One of the few Americans on Gold Beach, a British invasion point, was Emmett Cabe of Lindale, who recounted the stormy sea and heavy fire of the D-Day invasion.
The following is excerpted from the written recollections of Cabe, a gunner’s mate on an LST (Landing Ship Tank) bringing troops and equipment ashore.
“On June 1, 1944, we were combat loaded with British Soldiers of the famous British 8th Army (The Desert Rats). We also had some people from the medical corps, plus a few British Royal Navy people.
Sparks, our radioman, told us the captain received “HORNPIPE PLUS SIX,” the signal ordering D-Day to take place on June 5. But the weather had already began to change; the invasion was postponed 24 hours. The ships that had already sailed had to be recalled. The word came through that the invasion would be June 6, 1944.
On June 6, we were sitting off the beaches of France. Troops were being put into a sea so heavy that every wave threw the small assault crafts against the side of the ship.
Gold, the beach we were on, was the most westerly of the British beaches, next to Omaha Beach. Here at Gold, the Germans had concentrated their defenses, including pillboxes and gun emplacements, which allowed them to sweep the beaches with crossfire.
A heavy bombing attack was being delivered inland of this beach, a sight to see. Fires could be seen in a town ashore. Apart from some flak, there was no enemy opposition of any kind, although it was broad daylight and the ships must have been clearly visible from the beaches.
It was not until the first wave of assault forces were making their run for the beach, and the British cruiser HMS Belfast opened fire, that the enemy appeared to realize that something was going on. A tremendous bombardment was being laid down on the beaches by the naval forces.
We began to receive heavy fire from the beach. I watched as the soldiers hit the sand on the run. Smoke and flames obscured the beaches, but the naval bombardment had failed to silence the enemy.
The armor was landing and some began to bog down in the sand. The beach became crowded and German coastal guns were firing on the Beaches. The beach obstacles had wrecked many landing craft. The tides whipped up by strong winds were faster than expected to cover the obstacles.
Army sappers and naval frogmen demolition teams struggled under heavy fire to clear enough gaps to get through. It looked as though Gold Beach had all the makings of a disaster similar as we heard later at Omaha beach. The shore gun emplacements at a heavily defended sanatorium building in Le Grand Hameau fiercely opposed the beach assaults. A big gun battery on a hill at Arromanches was firing on the beach.
German 88 field guns were reaching out for the ships; we were ordered to make smoke. The smoke pots were lit, and we started going up and down the beach making smoke to hid the ships from the German gunners.
The British were using flail tanks to clear the mines in front of them. These tanks were equipped with heavy chains attached to the front that would flail the ground as they moved. I later learned the Americans refused to use them. Had they used them many lives could have been saved.
The Germans had fortified a sanatorium on the seafront, and the naval bombardment had left his strong point still in good working order. We could see it was causing trouble. The air bombings had missed it and the shelling from the sea had also. The troops that were still coming were receiving fire from the big guns.
We were receiving some small-arms fire from the beach, and you could hear it pinging against the sides of the ship and hitting the water. At first, we didn’t know what it was; we had never been under small-arms fire before.
A Rhino ferry had pulled alongside and we started loading it with troops and tanks to be ferried the short way to the beach.
Low-flying aircraft were attacking the Germans in front of the British troops bombing and strafing up and down the beaches. Just like on the other beaches, the Germans had strung wire and they had to blow the wire to get through.
Cruisers, battleships and destroyers were shelling inland of the beach. I watched as German 88 shells crashed into the water among the ships. The shells were coming from a big German gun on a cliff above Arromanches.
Further out to sea, a British battleship answered with her big guns. The big shells could be seen after they left the guns, they would move up very fast, then arch and start their descent. I watched as the shells hit the gun emplacement, then the ship’s guns moved down the beach firing at something else.
That night, after watching the action ashore, we fell asleep with one man awake at all times on gun watch.
Enemy planes are overhead and are bombing the area to the north of us. Enemy fighters are overhead, and all ships put up anti-aircraft fire. One enemy ME-109 was shot down in flames and crashed on the beach.
A ferry comes alongside our ship with the heat crew of the LST 344. Their ship had been sunk and they went back to England with us. We were awakened at about four the next morning; the action had started. Allied cruisers were bombarding the beach, anti-aircraft fire filled the sky overhead; enemy planes were in the vicinity.
Flares and shellfire could be seen on shore in a big tank battle. The Germans were trying to break into the beachhead near the town of Bayeux.
General quarters were sounded again and we raced for the guns, enemy planes were flying low among the ships. They were flying so low we couldn’t shoot at them for fear of hitting the ship next to us. I was called off my gun to go down to No. 12 20mm gun that had jammed while firing. As I started down the rails, a German ME-109 came in strafing. It strafed the No. 12 gun crew as I stopped and tried to lay down on the steps.
Huge sparks and flashes came from the deck as the bullets sprayed around the gun crew. I didn’t think they would get out of this alive, but they did. All three were wounded.
As the battle ashore rages, we left with our dead and wounded to return to England. We unloaded the dead and wounded and others. Loaded again at four that evening and sailed again for Gold Beach.
We arrived off the beach at four the next evening, June 9, and came under air attacks as we dropped anchor. As we started unloading troops, we again came under small-arms fire from somewhere on the beach. A shot from shore hit the bow door.
The ship’s guns opened fire on planes overhead. Anti-aircraft fire was all around and our ship was making a smoke screen.
Night came and the shelling from the Navy went on; in the dark we finished unloading troops. There is heavy shelling of the beach by Allied cruisers. Flares are dropped out oat sea in a Navy battle.
At first break of day, 50 friendly aircraft are seen patrolling overhead. If only we could have had that many at Sicily and Salerno. As we moved onto the beach to unload, we knocked a hole in our fresh water tank while beaching. We came off the beach and formed a convoy for the dry dock in England. We passed the chalk-white cliffs of Dover with the Germans sitting on the French side watching every move we made. At this point it was not far to the French shore.
‘Our job was to disrupt communications and keep the German troops from advancing to the coast.’ — William PuckettA day before the Allies’ massive Normandy invasion, the 82nd Airborne dropped into France behind enemy lines.
“Our job was to disrupt communications and keep the German troops from advancing to the coast, said William Puckett of Rome.
As soon as the American planes crossed the English Channel, they encountered enemy anti-aircraft fire.
“We picked up so much flak. Some of the planes go lost. We were scattered here and there,” said Puckett, then a staff sergeant.
Just outside St. Mere Eglise, about 100 of the paratroopers found one another. Despite being under constant fire, they began searching the area for Germans.
“We picked up about 80 to 100 German prisoners,” he said.
During the D-Day invasion, the Americans behind enemy lines were under constant bombardment, he said.
Puckett was thrown into a hedgerow by one of the blasts. “I got a concussion,” he said.
With the injury to his head, Puckett was only partially aware of the action around him. He’s not even sure how long he may have been unconscious. The Allied troops continued with the mission, leaving eight or ten of their men in the hedgerow.
“The Germans picked us up as prisoners and marched us to their command post in the woods. There were dead Germans laying all over the road,” Puckett said of the last he saw of the D-Day invasion.
‘The troops were under fire from the time we landed, every day and every hour.’ — Willie Green
Omaha beach was the “worst invasion” in which the USS Ancon was involved, said Willie Green of Rome, a coxswain on the radio command ship. Rough weather and intense resistance mad the landings especially difficult.
“The troops were under fire from the time we landed, every day and every hour.”
The ship was not a troop carrier, but a command ship that carried supplies and the leaders of the invasions, including Maj. Gen. Leonard Gerow, who commanded the assault forces of the Army, and Rear Adm. John L. Hall, who coordinated the amphibious landing.
Green said his worst memory was after the initial troops landed, the boat crews would pull drowned American soldiers from the water.
“We had a boat hook and we would just grab them by their clothes and pull them onto the beach and leave them there.”
Green said many soldiers drowned before they reached the beach because the waves were so rough the day were weighted down with equipment.
“A week after D-Day, the American forces sank 100 American cargo ships to still the water and to keep down the waves so the troops could get in. We lost a lot of boats there because of the rough water.
‘Oh, gosh, did we take losses. It was terrible ... we went in over open ground.’ — Glenn Nichols
Glen Nichols’ unit was hand-picked for its D-Day mission.
“Gen. Eisenhower had chosen the 20th Combat Engineers to make the assault on Omaha Beach,” said Nichols, a resident of Rome. “We were really experienced troops, having been in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns.”
The mission was to destroy beachhead installations, clearing the way for infantry and armored units to advance inland.
“The Air Force had made excellent maps of the French coast,” Nichols said. “We knew exactly what our jobs were.”
The engineers hit the beach at H-Hour — 6:30 a.m. on June 6.
“(The Navy) had really laid a barrage down. There were thousands of bombers going over. We unloaded from the ships on rope ladders (into landing craft). It was just breaking dawn.
“We were all pretty quiet. There wasn’t very much said. They let the ramps down and we got out and ran as fast as we could to the beach. (The tide) was about three feet deep.”
Nearby, a celebrity correspondent was coming ashore.
“I had a friend, a Sgt. Beatty, with the second platoon, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Ernest Hemingway went in with him,” said Nichols. “That’s why I always said Ernest Hemingway was crazy, because a man that didn’t have to go and volunteered — there had to be something wrong with him.”
Breaking through German defenses at Omaha Beach proved to be an all-day job.
“Oh, Gosh, did we take losses,” Nichols said. “It was terrible ... we went in over open ground. To our left, the First Rangers went in at the cliffs. We were in exposed territory. (The Germans) had us zeroed in from pillboxes and all. They hit several of the landing craft and destroyed them.”
“There was a period of time there where we didn’t know whether we were going to make it or not. It was a miracle we did. It would have been a different story today if we didn’t.”
‘All hell broke loose.’ — Methen Barnes
Methen Barnes of Floyd Springs described the scene on Omaha Beach during the first hours of the D-Day invasion by simply saying “all hell broke loose.”
Barnes was a combat engineer with the 1st Army and among the first troops to land.
“We had to start clearing out the beach before the Rangers and infantry could come in and a lot of our men got killed then,” he remembered. “Almost immediately though, the infantry was there on the beach to back us up. They had to cover us because we didn’t have guns to protect us.”
In addition, Barnes said, ships offshore were shooting at German machine-gun positions.
Barnes and his unit cleaned the beaches before the infantry and tanks could cross through the shoe mines, which were powerful enough to blow a man’s leg off, and the steel pipes and barbed wire that covered the beach.
“We would use dynamite to blow the barbed wire,” Barnes said. “We had to cross them very fast because the infantry was close behind. If we had to, we would lie down on the barbed wire in a line and the infantry would run across the entanglement on our backs.”
‘I’ve never in my life seen so many ships in the water.’ — James Venable
When James Venable of Adairsville flew over the invasion forces in the English Channel on D-Day, it reminded him of another historic invasion, almost nine centuries before.
“I had an ancestor named Richard de Venable from Normandy who was with William (the Conqueror) when he went to England in 1066 and that’s what I thought of. I wondered if they ever envisioned that we would be going the other way. I looked down at those ships and I thought, in comparison to the size of that armada, William’s must have looked pitifully small,” Venable recalled. “It looked like if you were a giant and you stepped, you wouldn’t miss one. I’ve never in my life seen so many ships in the water.”
Venable flew five B-26 missions to Cherbourg that day, starting at 3 a.m. “trying to knock out their shore batteries,” he said. “We flew right around the clock. We had 11,000 planes over there and I think all of them were in the air that day.”
‘They were wrapped in tent halves with their dog tags showing. I cried.’ — J. Bradley Haynes
The beach was already cleared of mines. The path was marked with white ribbons when Rome native J. Bradley Haynes, a member of the 323 Bomber Group Service Squadron, landed at the Utah beachhead about two weeks after the D-Day invasion.
“We waded in the water waist deep, which was welcomed because it gave me a chance to bathe myself, even though I was still fully clothed with a full pack and rifle,” Haynes recalled. “I saw one soldier, a casualty, still in the water from a previous landing. I ate some K-rations, laid on the ground and went to sleep, only to be awakened by a burst of anti-aircraft fire in a hedgerow close by.”
The next morning, Haynes poked through the hedgerow, only to be overwhelmed by the grizzly sight of piles of dead soldiers.
“Another soldier and I crawled through the hedgerow to see. There were bodies, maybe 1,000 to 1,500 in a row for burial,” Haynes said. “They were wrapped in tent halves with their dog tags showing. I cried.” They gave their lives. They made it clear for us to land.”