5th grade) Manuel Baker
Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
3rd Armored Division
Approaching Omaha Beach on June 23, 1944, evidence
of the violence which had occurred there just 17 days earlier was
everywhere. The shattered remains of dozens of ships of various
sizes and types, already showing rust, protruded from the shallow
waters. Portions of the Mulberry" dock system, destroyed
by the storms which had kept the 3rd Armored Division bivouacked
in England for days, constituted navigational hazards in shallower
water. The beach itself apparently had been very lightly inhabited;
what few homes there were had been reduced to rubble; engineer troops
had smoothed access roads inland through ground thoroughly churned
up by bombs and shells.
Our LST ran her bow up on the sand of Omaha Red
Easy beach, opened her bow doors and Captain Robucks halftrack
rolled off into water puddles no more than ankle deep, followed
in orderly fashion by the rest of the Battery. Now we could see
close up what an impossibly costly exercise an amphibious invasion
could be. Some of the immensely strong big gun emplacements had
taken innumerable direct hits from naval guns without being penetrated.
Others had been blown apart by direct bomb hits. Most had been neutralized
with infantry tactics flame throwers and grenades. The blasted hulks
of every type of war machine familiar to me were strewn about the
sand on every side, mute testimony to the savagery of the battle
between men for a few yards of sand. The concept and the cost in
human lives, of assaulting such a heavily defended position was
impossible to grasp. Where did those men get the courage, the guts,
the will to accomplish such impossible deeds? The waters off Omaha
Beach, in either direction, were cluttered with anchored ships carrying
supplies for troops already ashore.
Because docking facilities were non-existent,
Army amphibious trucks shuttled between ship and shore in endless
numbers, delivering the thousands of tons of supplies necessary
for the insatiable appetite of a military force of 400,000 men.
These fat targets appeared nearly defenseless, with the exception
of a few anti-aircraft batteries near the beach and an occasional
flight of P-51s, but the German Airforce and Navy were no shows.
We had been told to expect little or no enemy air activity and to
fire at planes only if the anti-aircraft crews opened up first.
There were many nervous fingers on triggers when any plane appeared,
but there were no untoward incidents while we were on the beach.
Forming up to move inland to our assembly area, we could hear the
constant rumble of artillery fire ahead and an occasional round
from a naval vessel behind us.
The naval fire was our introduction to the sound
of friendly artillery rounds passing overhead: a distinct rustling
sound which, in the months ahead, would become a very comforting
sound, indeed. The Normandy beachhead on June 23 was approximately
7 miles deep at it deepest point and some 20 miles long. That meant
that, even at the deepest point, the entire beachhead was within
range of German field artillery. As Springfield led our long column
inland along the French road, we gaped at the countless numbers
of twisted, tortured remains, the detritus of war, machines which
had been driven and crewed to that spot by human beings, men of
a different country and culture, to be sure, but men like us, whose
fate was obvious.
Both American and German crewmen had died, violently,
on foreign soil. No amount of training can condition the human mind
to accept the thought that suddenly occurred to me as the scenes
of brutal devastation continued to unroll: there are half a million
Germans out there and they are all going to do their absolute best
to kill me. Violent death, in a foreign country. All of my life
to this point had been prologue; from this moment on, I stood exposed,
naked in a world of such unimaginable, such unspeakable violence
that I couldnt truly grasp it. We were not out on maneuvers;
this was not a game. This was real. Men were being killed at a horrible
rate. And I was part of it. Suddenly, my life had been reduced to
its lowest, its basest, dimension: Kill or be killed. The
future was now, this minute, the minute which could be my last.
Life, even in this hell-hole of war, suddenly became much, much
sweeter and precious.
Our assigned area was about three miles inland.
Hundreds of ships were belching up thousands of troops; finding
room for all of us on the beachhead must have been a monumental
headache for someone. We immediately noted a feature of the Norman
landscape which had not been mentioned to us: hedgerows. Not the
pretty, low-growing, shaped hedgerows Americans are familiar with.
These were like nothing we had ever seen. Norman farm fields were
small ˆ probably no larger than five acres. The method of fencing
these fields was unique, developed over the centuries. A row of
dirt three to four feet high and at least as thick at the bottom
formed each side of the field. On top of the row of dirt were planted
shrubs and small trees. The total height of the obstacle often reached
eight feet. A man could confidently walk on one side of the hedge
knowing he was invisible to, and protected from attack by, anyone
on the opposite side. The rows of fields often did not have a common
hedge between them.There was a lane between them formed by the hedgerows,
permitting access to fields on either side of the lane. These unique
hedgerows provided perfect features for defense: Each field became
There was only one way into each field and the
Germans had only to cover the opening to exact an enormous price
in lives and blood for even a small gain. And there were thousands
of these tiny fields. Of all the possible invasion sites on the
entire French coast, the geography made the Norman coast the easiest,
by far, to defend. The German high command must have been delighted.
The abject failure of the Allied High Command to inform the combat
units destined to fight in Normandy of the horrendous nature of
the formidable defensive geography they would confront and to devise
and train the troops in the use of equipment to help overcome this
lethal situation is still a mystery to me, despite 50 years of reading
and research. To say they didnt know, didnt recognize
the hedgerows for what they were, is to credit Military Intelligence
with greater stupidity than even they deserve. With all the resources
available to them -- aerial photography, spies, the French Underground,
etc. -- they had to know. Which leaves only one conclusion: through
the process of some convoluted thinking, they feared that devising
equipment and training men for fighting in hedgerow country would
risk revealing the location of the invasion site to the enemy.
This from the same group of men who successfully
fooled the Germans into believing the then- nonexistent US 3rd Army
was assembling on the English coast for an invasion of the French
Pas de Calais area! The combat units lack of knowledge, training
and equipment to fight on this battlefield cost thousands of unnecessary
American casualties. The tank˜mounted hedgerow cutter, invented
in the field out of desperation by combat GIs, the device which
finally got us out of the beachhead, was so innocuous in appearance
that the German High Command wouldnt have figured out what
it was intended for if Eisenhower had sent one to Hitler. When we
reached our assigned area, we initiated a procedure for getting
our unit off of the road. We would utilize this procedure countless
times in the long, hard campaigning which lay ahead. It was referred
to as coiling."
The Battery Commanders vehicle, peep or
halftrack, depending upon which one he happened to be riding in,
left the road, proceeded through the opening in the field, circled
the entire perimeter of the field and parked just inside the opening.
All vehicles followed in precisely the same manner. If the field
was sizable, all vehicles could park, properly spaced, closely parallel
to the hedgerow, secure, on one side, from artillery shells or bombs.
Smaller fields necessitated that some vehicles park in the more
exposed center of the area. In this manner, all vehicles were in
position to move out quickly, without confusion, still in their
proper place in the column. When all of the vehicles had been parked
in this first area, without an order being given, every man began,
with great energy and enthusiasm, to perform a chore which, until
now, had been heartily disliked and often slighted: digging a foxhole.
A deep, deep foxhole. The mounds of excavated dirt grew with great
rapidity, some to monstrous proportions.
The ceaseless crashing of those cannon ahead of
us lent emphasis to the realization that we were in the killing
zone. With the security of a hole close at hand, we applied ourselves
to the job of removing the water-proofing material and equipment
from our vehicles, flinching at every unfamiliar sound. Removing
it required much less time than applying it had. The entire water-
proofing exercise had been an expensive and unnecessary program
for troops coming over the beaches as late as the 3rd Armored did.
All vehicles had to be camouflaged, meaning each vehicle had to
wrestle with the large, unwieldy camouflage nets. When these housekeeping
chores had been completed, Springfields crew had nothing
to do. The radio networks were not open. We had food (field rations),
water, gasoline and ammunition of all kinds to last for several
days so the Sections responsible for procuring those items were
Gathering in large groups was, wisely, prohibited,
but small groups of men gathered and lively discussions of our situation
and what we had observed en route inland from the beach followed.
It was a time, for most of us, of nervous tension, when we would
have welcomed doing some of our familiar tasks to relieve the tension.
It was a time to start getting used to the sounds of war..
Extract from Manuel Baker's
Manuscript "Sherman was Right"
Shoulder patch of the 3rd Amored Division
A captured 88mm in Normandy
A captured 88mm in Normandy
The above pictures we made by John
Bender of the 3rd Armored Division