Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Revisits the USS SAMUEL CHASE at Omaha Beach(6/6/1944) - June 7th, 2007
Posted on 06/07/2007 3:58:40 PM PDT by snippy_about_it
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The Coast Guard-manned landing craft LCI(L)-85 approached the beach at 12 knots. Her crew winced as they heard repeated thuds against the vessel's hull made by the wooden stakes covering the beach like a crazy, tilted, man-made forest.
Watercolor by Navy Combat Artist Dwight Shepler, 1944, showing German artillery fire hitting U.S. forces on "Omaha" Beach, on "D-Day" of the Normandy invasion, 6 June 1944. In the foreground is USS LCI(L)-93, aground and holed. She was lost on this occasion.
No clear channel existed where the commanding officer's charts indicated there would be, so he ordered the landing craft straight through the obstacles that had been covered by the incoming tide. The bow soon touched bottom, and as the ship ground to a halt, so did its luck. A mine exploded and ripped a gaping hole in the forward compartments, and then German batteries pummeled the LCI. Many of the troops on board were torn to pieces before they ever got off the ship. Those who were still able to disembark could not, because the explosions had destroyed the vessel's landing ramps.
The burning LCI backed off the beach as the crew fought the fires in the forward compartments. The ship then began to list as water poured in through the shell holes. Other landing craft approached to take off the uninjured troops while other crewmembers manned the sinking landing craft's pumps in a vain attempt to keep the vessel afloat. Then the crew sailed back to the transport area as the ship's list became more and more pronounced. They stayed with the listing LCI and managed to offload the wounded on to the Coast Guard-manned attack-transport USS Samuel Chase before they had to abandon their ship. The waters of Normandy washed over the blood-stained decks as the LCI settled deeper. She then capsized, exposing the bottom of her battered hull to the sky and now threatened to become a hazard to navigation to the thousands of ships and craft milling about the area. The crew of a salvage vessel took care of the problem by placing a mine in her hull and exploded it to force her to the sea floor, a final, ignominious end for a gallant veteran that had made so many successful combat landings against hostile shores. Slowly, as the water filled her hull, she turned her stern skyward and sank. The LCI(L)-85 was one of the many Coast Guard-manned ships that participated in the landings in France on June 6, 1944 - a day that would prove to be one of the bloodiest in the Coast Guard's long history.
U.S.S. Samuel Chase
Sixty years ago, U.S., British, Canadian and French forces invaded Adolf Hitler's Fortress Europe in an operation code-named Overlord. The Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, called it a "Great Crusade." The Coast Guard, along with the Army, Navy and Army Air Force participated in the crusade's onset, the greatest amphibious operation the world had ever seen. In August 1943, at the Quebec Conference the combined chiefs of staff agreed to mount an invasion of France in 1944. When finalized the plan called for the landing of five divisions along the French coast at Normandy. In addition, two divisions of paratroopers were to be dropped behind the coastline to help isolate the frontline German troops. Eisenhower was appointed the commander of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, known as SHAEF. He set the invasion date, D-Day, for June 5, 1944, when tidal and moon conditions would be most favorable.
Neptune was the code name given to Overlord's amphibious assault and naval gunfire support operations. These operations were divided between two task forces that would get the troops from ports all over Great Britain and land them on the beaches of Normandy, keep them supplied, and give them fire support. The Western Naval Task Force, under the command of Navy Rear Admiral Alan Kirk, transported the U.S. First Army to the American assault areas code named Utah and Omaha. The Eastern Naval Task Force, commanded by Royal Navy Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, landed the British Second Army on assault areas to the east of the American landings, code-named Gold, Juno and Sword.
A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the First Division on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach.
The U.S. Coast Guard was an integral part of Operation Neptune. The service's presence centered around Assault Group "O-1" that landed troops of the famous First Division, the "Big Red One," on the easternmost beaches of the Omaha assault area. Commanded by Coast Guard Captain Edward H. Fritzsche, this assault group consisted of the Samuel Chase, the United States Navy's USS Henrico, the Royal Navy's HMS Empire Anvil, six LCI(L)s, six LSTs, and 97 smaller craft.
The deputy assault commander of Assault Group O-1 was another Coast Guard combat veteran, Captain Miles Imlay, who doubled as the commander of the Coast Guard manned LCI(L) Flotilla 10. Flotilla 10 was a veteran flotilla, as they had landed troops under fire during the invasions of both Sicily and Salerno. The battle-tested landing craft of Flotilla 10 were divided between the Omaha and Utah landing forces. Assault Group O-1 proved to be the largest Coast Guard command of Neptune but it was not the only.
While the Allies prepared to assault Fortress Europe, the Germans prepared to throw them back into the sea. In November 1943, Hitler turned to his most trusted army general, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, nicknamed by his admiring British enemy as the "Desert Fox," to inspect and improve German defenses from Denmark to the Spanish border. Here, the man who nearly drove the British out of North Africa energetically went to work inspecting the "Atlantic Wall."
UNSUNG HEROES: Coast Guard Captains Edward Fritzche (left) and Miles Imlay (right) discuss the invasion of Omaha Beach on a relief map laid out in the hold of the Samuel Chase.
At every stop Rommel urged the troops to greater effort. When one officer told Rommel that he was working the men too hard, the Desert Fox snapped, "Which would your men rather be, tired, or dead?" To strengthen the defenses he devised a number of sinister devices that would tear the bottom off a landing craft or wreck a glider. These included sharpened wood poles that the Germans nicknamed "Rommel's asparagus" and a more lethal trap of three steel bars welded together that came to be known as "hedgehogs." Behind these beach obstacles the Germans placed 4 million mines, dug bunkers, built concrete pillboxes and flooded fields.
Although formidable, Allied intelligence kept a close watch on the German preparations and noted two oversights. First, as expected, the defenses were concentrated around the Pas de Calais, France, well away from Normandy. Second, the beach obstacles along the coast were set to repel an invasion at high tide and as such they lay exposed during low tide. It was not until May that Rommel realized his error and ordered them extended past the low tide mark. But it would take time to add the extra obstacles.
The planners at SHAEF took advantage of these oversights by setting up a phantom army, under the command of George Patton, whom the Germans believed would command the invasion. The planners included bogus radio traffic and dummy vehicles placed at Dover, Great Britain, directly across from Pas de Calais, to reinforce the German conviction that the invasion would land there. They also scheduled H-Hour, the time of the first landings, to begin one hour after low tide, when all of the obstacles would be exposed and therefore easier to destroy.
On May 28, the crews were "sealed" aboard their vessels, and the troops were kept within their camps. The heavily-laden soldiers began loading into their water-borne taxis on Friday, June 2. They would be aboard for nearly three days before D-Day and to combat sea-sickness each soldier was provided with motion sickness pills and bags which the Army listed as, appropriately, "Bag, vomit, one." They would be needed.
Bound for Normandy: U.S. Army troops on board a Coast Guard-manned LCI(L), during the night of 5 June 1944.
During the cramped weekend, the troops managed to stay busy cleaning their weapons, writing letters or just resting while their Coast Guard, Navy and the British Royal Navy hosts prepared their ships for the channel crossing. The invasion fleet restlessly sortied from their British ports on June 4, but the weather worsened to the point that Eisenhower postponed the invasion for 24 hours. The ships returned to their harbors.
Early on Monday, June 5, Eisenhower attended a conference with Allied meteorologists. They predicted that the weather would partially clear for two days and then worsen. If they postponed the invasion again it would be nearly two weeks before the tide and moon conditions would be right. He thought for a moment and then at 4:15 a.m. looked up and said, "OK, We'll go."
Two RAF flight crew members from a Mosquito bomber that crashed in the English Channel are rescued by the crew of a Coast Guard 83-foot cutter of Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla One.
In the transports, the men who would man and pilot the assault craft filled with troops through rough seas, enemy fire and underwater obstacles received their final instructions. Just like their comrades aboard the LCIs, they studied highly-detailed relief maps and memorized landmarks that would guide them to their assigned landing areas. They had trained hard for Neptune and many were veterans of previous landings but their responsibilities still lay hard with them. It was their job to get the soldiers to the beaches in order for the invasion and liberation of Europe to succeed; the assault troops were useless unless they made it ashore in a condition to fight.
who served aboard the USS SAMUEL CHASE
crewing an LCVP bringing in the demolition teams
A bad omen opened the action at Omaha that morning when just before H-Hour, 480 Eighth Air Force-heavy bombers released their deadly cargo in an effort to silence the German defenders. Unfortunately, because of heavy cloud cover and a desire not to hit the approaching landing craft, they released late and the bombs fell three miles inland. With the German defenses in place and manned, the Americans would have a bloody morning.
The Germans embellished every advantage nature provided. They built eight large concrete bunkers, 35 smaller pillboxes with artillery, anti-tank, and machine-gun positions; six mortar pits; and 35 rocket-launching sites. The German soldiers, including men of the veteran 352nd Division whom the assault troops did not know were there, had dug 85 machine-gun nests which held the entire beach in a crossfire. In front of these troops, covering the beaches, were Rommel's obstacles, laid bare by the receding tide, but the tide would creep back in, foot by foot. It would rise 22 feet that day.
During the early hours of D-Day the behemoths of the fleet, including the battleships USS Texas and Arkansas, arrived and took their stations at either end of Omaha and patiently awaited for the appointed hour to begin blasting targets along the coast.
The Samuel Chase, accompanying attack transports and LSTs of Assault Group O-1, sailed from England and were joined by five LCI(L)s from Flotilla 10 and 10 craft from the matchbox fleet. All safely arrived in the transport area, and the Chase's anchor dropped into the channel at 3:15 a.m. The remaining LCI(L)s from Flotilla 10 were dispersed with the other Omaha assault groups and made the voyage across without incident.
Imlay, as the deputy assault commander of the Coast Guard's Omaha Assault Group O-1, went in with LCI(L)-87 to act as a traffic policeman and to ensure that all went according to plan. He cajoled, threatened and encouraged the ships and craft all up and down the waters off the Omaha assault area all morning, making sure that they landed on the correct beaches at their appointed times.
Five-thousand yards from the beach, LCTs released amphibious tanks which, as at Utah, were to "swim" through the water and land one minute before H-Hour. But their canvas sides caved in under the heavy seas and those destined to support the eastern landings began to founder. Rescue-craft CGC-3 rescued the crew of one tank but most of the sinking-steel coffins took their crews with them straight to the bottom. Only five out of 32 amphibious tanks made it ashore to the Coast Guard's assault area.
The LCVPs from the assault transports circled 4,000 yards off the beach at the line of departure, shepherded by the control vessels, as they waited for H-Hour to proceed to their assigned landing areas. These small boats brought the first waves ashore. The LCIs and LSTs landed their troops and equipment later. The rescue cutters circled here as well.
The Coast Guard coxswains anxiously awaited the signal to move in. The beaches that comprised these two landing areas stretched for 3,000 yards. There were six boats for each area and every boat had a specific landing point within those 3,000 yards. Besides having to keep all of that straight, the coxswains also had a timetable to keep.
At the appointed time, the crews of the 12 boats of the first wave of Assault Group O-1, under the command of Coast Guard Lieutenant, Junior Grade James V. Forrestal, formed up and headed towards France. The cliffs behind the beach appeared menacingly through the early-morning haze as water splashed into the open craft. When they closed to within 500 yards of the beach the Germans opened fire with machine guns, mortars and heavy artillery. The fire was heavy and accurate. Bullets struck the landing craft with metallic pings and columns of water shot high into the air as they raced towards shore. One Coast Guard coxswain noted, "We knew we were going to catch hell when we saw machine-gun fire spraying the water before us."
The demolition teams fared little better. The Germans killed everyone in two of the 14 teams in minutes, and the rest suffered crippling casualties. The survivors managed to blow five channels clear, but the tide rose too quickly to mark them. By 8 a.m., all of Rommel's obstacles were covered by a blanket of water, invisible to the eye. They would claim many lives during the day, including a number of Coast Guardsmen and their vessels.
By 8 a.m., the troops on the beach were virtually leaderless and pinned down by heavy, concentrated machine-gun and mortar fire. German 88s continued to pick off landing craft. No troops had penetrated the German defenses and the continuing waves of assault troops began backing up in a huge traffic jam. At 8:30 a.m., the LCIs moved in at their appointed time and added to the confusion.
With those comforting words on their minds, a few risked the journey right to the beach and found that, in fact, the obstacles did crumple like paper toys when rammed by an LCI, as long as they were not mined. After observing a few landing craft make it through successfully, many more began charging the beach like knights at a medieval joust. For instance, the LCI(L)-89 rammed its way through the obstacles, grounding at exactly 8:30 a.m., on Easy Red beach. Six minutes later, an 88mm shell penetrated the hull and exploded in the forward troop compartment, wounding six men. The crew backed it off the beach and unloaded the troops into LCVPs from the Chase.
The LCI(L)-85 struck a mine and was hit by at least 25 artillery shells. Its commanding officer stated, "The 88's began hitting the ship, they tore into the compartments and exploded on the exposed deck. Machine guns opened up. Men were hit and men were mutilated. There was no such thing as a minor wound." It returned to the Chase and off loaded the wounded before she sank.
Further to the west the LCI(L)-91 grounded and the troops disembarked. The LCI moved forward as the tide came in and it struck a mined obstacle. The commanding officer backed it off the beach and moved 100-yards west and ordered it in again. The Germans found the range and repeatedly hit the vessel with 88mm artillery fire. One shell exploded in the forward troop compartment and killed everyone there. The ship caught fire and burning men leapt into the water. The crew abandoned the ship and the beached LCI(L)-91 burned all morning. Seven of its Coast Guard crew perished and 11 were wounded.
Down the beach, the LCI(L)-93 delivered its first load of troops and emerged unscathed but on the second trip grounded on a sand bar off the beach and took 10 direct hits. Thus, in a few minutes, four Coast Guard- manned LCIs were lost after they made it to the beach. Thus Flotilla Ten lost four LCIs that morning, their first losses of the war. Their sacrifice made clear the strength of the German defenses and the bravery of the crews who risked enemy fire to get their troops directly to the beaches.
'My eyes were glued to the boat coming in next to ours, and on the water in between, boiling with bullets from hidden shore emplacements, like a mud puddle in a hailstorm. It seemed impossible that we could make it in without being riddled.'
A Coast Guard coxswain describes the waters off Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944.
'You have no idea how miserable the Germans made that beach ... we could see rows upon rows of jagged obstructions lining the beach ... When our ramp went down and the soldiers started to charge ashore, the [Germans] ... let loose with streams of hot lead which pinged all around us. Why they didn't kill everyone in our boat, I will never know.'
A Coast Guard coxswain describes his first trip to Omaha Beach.
'The 88's began hitting the ship, they tore into the compartments and exploded on the exposed deck. Machine guns opened up. Men were hit and men were mutilated. There was no such thing as a minor wound.'
Lieutenant, Junior Grade Coit Hendley, USCGR,
Hey, NYA, what’s this about you kicking snippy’s butt?? LOL
Hey Snippy thanks a lot for all you so. Regards to Sam.
It was all so incredible. I was finishing up the last of my 17 weeks as an Infantry replacement on this day. It never seemed as much until the pictures were available. Then we saw why they needed replacements. I was delayed until November when I turned 19. So distant. Thanks for reminder. When we remember the past, we are ready for the future.
Well, here are some upcoming key dates.
1862 Valley Campaign-Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia
1948 John Rudder becomes 1st negro commissioned officer in US marines
1967 Israel attacks USS Liberty in Mediterranean, killing 34 US crewmen (You all did a couple of outstanding threads on that one)
1863 Battle of Brandy Station, Va
1959 1st ballistic missile sub launched (George Washington-Groton, Ct)
Just giving you a hard time. I'm always glad to see a Foxhole thread, whatever the occaision. I know life sometimes gets in the way.
Ernest Hemingway, author, in one of the LCVPs, later wrote about the men, “Under their steel helmets they looked like pikemen of the Middle Ages to whose aid in battle had suddenly come some strange and unbelievable monster.”
Gotta love Hemingway.
Very interesting information here, Snippy. Unbelievable courage by all who landed on the Beach that day.
Is the vehicle in “Ashore” a half-track?
thank you for this information!
A close friend’s father died this year. He piloted one of the assault craft on D-Day. Bob, his son, said that he once told them of that day because he wanted his children to know. His story was incredible.
I’m going to get this link to him. Thanks again.
As a proud former Coast Guardsman I thank you for todays topic! Tradition runs deep in the Guard. If ever a man wants to become a real mariner thats the outfit that will teach him the trade. My father went in on Omaha with the 35th Division. He made it to the outskirts of St. Lo before he was wounded by shrapnel. On the way back to the beach to be evacuated to England the jeep he was in was hit and he was wounded again. Two Purple Hearts in the space of a few hours. Thank God he lived or I wouldn’t be here to write about it.
The existing wall is about 5' tall on the left end and 2' tall on the right end. I figure with a little luck we will be done next weekend. This is why I took TWO weeks off :-)
More pics as we progress, oh and this just in. The kid just called and said that the excavator is on site. Mmmm POWER TOOLS!!!
Ruh roh, another weekend hom eimprovement project.
Keep us posted. Pics too.
Oh that’s funny! They built it that way, but why? I wonder if the rooms are all upside down too. LOL.
Well, I would, but I've been busy myself.
LOL, I don’t know about upside down rooms, I would imagine level floors could be built no matter how the structure was built.
How are you and the kids doing?