American troops landed on Normandy beaches to come as reinforcements during the historic D-Day, June 6, 1944, during WW2.
(Originally published by the Daily News on June 7, 1944. This story was written by Donald MacKenzie.)
A B-26 MARAUDER BASE IN ENGLAND, June 6. – Riding in the van of the American air spearhead which covered the landing of American Rangers on the coast of France, this reporter had a panoramic view this morning of the D-day invasion and saw the first Americans come ashore from smoking landing boats which had ridden through a curtain of German gunfire to reach the beach a few minutes before.
Deep behind the invaded beach, American paratroops and glider-borne Rangers were locked in battle along a wide, irregular front. Airborne units had landed soon after dawn and were engaged with the enemy when warships of the Unite Nations steamed in open order to within a few miles of the coast and commenced to pour in a steady fire.
Low wispy clouds down to 1,500 feet mottled the battlefield and the Marauder crews could discern only fragmentary glimpses of the struggle etched by the flat, splitting fire of mechanized guns and the spurting bursts of tracer bullets.
The Germans had damned or diverted waterways and flooded large sections of the countryside. Some sheets of water appeared to be anywhere up to 20 miles in diameter.
Rain Down Bombs From 2,000 Feet
The run of the Marauders down the invasion coast just as dawn broke was one of the most dramatic and amazing single episodes in the history of air warfare. The American bombers came down low as 2,000 feet to blast batteries of German guns with a rain of bombs in a little under 15 seconds.
Scarcely a man who began that run expected to come out alive. Although the crews were briefed to bomb the target from 10,800 to 10,000 feet, they were told just before they took off in the dark that they must come down to 5,000 or even 1,000 feet to get under a lowering cloud curtain, and they realized that their assignment was a suicide parade.
The New York Daily News covers D-day on June 7, 1944.
New York Daily News
The New York Daily News covers D-day on June 7, 1944.
New York Daily News
The New York Daily News covers D-day on June 7, 1944.
At anything under 10,000 feet, the Marauder has a tough time with flak. At 5,000 feet, it theoretically has not even a 50-50 chance. But at 2,000 feet carbines and machine guns can stop it, let alone 88 mm. anti-aircraft shells.
But this target was considered vital to the first assault. It had been ordered blasted. Behind the shore batteries, a target impervious to anything less than blockbusters sheltered picked Nazi anti-invasion troops.
With airborne American troops fighting close to the target on the landward side and with other landing from barges to seaward, precision bombing was vital unless larger numbers of Americans were to be slaughtered. That is why the crack ground of bombers known as the “Silver Streaks” were briefed to come right down on top of the target if necessary for deadly accurate aim.
Hoped Concussion Would Stun Nazis
Gen. Omar Bradley’s intent, apparently, was to button up the German troops in the shelters and by the concussion of the 250-pound impact explosive bombs to stun them into insensibility, so they would fall easy victims to the inrushing invaders who were timed to arrive on the beach just as the Marauders passed over.
In order not to rear fresh obstacles before the landing tanks, 250-pounders were chosen instead of the 2,000-pound bombs these aircraft usually carry.
To protect the landing forces from enfilading fire and at the same time to mark clearly an invasion channel to the beach, American B-25 Billy Mitchell bombers dashed right down on the water and began a run to the beach at right angles to the bomb-run of the Marauders.
The timing of the smoke barrage, the landing and the bomber-run was excellent.
Race Onto Target With Throttles Wide
As we cut the French coast, a red ME-109 dived to the carpet, raced under the formation and zoomed to register our altitude for the gunners in the flak valley we were about to enter. But at tailgunner in the box behind me sent a few bursts skipping after him and he peeled off for an adjacent landing field apparently unhurt. Then the flak began.
We had dropped down so low that machine-gun tracer bullets were flying up through our formation like sparks out of a factory chimney, curving redly over and into us. But the Silver Streaks, attempting no evasion, raced down on the target strip with throttles wide open.
The advance flights suffered heavy flak for the whole 15 seconds of their run, but with magnificent courage wavered neither to left nor right laying their loads along the whole length of the target.
As the last Marauder element was – moving in for its run an FW-190 jumped it, got in a burst, and one of the silvery streaks exploded. The stricken ship crashed in flames on the water’s edge.
(Only two of more than 350 Marauders on the mission failed to return, the Uniter Press reported.)
While the Marauders were making their run, the guns of the fleet continued to pump in metal, and the coast was being well saturated. At the other end of the duel, the German guns which we had watched heavily shelling the incoming invasion fleet seemed to have slacked about 75%.
At the end of their run, the Marauders turned inland to make a wide detour back to England.
As we turned away, the dive bombers of the 9th USAAF began to scream down and the main body of the invasion fleet had drawn perceptibly closer to the beach.
Sky Above Black With Our Fighters
High above, Allied fighters were milling round in the sky. Long before, a great mass of them had swept over northwestern France. As H-hour drew near, the sky was black with them. With the exception of the two pinch hitters which jumped our formation from the deck, we did not see a single German fighter.
All our way over France, isolated moderate flak pursued us, but we soon climbed above machine-gun range and saw the tracers curving harmlessly away.
From this morning on, everyone who took part in this historic spearheaded attack which opened the second front may consider that he is living on borrowed time.
US troops travel the English Channel on a barge en route to Normandy, France for the D-Day Invasion, World War II. An American flag flies behind them.
Men of the American assault troops of the 16th Infantry Regiment, injured while storming a coastal area code-named Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of the Normandy.
U.S. paratroopers fix their static lines for a jump before dawn over Normandy, France on D-Day.
The crewmen of the Marauders looked like bactrian two-humped camels. The foundation of their massive clothing was a Mae West life jacket. Over that came a bulky parachute and over that the flak suit, which is a smock of iron plates that weighs 200 pounds. The whole is topped off with a steel helmet. And none of it seems thick enough when 88 mm. shells from the ackack guns are rocking and bumping the machine.
Our ship was captained and flown by Capt. Curt S. Seebaldt of Rochester, Mich. He said after we landed that he felt profoundly honored to have been among the first United States groups to spearhead the invasion.
Opening of Greatest Show on Earth
His co-pilot, a tall youth from Cut Bank, Mont., Lieut. Carlyle Webb, declared: “I am no actor, but I believe I have just taken part in the opening scene of the greatest show on earth.”
The navigator was Lieut. Edwin Freeman of El Campo, Texas, who described the mission as the greatest flight he had ever made.
The bombardier, Lieut Edward Harrison of Tunstall, Va., summed up what all the combat crews thought of the swep:
“It’s the first time I’ve been that close to the enemy.”
First wave beach battalion Ducks lay low under the fire of Nazi guns on the beach of southern France on D-Day, June 6, 1944 during World War II. One invader operates a walkie talkie radio directing other landing craft to the safest spots for unloading their parties of fighting men.
Sitting in the cover of their foxholes, American soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force secure a beachhead during initial landing operations at Normandy.
Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
Operation Overlord Normandy, The Saskatchewan Regiment of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division is landing at Juno Beach on the outskirts of Bernieres-sur-Mer on D-Day.
The wheels of the vast invasion machine began to turn for the cross-Channel lunge last Wednesday. The last forward moves in the assemblage of the invasion forces were completed. Vast transport fleets were at their stations. Warships of the Allied fleets were moving in on the bases for their opening attack. All the intricate machinery of the greatest invasion enterprise in history was accelerating quickly and smoothly to assault tempo.
For weeks, the corps of correspondents – each individual assigned to his D-day post – had been drilled and versed in the part he was to play. They were called to Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force by telephone from Wednesday morning on and instructed to tell nobody of the summons.
Correspondent Put Under Military Law
From the moment they arrived at headquarters they were under strict military law: forbidden all communications with the outside world. They were told D-day was at hand, briefed for the assault and assigned to their invasion stations. They left their hotels quietly and secretly, carrying light combat kit and leaving their effects strewn about untouched. even their room maids would not guess that anything unusual was afoot. Their bills were left unpaid. Dates waited starry-eyed and forlorn.
The last section to move out were the radio, camera and newsmen assigned to cover the 9th Air Force medium bombers. They were flown from a London airport to various command airfields and disembarked in parties of three. This correspondent was in the last party disembark – at the station of the famous Silver Streaks.
This crack outfit of precision bombers, who since desolation among marshaling yards, airfields, highways, docks and strategic bridges deep in France and the Netherlands, had an equally famous commander, Col. Reginald F.C. Vance San Antonio, Texas.
Worth Many Times Weight in Gold
Col. Vance was assessed by Gen. MacArthur to be more valuable to the U.S. than 200 pounds of bar gold. It happened like this:
Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower gives the order of the day “Full victory – Nothing else” to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at the Royal Air Force base in Greenham Common, England, three hours before the men board their planes to participate in the first assault wave of the invasion.
General Omar Bradley and Admiral Kirk sit and talk as they go ashore on D-day, after the Normandy invasion.
Vance, who arrived in the Philippines 17 days before the Japs, led U.S. dive bombers until there were none left. He then was attached to MacArthur’s staff and fought down through Bataan, through the tunnel into Corregidor and into the last ditch. When the moment came for MacArthur to decide on indispensables to be evacuated by the submarine to Java, 200 pounds of bar gold were thrown off to make way for him.
The Silver Streaks have made more than 67 missions since they arrived in England last January. The sons of three generals man ships. They are Capt. Lucius D. Clay Jr., First Lieut. Jack J. Jones and Capt. Charles E. Hardy. These and 13 other pilots of the Silver Streaks are West Point graduates.
Every man of every combat crew in the group has been decorated, and all are now seasoned veterans of the flak-alleys of the invasion defenses. In operation, they weave through shrapnel, dart over their targets, drop their bombs and then race home like bats out of hell. Flak is their chief hazard. Fighters of the Luftwaffe seldom trouble them. The Silver Streaks are as heavily armored as either a B-24 Liberator or a B-17 Fortress and have much superior speed and maneuverability.
ME-109’s Mistake: Attacks Marauder
A few days ago the first ME-109 to attack a crack Marauder finished at the bottom of the Channel. The Streak piloted by Cap. Clay was toiling home on one engine when the German pursuit far below zoomed up to cut down the isolated cripple. As he reared up with spitting guns astern the American ship, Staff Sergt. George R. Anderson, a Californian, turned on his twin “choppers” in the tail turret and blew the attacker in half.
Besides the career of the colonel, the Streaks take most pride in their associations with Gen. Doolittle’s famous Tokyo raid. Lieut. Col. Bob Witty, 28, Cleveland, Ohio, a former newspaperman and father of twin boys and second in command of the group, was among the original volunteers for and planners of the Tokyo mission, but to his eternal regret was one of the five of the historic group in a Minneapolis hotel who offered to go but he was turned down.
Witty Wins Honor Of Leading Streaks
In England, American soldiers, having loaded their equipment and supplies onto an LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) await the signal to begin the D-Day invasion.
It became known on Monday that Col. Witty, who has been grounded for nearly two weeks for the special purpose, was to lead the Streaks over the invasion coast in the place of honor of the whole first invasion phase – the first American airplane group over the beachhead and spearhead of the invading American forces.
As soon as we arrived at the advanced air base from which we were to set out on D-day the following Tuesday, all of us were warned not to discuss our assignment with the combat crews who had not then any inkling of what impended.
On Sunday, the Silver Streaks piled off from the airfield in the green wooded English countryside for their last run before the invasion. They were set to pound the 300-foot high trestle railway bridge over the river Seine just above Rouen, France. A magnificent placement of bombs cut the bridge in three places and sent it tumbling into the river.
Wait H-hour With Java and Sandwiches
Next day – the eve of D-day – all machines of the Silver Streak group were grounded, and all personnel on the field were confined to camp. Those of us who knew that the invasion was to take place on the morrow and that the paratroops would be landed behind the German lines just before dawn packed our kits and sat by drinking black coffee and eating massive cheese sandwiches waiting for reveille, which was timed for half an hour after midnight.
There was no air of ill-suppressed excitement. None of us outside the colonel and a few others knew at what spot the first American invasion was to land. We knew that we would know at 2:30 when we were briefed.
But we did not know that perhaps thousands of lives depended upon the accuracy of the Silver Streaks’ bombing: that the job was the stun into stupidity the horde of German troops crouching under concrete shelters facing the beach where American troops were to spearhead the army of deliverance into France.
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