Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The gates of hell are on the beaches of normandy.

"We want to get the hell over there. The quicker we clean up this God damned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple pissing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the God damned Marines get all of the credit." -- General George S. Patton, Jr., June 5, 1944.

"Don't worry chaps you'll only have to do this once. I'll have to come back and do a dozen takes with Errol Flynn!"--David Niven rallying his platoon before landing on gold beach.

Many people believe (since many people's understanding of WWII is limited to Saving Private Ryan, and the various Medal of Honor video games) that tanks did not play a large role in the D-Day landings. This is simply not true.

Each of the three assaulting US Infantry regiments had a GHQ tank battalion assigned (70th at Utah; 741st And 743rd at Omaha). Each battalion had two companies of DD (Duplex Drive/Amphibious) M4s (Sherman) (16 per company) and one of deep wading M4s (16), and 8 dozer tanks. That means each battalion had a contingent of 54 tanks. While the DD's had only been used in tests and training, the deep waders had been proven at Dieppe, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio, (and in the Pacific). Even if all the US DD's had been lost, the US assault regiments would have had 72 tanks to call on. The British-Canadians were supported by the equivalent of seven battalions, including DDs, AVREs, and 79th division funnies.

The US Tank Battalions had been training with DDs since late 1943, although the "Donald Ducks" were far from well loved. The DDs were derisively referred to as "30 tons of steel in a canvas bucket". Considered "makeshift as best" and a "disaster at worst" by the USN officer in charge of training. It was concluded that the sea keeping capabilities of the Sherman were marginal at best and that they could not be used in seas above Force 3 (about three foot (1m) waves), and should be launched no more than 3000 yards from shore. It appears British practice was to launch from 5000 yards, conditions permitting. The US Navy had determined that if conditions were not right, the LCTs should carry the DDs into the beach and land them normally, also a British practice.
Fire support for the advancing Americans, other than their own hand-held weapons, came in the form of tanks and destroyers. The tanks were leading a hard life. They were caught on the sand between the high water and the embankment, unable to get over the shingle to the beach flat, open targets for enemy guns. Still, they kept firing. One tank maintained its fire until the rising tide drowned out its cannon. (emphasis added)

The 741st tank battalion (which shares a lineage with the Fighting Aces) report on D-Day noted: "The tanks continued to fire on targets of opportunity during the infiltration of the infantry, which was moving directly forward making an assault on the bluff behind the beach. Due to the fact that exit Easy 3 which was to have been used as an exit from the beach by both infantry and tanks was still in enemy hands and commanded by several artillery pieces, consisting mostly of 88mm guns the infantry was forced to make their direct approach under the protecting fire of tank weapons.

MAJ Sidney Bingham, CO of the 2nd Battalion, 16th [Infantry] said that the Tanks "saved the day. They shot the hell out of the Germans, and got the hell shot out of them."

The same was true of the destroyers. Between them, the tankers and the sailors knocked out pillboxes as targets of opportunity and thus made it possible for the infantry to get up the bluff.

excerpted from
D-Day, June 6, 1944 By Stephen E. Ambrose
Make no mistake about it, D-Day was an infantry fight, and they paid for every square inch of that beach with blood. The sacrifices of the Rangers, the Line, and The Airborne cannot be forgotten. But there were a vast many "other" units that made the day possible, participated in the direct firefight, and in many instances gave their lives providing cover for the crunchies until they could give no more.

"You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely....The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking." --General Dwight D. Eisenhower giving the D-Day order on June 6, 1944.

Sources and hat tips:
Myths about tanks on D-Day--Tim "Canambridge" Ambridge
  1. FORD, Ken & ZALOGA, Steven J. Overlord: The D-Day Landings. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2009. 368 p.
  2. ZALOGA, Steven J. US Tank and Tank Destroyer Battalions in the ETO, 1944-45. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2005. 96 p.
  3. YEIDE, Harry. Steel Victory: The Heroic Story of America's Independent Tank Battalions at War in Europe. Presidio Press, 2004. 336 p.
  4. YEIDE, Harry. Weapons of the Tankers: American Armour in World War II Battle Gear. Motorbooks International, 2006. 128 p.
  5. BALKOSKI, Joseph. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, 410 p.
  6. BALKOSKI, Joseph. Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, 380 p.
  7. MORRISON, S.E. History of US Naval Operations in WWII, Vol XI: The Invasion of France and Germany, 1944-45.
  8. War Department, Historical Division. Utah Beach to Cherbourg (6 June-27 June 1944) [online]. War Department, Historical Division, 1948. Available from Internet: <>.
  9. War Department, Historical Division. Omaha Beachhead (6 June-13 June 1944) [online]. War Department, Historical Division, 1945. Available from Internet: <>.
  10. DD Tank [online]. Available from Internet: <>.

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