D-Day: Afternoon on Omaha Beach
War Correspondent Ernest HemingwayConverted for the Web from "D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II" by Stephen E. Ambrose
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Correspondent Ernest Hemingway | What Hitler Did Wrong | What Eisenhower Did Right
Ernest Hemingway, a correspondent for Collier's, came in on the seventh wave, in an LCVP commanded by Lt. (jg) Robert Anderson of Roanoke, Virginia. To Hemingway, the LCVP looked like an iron bathtub. He compared the LCT to a floating freight gondola. The LCIs, according to Hemingway, "were the only amphibious operations craft that look as though they were made to go to sea. They very nearly have the lines of a ship." The Channel was covered with bathtubs, gondolas, and ships of all kinds, "but very few of them were headed toward shore. They would start toward the beach, then sheer off and circle back."
As Anderson's LCVP made its way toward shore, Texas was firing over it at the antitank barrier at one of the exits. "Those of our troops who were not wax-gray with seasickness," Hemingway wrote, "were watching the Texas with looks of surprise and happiness. Under the steel helmets they looked like pikemen of the Middle Ages to whose aid in battle had suddenly come some strange and unbelievable monster." To Hemingway, the big guns "sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky."
Anderson had a hard time finding his designated landing area, Fox Red. Hemingway tried to help him navigate. They argued about landmarks. Once Anderson tried to go in, only to receive intense fire. "Get her the hell around and out of here, coxswain!" Anderson shouted. "Get her out of here!" The LCVP pulled back and circled.
Hemingway could see infantry working up the bluff. "Slowly, laboriously, as though they were Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders, men were [climbing]. They were not firing. They were just moving slowly ... like a tired pack train at the end of the day, going the other way from home.
"Meantime, the destroyers had run in almost to the beach and were blowing every pillbox out of the ground with their five-inch guns. I saw a piece of German about three feet long with an arm on it sail high up into the air in the fountaining of one shellburst. It reminded me of a scene in Petroushka."
Anderson finally got to the beach. So did the other twenty-three LCVPs from Dorothy Dix. Six were lost to mined obstacles or enemy fire. Hemingway concluded, "It had been a frontal assault in broad daylight, against a mined beach defended by all the obstacles military ingenuity could devise. The beach had been defended as stubbornly and as intelligently as any troops could defend it. But every boat from the Dix had landed her troops and cargo. No boat was lost through bad seamanship. All that were lost were lost by enemy action. And we had taken the beach."
American soldiers landing on D-Day. Click here to send this as an e-card.
Capt. James Roberts, aide to General Gerow, went ashore at 1700 on Easy Red. "As we approached, we were hit with artillery fire, fragments were knocking us around," he remembered. "Several people were hit, including the skipper of our LCI. He was killed. Simultaneously we hit a sandbar and we were still a hundred or so yards from shore. There was mass confusion and fear and frankly I was in a panic. It is very difficult to dig a hole in a steel deck, and there isn't much cover on an LCI."
Roberts got off in chest-deep water and made his way to shore. "The beach was just a complete shambles. It was like an inferno. There were bodies everywhere and some wounded being attended to. As I went by a tank I heard people screaming for morphine. The tank was on fire and they were burning to death. There wasn't a thing that I could do about that and it was pretty nerve-shaking."
Shells were bursting all around. Roberts got off the beach as fast as he could. His job was to move up to St.-Laurent to set up a CP. As he climbed the bluff, a sniper opened fire. The bullet went over Roberts's head. Roberts tried to fire back, but his carbine was filled with sand and sea water and would not work, so he dove into a foxhole and cleaned it. When it was working, the sniper had gone.
Roberts got to the top of the bluff but could find no one from his HQ Company, nor any working radio, so "I didn't have much to do." He returned to the crest of the bluff and looked back at the Channel. "It was just fantastic. Vessels of all kinds as far as you could see."
Soon others from his HQ Company joined him, and Roberts set up V Corps CP north of St.-Laurent. Someone brought along tentage. Roberts set up a pup tent for General Gerow's first night ashore. When Gerow arrived, around 2100, his concerns were establishing communications and the possibility of an armored counterattack. V Corps had no contact with the British 50th Division on the left nor with the U.S. VII Corps on the right (nor, come to that, with the rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc). If the Germans did counterattack, V Corps was on its own.
Roberts's concern was his general's safety. The front line was only a half kilometer forward of corps HQ, "which is not the way the military planners like it to be."
As darkness fell, Roberts broke out one of his K rations and ate his first food of the day. Then he found a GI blanket and curled up in a ditch for the night. "Around midnight when things seemed to be fairly quiet I remember thinking, Man, what a day this has been. If every day is going to be as bad as this I'll never survive the war."
Copyright © 1994 Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
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