Men of D-Day


    
 Troop Carrier
Michael N. Ingrisano
Robert E. Callahan
Benjamin F. Kendig
John R. Devitt
Arthur W. Hooper
Ward Smith
Julian A. Rice
Charles E. Skidmore
Sherfey T. Randolph
Louis R. Emerson Jr.
Leonard L. Baer
Robert D. Dopita
Harvey Cohen
Zane H. Graves
John J. Prince
Henry C. Hobbs
John C. Hanscom
Charles S. Cartwright
 
 82nd Airborne
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr.
Marie-T Lavieille
Denise Lecourtois
Howard Huebner
Malcolm D. Brannen
Thomas W. Porcella
Ray T. Burchell
Robert C. Moss
Richard R. Hill
Edward W. Shimko
 
 101st Airborne
John Nasea, Jr
David 'Buck' Rogers
Marie madeleine Poisson
Roger Lecheminant
Dale Q. Gregory
George E. Willey
Raymond Geddes
 
 Utah Beach
Joseph S. Jones
Jim McKee
Eugene D. Shales
Milton Staley
 
 Omaha Beach
Melvin B. Farrell
James R. Argo
Carl E. Bombardier
Robert M. Leach
Joseph Alexander
James Branch
John Hooper
Anthony Leone
George A. Davison
James H. Jordan
Albert J. Berard
Jewel M. Vidito
H. Smith Shumway
Louis Occelli
John H. Kellers
Harley A. Reynolds
John C. Raaen
Wesley Ross
Richard J. Ford
William C. Smith
Ralph E. Gallant
James W. Gabaree
James W. Tucker
Robert Watson
Robert R. Chapman
Robert H. Searl
Leslie Dobinson
William H. Johnson
 
 Gold Beach
George F. Weightman
Norman W. Cohen
Walter Uden
 
 Juno Beach
Leonard Smith
 
 Sword Beach
Brian Guy
 
 6th Airborne
Roger Charbonneau
Frederick Glover
Jacques Courcy
Arlette Lechevalier
Charles S. Pearson
 
 U.S.A.A.F
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
 
Civils
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
 

 

Norman W. Cohen
Gold Beach - Wireless operator - Royal signals

Normandy Landing Beaches
Operation Overlord, launched on June 5th, 1944 and delayed for 24 hours due to bad weather, was the daring initiative to establish beach heads at Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches, on the coast of Normandy, in northern France, in order to open up a western front in the fight for democracy.

The Captain of our ship tried twice to land, but the beaches were crammed. On the third occasion, through the tannoy loudspeaker system, he yelled to another boat, "Get out of the God-damned way". Back came the reply, "Like hell! I've got General Crocker's 30 Corps Headquarters on board". Back from our Captain came, "Move! I'm carrying General Dempsey's Second Army staff!" He then revved the engines, lowered the ramp and rammed the beach where we all disembarked into about six inches of water. The dispersal of all vehicles went very smoothly and after a matter of minutes we had arrived at Ver-Sur-Mer, a very small Normandy fishing village. Having studied the history of the first day beachhead landings comparatively recently, I know that I would have been much less relaxed back then had I been aware that the Allies did not have even a foothold on the Normandy coast and had maintained barely a toe-hold for many days after the landing.

Our signals unit comprised four wireless trucks each fitted with enormous, long-range radios, supposedly capable of transmitting and receiving over distances of up to 2000 miles, although we had never needed to test them that far. We also had a small partitioned area for batteries, general equipment and a generator. I think we used the latter more for boiling water for tea via an electric element, fitted into a brick base which had been purchased from Woolworths, than for their intended purpose. Each truck had a driver, a corporal-in-charge and two other wireless operators. We also had a radio mechanic who was shared by all four of the trucks. My corporal, with whom I palled-up, considered me the 'educated' one so always deferred to my opinion when problems arose. On arriving at Ver-Sur-Mer, making radio contact with Allied Supreme Headquarters in the UK was of prime importance. Preparations were undertaken for transmission, and orders were issued for the erection of our large di-pole aerials. The vehicle was also fitted with external panniers, which contained guide ropes, collapsible poles, insulationconnectors and aerial wire but on this occasion, for speed, I suggested that we tried using 10 feet of tubing, which was like a fishing rod. It took only seconds to erect, as opposed to the stipulated Di-pole aerial, which always took more than 30 minutes, plus the time taken in calculating the length of aerial in relation to frequency. We were great improvisers and
this is a gift I have never lost, it has often come in useful when doing running-repairs around the house. Our frequency had been given to us, in a sealed envelope, prior to disembarkation. Our "fishing rod" erection set on the correct frequency transmitted and received so clearly that it sounded as if our contacts in the U.K. were only 100 yards away and we were later highly commended for our speed and initiative. Our transmission and messages received were always coded in groups of five letters, such as LBHAY, NQRES, TULPY or RMLFX . We worked in shifts as follows: A) midnight to 08:00 hours; B) 08:00 hours - 13:00 hours; C) the following day - 13:00 hours - 18:00 hours; the final shift, D) 18:00 hours to midnight. For example, we worked shift B and D one day, C and A the next day. The third day was free. The worst shift was midnight to 08:00 hours we all dreaded it, after about 02:00 hours it seemed impossible to stay awake. No matter how many cigarettes one smoked or how many cups of tea drunk, sleep could not be kept at bay.
Messages would continually reverberate through the headphones and I would doze off to find that my message contained up to fifty or sixty groups of letters, at which point I would jerk awake. Then immediately, I would interrupt the sender and ask for all after the last group of letters only to find that we had been so well-trained that even in my stupor, the message had been taken down correctly and that I had slept through only one or two groups of letters. By 03:30 hours one returned to an automaton state and worked without sense or feeling. A favourite expression of ours was, "It's amazing how quickly time goes when you're having fun!"

"D" day, June 6th, 1944, was depicted as, "The Longest Day," in the film of that name. That was an understatement, the reason being that "D" day had actually started two days before, Imagine the organisation involved in moving two complete armies, one under the command of the Americans and the other under the command of the British, across the sea.
Ver-Sur-Mer, a very small, seaside village in Normandy, was our very first destination on foreign soil. Immediately on arrival, as I have written, we established communications with the High Command of
General Montgomery's Headquarters of 21st Army Group in the U.K. Goodness knows what messages we were sending as they were all in code. Probably something like, "Send at once, 20,000 rolls of toilet paper and five hundred pencils." I have always marvelled at the enormity of the size of the operation. All our drinking water had to go through large portable purifiers, which went constantly from unit to unit. Fieldkitchens, field hospitals, bakeries, food ration depots, fuel supply depots all had to be set up and manned. After a couple of weeks the organising geniuses had the whole operation running smoothly but those first couple of weeks must have been a nightmare. Our bridgehead was so small that we only held on to it by our fingertips but, fortunately, I and everyone like me just did not know anything about all this, We just obeyed orders and got on with our jobs.

One night I fell asleep, completely exhausted, after bivvying next to our wireless truck. I was called, all too soon, at 6:00 am the next morning, to take over as duty wireless operator. I was fully dressed so only had to put on my boots and report for duty, I suppose there was water for a wash but I cannot remember. All I do recall is that on going outside, I saw very close to our tent, much too close for comfort, a German plane that had crashed in the field next to us during the night. In my exhausted state I had slept right through the crash and heard absolutely nothing.

On another night during our sojourn in Ver-Sur-Mer, I wanted a drink while on duty and opened the back door of the wireless truck to go into our tent. Today all vehicles have an automatic system that as car doors open an interior light comes on but that was not so during the war. Then, as the door opened, the lights went out in order to preserve the blackout. The mechanism, however, required the door to open a crack before the switch operated thus causing a chink of light to show for a second. I opened the door then remembered that I had not taken my tin drinking mug with me so closed it again. As I did so, I heard a bullet hit the door.
Immediately I telephoned to the communications H.Q. and told them that someone was firing at me. I was alone in the truck and trying to concentrate on the job in hand when, some minutes later the telephone rang and I was told to open the back door. I think I replied, "Not fing likely", and got a flea in my ear from the voice on the phone which turned out to belong to no less than a Major. "That's an order," he said. "Do it now!" So with the only available thing handy, which happened to be my rifle, I levered the door open, when immediately, another bullet hit the truck followed by staccato bursts of gunfire from another direction. It transpired that a French woman, objecting to our having broken up her romance with a German soldier, was attempting to exact revenge. She was spotted hiding up a tree and on the second occasion on which she fired, our soldiers fired back at her and she was wounded and sent to a prison hospital. I saw her being taken away and think that her German lover was a very lucky that she was captured, he had a narrow escape. She was very, very plain, badly dressed and unwashed, with thick matted hair! During the summer months the French farmers' wives were in the habit of spreading their sheets out to dry flat on the grass of their fields. We were told that as they could be arranged in such a way as to convey messages that would be visible from the air, High Command had stated that no washing at all was allowed to be displayed outdoors.
In view of the very few German planes that were brave enough to fly over us, I always thought that was an unnecessary hardship inflicted on the already long-suffering women.

The French roads had to be repaired frequently and fast as they were constantly being chewed up by the enormous tanks and half-track vehicles making ninety degree turns at the many corners. To carry out the repairs, hundreds of big, burly 'soldiers' arrived from the Pioneer Corps. Most of them seemed to be 7ft tall and 6ft broad, with hands like shovels. They had either been conscripted into the army or volunteered and so wore British Army Uniforms. To find uniforms that were big enough for them must have proved an impossible task and so they were dressed in whatever could be found that remotely fitted them. The results were ludicrous, they would never have passed any inspection, I cannot believe that any of them could have done the six weeks-basic army training. They must have had corporals, sergeants and officers in charge but I failed to see how anyone less than a lion tamer could have controlled the maybe 500 of these 'navvies', but, my goodness, they knew how to work!

Another memorable incident that occurred during that first week.
Messages that we were transmitting were often intercepted by the Germans, who could then quickly 'D.F' (direction find) our positions and dispatch planes to strafe us ('strafe' meaning to machine-gun). What were referred to as dogfights then ensued between German and allied planes and, at the same time, our anti-aircraft barrages were firing at the German planes. Once, I was sitting outside our wireless truck watching one of these air battles, a tin mug full of tea in my hand, when a piece of jagged anti-aircraft shrapnel landed in the mug. I was most upset as I had to go in and make another cup of tea. As I watched, the German plane was hit, blown to pieces and began falling to earth. I decided I would like a souvenir and began running towards the place where I estimated the falling pieces, that appeared to be floating slowly down, would land.
It was an optical illusion, they were actually hurtling towards the ground at great speed although I was unaware of the fact, so that when I got close to where I thought one piece was about to land, very fortunately, it beat me to the spot. Fortunately, it was one complete wing which landed vertically and then fell heavily away from me. I realise in retrospect, that I was very lucky that it hadn't landed on top of me. I succeeded with difficulty and some help in dragging it back to our wireless truck, I don't know quite why, I never did anything with it, but left it there in that Normandy field. I wonder if it still there.

Our next move was to Tracy Bocage, this was prior to the Falaise Gap massacre. It was a delightful place with a church, a few picturesque houses, cottages and farms. We arrived there and were told that we had to wait for our new officer, whom we had not yet met. We were, by this time, highly-trained and seasoned soldiers and did not need a young, wet-behind-the-ears, second lieutenant, just out of "OCTU" (Officer Cadet Training Unit) to tell us what to do. It was a glorious July day and we wandered about and explored the village which was completely deserted, we went everywhere literally, leaving no stone unturned. It was getting dusk when he, the Second Lieutenant, arrived. He called us all together and excitedly warned us that he had been told that the village was booby-trapped. He advised that we take our trucks into a field, form a square with them and cover them completely with camouflage- netting. We were to sleep with the netting over us, under the night sky. As he opened the five-barred gate into the field, one of the booby-traps of which he had warned us went off and thus his war ended. Apparently the back of his head suffered the most damage, and he was shipped back to England. That was by no means the end of the story for us because next morning on waking, we found that we had parked our wireless trucks and ourselves inches away from a large German minefield. What I had thought was a tree-stump and over which I had draped my jacket in the dark of the previous evening, turned out to be a very large, unexploded bomb which was sticking up about three feet above the ground. We managed to get the Royal Engineers' mine disposal unit to assist us and they sent in tanks to very carefully, pull us away from the danger. Apart from the truck drivers we were all at a safe distance and fortunately, no one was hurt. We did hear enormous explosions during the day so assumed the engineers had done their job successfully, we then moved into another, safer field, adjacent to a farm and by that time, General Dempsey's H.Q. had arrived.
One day, we decided to catch and cook one of the many geese that we had seen wandering about. There was one that seemed less wild that the others and so being easy to catch, was the one that ended up in the pot. We picked apples for apple sauce found potatoes and other vegetables after which about ten of us enjoyed a wonderful meal. A week or so later, one of the platoon came excitedly running towards us, an English newspaper in his hand. A headline read, "Who Cooked the General's Goose?" Apparently, soon after landing in Normandy, General Dempsey had been presented with a tame goose by a grateful, French Farmer and it had obviously waddled about and mingled with the other geese in the area. No wonder it had been so easy to catch. Hopefully, I won't have to face a court-martial now I have finally revealed the truth. Even in retrospect, I can well remember that it really was a most delicious meal.

Fortunately, troops in action, rarely had to suffer the spit and polish routine suffered by soldiers in peace-time. I say this as at either side of our wireless truck we had two low-slung panniers for our bulky radio equipment and being very inventive, we made especially good use of one of them. We crammed three of them as full as possible with our equipment and put straw on the floor of the fourth pannier for the comfort of some borrowed Normandy chickens which kept us supplied with fresh eggs all the way up into Holland. It's funny but I don't seem to remember them being at all noisy but they laid plenty of eggs for us.

It was standard practice in action, when moving to a new location, for one half of our unit to pack up and race to the new site while the other half remained and continued to operate. When the advance unit informed base that it was ready to transmit, the rear unit ceased transmitting and went to join it. On one occasion while in Normandy, we were busy dismantling aerials etc. when I was approached by the local farmer, in whose fields we were camped and asked if we had any paraffin.
Obviously we had gallons and gallons of petrol, in jerry cans, but he insisted that he had seen paraffin, so to humour him, I went to our petrol stores and lo-and behold, one can did contain some paraffin. To this day I don't know where it came from. The farmer was thrilled when I gave it to him for his dormant equipment and he came to me later that day, with a big hammer and chisel in his hand, inviting me to go to his home with him. He took me into his farmhouse and down into the cellars where he then started knocking down a lower portion of a wall. When a hole of about 12 inches square appeared he put his arm inside and brought out a very dirty bottle. He repeated the action twice more and then told me, "Two for you and one for me." The bottles contained Cognac which he said his father had hidden from the Germans in the First World War!

Then came the realisation of total war when the German resistance in France finally collapsed. The Battle of the Falaise Gap marked the end of the Battle of Normandy, which started on June 6th.1944 and ended on August 22nd of the same year, which happened to also be the day after my 21st.birthday.
Although history recounts that maybe 100.000 German troops succeeded in escaping the allies, in their haste to do so, they left behind 150.000 prisoners, over 10.000 dead and the roads virtually impassable due to the wreckage of destroyed vehicles and the dead and rotting bodies of men and horses. The sights and smells of death, desolation and decay remain clearly in my memory, even to this day.

Norman W. Cohen     (June 25, 2009)