you're dead and gone"! Soon after Tom was shot through the hip while attempting to rescue a wounded infantryman--for which he was awarded the Silver Star; and Jessie was decapitated by a direct hit from a mortar round. His body was picked up the next day.

By the time Garland and I moved shoreward to the hedgehogs, our demolition team had positioned the tetrytol satchel-charges and tied them to the ring main, and we were ready to watch them disappear as if being swept away by an oversized broom! Just as Garland and I were attaching the 45 second detonators, an infantry LCVP landed 150 yards seaward near the east border of our gap. They were probably from the infantry force scheduled to arrive at 0700. Initially I had thought them to be our late-arriving 0630 infantry cover, but probably was in error--the time was about 0700.




Copyright (c) 2002 American D-Day