John C. Raaen, Jr
Captain - HQ Co. - 5th Ranger Battalion
The following story was written
shortly after the invasion and is the basis for my story "Intact".
There were three things that probably triggered my writing this story. First,
shortly after the invasion, I was given the job of writing up the decorations
for medals won during the invasion. Of course, I didn't write up my own Silver
Star, nor did I write up Col. Schneider's Distinguished Service Cross. But
most of the rest were my job. Second, I was given the task of writing the
After Action Report for the invasion month. Third, I was made the contact
for LTC Taylor and SGT Pogue, the War Department Historian Team, as they collected
stories and documents for "Omaha Beachhead". This WD Pamphlet was
printed in September 1945. However the team visited the battalion very shortly
after the invasion. I'd guess in July 1944.
Putting all this together, I think that the following story was most likely
written in July 1944 or possibly October 1944.
6 June 1944 - Landing at Omaha Beach
On the Normandy coast, near the point where the Vire flows into the Channel,
is a small town known as Vierville-sur-Mer. It's a tiny town of relatively
no importance, except for one thing. It was here that the 2nd and 5th Ranger
Battalions and the 116th Infantry Regiment made their assault landing in the
invasion of Europe. There were many other units engaged here, the 743rd Tank
Battalion, the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion to mention two, but
others have sunk into the mists of forgetfulness for me.
We knew what Vierville looked like
from the maps, aerial photos and terrain models we had studied. We had a good
idea of about what we'd meet in the way of German resistance. We didn't think
many of us would be alive on June 7. We knew of the obstacles in the water,
the narrow strip of sand enfiladed from the bluffs above, the sea wall, the
coast road, the flat open field and the high steep bluffs. (What I called
the "coast road" is probably better named the "beach road".
The coast road was a highway about a mile inland, and was one of our early
objectives). We knew of the Vierville exit, that is to say, of the cut
through the bluffs where a narrow road ran from Vierville to the coast road.
There were minefields galore -- hedgerows. Yes, we knew what to expect, or
thought we did.
I remember that night standing on the
deck of HMS Prince Baudouin and watching the Normandy coast burn. I didn't
get much time to sleep, for I took three tours of Officer of the Deck that
night. It seemed the thing to do. Bill Wise, C Company had a rough job. Major
Dick Sullivan had a rough job too. Me, I was Headquarters Company Commander,
with my company split all over the place. Chances were we wouldn't set up
a decent CP for a couple of days and till then, I would be just an amanuensis.
The whole setup was good. On another ship was Lt. Col. Rudder, who was both
Ranger Group Commander and CO of the 2nd Rangers. If I recall correctly, he
had his whole battalion with him on one ship. (Not so, the 2nd was loaded
onto 3 ships). C Company of the 2nd Rangers, under Capt. Goranson was
to cross the beach west of the Vierville exit, and scramble up the bluffs
and attack the enemy emplacements at La Pointe de la Percee. Three more companies
of the Second Battalion, D, E and F were to assault the cliffs at the Pointe
If D, E and F were successful, the
remaining two companies of the Second, A and B, plus the whole 5th would follow
and advance on Isigne-sur-Vire. If they weren't successful, then we'd all
go over the beach behind the 1st Battalion of the 116th Infantry. For communication
with the 2nd at Pointe du Hoc, we had SCR-300s set up in the boat. If we had
received no signal meaning success by H + 30 mins, it was over the beach instead
of the cliffs.
The 5th Bn was in two ships, one containing
½ HQ, A, C, F (Actually, it was ½ HQ, C, D and F) under
Maj. Sullivan, the other containing ½ HQ, B, D, and E (1/2 HQ, A,
B and E) under Lt. Col. Schneider. All our ships, by the way, were English.
At 0445, we loaded into the LCA (Landing Craft Assault - quite similar
to LCPR). The Captain of the ship bid us a "Good luck Rangers and
God Bless You" over the audio system. It sounds melodramatic now but
we appreciated it then.
We saw the Texas open up and fire its first salvo as we sailed by it. It was
a terrific roar. Runge's boat (1 platoon of F Co under Reville) began
to ship water and dropped back.
The radios didn't look like they were
going to work. The men were getting jittery and H-Hour was still a half hour
away. The sea was running from 4 to 6 feet. A couple of men got sick. We were
all soaked to the skin. We could hear the planes overhead, the ships bombarding
the coast. What with the Air Corps and the Navy, Normandy's defenses would
be a shambles by the time we hit the beach. And the minutes droned on. H-Hour.
No word from the Second. A beach master's radio came through clearly to the
effect "Omaha Dog White is clear. Troops meeting no resistance."
No word from the Second. We shifted our course toward Dog beach. There would
still be time to change our course for the cliffs if only the signal would
come through. I'm not sure of this next, but I vaguely recall hearing a radio
message from the Second. It was feeble and almost unintelligible. We weren't
sure what it meant, but it didn't mean success. Col. Schneider has waited
as long as he could and now we'd have to really move to land on time. The
beachmaster on Dog White had stopped his talk. (A marginal note says at
this point "Yellow Smoke"). We soon saw the reason why.
We were still about a thousand yards
out when A and B of the Second touched down. (Despite the words that follow,
I did not see what happened to the A and B of the Second Rangers. I am myopic
and it was nearly a mile in to the beach. I guess I was reporting on what
I heard later). The ramps dropped and the men were slaughtered by M.G.
fire. You could see them drop as they tried to get out. In desperation, they
went over the sides and lay half drowning in the water hidden behind obstacles.
A scattered few made it up the beach. Others began to move out of the water.
Most made it now that they were dispersed Except for a few Rangers and smashed
boats there in that hell of fire, the beach looked empty. Col. Schneider in
the wave ahead of us watched the slaughter through his binoculars. I don't
know what he thought, but I can imagine, when you remember that two months
before, he had been Exec of the Second. He made a crucial decision as he watched.
He shifted the whole two waves from Dog Green to Dog White where resistance
seemed lighter and where, apparently, most of the 116th had landed by mistake.
To shift 1500 yards to the left when only a thousand yards from the beach
was a problem the British did well. We didn't lose a single boat, we didn't
get mixed up and as we came into touch down we still had perfect formation.
Schneider's wave hit first, we were
minutes behind him and apparently to his right. By now the noise was deafening.
An LCM or LCT was hit on our right by artillery and burst into flames. A minute
or so later we were in the obstacles. LCI 91, 50 to 100 yds on our right was
hit by artillery. The boat ground to a stop. The ramp dropped. Sullivan jumped
out with me right behind him. The water wasn't as high as my boots. The coxswain
had done well by us. Ten yards of shallow water amid the damnedest racket
in the world. You could hear the bullets go screaming by. Somewhere a twenty
or forty was beating out sixty rounds a minute. Rifle fire came from our right
as did most of the MG fire. A DD tank let a round fly.
There was the beach. And then a runnel
of water. An MG burst chewed the water as I jumped in. Then dry land again.
The beach must have been about 30 yards wide at that time. I can't remember
clearly, but I remember reaching the sea wall. It was packed with men two
and three deep. You couldn't dig in because the rocks were 6 to 8 inches in
diameter and piled deeply. The sea wall was made of wooden logs two to three
feet high, with breakwaters running back toward the sea. Those breakwaters
prevented good lateral communication on the beach though they gave us protection
from the flanking fire that poured down the beach from our right.
I tried to get my life preservers off.
They wouldn't come. I rolled over, still no luck. I couldn't go on like that
so I stood up and still no luck. I looked around. It was my first look at
men in combat. They were huddled in against the sea wall, cringing at every
bullet. Artillery fire was churning the waters edge. To our left I saw LCI
92 touch down. Wham! An artillery round caught the starboard ramp. Must have
hit a flamethrower there, for the whole side of the ship burst into flames
that spread to the deck. I looked back at our LCA, men were still coming out.
There was Father Lacy, the last man coming out. He wasn't ten yards from the
boat when Wham! Our engine compartment was hit by artillery. I don't know
what happened to the crew. They'd done their job well - too well, for the
cox'n was too hard on the beach to back off.
By now my men were dropping around
me and in the adjacent bays. I yelled to a radio man who stood up and cut
my preservers off. "Anybody hit?" "Yea, McCullough got a slug
in the back of his leg." One man, my messenger, only two men behind me
was hit. Not bad for thirty-three men.
I called for Sullivan. "Over here,
Red." He was in the next bay. I slipped over and made my report, one
casualty and the rest of Hq dispersed in these three bays. (A marginal
note adds here: "Sully, for God's sake do something. He was right, etc.")
We passed the word for Col. Schneider. He was 50 yards to our left giving
orders to the company commanders. However, I remained on the left (right?)
while Sullivan went over to Schneider.
I began checking the men, making sure
they still had their weapons and ammo, getting them more collected for the
next move, while wondering what it was to be.
Apparently some infantrymen or Rangers (a marginal note, probably added
later says: "Elements of A & B 2nd Rangers and Co C, 116th")
had worked their way off the beach and up the hill (side, for) there
was a fire fight to our right, up on the bluff.
The terrain was different from the maps. The high steep hill was 100-150 yds
in front of us, covered with smoke and flame from a grass fire to our right.
The terrain was flat from the foot of the hill to the coast road in front
of us. With a battered little stone wall and then the wooden sea wall. Wooden
sea wall!! Christ!! It was supposed to be stone! We were on the wrong beach!
We couldn't be to the right of Vierville because there'd be cliffs in front
of us and the Pointe de la Percee on our right. Therefore, we must be to the
left. The next sea wall was Omaha Dog White. I looked around more carefully.
The sea wall ended three or four bays to my right. I could see farther down
to the right one, perhaps two D.D. tanks of the 743rd backing down to the
water and then slowly coming across the beach, each time giving five or six
men cover to cross the beach. Back and forth, but that was 200 or 300 yds
Not ten yards to me right a grizzled old Engineer Sergeant set a heavy MG
tripod down in a hole in the stone wall (stone breakwaters or retards).
He then went back to my left. A moment later he returned with a heavy gun.
A thin Engineer Lieutenant in a green sweater was carrying ammunition. Together
they very calmly set up their gun in that exposed gap in the wall. The Sergeant
very methodically began to traverse and search the hill to our right where
the fire fight appeared to be. The Lt., and I'll always remember the disdain
he showed, turned around with his hands on hips, surveyed the men huddled
at the sea wall, and spat out something to the effect, "and you men call
yourselves soldiers." He tried to organize his men. Then the 116th. But
to no avail.
By now, Col. Schneider had given the
word to advance. The gap in the wire was to our left, Hq to follow one of
C Company's MG sections. Van Riper (1st Lt. Howard E. Van Riper, my Exec
and Commo Platoon Leader) and I drifted to the left with the Company,
leaving the Engineer Lt. with his hands still on hips looking disgusted. (I
heard he was killed a half hour or so later).
We found the gap. A line Company was
going through. Some Heine was firing from the right along the coast road.
There was a shattered stone building, probably a pill box just across the
road. C Company was moving through now. I tagged on, rushed across the road.
Lying stomach down on a stone slab on the left side of the pill box was little
Vullo, the smallest man in the Battalion, having general repairs done on his
buttox. He hadn't crossed the road fast enough. We trotted down a little path
and then the column stopped, hit the dirt. It wasn't too comfortable there
in the opened (open?) so I shifted my men to the left into a small
gully or ditch. The column moved again, stopped, moved. There was heavy brush
at the base of the hill and a flagstone path leading through. About six stone
steps, and then a path leading up and right. The column stopped as I reached
the last step. I sat down and looked back toward the beach. Men were still
coming through the gap in the wire.
The column moved on, up the steep slope,
the smoke was getting bad. After about 50 yards we were gasping for breath
and gulping in smoke, our eyes were watering and we couldn't see ahead. I
passed the word for gas masks. We had the new assault masks with the canister
on the face piece. Mine wouldn't come out. I put my helmet between my legs.
Finally got my mask on - took a deep breath and almost smothered. I had forgotten
to take the covering plug out of the canister. I felt like I was smothering
to death, I couldn't get the plug out. I ripped off my mask, my helmet slipped
from my legs and started to roll down the hill. Sgt. Graves stopped it. Now
I was choking with smoke. I finally got the mask and helmet on, took three
steps and was out of the smoke. I was so furious, I kept the mask on for fifty
feet more just to spite myself.
We'd left the path now (it curved back to the left past a little shack)
and continued to the top of the hill. We saw our first German, a dead one.
He was lying in a little hollow just below the crest. We'd never seen a dead
man before. He was sort of greenish yellow, looked like wax. Before we knew
it, we thought he was a wax booby trapped dummy. It wasn't till much later
that we realized that that was the first dead enemy we'd seen. In the hollow,
we paused for breath before crossing a tiny stone wall into the hedgerow country.
At the top of the hill we paused, looked
over the scene again, etc., and then moved to the right (WEST), parallel to
the beach. C Company's 81 mm mortars and a light M.G. section were emplaced
in the far western hedge row prepared to fire parallel to the beach. I dispersed
Hq behind in the field behind the mortars and left a non-com in charge, Just
as I left Van Riper came up with the rest of Hq and dispersed them in the
same field. There was scattered S.A. fire to the WEST and south of us and
some low velocity artillery was passing close overhead heading for the beach.
Captain Bill Wise, C Co, C.O., told me I'd find Maj. Sullivan and Col Schneider
at the southern end of the hedgerow but not to go into the open field beyond
because the enemy was to our front. I found Sully & Col. Schneider at
the gate at the end of the field.
Unfortunately there was no known situation
for Sullivan to give me. All he could say was that he had seen a patrol move
off to the SW along the fence toward the far hedgerow. He had me move out
along the fence to see if I drew fire, because that would be the best route
to move the portion of the battalion that had not displaced along the crest.
I zig zaged about 75 to 100 yds before I reached cover. I had drawn enough
fire to mention most of it friendly anyway. There was a dead German in the
The second part of the story was
written in February 2006. The story is based on the After Action Report of
the 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion (Remember that I wrote it) as well as some
personal memories of the action.
8 June 1944 - Towards Pointe du
On the morning of June 8, 1944, the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry
Division moved out of Vierville towards St. Pierre du Mont. The 5th Ranger
Infantry Battalion which was attached to the 116th, led the column. Also in
that column was the 743rd Tank Battalion and several divisional units.
When the 5th Rangers arrived at my
CP in St. Pierre du Mont at 0845, Colonel Schneider took over the plans and
operations of the two 5th Ranger Companies and the Provisional Company of
the 2nd Rangers that I had with me in St. Pierre. There was even a part of
a platoon from F Company with us under Lt. Reville. He had run a patrol from
the Pointe to St. Pierre du Mont during the night on June 8th and 9th.
The attack on Pointe du Hoc was almost
routine. At 0900, the battalion attacked toward the northwest, with C, D,
F Companies, a platoon of A Company and the Provisional Company of the 2nd
Rangers. The action was all over by 1000 hours with the three companies of
the 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion relieved after their two days of dreadful
fighting, isolated and badly outnumbered.
Meanwhile Companies B and E of the
5th Rangers led the 116th Infantry Regiments and the tanks of the 743rd down
the coastal road towards Grandcamp les Bains. One Infantry Battalion and some
of the tanks peeled off from the column and attacked the Pointe from the southwest.
Unfortunately, this attack ended up as a blue on blue action with the tanks
and infantry firing on the just rescued 2nd Ranger positions. One report gives
2 Rangers KIA and 6 WIA during that skirmish.
The mission of B and E Companies of
the 5th Rangers was to take and hold the high ground west of the sluice gate
at Grandcamp les Bains. At 1000 with B Company leading, the force moved into
the outskirts of Grandcamp les Bains. Initially, no fire was received, but
as they reached the bridge leading into the town, they received heavy mortar
and machine gun fire. The two companies withdrew to the high ground east of
town where they were reinforced by D Company which had just come from Pointe
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 116th
Infantry passed through the three Ranger Companies and with the support of
the tanks, artillery and naval gunfire captured the town.
Companies A, C, and F proceeded from
Pointe du Hoc to the southern edges of Grandcamp les Bains under Major Sullivan.
My headquarters element was given the mission of clearing the houses along
the road of any German stragglers. I set up four teams of four Rangers, two
for the right side of the road and two for the left. I led the first team
on the left. The team would enter a house. If the door were locked, stick
a bayonet in the keyhole, fire one round, and kick open the door. It works!
First man up the stairs to clean out the second floor. The second man was
his backup. Third and fourth man handle the main floor. Then the first two
finished take the basement. The teams would leapfrog from house to house.
Back in the countryside, we worked
our way towards Maisy, halting about a mile and a half to the northeast where
we snuggled into the ditches and hedgerows for the night.
9 June 1944 - Attack at Maisy
On the morning of D+3, June 9, 1944, A, C and F of the 5th Rangers, still
under Major Sullivan, were detached from the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry.
In its advance to the south, the 1st Battalion/116 had encountered severe
resistance from the German positions at Maisy. Their objective was Isigny
not Maisy, so the 1st Battalion/116 bypassed the German positions leaving
them for the 5th Rangers.
Major Sullivan had three Ranger Companies,
two half-tracks from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and Company B, 81st Chemical
Weapons Battalion. The latter was armed with 4.2-inch mortars. During the
approach march, I was at the rear end of the column with a small headquarters
element. Crossing through the hedgerows and fields we were taken under long
range machine gun fire several times. However, we were beyond tracer burn-out
and the Germans were never able to adjust their fire well enough to even bother
Because of the extensive mine fields
protecting the German strongpoint, Major Sullivan decided to attack in a column
of companies with A Company in the lead followed by F Company with C Company
both in reserve and providing fire support with its 81-mm mortars. The 58th
Armored Field Artillery Battalion bombarded the Maisy positions in preparation
for the 5th Ranger advance. Support during the attack was provided by the
81st's 4.2-inch mortars, the two 75-mm cannon mounted on the 2nd Ranger's
halftracks and the four 81-mm mortars of C Company of the 5th Rangers. Despite
the mine fields and stubborn resistance, the strong point was successfully
captured. It contained three ten centimeter howitzers, large stocks of ammunition
and other supplies and about 90 defenders who became POWs. The POWs and the
position were turned over to elements of the 29th division. Ace Parker, the
A Company Commander later told me that the fight at Maisy was far worse than
the Omaha Beach landings of four days earlier.
The Ranger force marched to a bivouac
area west of Osmanville where, at 2000 hours, it rejoined the rest of the
Major-General (ret.) John C. Raaen,
Jr. (February 28, 2006)