the Invasion of Normandy, at Utah Beach,
the batteries would fire from the deck of
the LCT's, with the Battery Commander issuing
the "fire order". He received his
orders from the Battalion Fire Direction
Center, which was located on another ship,
along with the men of the Headquarters Battery.
Our M7's were loaded on the LCT's two in
front, and two in back, each with their
"active" crew. The "reserve" crews were located
on other boats. As the front guns performed firing missions, the
back guns also performed firing missions, actually firing high
"over" the front guns! Sadly, my B Battery never did
that during the invasion only in traininng exercises prior to d-day.
The reason for that appears in my story below.
I was a gun crew member
of B Battery 29th Field Artillery Battalion,
Fourth Infantry (Ivy) Division. My entire
gun battery was destroyed when the LCT
carrying it into Utah Beach hit a mine.
There were 60 men on board. 37 of them
were killed. Twenty three of the killed
were never identified or recovered and
their names are engraved forever on the
granite wall of the Garden of the Missing
in the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
As the newest member
of the battery I was on a reserve boat
and did not land until much later in the
day. We crossed the Channel on a larger
boat (LCI) and when it came time to go
ashore we had to clamber down treacherous
rope ladders with our back packs and carbines
onto a LCT with a 3/4 ton truck called
a weapons carrier on board. We climbed
aboard the back of the truck but the coxswain
had not gone in close enough to the shore
and the truck which had supposedly been
waterproofed immediately stalled.
The tide was coming in
and we might have gone to a watery grave
if an amphibious truck driver (DUKW) affectionately
known as a Duck had not spotted our plight
and pulled along side and rescued us. When
I actually got my feet on dry land I picked
up some wet blankets off the beach as well
as a piece of canvas that had been cushioned.
I think it was part of the covering of
a supply dropped from a plane for the paratroopers
who had landed before daylight.
The 29th Field Artillery
Battalion, along with the 8th Infantry
Regiment, made up the 8th Combat Team of
the 4th Infantry Division, whose mission
was to make the H-Hour landing on Utah
Beach. A, B, and C batteries had been equiped
with M-7 armored 105mm howitzers, instead
of conventional truck-drawn artillery pieces
which were standard issue for infantry
divisions. Each gun battery was equipped
with 4 guns.
They were lined up on
the deck of an LCT (Landing Craft Tank),
2 in front and 2 in back. Their mission
was to fire high trajectory shells onto
the invaded beaches in close support of
our infantry. (Similar to the model below).
We could do this because the tank treads
on the M-7's could cushion the recoil,
whereas the conventional artillery pieces
could not do this. The trails could not
be dug into a steel deck.
The LCT carrying B Battery
hit a mine in the water. My entire gun
crew was lost. Only 2 members of the battery
who had been on board ever returned to
active duty. The reason I am still here
to tell this story is that, in anticipation
of casualties, the gun crews were stripped
down to 6 men and the remaining 6 men were
kept in reserve on a larger ship. Subsequently
we had to clamber down rope ladders into
an LCT with all our equipment for transport
to the beach in the late afternoon toward
Our 3/4 ton truck (weapons
carrier) flooded immediately as it drove
down the ramp of the LCT. The skipper had
dropped his ramp too far from the shore.
It was getting dark and the tide was coming
in and weighed down as we were we might
have drowned had not a DUKW (amphibious
truck, affectionately dubbed by the GI's
as a DUCK) driver seen our plight and drove
into the surf and came along side and rescued
When we learned of the
fate of our battery mates we were dismayed
to say the least. Until the battery was
reformed, about 2 weeks later, I was assigned
to ride "shotgun"
for a battalion messenger. In that capactity,
we sometimes lost our way and became great
sniper targets, had flares dropped on us
by night bombers, dubbed Bed Check Charlie,
because they only came out at night, and
suffered through a head-on collision because
of driving in almost total blackout conditions.
German mortars were always
a danger for us and we managed to dig deep
into foxholes burrowed into the headgerows.
When the battery was finally reformed with
Captain Lorton Livingston in command, I
became the #1 Cannoneer on the Number 2
gun. My job was to set the elevation and
altitude on the gun, close the breech block
once the shell was loaded, and fire the
piece when given the command to do so.
In this capacity, we burned out 2 gun barrels
and finally had to have our M-7's replaced
with conventional artillery pieces.
The second most important
battle of W.W.II was the St. Lo Breakout
(Operation Cobra) that was spearheaded
by the Fourth Infantry Division. Despite
being bombed by our own planes our 8th
Infantry Regiment was able to attack as
scheduled and gain 8-10ths of a mile. That
was quite an advance because during a month
of fighting in the hedgerows after we liberated
Cherbourg we measured our gains in yards.
There were six of the
best divisions in the US Army involved
in that attack. General Bradley had decided
to launch the attack with three infantry
divisions instead of armored divisions
because of the nature of the terrain. The
Fourth was flanked on one side by the Ninth
and on the other side by the 30th. The
back up divisions were the 2nd and 3d Armored
Divisions and the 1st Infantry Division
which had been motorized for the attack.
In a recent book, "After the Breakout" the
author writes that after several days of
fighting the 4th was the only division
of the 6 that had reached all of its objectives.
Once our 8th Regiment had made the initial
penetration our 22nd Regiment jumped on
the backs of the 2nd Armored Division and
they helped to widen the breakout and turn
it into a breakthrough.
The reason I say that
it is the second most important battle
in Western Europe in WW II is that it resulted
in the liberation of Paris and all of France
and Belgium and Luxembourg. After that
battle there was no possibility that Germany
would win the war.
Our 4th Infantry Division
along with the 9th and 79th Divisions,
liberated Cherbourg. We then were designated
to spearhead the St. Lo Breakthrough from
Normandy. Despite a horrendous bombing
from our own planes, our 8th Infantry Regiment
made a deep penetration of the German lines,
paving the way for expansion of the breakout
by the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions of
the VII Corps of the 1st U.S. Army.
We were then designated
as the division to liberate Paris, along
with the 2nd French Armored Division. Our
forward units, according to infantrymen
with whom I have spoken, could have entered
the city before the French, but were told
to wait for the French. We penetrated to
the heart of the city, around Notre Dame,
the Place de La Concorde, the Hotel de
Ville, and the notorious Police Headquarters.
We were denied the honor
of parading down the Champs Elysee. Our
job was chasing Germans across the Seine
River and Belgium, and into Germany. And,
besides, we were considered to be too dirty.
We advanced through Houffalize, St. Vith,
and Bastogne, towns which later became
famous in the Battle of the Bulge, and
crossed the German border on September
11, 1944. We were the first division to
penetrate the German border in force. We
also penetrated the Siegfried Line in some
depth before being forced to stop our advance
because of our extended supply lines.
The horrendous blood-letting
of the Hurtgen Forest and our defense of
the area in front of Luxembourg City, with
a badly depleted division, during the Battle
of the Bulge were actions deemed worthy
of feature stories in consecutive issues
of Life Magazine.
Of course, there is more
that I have not included, such as helping
to repulse the German counter attack at
Mortain, helping to clear out the German
troops west of the Rhine River, crossing
the Rhine at Worms, and advancing deep
into Bavaria to within 6 miles of the Austrian