Tag Archive | D-Day

Basic bicycle repair class, Normandy edition, 75 yrs ago today

Canadian Army Pvt. R.O. Potter of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada repairs a flat tire on his bicycle shortly after the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy. France. 20 June 1944.

Note the No. 4 Mk I Enfield .303 and skrimmed helmet

Both the British and Canadian Army had issued their soldiers bicycles for the initial landings (Operation Neptune) on 6 June 1944 to help the soldiers get off of the beaches quickly and allow for more mobility during the ensuing Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord).

Infantrymen of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada cook a meal aboard a landing craft en route to France amidst piles of bikes. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

Personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing on “Nan White” beach on D-Day

Personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing on “Nan White” (Juno) beach on D-Day. Whole lotta bikes in the sand. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

looking east along the “Nan White” beach, showing personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing on D-Day

looking east along the “Nan White” beach, showing personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing on D-Day. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

 

D-DAY – BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (B 5078) Troops from the British 3rd Infantry Division, some with bicycles, move inland from Queen beach, Sword Area, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205818

D-DAY – BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (BU 1184) Film still showing commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, coming ashore from LCI(S) landing craft on Queen Red beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205373104

D-DAY – BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (B 5003) Beach Group troops wade ashore from landing craft on Queen beach, Sword area, on the evening of 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205090225

Although we here in the States often see D-Day as an Omaha Beach main event and Utah Beach sideshow, the fact is that of 160,000 Allied troops to hit Normandy on 6 June, half were British and Canadians. This included around 24,970 men of the British 50th Division (Northumbrian) and elements of the 8th Armored Brigade on Gold Beach, 21,400 Canucks of the 3rd Canadian Division on Juno Beach, 28,845 men of the British 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Special Service (Commando) Brigade on Sword Beach, along with 7,900 airborne troops of the British 6th Airborne Div with attached 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

By July 4, a cool million Allied troops were ashore and looking to break out, many on two wheels.

D-Day Plus Seven

Here we see what Normandy looked like a week after Overlord in combat artist and Combat Gallery Sunday alum Dwight Shepler‘s 1944 watercolor, “D-Day Plus Seven, Omaha Beach Head, Landing scene with the Landing Ship Tanks on the beach discharging their cargo.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Accession #: 88-199-EY

Official caption by the artist:

On Omaha beachhead the wreckage of assault has been thrust aside and reinforcements pour from LSTs which line up to spew forth their mobile cargo. It was not an uncommon sight to see thirty LSTs “dry out” and discharge their load on one ebb tide, and float away on the flood. The tide was 20 foot. With the sight repeated on Utah beach and the British beaches, the lift carried by various amphibious craft was enormous. The great offensive that broke out at St. Lo, swept through Avranches to ship off Brittany and swing for Paris, was mounted with men and material that came in over the beach.

As a footnote, classicly-trained Shepler learned his trade at Williams College and worked at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art prior to the war, then enlisted as an officer in the Navy Reserve in 1942 at age 37 to lend his brush to Uncle Sam. He took part not only in Normandy but in the landings at Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan. In all, he produced more than 300 works for the military before returning to civilian life where he went back into teaching art and producing landscapes, sports scenes, and portraits. He passed in 1974.

His best-known work is perhaps The Battle for Fox Green Beach”, showing Warship Weds alum, Gleaves-class destroyer USS Emmons (DD-457) bombarding in support of the Omaha Beach landings.

“The Battle for Fox Green Beach,” watercolor by Dwight Shepler, showing the Gleaves class destroyer USS Emmons (DD 457) foreground and her sister ship, the USS Doyle, to the right, within a few hundred yards of the landing beach, mixing it up with German shore batteries on D-Day

 

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

NH 110742 French Warships in port, circa 1939 Mediterranean palm trees and old fort 2400-tonne type destroyer battleship Courbet, while a Duguay Trouin class light cruiser is to the right

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 93575

Here we see the first French dreadnought, Courbet, class leader of a four-ship group of mighty warships built for the French Third Republic. She is the largest ship to the far left, seen at Villefranche during late 1938 or early 1939. She gave her last full measure some 75 years ago this week but left an interesting legacy.

When built, Courbet and her sisters were the Republic’s answer to the growing trend of all-big-gun battleships started with the launch of the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

Part of the 1909 Naval Plan, these big French battlewagons went nearly 26,000-tons (FL) and carried an impressive main battery of a dozen new design 12-inch (305mm) 45 Modèle 1906 guns. These big boys, in six twin turrets, were comparable to the U.S. Navy’s 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 gun on five classes of American battleships (Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida) as well as the British BL 12-inch Mk X naval guns which were mounted on not only  Dreadnought herself but also a dozen other RN battleships and battlecruisers of the day.

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet 12-inch and 5.5-inch (138mm) guns photographed by Robert W. Neeser. These ships carried an impressive 22 of the latter, each with 225 shells. NH 42848

Laid down at Arsenal de Brest, our 21-knot beastie, named after famed French Admiral Amédée Courbet of Indochina fame, was soon followed by sister ship Jean Bart, constructed at the same time by the same yard. Two other sisters, France and Paris, were built by A C de la Loire, St-Nazaire and F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, respectively.

French battleship Paris, trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L'Illustration

French battleship Paris, the trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L’Illustration

Courbet commissioned in November 1913 and the entire class were all at sea by the time the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914. Their design was essentially recycled to create the follow-on Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnoughts who were up-armed with 13.5-inch guns.

Courbet entered the Great War monitoring of the Otranto canal, a vital sea route connecting the Adriatic with the Ionian while keeping an eye peeled for the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. She served at the time as flagship for Vice Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère, who led a force that comprise most of France’s battlefleet along with two British cruisers.

Courbet

Courbet

On 16 August 1914, the fresh new battleship and her task force came across the small (2,500-ton) Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and a companion destroyer, SMS Ulan, off the coast of Bar, Montenegro. The ensuing action, remembered today as the Battle of Antivari, was brief, with Ulan escaping destruction and Zenta, her guns far outranged by the French, destroyed, taking 173 of the Austrian Kaiser’s men to the bottom of the Adriatic with her. The war was just two weeks old.

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, with Courbet and company in the distance, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

When the Italians entered the conflict on the Allied side in May 1915, the Austrian fleet was bottled up for the rest of the war and Courbet, along with most of the French capital ships, were likewise sidelined, waiting the next four years just in case for a fleet action that would never come. After 1916, most of her crew was pulled and detailed to submarines and small craft, a common occurrence with the French navy at the time.

Remaining rusting in Corfu until April 1919, Courbet returned to Toulon where she became the nominal flagship of the West Mediterranean Fleet while she conducted extensive repairs through 1923.

Put back into service, she suffered a major electrical fire at the French North African port of Mers El Kebir which required further extensive repairs at FCM in La Seyne Sur Mer through 1924. Courbet was a member of an unlucky class perhaps, as sister ship France foundered at sea and was lost at about the same time.

In 1927, with Courbet‘s original design increasingly dated, she was hauled out of the water and given a three-year rebuild and modernization. This included retrunking into two funnels, down from three, updating her propulsion plant by taking her old coal boilers and direct drive turbines with oil-burning small-tube boilers and new geared turbines which provided 43,000 shp (up from 29,250). She lost her torpedo tubes (like battleships really used them) and reinforced her anti-air defenses in the form of 76mm high-angle pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm machine guns. Jean Bart and Paris were given similar overhauls.

She emerged looking very different:

Courbet original and post modernization

Courbet original, top, and postmodernization, bottom

In 1934, she was made a full-time gunnery school ship, her place in the French battle line going to the new 26,000-ton Dunkerque-class of fast (29.5-knot) battleships ordered for the French Navy the same year. Likewise, her sister Jean Bart, renamed Ocean, was made a training hulk at about the same time while Paris was used as a school ship for signals rates.

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

With World War II on the horizon, Courbet and Paris were taken from their taskings on the training roster in June 1939 and placed in the French Navy’s 3eme Division de Ligne, fleshing out their ranks, taking on power and shell, and installing more AAA guns.

Reportedly, the ships had troublesome engineering suites, only capable of making about 15 knots and even that speed could not be sustained.

Tasked with coastal defense, Courbet was moved to Cherbourg on the English Channel in May 1940. From there, she engaged  German aircraft poking their nose over the harbor and helped support the withdrawal from the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, as the German Army broke through and swept towards Paris, Courbet fired on advancing Boche columns of Rommel’s 7. Panzerdivision outside of Cherbourg before she raised steam and headed across the Channel to Portsmouth on June 19/20. Her sister Paris, damaged by German bombs, likewise left Brest for Plymouth, England at about the same time.

With France officially dropping out of WWII and the Third Republic voting to give full powers to Philippe Petain, the elderly battleships Paris and Courbet were seized and disarmed at their British moorings by Royal Marines on order of Churchill on 3 July as part of Operation Catapult.

On 18 July 1940, De Gaulle addressed France, and Frenchmen everywhere, with his famous “Report to me” speech in which he specifically mentioned French sailors. (“J’invite les chefs, les soldats, les marins, les aviateurs des forces françaises de terre, de mer, de l’air, où qu’ils se trouvent actuellement, à se mettre en rapport avec moi.”)

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow IWM

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow and false bow wave. IWM

Paris, in bad condition, had her crew totally removed– who largely decided to return to France. She would be turned over to the Free Polish Navy who would use her for a dockside trainer and clubhouse until 1945 when she was returned to French custody and scrapped.

As for Courbet, she was turned over to the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle ,on 10 July, becoming the largest and arguably most effective French warship not under Vichy control. Meanwhile, hulked sister Jean Bart remained in Vichy hands in Toulon on the Med, along with the bulk of the French Navy that wasn’t hiding out in Africa or the Caribbean.

Cuirassé Courbet à Portsmouth 1940, note the false bow wave painted on her bow.

Rearmed in August 1940, Courbet‘s AAA gunners managed to splash five German bombers over Portsmouth during the Battle of Britain. She continued her role as a floating symbol for De Gaulle and receiving ship for the rapidly forming Free French Navy for the next four years but sadly never left port under her own steam again.

Enter Monsieur Philippe Kieffer, stage left.

Philippe Kieffer

This guy.

The day after World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, Kieffer, a 40-year-old Haitian-born Alsatian bank executive in New York City, presented himself at the French consulate in Manhattan and signed up for the Navy. Having been schooled as a reserve naval officer in university but graduating too late in 1918 to fight in the Great War, the skilled financial analyst was given a sub-lieutenant’s commission and assigned to help flesh out Courbet‘s ranks, where he was assigned as an interpreter and cipher officer. Still aboard her when she left for England, he volunteered for the Free French Forces on 1 July 1940 and remained on her during the Battle of Britain.

In Portsmouth in May 1941, he formed a group of 40 volunteers, largely drawn from Courbet and Paris’s remaining crew who chose to not be repatriated to Vichy France, dubbed the 1re Compagnie de Fusiliers Marins (1st Company of Naval Rifles). Soon, his handful of bluejackets were wearing British uniforms and learning from the likes of former Shanghai Police Inspectors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes at the commando training center in Achnacarry, Scotland. There, they picked up the general tricks of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap trade.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French naval insignia-- likely Keiffer -- and carries a Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French sub-lieutenant naval insignia– likely Keiffer — and carries a Great War-era Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

His force became No. 1 Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, his forces were expanded to include a second troop, No. 8, and his men were often used in small scale raids and intelligence ops along the coasts of occupied Holland and Belgium for the next two years.

In early 1944, Kieffer’s two troops, along with a smattering of new recruits (including a few Belgians and at least four Luxembourgers) were carved off from No. 10 Commando and formed the new 1re Compagnie du Bataillon de Fusiliers-Marins Commandos (1st Company of the Battalion of Marine Fusilier Commandos, or just BFMC). Geared up for Operation Overlord, they were part of British No 4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, some 177-men strong, for their official return to France, Tommy guns in hand.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was killed on D-Day by a sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (making friends with the pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was fatally shot on D-Day by a German sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Kieffer’s Bérets Verts (Green Berets) would soon push from the beach to link up with the 6th Parachute Division at Pegasus Bridge and go on to suffer 21 killed and 93 wounded in the days that was to follow, with the latter including Kieffer.

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. thompson tommy gun Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944.

French villagers welcome BFMC French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the green beret’s M1928 Thompson and Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife.

Before the war was out, his men were the first unformed members of the Free French to enter Paris, see the elephant again at Walcheren, liberate Flessinge, help capture the port of Antwerp, and carry out raids along the Dutch Coast. Not bad for a banker.

As for Courbet, she was at Sword Beach as well, just a few days behind Kieffer’s famed 177.

By 1944 she was old news. The Free French Navy, after the collapse of Vichy France in November 1942, had picked up the scratch and dent but much newer fast battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu, which were given extensive refits in America, as well as the still (somewhat) combat effective Bretagne-class dreadnought Lorraine, the latter of which was soon to see combat in the Operation Dragoon landings in the Med.

With her marginalization as De Gaulle’s unneeded 4th battleship, Courbet‘s bunker oil was pumped out and replaced with concrete as her crew removed their possessions. She was towed out of Portsmouth by HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia with her remaining French skeleton crew along for the ride on 9 June, bound for the invasion beaches of Normandy with TF 128.

Stopping some 3,360 meters in front of Hermanville near Ouistreham, her crew was evacuated at 13:15 and 10 minutes later her skipper, Capt. Wertzel, triggered the detonation of a series of installed scuttling charges that soon sent France’s first dreadnought 33 feet to the bottom, still flying her tricolor flag adorned with De Gaulle’s Cross of Lorraine, to give the impression that she was still in some form of service.

French Battleship Courbet was sunk as part of Gooseberry 5 on D+3. Note her decks almost awash, the benefit of having a 29-foot draft in 33 feet of water.

Courbet was part of a line of blockships laid off the beaches to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry dock system was assembled to bring supplies to the beach.

There were to be five “Gooseberry” breakwaters, one for each beach:
No. 1 Utah Beach at Varreville
No. 2 Omaha Beach at St. Laurent (Part of MULBERRY A)
No. 3 Gold Beach at Arromanches (Part of MULBERRY B)
No. 4 Juno Beach at Courseulles
No. 5 Sword Beach at Oistreham

In all, the breakwaters were to be formed by about 60 blockships (approximately 12 in each Gooseberry) which were all merchant vessels except the disarmed King George V-class battleship HMS Centurion, Free Dutch Java-class light cruiser HNLMS Sumatra, Danae-class light cruiser HMS Durban and our Courbet.

A typical Gooseberry breakwater

The sinking of blockships was to commence p.m. D+1 and the Gooseberries were to be completed by D+3, with Courbet being one of the final pieces of the puzzle at Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5), which was to include the merchant ships Becheville, Dover Hill, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, and Forbin along with the old cruisers Durban and Sumatra.

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Courbet, still with her war flag flying, was one of the few blockships to be “manned” with generators supplying power to her eight searchlights and a radio. A crew of 35 men from the Royal Artillery was left in charge of her AAA guns for the next several weeks with the intention of drawing away Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attacks on the vulnerable beachhead while at the same time possibly splashing a couple of raiders.

The concept worked, as reportedly the very grounded Courbet was hit by German Neger human torpedoes (Einmann-Torpedo) of K-Flottille 361 during the nights of both August 15/16 to 16/17, without effect.

As the breakout occurred and the fighting moved inland, her British gunners were withdrawn in September and Courbet‘s flag hauled down, presented to De Gaulle’s government with honors.

On 14 February 1951, the wrecks in Gooseberry 5 were auctioned by the French government to be salvaged and slowly scrapped, a process that took until 1970 to be completed. By coincidence, Jean Bart, the last French (or European for that matter) battleship afloat, was scrapped the same year at Brégaillon near Toulon, making Courbet and big Jean something of bookends on the tale of French dreadnoughts.

As for Kieffer, Courbet‘s star, he would die at age 63 in 1962, a Commandeur du Légion d’Honneur.

Of the current seven French Commando battalions today, three bear the name of officers of the WWII 1st BFMC: Augustin Hubert, Charles Trépel and Kieffer. Meanwhile, French marine commandos still wear the badge Kieffer designed and issue the Fairbairn-Sykes.

French Fusiliers marins et commandos marine fighting knife green beret via French marines

In the seven decades since the 1st BFMC, more than 8,300 French commandos have followed in their footsteps. To say they have been extremely busy in the past 70 years is an understatement.

French heartthrob Christian Marquand would portray Kieffer in 1962’s The Longest Day, correctly wearing BFMC-badged green berets during the seizure of the Ouistreham casino (which had actually been destroyed prior to the landing). If Marquand looks familiar, he also played the holdout French plantation owner in Apocalypse Now Redux. Notably, Kieffer served on the film as a technical adviser just before he died.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a monument to Kieffer and his 177 commandos was unveiled on Sword Beach, with Commando Kieffer frogmen and past veterans in attendance. A piece of salvaged steel plate from Courbet is incorporated into the display.

Specs:

Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

Displacement:
23,475 t (23,104 long tons) (normal)
25,579 t (25,175 long tons) (full load)
Length: 544 ft 7 in (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft 7 in
Draught: 29 ft 8 in
Machinery (1913)
24 Niclausse coal-fired boilers with Bellville oil spray systems
4 shafts; 4 × Parsons direct drive steam turbine sets
28,000 PS (20,594 kW; 27,617 shp)
2,700 tons coal/1,000 tons oil.
Range of 8,400nm at 10 knots
Machinery (1934)
16 oil-fired boilers
4 shafts; 4 × Geared steam turbine sets
43,000 PS
Speed: 21 knots (designed) only 20.74 on trials in 1913. 16 knots by 1940
Complement: 1,115 (1,187 as flagship)
Armor:
Waterline belt: 140–250 mm (5.5–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–70 mm (1.6–2.8 in)
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 266 mm (10.5 in)
Armament: (1913)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
22 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
4 × single 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 3-pdr AAA guns
4 × 450 mm (17.7 in) Model 1909 submerged torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes
30 Blockade mines
Armament: (1940)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
14 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
8 x 75mm/50cal M1922 AAA guns
14 x 13.2mm machine guns

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D-Day at 75: An Epilogue

P-47 with invasion stripes knocked out Sherman M4 Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, France, 1944

As The Greatest Generation ages and increasingly drifts from the present and into memory with each passing day, their footprints on those hallowed beaches on Normandy are washed away. With that, I find tributes tying today’s active military units, to their historical forebearers very important, a sign that those heroic deeds will continue forward.

At Pointe Du Hoc, overlooking Omaha Beach, the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed the almost vertical cliff face to take out (what they were told) was a battery of strategically placed 155mm guns which could control the entire beach.

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day. NARA # 80-G-45716

Of the 225 men with the 2nd Rangers at the dawn of D-Day, just 90 were still standing on D+1 when they were relieved.

To salute the Pointe Du Hoc Rangers, active duty Rangers of 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers, some in period dress, reenacted the climb yesterday.

The 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry, meanwhile, had their own representatives on hand to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors that landed on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula and on Omaha Beach.

Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (CNE-A), dedicated a Lone Sailor statue on the seawall over Utah Beach, in honor of the bluejackets who cleared the beaches.

“The Frogmen swam ashore to the beaches of Normandy to make them safer for the follow-on wave of Allied forces,” said Foggo. “The Lone Sailor statue is a reminder to honor and remember their bravery and to act as a link from the past to the present as we continue to protect the same values they fought to protect.”

“The Lone Sailor statue stands on a plaza at the Utah Beach Museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from where the U.S. invasion force appeared on that historic morning. Although people come and go from this statue, the Lone Sailor will continue to serve as a universal sign of respect towards all Sea Service personnel for generations to come.”

At the same time, down the beach, CNE-A Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters and U.S. Navy SEALS assigned to Special Warfare Unit 2 re-enacted the D-Day mission that Navy Combat Demolition Unit Sailors conducted in the cover of darkness to clear the beaches for the main invading force on Utah Beach, to include blowing up a recreated Czech Hedgehog beach obstacle with a bit of C4, as one does.

Meanwhile, the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CV-69), read Ike’s famous D-Day Message

Make no mistake, a few precious Veterans of that Longest Day were able to be on hand in Normandy this week, such as 97-year-old 101st Airborne trooper Tom Price who came in just how he did back in 1944– jumping from a C-47.

As men like Mr. Price rejoin their units in the halls of Valhalla, memory is everything. It echos through eternity.

D-Day through the brush of a GI who was there, 75 years ago today

D-Day, as seen below in eight, often haunting, paintings from U.S. Army combat artist Mitchell Jamieson, who landed in Normandy on Utah Beach with an M1 Garand and a sketchbook on 6 June before making his way to Omaha, where he remained with Navy Beach Battalions for a week living in a foxhole on the beach before eventually moving inland to continue his war.

Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France:

Mitchell Jamieson Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France 88-193-hm

88-193-HM

“At this moment, the first assault waves and demolition parties are on their way and these men, who are to go in later can only wonder what awaits them and stare at the distant coastline, barely discernable. The boats suspended on davits above their heads with their dark shapes oddly express the taut, waiting threat of this dawn off the Normandy coast.

The far off rumble of explosions could be heard and mysterious processions of small invasion craft crossed the ship’s bow. Each ship with its barrage balloon, gleaming above it in the faint light, seeming to be symbols designed to ward off evil spirits rather than objects of modern war. Now and then flashes appear fitfully on the horizon and, in the sky above, our fighter planes sweep by to support the invasion.”

Morning of D-Day from LST:

Mitchell Jameison Morning of D-Day from LST 88-193-hi

88-193-HI

“Coordination is an important part of the invasion. As the LCTs move in formation to execute a turn to head towards the coast with their assault troops, the transports and LSTs are seen in the distance. Overhead a P-38 Lightning used as a fighter and bomber aircraft during the invasion has just been hit, trailing a stream of white smoke and flame with a cruiser and destroyer to right, bombing objectives ashore.”

Burnt Out LCT on American Beach

Mitchell Jamieson Burnt Out LCT on American Beach 88-193-ie

88-193-IE

“This is typical of some of the gutted wrecks along this most tragic of beaches. It had mobile anti-aircraft vehicles aboard and had been so completely ravaged by flame after being hit that its agonies had left it with a look somehow permanent and fixed in rigidity, as though suffering rigor mortis, in a way like a human corpse. A smashed LCIL is in the surf beyond the pontoon barge and an LCVP, or the remains of it, is in left foreground”

[Of note, the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry, nine LCILs, 21 LCTs, USS LST-715, and USS PC-1261 along with the Royal Norwegian Navy destroyer Svenner and RN destroyer HMS Wrestler were all lost off Normandy on 6 June 1944.]

The Dragon – Wrecked M4 Tank

Mitchell Jamieson The Dragon - Wrecked M4 Tank Dday 88-193-hs

88-193-HS

“This burnt-out General Sherman tank was evidently hit by a German “88” [a high-velocity 88mm anti-aircraft artillery gun which was also used as an effective anti-tank weapon] and set afire. It was then partly covered with sand, probably by our bulldozers clearing an exit from the beach. A little further back from the water, a tank ditch extended for a considerable length. Part of the tank’s amphibious air-intake duct, which allowed the tank to be driven through shallow water from ship to shore, was broken off. To the right, a group of African-American troops, amphibious “duck” [DUKW – a type of wheeled land and water vehicle] drivers, gathered around a fire.”

The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach)

Mitchell Jameison The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach) 88-193-IC

88-193-IC

“This was the scene at the easternmost of the two American beaches (Utah Beach) at about 3 p.m. on D-Day. The fighting had moved inland, but all along the seawall, which extends a considerable length of the beach, men dug themselves in – hospital corpsmen, beach battalion members, Sea Bees, and anyone whose work was on the beach itself. The beach first aid station was a short way down from here, and the wounded and dead are in the sand in front of the sea wall. The tide was out at this time, and the wounded could not be evacuated back to the ships because of the difficulty in getting landing craft in and out. An enemy artillery battery, located some distance inland from the beach but still in range, sent shells steadily over the Americans, impeding work. An ammunition truck was hit and burned at the beach’s far end. A lone LCI unloaded her troops and the men filed across the beach and started inland. In this section, beach obstacles were not as formidable as in other areas, and the demolition parties were able to clear the way for landing craft with few losses.”

First Aid Station on the Beach

First Aid Station on the Beach DDay Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-HT

88-193-HT

“These wounded were awaiting evacuation to the ships, but the difficulty was in getting craft to the landing beaches to take them. It was low tide when many landing craft were stranded in the shallows by the swiftly subsiding water. In the meanwhile, the medics did what they could for the wounded and tried to get them out of the line of fire. A trawler was set afire just behind the sea wall and exploded spasmodically with a shower of steel fragments whining overhead. One man died, and a corpsman covered him with a blanket. Wounded were being brought back from the fighting inland, but at this stage of the invasion the wounded did not receive anything like prompt care and evacuation, although the medics and corpsmen did everything in their power.”

[Note: Of the 156,000 Allied personnel who hit the beaches on 6 June, over 10,000 became casualties, half of those killed in action. One unit, A Company of the 116th Regiment, part of the 29th Infantry Division, lost 96 percent of its 197-strong complement to death or wounds on the morning of D-Day in the surf line at Omaha Beach. “Within 20 minutes if striking the beach, A Company ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent upon survival and the saving of lives,” noted one contemporary Army report. ]

Burial Ground Above the Beach

Burial Ground Above the Beach Omaha Dday Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-II

88-193-II

In the center of Omaha or Western American beach sector, the ground is fairly flat for perhaps two hundred yards, then rises sharply in a series of hills which command both the beach and the valley exits from it. Here the land levels off and fields, bordered with hedgerows, stretch back inland towards the little town of Colleville-sur-Mer and the Cherbourg road. In June 1944, if you followed the slender white tape through the mined areas up one of these hills, it was not long before you found yourself in a different world.

This was because it really belonged to the dead and because the transition from the active clatter and dust of the beach was so abrupt. This field, high over the Western American beach, became the first U.S. national cemetery on French soil of World War II. Up here the beach sounds were faint and the German prisoners digging graves seemed to be unaware of them. Over the field, there was the sound of pick and shovel and the oppressive, sickening stench of corpses, brought in for burial in truckloads, each wrapped in a mattress cover with his I.D. tag and a little bag of personal belongings to be sent to his next of kin. In the center of the field, the diggers worked in a new section while a guard with a Tommy gun looked on with expressionless features. One soldier who spoke German went around with a long stick for measuring the depth of graves and gave instructions with a great concern for details.

The work had a steady, slow and appalling rhythm. At intervals a corpse was borne on a stretcher by four Germans to a freshly dug grave and lowered without ceremony, then the earth was shoveled in again. Some of the prisoners stopped work for a moment and watched as this was going on. Others mechanically went on with digging.

In this picture a truck has come back from the front, the vehicle brutally and grimly called the “meat wagon,” and prisoners take off the corpses, laying them side by side, row on row while darkness set in over the field.

As a footnote, Maryland-born Jamieson studied at the Abbott School of Art and the Corcoran School of Art and in the 1930s was hired by the Treasury Department’s Art Project to paint murals in public buildings across the country. Volunteering for the Army as an infantryman in 1942, the 27-year old artist was soon reassigned as a combat correspondent. After the war, he continued painting and died in 1976. He has a number of works in the Smithsonian as well as in other museums.

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss, now 75 years on

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss

D-Day Map showing Firing Plan from USS Texas (BB-35) NHHC_1969-232-A_full

NHHC 1969-232-A

Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.

In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.

The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.

USS Raven (AM-55), Osprey’s sole sister, off Rockland, Maine, 19 March 1941, while running trials 19-N-24352

Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.

Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers. USN Photo 120-15

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers and two-part scheme. USN Photo 120-15

Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.

USS Osprey (AM-56) Underway, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out. Photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

USS Osprey (AM-56) underway with a bone in her teeth, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out and she wears an all-over dark scheme. The photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941 19-N-23990

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941. Note she has been freshly fitted with depth charge racks on her stern. 19-N-23990

By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with depth charge rack at stern. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time NH 43519

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with filled depth charge rack at the stern and additional AAA weapons. Also, note her false bow-wave and smaller but visible hull numbers. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time. NH 43519

By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.

“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.

Dropping mines from a German mine layer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact mine which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and three horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

Dropping mines from a German minelayer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact type which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and switch horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.

The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.

The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.

British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”

After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.

Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.

The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.

On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.

The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.

As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.

As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.

Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. Original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. The original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Osprey (MHC-51), a coastal minehunter in commission from 1993 to 2006. Of note, one of her sister ships was USS Raven (MHC-61), a familiar name on her family tree. NHHC L45-221.03.01

As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.

USS Osprey ships bell Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters 2007 via wrecksite.eu

USS Osprey ships bell, via Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters in 2007, via wrecksite.eu

Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.

Specs:

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)

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Invasion Stripes, Belgian edition

The current 349th Squadron and 350th Squadron of the Belgian Air Force started out in 1942 as Nos. 349 and 350 RAF with exiled Free Belgian members in British livery. After cutting their teeth on Lend-Lease Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks, they transitioned to Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXCs and later Mark Vs and flew close-in beachhead patrols over Normandy on D-Day, moving inland very soon after. The Belgians were pretty good too, fielding no less than 14 aces during the war including Col. Remy Van Lierde who chalked up six enemy aircraft and an impressive 44 V-1 flying bombs, ending the war as Squadron Leader of No. 350.

A No. 64 Spitfire with invasion stripes,

Today they fly F-16s but one Viper of each squadron has been given 1944 throwback Invasion Stripes for the upcoming 75th Anniversary of D-Day events next month.

I must say, they look great.

Note the tail flashes with the Spitfires and Squadron markings.

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