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Normandy After D-Day: June 7-30, 1944

Reinforcements

Converted for the Web from "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose

Beginning at daylight on June 7, each side had begun to rush reinforcements to the front. The Americans came in on a fight schedule, long since worked out, with fresh divisions almost daily. Sgt. Edward "Buddy" Gianelloni, a medic in the 79th Division, came ashore on D-Day Plus Six on Utah Beach. The men marched inland; when they reached Ste.-Mère-Eglise, a paratrooper called out to Gianelloni, "Hey, what outfit is that?"

"This is the 79th Infantry Division," Gianelloni replied.

"Well, that's good," the paratrooper said. "Now if you guys are around this time tomorrow you can consider yourselves veterans."

The Germans came in by bits and pieces, because they were improvising, having been caught with no plans for reinforcing Normandy. Further, the Allied air forces had badly hampered German movement from the start.

The German air force (the Luftwaffe) and the German navy were seldom to be seen, but still the Germans managed to have an effect on Allied landings, through their mines and beach obstacles. The most spectacular German success, the one they had most hoped for, came at dawn on June 7.

The transport USS Susan B. Anthony was moving into her off-loading position off Utah Beach. Sgt. Jim Finn was down in the hold, along with hundreds of others in the 90th Infantry Division, set to enter the battle after the ship dropped her anchor. The landing craft began coming alongside, and the men started climbing up out of the hold onto the deck, prepared to descend the rope ladders. Finn and the others were loaded down with rifles, grenades, extra clips, BARs, tripods, mortar bases and tubes, gas masks, leather boots, baggy pants stuffed with cigarettes, toilet articles, helmets, life jackets, and more.

"There was a massive 'Boom!'" Finn recalled. "She shook. All communications were knocked out. All electricity was out. Everything on the ship went black. And here we were, a massive number of troops in confined areas, with tremendous amounts of clothing and gear on, all ready for the invasion, and not knowing what was going on, in total darkness."

The Susan B. Anthony, one of the largest transport ships, had hit a mine amidships. She was sinking and burning. Panic in the hold was to be expected, and there was a bit of it, but as Finn recalled, the officers took charge and restored calm. Then, "We were instructed to remove our helmets, remove our impregnated clothing, remove all excess equipment. Many of the fellows took off their shoes." They scrambled onto the deck.

A fire-fighting boat had pulled alongside and was putting streams of water onto the fire. LCVPs began pulling to the side of the sinking ship. Men threw rope ladders over the side, and within two hours all hands were safely off -- minutes before the Susan B. Anthony sank.

Sergeant Finn and his platoon went into Utah Beach in a Higgins boat, a couple of hours late and barefoot, with no helmets, no rifles, no ammo, no food. But they were there, and by scrounging along the beach they were soon able to equip themselves from dead and wounded men.

Getting the Susan B. Anthony was by far the greatest success of the German navy's efforts to disrupt the landing of American reinforcements in Normandy. Thanks to the fire-fighting boat -- one of the many specialized craft in the armada -- even the loss of the ship hardly slowed the disembarking process. The U.S., Royal, and Canadian Navies ruled the English Channel, which made the uninterrupted flow of men and supplies from England to France possible. The fire-fighting boat that saved the lives of the men on Susan B. Anthony showed what a superb job the three navies were doing.

At Omaha, too, reinforcements began coming in to the beach before the sun rose above the horizon. Twenty-year-old Lt. Charles Stockell, a forward observer in the 1st Division, was one of the first to go ashore that day. Stockell kept a diary. He recorded that he came in below Vierville, that the skipper of the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) feared the underwater beach obstacles and mines and thus forced him to get off in chest-deep water, that he saw equipment littering the beach, and then "The first dead Americans I see are two GIs, one with both feet blown off, arms wrapped about each other in a comradely death embrace." He was struck by the thought that "dead men everywhere look pathetic and lonely. You feel as if you would like them to be alive and the war over."

Stockell didn't get very far inland that morning. The front line, in fact, was less than a quarter of a mile from the edge of the bluff, running along a series of hedgerows outside Colleville. That was as far inland as Capt. Joseph Dawson, CO of G Company, 16th Regiment, 1st Division, had gotten on D-Day -- and Dawson had been the first American to reach the top of the bluff at Omaha. On June 7, he was fighting to secure his position outside Colleville, discovering in the process that he had a whole lot to learn about hedgerows.

The 175th Regiment of the 29th Division came in on schedule at 0630, June 7. But it landed two kilometers east of its intended target, the Vierville exit. Orders came to march to the exit. In a loose formation, the regiment began to march, through the debris of the previous day's battle. To Capt. Robert Miller, the beach "looked like something out of Dante's Inferno."

Sniper fire continued to zing down. "But even worse," according to Lt. J. Milnor Roberts, an aide to the corps commander, "they were stepping over the bodies of the guys who had been killed the day before and these guys were wearing that 29th Division patch; the other fellows, brand-new, were walking over the dead bodies. By the time they got down where they were to go inland, they were really spooked."

But so were their opponents. Lt. Col. Fritz Ziegelmann of the 352nd Division staff was one of the first German officers to bring reinforcements into the battle. At about the same time the 175th Regiment was swinging up toward Vierville, Ziegelmann was entering Widerstandsnest 76, one of the few surviving resistance nests on Omaha, a kilometer or so west of the Vierville draw. It had done great harm to the 29th Division on D-Day, when the 29th and the 352nd Divisions locked into a death embrace.

"The view from WN 76 will remain in my memory forever," Ziegelmann wrote after the war. "The sea was like a picture of the 'Kiel review of the fleet.' Ships of all sorts stood close together on the beach and in the water, broadly echeloned in depth. And the entire conglomeration remained there intact without any real interference from the German side!"

A runner brought him a set of secret American orders, captured from an officer, that showed the entire Omaha invasion plan, including the follow-up commitment that was taking place in front of Ziegelmann's eyes. "I must say that in my entire military life, I have never been so impressed," he wrote, adding that he knew at that moment that Germany was going to lose this war.

Copyright © 1997 by -Tubbs, Inc. Afterword copyright © 1998 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

Click to Amazon to purchase "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose.

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