Command Group – 2nd Battalion – 116th Infantry Regiment
After Action Report
29th Infantry Division – June 1944 – Battle of Normandy
This company was to land in six boats at H+40. The landing was generally three hundred yards to left of their objectives. The boat of Lieutenant “Kelly” Athanaskos, however, landed in the area of the second battalion, perhaps 1500 yards left of their objective.
Captain Walter O. Shilling took the lookout position in his boat to assure that the landing was at the correct position. About four hundred yards from the beach an explosion blew the ramp off the boat – killing the captain. Mst of the men think that this was the result hitting a mine, but some claim an artillery hit. The boat immediately shipped water and had to be abandoned. All the men except the captain – who was already dead, jumped into the water. The Germans laid a mortar and artillery barrage on the water, and inside this barrage the machine guns sprayed the men in the water. Just short of the each, 1st Sgt. Jams Obenshain was killed. It had taken about thirty minutes for the men to reach the beach. Lieutenant Blair Dixon, T/Sgt. John R. Stennett, Pvt. Richard E. Akens, and many others were wounded in the water. The men estimate that only half of the men reached the beach. Everyone was scattered. Only by coming in with the tide were many of the men able to get in at all. The heavy weapons of this group – two mortars, were lost.
In the boat of Lieutenant William Gardner, the Co. Exec. Officer, the ramp was let down about 150 yards from the shore. Previously the boat had been raked by small arms fire but no one had been hurt. Looking ahead for a hundred yards as the ramp was lowered a rifle company was seen crouched in the water and working its slowly forward with the tide. Lieut. Gardner ordered his men to spread out and keep low in the water. The men his behind mine post and beach obstacles. The average time in the water was about an hour and a half. The casualties were large and the men who made their way out of the water were widely scattered. One of the mortars reached shore but none of the ammunition. About half of the men rejoined the unit that day.
The 1st section of the 1st platoon, under Lieutenant Verne Morse, put off from their ship, but the landing craft shipped water much more rapidly than the pumps could care for. The British coxswain applied to his ship for relief but was told to continue on his misson. Within two hundred yards the situation became hopeless and the men had to be taken aboard another transport. The soldiers believed that the landing craft would be kept afloat so left their weapon in it. No attempt to save the craft was made, however, so the boat sank the weapons, supported by Mae Wests, continued to float on the surface. Transportation for the men of this boat was secured on a craft carrying a thousand pounds of TNT to the boat engineers. The boat went immediately to Dog Green beach but was refused permission to land until the beach had cleared of some of the craft then present. This boat circled for some time then came in. There was little if any fire on this beach at this time. This was near noon. There were no casualties in the section to this time and all the weapons were safe.
The 2nd section of the 1st platoon was under Lieutenant Athanaskos. When this boat was seven hundred yards from shore the swell almost swamped it. The men bailed frantically with their helmets until the pups brought the situation under control. Two sailors, one American, one British, were pulled from the water and revived. Four hundred yards from shore the British coxswain insisted that he could take the craft no farther so the men must swim for it. He started to lower the ramp but Platoon Sgt. Willard R. Norfleet blocked the mechanism and insisted that the boat was going farther. Two hundred yards from the shore the boat struck an obstacle and went right down. The water was only waist deep and the men set out immediately for shore. Pvt. John W. Smead was struck in the helmet by a rifle bullet, and knocked unconscience by the helmet. Pfc. Richard Gomez carried Smead in to the shore. Smead recovered soon after. At the time the breakwater was reached none of this group had seven been wounded. These men saw many wounded on the beach. One machine gun and one mortar were saved.
The 1st section of the 2nd platoon received mortar fire about four hundred yards from shore. On beaching the men jumped in waist deep water and moved immediately toward shore. No one was seen to be hit in the water but the fire on the beach was intense – both small arms and artillery. One surviver claimed that only for men beside himself reached the sea wall uninjured and that the remained were either killed or wounded. A day or so later many of these me began to filter beach to their organization.
In the 2nd section of the 2nd platoon, the boat shipped water faster that the pumps could remove it. Progress was very slow for the boat set deep in the water. Finally it was necessary to hail a boat returning from the beach and ask it to carry some of the load. Half of the men were placed aboard this second craft. As the two approached the beach the second craft struck an obstacle but the badly damaged did work its way to shore. When the ramps were lowered the men found the enemy machine guns were zeroed on the ramps. From two boats, only eight or ten men reached the sea wall. Some of these pretended to be dead edged their way forward with the tide.
The second platoon arrived on the beach with only two machine guns and one mortar. This was little ammunition. The first platoon arrived on the beach with three machine guns and two mortars.
The 1st section of the 1st platoon were joined on the beach by a few Rangers. Together they found a path open to the top of the hill. On the way up they captured a dozen Germans. This group remained on the crest of the hill for about an hour (1400-1500). Several were wounded on the trip up. When parts of the second and third battalion passed the crest of this hill enroute to the Vierville sur mer area, this portion of D company, plus the Ranger joined them. Beyond Vierville this section joined C company and remained for the day.
The 2nd section of the 1st platoon stayed on te beach about an hour before a lieutenant gave them directions now to get off the beach. Then joined the 2nd Battalion and went thru a previously made break thru to the top of the hill. Enroute they were subject to sniper fire and on the crest were pinned down by an artillery barrage. The entire group remained in this position until dark then moved on to Vierville.
Only about 5 or 16 men were gathered from the 2nd platoon. They stayed on the beach until the tide started to subside. The unit then went out on the beach to recover some ammunition. A position was set up right on the beach and several problems fired. Observation was gained by Sgt. Phillip Hale who climbed par away up the hill. While observing he was severely wounded. The group then heart that the first and second battalions were reorganizing near Vierville. They moved down the beach to the left but found no one. They retraced their steps and went as far right as the Vierville draw. Here they found and joined first battalion. That night they went to Vierville and joined in the C company position.