‘D-Day: The Campaign Across France’ Features Veterans’ Memories
The second volume in Weider History Publications’ War Stories series has just been published. The first entry in the series, The Pacific – Volume 1 – Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, was named the winner in the History: Military/Political category of the USA “Best Books of 2011” Awards.
This new book, D-Day: The Campaign Across France, continues the War Stories: World War II Firsthand format, blending the memories from World War II veterans of many nations into a well-researched narrative of events, supplemented by photographs and original maps. Veterans’ comments are taken from original interviews conducted by the books’ author, Jay Wertz, and from previously printed memoirs.
Armchair General magazine’s editor in chief, U.S. Army Col. (ret) Jerry Morelock, Ph. D. edits the War Stories books. The foreword is written by Maj. Gen. (ret) David T. Zabecki, Ph. D., senior historian for Weider History Group, who currently holds the Leo A. Shifrin Chair in Naval and Military History at the U. S. Naval Academy History Department. Click here to download a pdf of Maj. Gen.Zabecki’s foreword to D-Day: The Campaign Across France.
Here are a sampling of comments from veterans, taken from the first two chapters.
In preparation for the Normandy invasions, American troops participated in a training operation codenamed Exercise Tiger. Disaster struck when German E-boats (S-boats) attacked three of the landing ships involved in Exercise Tiger. An estimated 1,200–1,600 Allied troops died in the attack, though the numbers officially given were significantly lower.
“Before you know it, it’s the next morning,” remembers Giacchi. “Me and Bradshaw are in this room, and they’ve got a tremendous table set up. And on the table there’s all wallets that they’ve picked up, because they had two colored companies going out, graves registration, with grappling hooks to pick up bodies. On the table they had all kinds of wallets with money and pictures of loved ones, pictures with their wives and their kids. All kinds of money was piled…singles, soaking wet with the salt water. Fives, tens, twenty dollar bills. They asked me, ‘If there’s anything that belongs to you, take it.’ A big pile of false teeth, eyeglasses, you name it, yes, they were there. Nothing was mine.”
Veteran Hal Baumgarten recalls embarking on a transport for the invasion of Normandy.
“On June the 3rd they loaded us up in trucks, and they took us 10 miles down, past Dorchester, England, and down to Weymouth, England, which was about 12 or 15 miles. And we got off and we marched down boardwalks to the little boats. And the people were making the V sign for victory, ‘Good luck, Yanks,’ and so forth, ‘cause they knew it was the real thing. We knew it was the real thing. The town has buildings built into a bluff overlooking a beautiful bay that was loaded with all kinds of assault ships, Navy destroyers and so forth, plus the Empire Javelin that we had practiced on. So they took us out to the Javelin, we went up the rope ladders, went on the Javelin and it started raining, every day. The 3rd. The 4th. The 5th we cleared about two p.m. I went up on deck. We had a mass prayer, on the deck, by Reverend Barber. Gave me a bible, which I have up there, autographed. But, he led the prayers. And then the weather was clear, and I saw all the ships signaling to each other that it’s time to…we’re gonna leave the harbor.”
The invasion’s airborne operation involved 7,000 Commonwealth and 13,400 American paratroopers in the first wave plus 4,000 follow-up infantry, engineer, medical and Signal Corps paratroopers with heavy equipment. The drop did not go as planned, and paratroopers frequently had no idea where others of their units were.
Tom Blakey of the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment described his experience after landing in the little town of Ste. Marcouf.
“Finally I said, ‘Hell let somebody find me.’ I didn’t want to get messed up out there and get captured by myself. We were up to our ass in Germans. About 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning we had got together seven of us. The other guys were from the 507 and most of them knew each other so they probably came out of the same plane. We were then looking for a place to find out where we were. If we could find where we were then we would know where to go, and we finally found a road junction sign that said Ste. Mère-Église with an arrow pointing. So we got off the side of the road. The Germans were coming in with trucks and movement all around, but not where we were. We stayed a safe distance from the road. We had no problem getting to the railroad and down the railroad to around the water. Then we knew where the bridge was so we went there. It was maybe 7:30 or maybe as late as 8:00 o’clock.”
Ernst Floeter was in his tent in the camp of Germany’s 91st Air Land Division camp not far from Cherbourg. The daily watch was cancelled the night of June 5th-6th.
“So on that night, on the [5th-]6th they told us, no watch tonight, the weather’s so bad, they are not coming tonight. So that was a watch-free night and we slept in tents and about 10:30 at night I woke up…was a horrible noise in the air. And I look out, and there came the American airplanes by hundreds, lots of them. And they released the paratroops just outside of our line, near Ste. Mère-Église. So at 12:00 o’clock [probably 0200] our commander told us the invasion has started. So we were happy. Finally, something happens [laugh]. It got pretty boring.
“So on the next morning we had to cut, we had to destroy our telephone lines and watch out for the American and British fighters because they came down and chased a single soldier. We heard them all, they come down and then they shot the machine gun. And so we heard it all day long. But we were not accosted, we were pretty safe.”
James Lauberdais, a squad leader in 81mm mortars, crossed the English Channel in a CG-4 Waco glider.
“Ste. Mère-Église, that’s where we landed,” states Lauberdais. “In Normandy the hedgerows were this high, and then the trees, so when we come in we had to go in quick. We landed and hit a hedgerow about 110 miles an hour. You shake; you get up because machine gun fire. Tick, Tick. We only have canvas, you know, to guard us but they are a strong thing. There’s tubular steel and you could stand a pretty good crash with ‘em. We were in the hedgerow and there was some artillery firing and some machine gun fire comin’ and one of our boys started, ‘I’m hit…call the medics!’ Of course that’s what you hear all day long, ‘Medic! Call the medics !’ I crawled up to him and I said, “Okay hold on, where ya hit?’ and he said, ‘I’m hit in my leg.’ We took a pouch and tied it on our leg and in there was a little brush, swab thing you know, to clean your gun and a can of oil. Well, don’t you know a bullet or shrapnel or somethin’ hit that pouch, cut that can in half, and the oil’s running down his leg. I turned him over and I said, ‘You’re not hit pardner, that’s oil going down your leg.’”
Click here to learn more about D-Day: The Campaign Across France.
(Update: On the 2013 anniversary of D-Day, Pritzker Military Library listed D-Day: The Campaign Across France as recommended reading.)