Headquarter Company – 1st Battalion – 116th Infantry Regiment
After Action Report
29th Infantry Division – June 1944 – Battle of Normandy
The Company came in on three boats at H plus 40, got one burst of shell-fire on one boat (killing one man) during the approach, but other-wise met nothing but automatic fire. This, the enemy held until they were ready to jump from the ship. As the men dropped down into water averaging 41/2 – 5 feet deep, bullets began to sing around them. They had stopped at the sand bar just off the beach. The men had prepared to debouch in three files, the center going first. The movement started. Nowlin, with the communications platoon, saw his first men jump off with full loads. They came up with them and started on, still carrying their equipment. Some of them were hit as they plunged into the crossfire which was sweeping the sandbar and the water next the beach; others toiled on, carrying their equipment. It startled Nowling to see them going forward, facing the fire and still straining under their burdens.
Back of these first files, however, the movement had flagged right at the ramps. Colonel McQuaid of the 158th FA Battalion, who had come in on the same boat, was hit as he stepped from the boat. He died in the water. Captain Robert B. Ware, MC, was hit between the eyes as he made the sands. Lieutenant James Limber, Battalion S2, was wounded in both legs while making his way through the water; he crawled on to the beach and a shell fragment hit him between the eyes. That slowed the movement behind them for a few minutes and then the other men broke for the shore ; by then the racing tide had covered most of the sandbar. What had happened to the first me off this boat was typical of the company experience, except for two men all of the losses of Headquarters Company were among officers and non-coms.
The beach ahead was fat, barren and coverless for a 100 yards stretch, and there it gave way to cliff. The survivors went on to this line and found it deflated them to bullet fire; within half an hour, most of them had collected there. Lieutenant Wayland C. Hooks (later KIA) was with them in this position when he got his order from Major Dallas to make the move up the cliff on the right. S/Sgt James B. Smallwood, who had made it to the cliff base unhurt, went along with Hooks and was killed during the afternoon action. This party Supplied itself by sending back to the cliff base to get grenades and other ammo from the wounded. These latter hugged the foot of the cliff. Snippers and one machine gunner were working the height above them and any attempt to move even a few feet toward the beach drew fire.
The three boats not come in on line, but were a few minutes apart, which gave the enemy a chance to concrete fire against them separately. Lieutenant Colonel John A. Metcalfe, coming in on the first boat, lost six men killed and had about half the remaining number wounded in getting his group across the sandbar and up the beach. All were hit by bullets. With Wallace and about six others, Metclafe got to the foot of the cliff where they became pinned down behind boulders by bullet fire from the cliffs above. They stayed there until late afternoon. Losses gradually immobilized this party and deprived it of any feeling of organization. Captain Thomas J. Callahan was put out of action by bullet wound in the leg. Lieutenant Mortwest was shot in the buttocks while trying to drag a wounded Ranger out of the water. (It is to be noted that the CP elements were divided by only 100 yards or so, Metcalfe and his small group being behind the boulders while Dallas and his group were in the gulleys. They were in radio contact. Most of the able-bodied around them had been sent on with Hooks. The few who remained around the CP were concerned mainly with defending the position and attempting to succor other wounded.) The amount of fire wish was stinking off the boulders is described by Wallace as “heavy and almost unceasing.” Along with Pvts Clarence Huffman and Stanley Aeck, he made several atempts to sally from behind the boulders and pull in wounded men. They succeeded with two or three, but thereafter, were driven back to the boulders. The destroyer fire against Pointe de Rez (see Dallas account) found this group also. Two of the men were buried under a collapse of earth resulting from the fire. Wallace and the others dug them out – unhurt. About 200, the CP moved on toward Vierville, then joined the Battalion in the bivouac area.
The boat containing Bower was supposed to land at H plus 70, but it finally hit the beach 6 hrs late. On the first trip in, it drew no fire ; the beach was so jammed with boats, however, that it was impossible to land. After looking the situation over, therefore, the party backed away ; this section was bringing in the vehicles of the Bn, and it was decided that the main chance lay in trying to land in the First Division sector. The vehicles were unloaded in 5’ of water but made the beach without incident. They then began to draw arty fire, and for four hrs the remained there, wedged and unable to move right of left, while the fire continued. Bower was wounded by a shell : there were so many critically wounded on the beach by that time that the medics simply put Bower beyond the high-water mark and left him. Said Private Robert E. Wright: “For 4 hours, we couldn’t move any vehicle in either direction. We had turned the vehicles S. We kept asking officers: ‘What can we do?’ They answered: ‘Not a damn thing if you’re with vehicles. You’ll have to wait until the fire lifts.’ To our right, many of the vehicles were catching fire from the arty fire. One half-track got a direct hit, burned, and set fire to a 21/2 ton truck and another half-track. Because of the fires, the men on our right moved enmasse past us to escape the explosions. So we quit our vehicles and moved about 500 yards down the beach. Then we met an MP who told us the exit on that end was open. We went back to remaining vehicles and got them up and over the hill somewhere near Colleville. On D plus one we returned to Battalion.”
The AT Platoon was supposed to land at H plus 110, coming in on DUKWs from about 12-13 miles out. One DUKW foundered and a man was drowned; the others were picked up by LSTs and returned to England. Then another DUKW had its motor drowned out ; the officer and some men were picked up by the third BUKW which thus went into the lead. Five miles from shore, the third DUKW drowned its motor and the officer, Lieutenant Leo D. Vandervoort, transferred again to the second DIKW, which was now mobile. At H plus 120, Vandervoort landed in the first Division sector. Biliski, who was in charge on the stalled third DUKW, was going again in 30 minutes. 400 yards from Dog Green Beach, his craft began getting MG and 88 fire. He made six attempts to take his craft in, and then gave it up because the fire was too hot. Afternoon came and the fuel in the DUKW began to run low: so they ran alongside an LST and asked for instructions. They were told to stand by for a while; at 1600, they were told to land at First Division sector – that all DUKWs were being sent there. Billinski noticed as he came in that the beach was jammed with vehicles and was under heavy arty fire. He figured his incoming craft would be a likely target. So as he neared the shore-line, he told his men to jump and run for it. Only a few seconds later, while they were still running, an arty shell hit the DUKW and blew it up. Bilinski and Pvt Robert C. Byrd went up the beach to look for Vandervoort, they ran into Bilinski’s jeep driver, Pvt Ernest O. Green, and an arty barrage at the same time, and for two hours the men burrowed in the sand waiting for the fire to lift.