M Company – 3rd Battalion – 116th Infantry Regiment
After Action Report
29th Infantry Division – June 1944 – Battle of Normandy
This report was written at Brest on September 13th, 1944.
The Battalion landed as a whole about as the overlay indicates. “M” was supposed to land in the center but actually came in on the left on the Bn. If the overlay is consulted, it will be seen that this put “M” ashore on new beach where there had been no prior landings. The beach was perfectly clean of craters and the obstacles had not been removed. “M” was supposed to land H plus 57 and made it exactly, in six boats. The boat on the extreme right drew 88 fire as it neared shore, the burst killing Pfc Clarence Campball. In the extreme left boat Cpl Wm Jarrett was hit and killed by MG fire: this boat had already hit a mine, the bottom had been ripped and the boat was in a sinking condition. These early fires had made all of the men keep down. They were sitting on the sides and flooring and thus got no impression of the Beach as they came into it. The same mine had sprung seams and throw fragments into the Battalion Headquarters boat. It was sinking, three men within it had been wounded, and when the order came suddenly for the Company to unload, these men did not get away. The Co had arranged for each of it’s boat teams to debouch in two files and then fan out right and left. The plan was carried out with these exceptions: In Sgt Baldizar’s boat, the men did not know they were near the Beach (the coxswain neglected to warn them) and the dropping of the ramp so surprised them that they exited gang style. The boat with bottom blown out swung broadside to the beach, and in deep water. Its occupants therefore got out as best they could.
Otherwise, “M” landed as planned, in water not more than knee-deep, one boat team actually landing dry. The boats were pretty much in line. All of the men flt a sudden pick-up in the volume on bullet fire as soon as the ramp went down. But the men moved right out and they got to the sands with relatively light losses. “All of the men hit the ground as they reached the beach. There were so many obstacles confronting the Co that they had no choice in he matter. During that brief stop I set up an MG to cover us. But the sand had jammed it and I couldn’t fire.” (Pfc Charles Wirtz) However, this interval proved an advantage to the Co and was well utilized. “We looked ahaed and by study we noted that there was three or four beatin zone in front us. When we moved, the guns continued to kick up sand in the same places. We figured from this that the guns were fixed. We got the idea that if we moved to left and right of these zones, we could get through.” (S/Sgt George Cheran). S/Sgt Joseph Boldiza and S/Sgt John Anderson had noticed this same thing and had watched the line of the tracer fire.
The Co stayed at the edge of the sand. The tide kept coming. They moved up with it. “All of the men seemed shakier and weaker than usual. Sea-sickness was getting some but fear was getting most of us. The burdens that we could ordinarily carry, we had to drag. But we dragged it. Not one thing was left on the Beach.” (Sgt Bruce Heisley, though all of the others agreed with this statement.) Then they went forward as a body, making for the shingle. “Everything was carried to that point. We all feely that we were carrying too much equipment and even before we started, the men had gone silent from nervous fatigue. But they strained to get every last thing off the beach.” (Pfc Hugo de Santis). On that run to the shingle “the company learned with surprise how much small arms fire a man can run through without getting hit. The enemy was simply throwing lead.” (S/Sgt Thomas B. Turner) There was not a single straggler. A few men were hit during the passage. Others were se weak from fear that they crawled across the Beach. But their leaders yelled to them to come on. Within 10 minutes, they too had crossed the hundred yards of sand.
Come to the shingle, they saw beyond it a gully, which was under a certain amount of fire, but offered some defilade protection. By this time, “M” realized it had landed at the wrong place. “But we had been trained that wherever we landed we were to go ahead.” (2nd Lieutenant John S. Cooper) Lieutenant Richard L. Jones took off some of his equipment and ran forward to the gully. The Company had been on the Beach only 25 minutes by the time that all of the boat teams were organized along the shingles in another 15 minutes, they had two 81 mortars set up to fire. But they did not stay there. Lieutenant Jones having taken off for the gully, the others followed him two or three men at time, moving without order. In another 20 minutes they were set up there and had established local protection. There was a large enemy emplacement to their front from which they were receiving considerable MG fire. An 88 near the same position was firing on the draw toward les Moulins. Snipers were also harassing the position. The Company set up 4 machine guns and the 2 81s and went to work. The MG fire reduced the sniper opposition. The 81s put eight rounds apiece around the pillbox at range 250 yards. Its fire ceased and the men thought they had put of action though Cooper later discovered this was incorrect.
The Company held this position for about one hour. But the gully was crowded and the officers felt the urgency to get forward. The gully was quiet now and the way seemed open. Copper went on to the high ground, telling his section S/Sgt John Leroy Moore, that if the situation was good, he would signal him from the hill to bring the section on. (When first arrived at the gully, some of the men had tried to go straight up the hill and six of them had been winged by snipers.) Cooper worked on up. From the high ground he had a clear view of the whole panorama of the Beach. He could see the three emplacements which had been firing on the Company from 300 yards to its right front. The 88 was again firing, from about 500 yards back of the fortified house. Another wave was going in and was moving across the beach in column toward the draw. The gun had this avenue well covered and was “giving the column hell.” Time passed while he considered his next move, in view of the fact that the emplacement was still alive. Then he saw a CO of 16th Infantry which had just landed (about 1200) toiling up the hill toward the pillbox. They moved to the right around it and knocked it out, then proceeded against the gun.
He signaled Moore to bring the men on. The Company was supposed to move boat teams to an assembly area. They proceeded as such. Two of the teams took the route chosen by Cooper. The other four moved around to the right. (See overlay) All headed toward St Laurent. The 1st Boat Team met only sniper fire enroute, eliminated it as the need arose, and reached the village in mid-afternoon. The 2nd Boat team got there with them – intact, not having lost a man. The 3rd team lost one man to an anti-personal mine but the otherwise was complete on reaching the rendezvous, having captured three snipers and shot several others along the way. The 4th team followed Cooper and fell in behind the 16th Infantry unit for part of the way. In crossing a large filed, this column became engaged, and the 16th lost 4 killed and 8 wounded to bullet fire. The team from “M” lost none. This engagement held them up for four hours. The 16th then turned left and the team went on to St Laurent without further opposition. The 6th team contacted elements of “L” on the hill and got to St Laurent a little after noon. It then proceeded on to the next hill where it came in check under heavy automatic and rifle fire. They put 10 rounds of mortar fire on the position, but it had slight effect. They then back-tracked and started around the flank but were again checked by fire. The team returned to St Laurent, having lost one man killed and one wounded during the afternoon.
The 6th team, which had started on the more exposed position at the left flank, had the least luck. It had lost Lieutenant John W. Ballinger, boat team leader, Sgt Thomas B. Turner, section leader, and Sgt Wm Dula – Killed on the Beach. “It suffered all the way from lack of organization.” (Sgt Anderson) The team lost 2 men to snipers going up the hill, then moved directly into a mine field and lost two killed and one wounded. In the next field they were checked by a machine gun and one man was wounded. In the field after that one an 88 shell burst over them, killing one man and wounding four. It reached St Laurent during the afternoon. Cooper’s group made contact with 1st Division elements just before reaching St Laurent and a short distance farther on, met a group from 116-2. They were in touch with these people during the night. “M” had lost 25 men during D-Day. It had 115 men ready for duty on D plus on morning.