WORLD WAR II- D-DAY – AS I REMEMBER IT
LCT 613 arrived at England on LST 288 on April 2, 1944, and was launched immediately. Shortly thereafter, additional crew members were assigned to bring the crew up to full complement. The weeks that followed enabled the crew to assimilate and begin sharpening their individual skills in the operation of an LCT 6, which was somewhat different from an LCT 5. A few liberties were extended to the crew during this time; however, they came to an abrupt halt as the month of June approached. The time had come to assemble the ships at their staging areas. We received orders to depart in convoy from Plymouth to Portsmouth, from where we would leave for the invasion.
We departed Plymouth early morning on April 28, the morning after the tragic sinking, by German E-boats, of three LST’s that had been on maneuvers the night before. It was a pleasant, sunny day, so I decided to paint 613 in large white numbers on our aft port compartment. As we approached the small fishing village of Slapton Sands, I noticed several acres of bodies in the water, the aftermath of the E-boat attack. Each ship in the convoy picked up bodies as they came alongside. We retrieved two, a soldier and a sailor. The death toll was 747 soldiers and 197 sailors. This incident was kept from the public until after the war. That night would be referred to as the “Night of the Bloody Tiger”.
Shortly after arriving in Portsmouth, we experienced nightly bombings by the Germans. On one such occasion, and unknown to us, delayed action mines were dropped interspersed with the bombs. The following morning, as I was fishing off the fantail of the ship, I noticed bubbles coming up from the water. I no sooner jumped over a low bulkhead when a thunderous explosion occurred. A delayed action mine had exploded under the ship. The buoy to which we had been anchored blew twenty feet into the air, along with fish and seaweed. We were cast adrift in the river. Engines and generators had broken loose from their mounts, armor around the gun mounts had sprung, and the lighting system had been damaged. We were powerless and adrift. Fortunately, we had no injuries except for some minor bruising of the men who had been holding on to the railing. A short time later a naval repair ship arrived. Repairs were made swiftly, enabling us to proceed to Normandy as scheduled.
On June 2 and 3 our craft was loaded with machines and personnel. It was obvious that we were just a few hours away from the invasion.
At 0330 hours on the morning of June 4, all the LCTs were brought out from the Portsmouth harbor to assemble in formation. At 0640 General Eisenhower ordered that all boats return to Portsmouth harbor. D-Day had been postponed by unsuitable weather conditions.
On the morning of June 5 all LCT’s were ordered underway at 0330. Once assembled in convoy form, all boats proceeded to the Normandy beaches. Several of the LCT’s had strafing balloons attached. The channel crossing was uneventful; however, we did observe an airman’s body, apparently a causality of a bombing raid, floating in the water. The corpse was badly decomposed, and we were ordered not to pick it up.
AT DAYBREAK, THE MOST PROFOUND AND MEMORABLE DAY OF MY LIFE WAS TO BEGIN
Promptly at 0515 hours, the huge naval bombardment of the Normandy coast began. Battleships and light and heavy cruisers opened a barrage of red hot charges that could be seen flying through the air.
THE ASSAULT HAD BEGUN.
The H-60 minute wave, our wave, reached the line of departure with sixteen minutes to spare. As we moved toward the beach, we had to pass the battleships and cruisers close hauled. Concussion from the huge guns shook our craft and rattled in our ears. Our clothing was impregnated and hot, adding to the crews’ discomfort. Closer to shore were the destroyers, scouring the beach with their five inch guns, seeking out enemy gun emplacements. We continued with our load of two armored bull dozers designed to clear the beach of mines, and thirty-five Army signalman and their vehicles. All of our men were at their battle stations. As Quartermaster, I was in the pilot house with Ensign Burnes, Fred Brookwell, and Elmer Ness. Fred was at the helm; Elmer was on the throttles, Ensign Burnes and I served as backup. Our job was to power and steer the craft as we were directed by our Skipper, Richard Zelden, from the top of the conning tower where he was completely exposed to German gunfire. He barked out our orders through a voice tube, a very crude way of communicating. To this day I fail to understand how he escaped being killed. Apparently, the good Lord was with him.
As we approached the beach, the water erupted where live ammunition was landing. Our first casualty occurred as one of the soldiers lost four fingers while he was shouldering his rifle. We gave him a shot of morphine, wrapped his hand, and put him in a bunk. He never disembarked at Normandy. We beached on what we thought was Dog Red Beach, our assigned area. I am convinced we didn’t know which area it was because of poor markings. Upon beaching we lowered our ramp. The first bull dozer received a direct hit as it was halfway off the ramp, so we retracted our ramp, leaving the bull dozer there. We moved further down the beach until we came upon a damaged LCI, which was burning. We managed to enter the beach on her port side, offering us protection from the 88’s. The beach was littered with men, living and dead, and operative and inoperative machines that hindered our unloading of our remaining cargo and men.
Just prior to our retracting, a Navy Coxswain jumped aboard. His LCVP had been sunk. We would later return him and our injured soldier to their parent ships. Retracting for the second time, we were hailed by the Captain of LCT 612; his craft had been disabled. LCT 612 had sustained three direct hits in the engine room, causing it to flood and knocking the boat out of action. Our Skipper ordered the crew to secure the anchor in it’s cradle and unshackle it so the cable could be used as a tow line to haul LCT 612 one and one-half miles from shore, out of the line of fire. On June 27 our officers and crew received a Letter of Commendation from our Flotilla Commander William Leide for this action.
Once we were anchored, we began to assess our own damage. Our bow was low in the water, and we were taking on water from a direct hit below the waterline. The following day we were ordered to beach at high tide so our hull could dry out with the outgoing tide. As we settled on the beach, we discovered, just inches from one of the engine struts, an unexploded Teller mine that had washed ashore. We notified the Army demolition team and they disarmed it. Shortly after our hull had dried, welders arrived to affix a plate over the hole. We later discovered that the repair leaked badly so it had to be redone. Throughout the day we could hear the dozers exploding mines as they cleared the beach. We returned to service the following day.Omaha Beach was so littered with debris that for a few days operations were impossible, so we were ordered to unload all future cargo on the neighboring British Gold Beach. We proceeded, over the next several months, to unload liberty ships without any serious difficulty except for an accident where our machinist mate accidentally shot himself while on guard duty. The wound was quite serious, and he had to be hospitalized.
It became apparent over the next several months that our services were no longer needed, since the larger ports became available to unload cargo. LCT 613 had entered into action on June 6 and departed for England on October 4. In its five month tour working the Normandy beaches, LCT 613 had made a total of one hundred six trips from ship to shore. During this time the boat required nine trips to the beach for repairs.
After spending several days in the Dartmouth shipyard, the crew was transferred stateside for further assignment.