B Company – 1st Battalion – 116th Infantry Regiment
After Action Report
29th Infantry Division – June 1944 – Battle of Normandy
The first boats from “B” hit the beach at H plus 26, and the general area of the landing was as indicated in the over-lay. The sea had been so rough throughout the journey that all hands had had to bail with their helmets in order to keep the boats afloat. As with “A”, “B” was little affected by the enemy fire until the ramps were dropped; then automatic fire from both flanks broke around the boat exits. On the right-flan boat (S/Sgt Odell L. Padgett the British sailor froze on the rope and wouldn’t let the ramp down ; the men had to struggle with him and take the rope away before they could make the break for the beach. They then jumped into neck-high water and started ashore. As it happened, the boat had come into the coast directly confronting a small cover. The beach was strewn with heavy boulders and could be traversed only with extreme difficulty, but the outward-jutting of the cliff wall gave the men partial protection from the enemy bullet fire, and little of it seemed to be bearing directly upon them. Padgett and Lieutenant Leo A. Pingenot picked their way over the boulders and got to the cliff edge. They looked back and saw that most of their men were still immersed in water. Padgett yelled back: “Are you hit?” and for that moment both men believe that their boat team had been destroyed. The men yelled back that they were OK and were only seeking cover; they had seen and heard bullets pinging off the boulders ahead of them. By coaxing and encouragement, Padgett and Pingenot got them coming forward again and they crossed the beach with the loss of 1 killed and 3 wounded. This group joined a group of Rangers at the cove and fought with them all day long (see report of Major Dallas) helping them destroy the German positions around the fortified house and in the emplacements at the top of the cliff. There were 28 of them in all. After mopping-up the German trenches, they stayed at the second hedgerow beyond the cliff until 2300 when they were ordered to rejoin the Battalion in its bivouac near Vierville.
In general, “B” was supposed to come in and land on top of the “A” landing, supporting and reinforcing it. But the smoke and dust of battle had wholly obscured the scene by the time “B” arrived with the result that the landmarks were invisible and the coxswains became confused. Whether this worked out badly for “A”, it at least became good fortune for some of “B”’s teams, though a few suffered as hard a fate as “A”. Those who landed off the flanks of “A” came off better and even achieved limited penetrations; others which were steered into the sands where “A” was already sweating were similarly cancelled out.
Pfc Robert L. Sales was in Capt Ettore V. Zappacosta’s boat. Three hundred yards out, it came under mortar fire. The boat was hit several times but the men were uninjured. About 75 yards from the beach, the ramp was dropped and enemy automatic fire then beat a tattoo all over the boat front. Zappacosta jumped from the boat and got 10 yards through the water. Sales saw him hit in leg and shoulder. He yelled: “I’m hit.” T/5 Kenser, a first aid man, yelled: “Try to make it in !” Zappacosta went down and they did not see him come up again. Then Kenser jumped toward him and was shot dead as he jumped. Lieutenant Tom Dallas of “C”, who had come in to make a reconnaissance, also jumped out. He got to the edge of the sand and was there shot to death. Sales was fourth in line and it had come his turn. He started out with his SCR 300, tripped at the edge of the ramp and fell sprawling into the water. It probably saved his life. Man by man, all of those leaving the ramp behind him were either killed or wounded. Sales was the only one to get as far as the beach unhit, and it took him almost two hours. He had moved only 20 yards through the water and then bumped into a large floating log. At the moment, a mortar shell burst near him and knocked him groggy. He felt himself blacking out and he grabbed hold of the log. A man from “A” came along and cut his jacket off so that the weight of water in his jackets wouldn’t burden him. As the tide moved in, he rolled his log on toward the beach. He had strength enough left to push it up past high-water mark and use it for cover. Pvt Mack L. Smith, hit three time through the face, joined him there. A medic bandaged him. A man named Kemper, hit three time in the leg, joined them and Sales bandaged him. They lay there sharing a pack as a pillow while the fighting continued all around them. The dead washed up to where they lay and then washed back again. They pulled the bodies of their own men onto the sand. When the day ended, not one man from Sales’ boat had struck a blow.
After Zappacosta died, the command went to Lieutenant William B. Williams. His boat team had landed dry, well over toward the left, and the enemy fire was so sighted that the men debouched with slight loss. In 20 minutes, Williams had ten of them up at the sea wall. They left a burning craft behind them. Mortar fire had dogged them all the way in and a hit dead center exploded the boat just as the last man left the ramp. Some men had been hit crossing the beach ; others had sought cover in the tide pockets. More mortar fire from off let fell among them as they crossed the road and more men scattered. Williams saw small groups from “F” and “H” already forward of him as he moved left along the lower slope of the hill and then led his men up a trail which seemed to be defiladed. That brought them out not far from les Moulins and shortly after they came over the brow of the hill, they headed down a trail toward the left. The party was stopped by MG fire from well-concealed emplacement. Williams went later it single-handed and in trying to grenade the pit, got hit by three bullets and eight grenade fragments – including three wounds from own grenade. He told his men to head in the other direction, and he stayed there in a ditch, waiting until night for evacuation. Williams had turned his map and compass over to S/Sgt Frank M. Price who in turn yielded them to T/Sgt William Pearce as the group headed toward Vierville. On the crest of the first hill, they ran into a group of the enemy and killed five of them in a brief skirmish from behind hedgerows. They continued on past a second hedgerow, then followed the road into Vierville, where they met a group of “B” under Lieutenant Walter Taylor. That officer had lost 4 killed and 4 wounded from his section and moved right up and over the hill and into Vierville, where he was engaged in mop-up operations when Williams’ men came along. Lieutenant Harold Donaldson and Emil Winkler had been killed on the beach, and with Williams out of it, Taylor was now the company commander.
From Vierville, Taylor moved his group up the road to the Chateau, and just short of that place, drew fire from a field on the left. The Americans attacked with rifles and grenades after working up a hedgerow line to within 25 yards of the enemy position. One grenade exploded in a foxhole with a German. He screamed at the top voice and that ended the skirmish. The other 14 surrendered. At the Chateau, Taylor took two prisoners, a German doctor and an aid man. Having taken them, Taylor put them on a kind of parole and let his three wounded in their charge, then moved his force up to the X-road beyond the Château. There they were stopped by the arrival of three truckloads of enemy troops who deployed in the field or either side of the position taken by Taylor’s force and began to envelop it. There was a fire fight and Taylor lost one man killed and 3 wounded. That cut his force to 25 men, and being without automatic weapons, he decided to fall back on the Château. The Germans came on and attacked them there, but the walls were slotted and the enemy was driven back by well-placed rifle fire. A group of 15 men from the Second Rangers then came in from yhe left and joined Taylor’s force.
During all of this time, Taylor and his group had had no contact with any part of the invasion. So far as they knew, they were altogether alone, with neither support nor supply ready for their purpose. However, the plan had given a position well over to the right as “B”’s objective for the night and so Taylor led his men away from the comparative safety of the Chateau and started for the objective. “He was an inspired leader throughout that day,” said Price of him. “He seemed to have no fear of anything and no matter where he went, he was in the lead either of the march or of the fight. We followed him because there was nothing else to do.” Having led his group farther S than and other Battalion element, Taylor then led them westward, reaching ground about 600 yards beyond where the Battalion bivouacked that night. He lost only one man on this move from the Chateau de Vaumicel. He acted as the point for the march all the way. Late in the evening, he got word of the Battalion’s rendezvous, and took his force into it.
These were the chief moves by “B” insofar as penetration and consolidation of position are concerned. Other small groups fought their way a short distance inland, or attached themselves from other companies and did what they could, as circumstance allowed. Still others fought or failed on the beach, and either died because they lacked the strength or will to get away from the pitiless fire, or lived to tell about their own frustrations and of the courage and sacrifice of others.
S/Sgt Robert M. Campbell was the first man off the boat in his section. He jumped in the water cattying two bangalores: the water was over his head and the bangalores carried him down like an anchor-weight. So he dropped them in the sea, and for good measure, cut away most of his equipment. Bullets were cutting the water all around him. Though never a strong swimmer, he headed back out to sea and for 11/2 hours, he paddled around 200 yards or more from the shore. He could see nothing of the battle and could not tell whether any of his men had gotten across the sands. When he came in to shore finally, he had lost his helmet, so he salvaged one from a dead man’s head, then went on up to the sea wall, where he found several of his men. Pfc Jan J. Budziszewski was also carried to the bottom by two bangalores, and hugged them there for a few moments before realizing that he’d either drop them or drown. He swam a hundred yards or so before becoming aware he was going in the wrong direction. By then he has lost helmet and rifle. He headed back to shore and found himself under a hail of bullets when he hit the sand. He took the helmets and rifle from a dead Ranger and went on up to the wall in a slow crawl. He was looking for the men from his boat but he looked all day and never found a one. They who still lived had scattered all along the beach.