Mate Charles J. Adams Jr.
Utah Beach landings, Normandy, France
United States Navy
What we did not know
Over the many years those of us that have written about Operation
Neptune, the Navys participation in the preparations for the
great assault on Hitlers Atlantic wall fortifications, wrote
very little about the complexity of the operation. The U. S. Navys
proposed amphibious strike against an enemy that seemed to spare
no effort to protect his new found gains. Seeing everything around
us as we loaded our LSTs with men and machines, it was apparent
that something really big was about to happen. Exactly what, is
what we did not know.
The planning, the size, and the complexities only
a handful of top officers were in a position to know. It was truly
more than anyone could grasp. We, on the landing ships knew that
whatever was to happen in the next few days, we were to be the spearhead
of the attack...first in. Generally speaking, we were rehearsed
enough to understand the importance of what lies ahead. (Case in
point was the 700 men lost in the Exercise Tiger fiasco late in
What we did not know was top secret. Once on our
way into the English Channel on July 5th, we noticed, for instance
there were no Nazi planes in the sky. But we did not know why. The
answer was the incredible and highly successful air battle waged
by the Allied fighter planes. The result was that the Germans had
fewer than 200 planes available for the defense of France. We saw
first hand quite a few shot down around us as we approached Utah
What we did not know was the great job the Allied
Air Force bombers had done in knocking out Germany's gasoline-refineries
and plane manufacturing capabilities. Railroads and highways needed
for a counterattack were destroyed by our bombers and machine-gunned
continuously by fighters.
What we did not know was how the French resistance
movement hindered the Germans by blowing up strategic fortifications.
What we did not know was the successful Naval
battles that won complete control of the invasion sea route. There
were no signs of E-boats or submarines. The German Navy had not
been able to interfere with our channel crossing. The day before
D-Day, one of the Allied navies greatest accomplishment was
the mine sweepers clearing of ten separate paths through the endless
fields of floating mines that the Germans had sown in the
Channel. One of those sweepers (the OSPREY) was sunk near the LST
281. We picked up all the survivors.
What we did not know was the real danger of the
mines, so at the time we could not appreciate the perilous and highly
dangerous job the mine sweepers had done. The planning had involved
a lot more than the stockpiling of men and equipment that we saw
all around us. We were to learn later that Overlord had taken a
fantastic amount of detailed study and much calculated risk. Young
kids that we were, sitting on our large slow targets, too naive
to grasp the meaning of it all. What we did not know was that for
many many months there had been experts of all kinds working on
countless items of information and techniques to be tested and hopefully
to be perfected before the word "GO!".
The experts worked unceasingly on long-range weather
predictions, radio communications, the new weapons, food, camouflage
and maps. The maps were most important. Men in planes risked their
lives flying low over the Normandy beaches in sneak raids to get
information for the map makers. Ultimately there had never been
better war maps. So here we sit in Dartmouth harbor on June 3rd,
the troops and equipment have been loaded and it appears we are
all set to move out. Security is tight, no one is allowed ashore.
We sit-we wait.
What we did not know was the problems the weather
was causing. It was beyond the control of any plan made at Supreme
Headquarters. On this Saturday, the third, we did know the weather
was bad. Waiting was bad, waiting in the miserable confines of our
LSTs loaded with hundreds of soldiers made for wretched surroundings.
By Sunday the 4th, it was clear that it may not be possible to move
on Monday. It looked bleak and hopeless. Many of the men were unsheltered.
We did not know the hard decisions one man had to make. Bad weather
could devastate the assault. It became un-cooperative, increasingly
menacing. So any further postponement could reek havoc. It was a
tense situation. Our enemy might break the secrecy of the operation,
so well guarded. The invasion force could be a big, easy target
for whatever bombers and fighters Hitler had left. We, on the assault
ships, the LCIs, the LSTs and the other landing craft were at combat
readiness. What would another delay do to our morale?
We did not know that on June 4th, General Eisenhower
met with his main advisors. The chief meteorologist said that the
weather would get a little better. He said it would stop raining
Tuesday morning and be somewhat cloudy, but he said it would be
clear enough for our bombers to see their chosen targets. Ike asked,
"Does anyone see any reason for not going Tuesday?" The
answers were affirmative. He could ask for advice, but the decision
was totally up to the Supreme Commander. General Dwight D. Eisenhower
held the fate of all of us in his hands. He thought it over. "I
dont think we can do anything else" he told his advisors.
One word,it was "GO!". Now the big determination was made.
If all goes according to plan, the vast Allied armada would reach
the enemy shore before dawn on the morning of June 6, 1944 at beaches
to be known down through the years as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and
Sword. It was D-Day, it was H-Hour--it was history.
What we did not know, was what we did not know!
We know now! Our ignorance was not bliss. Under the circumstances
it was a case of our being somewhat naive that might have made us
happier than the knowledgeable ones. It's easier to do something
if you dont know how hard it is. Because of what went on behind
the scene, we survived.
Where was this 20 year old Seaman-first? I was
sitting at a 40 millimeter gun on LST 281 off the coast of UTAH
Beach at 03:00. Maybe it was best, "We did not know!"
LST-1 Class Tank Landing
Laid down, 25 June 1943, at American Bridge Co., Ambridge, PA.;
Launched, 30 September 1943; Commissioned USS LST-281, 8 November
1943. During World War II, LST-281 was assigned to the European
theater and participated in the invasion of Normandy, June 1944,
and the invasion of southern France, August and September 1944.
She was then assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific theater
and participated in the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto,
June 1945. Following the war, LST-281 performed occupation duty
in the Far East until early February 1946. Decommissioned, 9 March
1946; Transferred to the Shipping Control Authority, Japan, 20 May
1949; Transferred for service to the Military Sea Transportation
Service as USNS T-LST-281, 31 March 1952; Struck from the Naval
Register, 19 May 1954; Final Disposition, fate unknown. LST-281
earned three battle stars for World War II service.
Displacement 1,780 t.(lt), 3,880 t.(fl); Length 328'; Beam 50';
Draft unloaded, bow 2' 4" stern 7' 6", loaded bow 8' 2"
stern 14' 1"; Speed 12k.; Complement 8-10 Officers, 100-115
Enlisted; Troop Capacity, approx. 140 officers and enlisted; Boats,
2-6 LCVP; Armament; one single 3"/50 gun mount, five 40mm gun
mounts, six 20mm gun mounts, two .50-cal machine guns, four .30-cal
machine guns; Propulsion, two General Motors 12-567 diesel engines,
two shafts, twin rudders.
Charles J. Adams Jr.
Due to the lack of pictures of the LST 281 here
is a similar LST.
Due to the lack of pictures of the LST 281 here is a similar LST.
Along with weekly columns Charles is a published cartoonist.