Voices from D-Day: Eyewitness Accounts from the Battle for Normandy

Voices from D-Day: Eyewitness Accounts from the Battle for Normandy

by Jon E. Lewis (Editor)

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Overview

Voices From D-Day features classic accounts by soldiers such as Rommel and Bradley, together with frontline reports by some of the world’s finest authors and war correspondents, including Ernest Hemingway and Alan Melville. Published to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, highlights of this unique collection include the break-out from Omaha beach as told by the GI who led it, a French housewife’s story of what it was like to wake up to the invasion, German soldiers’ accounts of finding themselves facing the biggest seaborne invasion in history, a view from the command post by a member of Eisenhower’s staff, combat reports, diaries and letters of British veterans of all forces and services, and accounts of the follow-up battle for Normandy, one of the bloodiest struggles of the war.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628738179
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 05/06/2014
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 737,252
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

To the Far Shore

5 June 1944 D-Day minus 1

In the pre-dawn darkness of the morning of 5 June, the day before D-Day, Eisenhower held another brief meeting of his weather forecasters and confirmed the decision of the previous evening. Among the first to know was his naval aide.

Captain H.C. Butcher, aide to Eisenhower

Diary, Shaef Advance (near Portsmouth), Monday, 5 June 1944 D-Day is now almost irrevocably set for tomorrow morning, about 6.40, the time varying with tides at different beaches, the idea being to strike before high tide submerges obstacles which have to be cleared away ...

The actual decision was confirmed and made final this morning at 4.15 after all the weather dope had been assembled. During yesterday the weather looked as if we might have to postpone for at least two days, until Thursday, with possibility of two weeks. Pockets of 'lows' existed all the way from western Canada across the United States and the Atlantic, and were coming our way. What was needed was a benevolent 'high' to counteract or divert at least one of the parading lows. During the night, that actually occurred. During the day, Force U, the US task force which started from Falmouth at the western end of the Channel at 6 a.m. Sunday, had become scattered, owing to the galelike wind sweeping southern England and the Channel. But Admiral Kirk had heard some encouraging news that the scattering was not as bad as feared. It was enough improved by the early-morning session to warrant the gamble, which only Ike could take, and he did, but with the chance of decent weather in his favour for possibly only two days. After that we hope to be ashore, and while weather will still be vitally important, we will have gotten over the historic hump.

Throughout the morning the invasion 'On' signal was flashed and passed to embarkation camps and the cramped, rain-lashed ships. The postponement had frayed everybody's nerves, and for most the invasion order was a relief, an end to the waiting. From sealed envelopes and packages were pulled maps and orders. Now, for the first time, the men and junior officers were fully informed about their exact landing place and the job that would be expected of them. At least one British soldier rushed to his diary breathlessly to record the news.

Corporal G.E. Hughes, 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment

Diary, 5 June

D-Day tomorrow. Everybody quite excited. We land at Arromanches near Bayeux.

For one British Marine waiting ashore the news was delivered with a fearsome religious accompaniment.

Marine Stanley Blacker, RM

Our commanding officer said, 'This is it chaps,' and we were ordered to kneel in the road in three ranks. Then the local vicar appeared like magic, prayed and said 'Please God give them courage to face the enemy.' There was no saliva in my mouth. I thought I was sailing to my death.

Marine Blacker was to go to France in one of the smallest invasion craft, an LCM only 50 feet in length and completely open to the elements. Aside from its small crew it carried one lorry and four soldiers. Elsewhere, for the last but umpteenth time equipment was checked, and the men made ready. In the aft wardroom of USS Carroll, the deputy commander of the US 29th Division gathered his advanced headquarters staff for some final words of advice.

Brigadier-General Norman 'Dutch' Cota, US 29th Infantry Division, aged 51

This is different from any other exercise that you've had so far. The little discrepancies that we tried to correct on Slapton Sands are going to be magnified and are going to give way to incidents that you at first may view as chaotic. The air and naval bombardments are reassuring. But you're going to find confusion. The landing craft aren't going in on schedule, and people are going to be landed in the wrong place. Some won't be landed at all. The enemy will try, and will have some success, in preventing our gaining 'lodgement.' But we must improvise, carry on, not lose our heads.

Throughout the Allied invasion forces senior officers gave similar 'pep talks,' but Cota's words would have a particular resonance because the 29th Division was bound for Omaha beach, the bloodiest of the Allied landings. In mid-afternoon the last of the seaborne forces, including the commandos of Lord Lovat's 1st Special Service Brigade, were given their orders and driven from their marshalling points close to the ports. Awaiting them was the Allied armada, a sight which many still rank as the most 'tremendous' of their lives.

W. Emlyn 'Taffy' Jones, 1st Special Service Brigade

We sped away in trucks — destination 'Rising Sun' Warsash, where our landing craft were waiting. Cries of 'Good luck' and ladies blowing kisses. They knowing full well what was about to happen. The scene that greeted us when we arrived was fantastic; lines upon lines of craft of various sizes and overhead a ceiling of literally hundreds of barrage balloons, so awe-inspiring. Well, this was the last of terra firma and before boarding our landing craft, for some unknown reason, I kissed the ground — perhaps a comical gesture to ease the tension.

Captain Keith Douglas, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry

Actors waiting in the wings of Europe we already watch the lights on the stage and listen to the colossal overture begin.
Douglas was killed in action D-Day .

In the late afternoon, in weather which was windy but with dashes of sun, the first of the 5,000 Allied ships weighed anchor and began leaving their south-coast ports, doing so amid cheers and the sound of bagpipes (if they were British) and swing music (if they were American; the Andrews Sisters' 'The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B' was much played that day). Outside port, the ships made for the assembly point off the Isle of Wight, dividing there into huge convoys, miles wide, bound for five beaches in Normandy.

W. Emlyn 'Taffy' Jones, 1st Special Service Brigade

There was a stiffish breeze but a clear night. Sailing down the Solent through an array of ships and craft that were at anchor was tremendously impressive. As we passed by the crews stood on deck and gave us a remarkable send-off with their cheering and waving, it made one feel so proud, and above all this glorious noise we could hear the pipes, the bagpipes of Bill Millin, our commando piper.

Lieutenant H.T. Bone, 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment

The Bar was closed and everyone got themselves ready for action stations. On both sides of the ship could be seen other slower convoys moving out past the Boom, one after another, all so familiar to us, yet this time just a little more exciting. There were shouts from the local people we worked with, a wail of bagpipes, multi-coloured signal flags, new paint and our divisional sign on every vessel. It was a memorable sight. Later that night just before we sailed I collected from everybody all their written orders and all other secret bumf and descended with them into the bowels of the ship where I burned them in the boiler, ascending afterwards in a lather of sweat.

Able Seaman J.H. Cooling, RN, aboard HMS Scorpion

Overhead went a great escort of fighters to protect us from attack and a very comforting and impressive sight it was too, but what was still more impressive was that as far as the eye could see were hundreds and hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes, and you knew that beyond the horizon were more and still more.

Sergeant Richard W. Herklotz, 110th Field Artillery, US 29th Infantry Division

There were so many vessels, so many ships, that there was nowhere on the horizon that you could look and not see some type of vessel. Everywhere in the air there were barrage balloons on cables from each ship. It seemed that they filled the sky.

Captain Eric Bush, Naval Assault Group Commander with 8 Brigade, 3rd British Division

We sailed during the afternoon of June 5th and as the Isle of Wight fell away behind us I saw from Goathland's bridge a sight never to be forgotten. Thousands and thousands of ships of all classes stretched from horizon to horizon, and all were heading in the same direction.

Although the weather had improved, it was still unkind, with strong tides and headwinds. Many soldiers, and some sailors, too, were extremely seasick, despite an issue of pills, and there were moments when we feared that some of our craft would never make it. Admiral Talbot flew the signal: 'Good luck, drive on,' and, by God, we did.

Towards evening we mustered aft in our destroyer, and as she tossed and turned in the waves we bowed our heads as the Chaplain gave a blessing. The scene was very moving — soldiers and sailors at prayer together on the eve of battle. Bareheaded and drenched with spray, they stood holding on to anything they could find which would steady them against the violent motions of the ship.

'Preserve us,' we prayed, 'from the dangers of the sea and from the violence of the enemy, that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land with the fruits of our labours.' Then, in keeping with naval tradition, our padre ended his service with this extract from Nelson's prayer, which so exactly fitted the occasion. 'May the Great God whom I worship grant to my Country and to the benefit of Europe in general a great and glorious victory. Amen.' We then returned to our posts refreshed and made our final preparations for the morning.

At sunset, night guns' crews were closed up, night lookouts placed and every precaution taken against surprise attack. But the enemy never came, thank God, as most of our craft were very vulnerable and their crews had quite enough to do trying to keep station without having to fight a battle at the same time.

Every ship was now completely darkened, except for a tiny blue light low down aft for the next ship astern to see and follow. It was sometimes difficult to spot this light because of the waves, but it didn't matter, for ships and craft were frequently lit up by the phosphorescence in bow wave and stern wash, as they thumped into the heavy seas ...

Alan Melville, RAF war correspondent

We weighed anchor just after half-past six. The great mass of ships slipped very quietly away. At sea, they formed up in their own convoys and forged steadily out to sea, bearing almost due south. The minesweepers went ahead of us and cleared narrow lanes in the minefields right up to the beaches — a magnificent job superbly carried out. The armada thinned and ships which had been lying almost alongside our own sheered away to port and starboard to keep to their own courses. I went up on the boat-deck and stayed there all night, with a disc ready on my recording gear in case we ran into any excitement. The navigating officer told me with a gloomy satisfaction that the number of our convoy was thirteen. 'They don't usually do that,' he said. 'They usually miss out thirteen. I don't like it.' He showed me the charts of our crossing: where we would be at each hour, what ships would be lying near us, at what points we would alter course. Everything happened exactly as it had been set down on paper. When we reached the minefields, the lanes through them were marked. At eleven, when we were due to find the battle-wagons of His Majesty's Navy on our port bow, there they were ... Ramillies, Warspite, Frobisher, Mauritius, Dr agon, Arethusa. It never got really dark that night; you were always able to make out grey shadows and have a guess at what type of craft they were. And it was certainly one of the quietest nights I have ever experienced: the last quiet night I was to enjoy for many weeks. I recorded nothing; there was nothing to record. The mightiest invasion armada of all time was crossing the Channel to smash an entrance into Europe, and we might have been enjoying a day trip to Margate.

About nine o'clock the captain had asked me to read the farewell messages from Admiral Ramsay, Admiral Talbot and from General Eisenhower over the ship's broadcast system. I put them over as well as I could, but all the time I felt — quite wrongly, I know — that they were somehow unreal and out of touch with the actual situation. They were big pronouncements by big men, but it was our own little convoy with its own escort and its own load of troops that mattered most at that moment. We were well out to sea by then and rolling quite a bit. The one padre on board held a service on the quarter-deck; the rhino (a sort of mobile raft with an outboard motor attached) which we were towing ploughed through the swell thirty yards behind us. The men, in their lifebelts and steel helmets, crowded round the padre and we sang the same old hymns ... 'Abide with me' and 'O God our Help in Ages Past.' The padre had hoisted himself on to a packing case near the galley doorway and twice, when we took an extra heavy roll, he had to be steadied by the men round him to stop him taking a header in the middle of his prayers.

As the armada made its way slowly across the Channel, the men aboard the transports and landing ships were in muted, reflective mood.

Trooper Peter Davies, 1st East Riding Yeomanry

We were told to get our heads down, and to sleep. I don't think many did, I certainly didn't and the lads who were seasick certainly didn't. We talked about everything to pass the time — everything bar the thing we were going to do.

W. Emlyn 'Taffy' Jones, 1st Special Service Brigade

It took us a little while in the cramped conditions to settle down, sorting out our equipment, rucksacks, wireless sets, mortars, etc. and the smell of nauseous fumes of diesel and the time we would have to spend on board wouldn't make this trip very comfortable ... Sleep was out of the question. Everyone to their own thoughts. A little joking and singing but with a certain apprehension of what tomorrow would bring. What would be their thoughts at home — our families, wives and children, when they switched on the radio tomorrow morning? Hope they don't worry too much.

Alfred Leonard, Merchant Navy, aged 16

You were very aware that what was about to happen was going to be important. The atmosphere was full of that. I think the older men felt more fearful, but being young you don't look at the fear side of it so much, you just thought it's a big thing you're being part of.

Somberness was not universal. On some ships there was something approaching a party spirit.

Frederick Wright, RN

Diary, 5 June

We have aboard our lovely fast steamship a lovely body of men, all in fine physical condition — Canadians — all in grand spirits, and all psychologically minded, for they all know what they are going to France for. Tonight I shall be playing dice with them, for that is their famous pastime.

Wright and his Canadian friends played dice until four the next morning. Even the wave of seasickness which swept over the armada as it hit mid-Channel did nothing to spoil the game. The troops and sailors on the small boats had a particularly rough and nauseous passage.

George Collard, 1st RM Armoured Support Regiment

The LCIs wallowed in the rough sea — the added armour to their sides, and the weight of the tanks, made them very low in the water. We slung hammocks where we could, sometimes between the tanks. Many were seasick, including the sailors. Most of the Marines had never served afloat, but I had experience of Northern Patrols on HMS Diomede and knew that hard-tack army biscuits taken in large amounts would act like concrete in the stomach and you never became seasick. No seasick tablets were given the Marine as was given to other troops — a point of pride I suppose.

William Seymour, RN

We had been postponed a day, but the sea did not seem much better to me on the day we sailed. The waves were coming over the side of the ship. Some of the tanks on the landing craft had broken their chains and were moving about in the very rough seas. A few had to turn back. But on we went, rocking from side to side.

I wasn't scared. If you're being seasick you feel like you're dying anyway.

G.G. Townsend, Combined Operations

Nearer and nearer we crept towards the enemy-held coastline as, in the eerie silence, anxious eyes scanned the agitated water for drifting mines and hostile German E-boats while the rest of us hurriedly removed the caps and inserted the fuses in the thousand rockets which lay patiently in their well-greased ramps, awaiting the electric charge which would send them soaring on their flight of destruction. There was a heart-stopping moment when the lookout on the fo'c'sle spotted something and, after a slight change in course, a large dark object floated past the port side, but we were never sure what it was, for this was no time for investigation, and so we plodded on.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Voices from D-Day"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Jon E. Lewis.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Forewordvii
Introductionix
The Prelude1
To The Far Shore53
D-Day, 6 June 194471
Soldiering On163
Aftermath273
Appendix 1Order of the Day287
Appendix 2Allied Order of Battle and Map289
Appendix 3Glossary309
Appendix 4Sources and Acknowledgements311

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