Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hero of Normandy

 

D-DAY, THE INVASION OF NORMANDY


        The following is a narrative written by W. Dee Galbraith, of Blanding, Utah, who served in the U.S. Army, 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion during WWII. An account of the invasion of Utah beach, Normandy France, in which he took part.

        June 6, 1944, the day That was known as D-Day, the Longest Day. The largest invasion in world history. It was a day that required bravery and great sacrifice for me as well as the men in the U.S. Army and our allied forces. We were at sea for three days and four nights in a violent storm. Being on an LST boat without cover to protect us from the rain and sea. Our tanks, half-tracks, and jeeps gave us no protection when we crawled under them. Waves were dashing over the side making the deck a flowing river. There was no way to make a meal so we had to make do with K-rations.

        Just after 24:00 hrs (morning of June 6th), the storm broke and the clouds began to break up. We could see stars shining through the gaps in the clouds. Overhead we could hear that our planes were up there to support the paratroopers with supplies that they needed. The planes were dropping then about ten miles inland from the beach.

        At 05:00 hrs. we were given the word that the invasion would be on time. H-hour was set at 06:00 hrs Starting shortly after 05:00, still in the dark, we began to start the engines on our vehicles, and unhooking the chains that we had secured than with to keep them from going overboard. It was not long until we were taking a straight course to the east, heading for the beaches of France.

        We could now see Utah beach and a war was going on to the east of us. The tide was going out fast, dead bodies were floating out to sea past our boats. LST*s (Landing Ship Tanks) were anchored and unloading soldiers over the side on rope ladders into patrol boats that delivered then onto the beach. Two big battleships, the Texas and the Nevada, were moving broadside, about five miles from the beach. They were firing there 15” guns, six volleys at a time, inland to France.

        The German’s were throwing everything they could at us and they were hitting a lot of their marks, ships ,boats, men, and anything that got in there way.

        As we came closer to the beach we could see the 12 foot high sea wall was still intact. American military, men and equipment were going to shore as fast as they could and running up to the sea wall. There was no place to go but forward, we were almost motionless waiting for the equipment to break through the wall. German prisoners were coming in very fast with out paratroops showing them in. We could see that many German soldiers died where they tried to make their last stand.

        The 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion ( which I was a part of) were not “greenies” to battles or invasions, we had fought in North Africa and in the invasion of Sicily.

        The craft that I was in was now going full speed ahead to land on the beach (Utah). The whole front end of the LCV (Landing Craft Vehicle) boat began to lower, making a ramp for the vehicles and us to leave. Each vehicle had a man appointed to wade ashore, directing it from floating mines and other obstacles that the Germans had placed there. These included cement pilings, railroad ties, and barbed wire. The tanks went first, then the half-tracks with the wheeled vehicles following in there place to the shore. As I jumped off from the ramp into the water (being the one assigned to lead the vehicles ashore), the out going tide was so swift I had to grab the cable on the side of the tank to hold me from going under the ramp. The was up to my chin, I was very grateful that the beach was very solid and sloped up to the sea wall. I was only in deep water for about 25 yards, though it seemed like a mile. I was dressed in gas-chemical proof clothing that I was told to

get out of as soon as possible. It seems that when they become wet with salt water a chemical reaction takes place that can cause injuries to the skin causing infections to set in. Finding the half-track with my barracks bag in it, I climbed into the rear to get my envelope of clothes. Just then an incoming 88 shell passed just over my head, the concussion knocked me off the half-track. When I fell,  I landed in the tractor tracks putting me below the surface of the ground and the shell exploded about 20 feet from me hitting men who were kneeling on the beach, with shrapnel. I received a whiplash which lasted about two weeks.

        I had just got my clothes changed when a call came to repair a tank that had hit a mine just before driving right against the sea wall. I was the only mechanic in the battalion. I took my toolbox (which weighed about 50 lbs. ) in arm and started for the tank about 100 ft. away. Hearing an incoming shell I fell flat on my face. I laid there for a moment then I heard it hit its mark. When I arrived at the tank, I found laying at the rear of the tank, Sgt. Herman Strevell, who was in charge of the tank, cut nearly in half, dead. The medics carried him away on a stretcher as I prepared to repair the tank and patch up the holes in the engine and air cleaner.

        As has been said “war is hell.” At times you can’t think back only forward. A tank mechanic isn*t a chaplain, a medic, or a grave digger. We just repairs tanks and keeps them going. Sometimes it*s a big job, but each man in the U.S. Army has a specific job to do and he is trained to do it to the best of his ability in spite of the difficulties. We acquire a certain trait in the fear of death or in being “scared to death.”

        After repairing the tank, with new track pads and using water proof masking tape for the air cleaners, I sat down with the other troops right up against the sea wall waiting for a breakthrough in the wall so we could push forward. The German artillery was hitting on each side and just over the wall. The first aid station was set up in one of the enemy pill boxes. It was overflowing with casualties and dead. The medics were carrying litter after litter to the out-going boats returning to England and a medical ship about five miles off from the beach. Paratroopers were bringing in POW*s in long lines, placing them on the beach in a temporary barbed wire enclosure. Many of the poisoners were killed by the fire from there own artillery.

        As the time drug on we all wondered how much longer it would take before an engineer could punch a hole in the wall. The wall varied in thickness from 5 feet to 20 feet. At about 14:30 hrs. the shout of “forward oh” was given along with instructions of “start engines and proceed in long columns Two tanks at time went through two holes in the wall. We were now advancing forward to give the infantry and paratroops the needed support that they had been hoping for.

        Our maintenance half-track came in contact with two anti-personnel mines, putting more men on the casualties list. We were delayed for about an hour taking care of them before the medics arrived. We repaired our half-track and again started advancing. When we got to the wall and up to our battery in a firing position, we started to give the Germans back some of the pepper that they had sent us, causing them to retreat.

        France was a much different country than we had been in previous fighting. Hedge row after hedge row as far as we could see. This slowed us down to a crawl in our advance forward. The fog and mist began to roll in, which brought darkness to where we had to stop and wait for dawn to come. Guard duties were doubled and tripled.

        Well, this ended the longest day and the first day in the greatest invasion ever. We had landed in France and were knocking on the front door of Nazi Germany.