29th Division - 116th Regiment - 3rd Battalion - L Company- Group Critique Notes
This critique was held at Brest, France, on 20 Sept. 44. The chief witnesses were Captain McGrath, who was not with L at that time, but witnessed the Company movements, Sgt John W. White, Sgt Herman E. Rowe, Pfc Goodwin P. Dallas, Pfc Tony J. Sokolowski, Pvt Willie J. Ortego, Sgt Joseph R. Daya and Pfc J. O. Davies. All these men were NCOs in the higher brackets by the time of the interview. They were in agreement as to facts.
"L" landed on schedule at 0720, coming in the 2nd Battalion beach and landing behind some its elements. (Note: The place is indicated on the overlay. "M", coming in at the same time, was to the left of "L"). The boats did not come together, but had become somewhat separated by the conditions of tide and the sandbars. The amount of fire against them as they neared the beach was not great. (On their left, "M"’s men were all keeping their heads down because of fire and could not see the beach.) The men of "L" stood up in their boats and had a complete view of the shoreline as they came to it, they wondered why the men they saw on shore weren’t going on. Looking beyond the men, they saw nothing that looked as they had expected it. "We were supposed to see the road coming down to the Beach and pillboxes on either side of the road. We looked for these and could not find them. We walked about it and decided we were going in at the wrong place." (Daya) "The outstanding thing on our beach was the fortified house." (Rowe) The guide boat, which the seven company boats were trying to follow, keptvon maneuvering left. To the men, it seemed that the current was carrying him leftward, but the impression of two men (Daya, White) was that the control boat had picked out the wrong line of flags and was following it in.
Arty fire fell among the boats as they neared the sand but no boat was hit and no men were wounded. (Daya, Rowe). Nevertheless, the intervening sandbars had separated the boats, and the company was well scattered as it came into the beach. N° 3 boat was far off to the left of the Company, and N° 7 (Hq) boat was with it ; the gap between these and the five others was such that the two teams did not rejoin until the Co had moved well inland. N° 6 Boat was first to land ; N° 1 was stopped by a sandbar and the men jumped off far out in the water. N° 6 was the right-hand element, and N° 3 the left. N°s 1, 2, 4 and 5 were to the left of N° 6. The landing experiences of this Co were not unusual. The water was knee-to-waist deep. In N° 1 boat, and at least two of the others, they got no fire when the ramps went down and the men were on the beach 5-6 minutes before they noticed any mg fire about time. (White, Daya). There was a "rock wall with broken rocks and debris" along it just ahead of them. The men went for it as fats as they could run. They were certain that they took this stretch at arun and that most got to the wall in 2-5 minutes. (Daya, White, Rowe.) They didn’t lose a man in so doing. Some of the men from these boat teams on the right recall looking back and noticing that not one man had dropped on the beach.
On getting to the wall, they found it already clogged with infantry.
They were men from "G". They had been there for some time and seemed to be in good condition. (Rowe). Lieut Donald C. Anderson of "L" came on up and asked: "Who in hell are you ?" they replied that they were from 2nd Bn. (Daya). He then turned to Daya and said : "Get the team on its way. We sure as hell are not staying here. This beach has too many people." There was a single apron on wire ahead of the Company. At Anderson’s order, Daya moved on and started cutting it, lying on his back as he did so. A man from 2nd Battalion came in on the right of him and tried to do likewise. But before he could find a low spot and partial cover, his clothing got hung in the wire, and the enemy mgs cut him apart. Daya had found partial cover among some boulders and completed his work. Anderson then left the team right on through the gap and up the hill. Near the crest he came to a dip which was brush-covered and partially defiladed to bullet fire. They stopped there for a few moments to gather themselves before going on. Two arty tree bursts found them there and two men were wounded. Daya yelled: "Get the hell out of here." They moved on up and over a slight knoll, and as they came out on the hilltop, they drew flanking fire from a pillbox on the right. They worked off in the other direction and took cover in a ditch screened with gorse. (Daya, White). By this time the men had forgotten about mines and as they continued on, they seemed to pay little attention to the possible danger from his source. (Daya). From the ditch, the team worked its way into a wheat field, drew mg fire from frd, and was brought to a halt. Anderson then oriented himself for the first time. He had started for the high ground knowing only that he was at the wrong place. On talking to his NCOs, he found that all were in agreement that the landing had been made far over to the left. He then decided that he would move against les Moulins – the objective – regardless. The team followed along a hedgerow to the right, finally emerged onto open ground and drew fire from three places simultaneously. Part of the fire was coming from the direction of the Beach, so Anderson decided that it was just as well to keep plugging ahead. (Daya). Anderson, Daya and the two scouts led the team on. They kept low, got frd one more field, and there met a mortar section from "I" under Lieutenant Davidson. At this time both groups came under heavy fire. Andreson, still certain that the thing to do was keep moving ahead, walked up to the HR and looked over to make a recon. A sniper drilled him through the head. Daya took over for a moment, then sent for Sgt Albert Odorizzi, the senior NCO who was with a group a little to the rear, and told him that he was in command. An "M" section with two mgs came into their fields ; with this fire, the fire of 2 of "I"’s mortars ond one BAR, they combined their efforts and reduced the emplacements which were holding them up, either destroying or driving out the enemy. This was a collaborative effort. No one man took command. The small groups simply worked out their action by agreement.
With the boat of "I", they then continued on another two HRs. At that point, they made contact with boat team #5, which had come up the hill under T/Sgt Louis M. Armstrong. Lieutenant Shreck, the boat team captain, had been killed in crossing the beach, and Armstrong had immediately taken command and brought the team along, on the right of the Daya – Odorizzi group. The teams moved across one more field, then drew fire from an enemy rocket battery, 600 yards ahead. Before they could take further action, they saw a large naval shell land in the battery and completely demolish it. It was then 1030, and within a few minutes, Major Malcom R. Weller, the Battalion Exec, got up to the high ground after collecting the Battalion 3 stragglers along the beach, made contact with these boat teams, and began the Battalion reorganization.
Team N° 3 on the extreme left (N° 7 was with it) worked its way in through the obstacles, and the coxswain was able to take the boat right into the beach. The group drew fire as soon as the ramp was dropped. S/Sgt James K. Desper was hit and killed. (He is listed as MIA. The men saw him pitch frd and go under the ramp. He was never found again.) The boat had stopped at a sand bar and the shallow water was covered in a few seconds by those who took off for the beach. The mortar squad set up on the bar with the intention of firing on the hill, but the men found they couldn’t clear the sight of the waterproofing, so after a few minutes, they went on over the beach. One mortar shell had hit the ramp at the landing and Desper probably got it that time. The enemy mg fire, however, seemed to be pitching wild. Most of the boat team, and that of N° 7 got on up to the sea wall without great difficulty, a few of the men had sought cover along the water’s edge. The larger group walked on, and then began crawling as the fire thickened, and gradually worked their way into and around a shell crater. At that point, sniper fire from the roof of a bldg on the beach pinned them. Pvt Shroudy had been dropped by a bullet just before reaching the hole ; it came directly at his heart but was stopped and deflected by a half-crown piece in his pocket. Half of the half-crown entered his body just above the heart and the other remained in his pocket. He was still conscious and he gave Sgt Ralph Coffman his grenades and launcher and said : "Go get ‘em." Coffman noted he was bleeding badly, so he put a bandage on him and then went on. Pfc Pearl M. Robertson had been the first man to hit the beach from his team. Captain Charles W. East, figuring he had spotted one of the mgs that was bothering the boat team, yelled to Robertson (who was a radio man) to go for cross the sand. Robertson walked up to the wall, sat down, raised his rifle and prepared to fire. A sniper shot him through the head and he spun around like a chicken and dropped in front of the other men. (The men of "L" who witnessed this said that the boy’s calm courage in trying to carry out the order was one of the bravest things they saw during the day and that he deserved decoration.) These were the principle incidents in getting boat team# 3 up the shell hole area where it drew rifle fire. Davies (a 17 year oldster) got out of the shell hole and moved slightly rising ground. From that point, he saw the sniper working from the top of the bldg on the beach. He fired three rounds with his .03 rifle, and saw him fall from the roof at the third round. He then started on with the idea of getting to the foot of the hill, but hearing a yell from Sgt Albert Shrift, he turned and saw that the latter had hung up on a beach obstacle, his assault jacket being caught. Davies went back over the beach and cut him loose. The BT moved on to the wall. There, the men came under irregular mortar fire. Sgt Jake Ashby came up to the group then and suggested that they all test their weapons before going on. Not more that 3 or 4 would fire and they started to clean them. While this work was going on, Lieutenant James R. Meyers sent Davies back for his bangalore, which he had dropped on the beach edge. He brought it back and blew the wire which lay ahead of the boat team. After the hole was blown, Captain East decided not to use the gap. He knew the Co should be somewhat farther to the right and decided to displace in that direction. However, before moving any real distance, he came to a draw which looked like a convenient route up the hill, and he started the two boat teams up the way, Davies with his .03 and Pfc Charles Lawrence with a BAR covering the rear of the party. Four men were hit by mines during the uphill movement. The party moved over the crest and into a wheat field and David was sent on to scout it out. On the far side, he came to a German dugout. He had lost his grenades but had a ½ lb of TNT with a primer. He tossed this in the entrance. When the explosion occurred, he drew fire from both flanks. So he dropped and crawled on back through the wheat… 200 yards. While he had been frd, two other boat teams, one from the Company and the other from Battalion Headquarters, had joined the group. They were getting mg fire. With mortar and auto fire, they proceeded to neutralize two enemy mg positions. Then they pushed on toward the reorganization area.
Boat team N° 6 landed in waist-high water. There was no fire of any kind on them as the ramp went down. (This is true of the two other boat teams near them.) Some of the men ran across the beach. The more heavily loaded dit it walking. Still, they did not draw fire. At the sea wall they drew AT fire from a pillbox 400 yards to the left. White set up one mg on top of the sea wall and opened fire. That drew mg fire from to the right of the AT position. White shifted his fire to the mg post, and silenced it; meanwhile men of the boat were blowing a triple concertina ahead of them with bangalores. The enemy mg fire picked up again as the cutting was completed and so the boat team infiltrated through the wire one man at a time. The fire kept up but no one was hit. Come to the road, they were again under fire from the AT gun, which they thought they had silenced, and one man was hit. The boat team then went frd one man at a time around the side and corner of a long brick wall, from where they could swing right and into a draw, which was their route up the hill. Come to the top, Lieutenant Clarence E. Marshburn started leading the boat team across an open field. Eight got across, then one man was blown up, and the others realized that the field was mined. This split the boat team. Captain Archibald Sproul of Headquarters told the others to follow White and go around the field, so White attacked his party to Sproul’s and they went on to the assembly area, without further incident.
These are typical experiences of the boat teams and provide a general outline of early movements of the Company. The reorganization was done just to the NW of St Laurent.
(See the overlay) The Company was then not far from its objective --- les Moulins, a fortified point covering one of the exits. Five Boat team were in this first assembly, N°s 3 and 7 being still well over on the left and continuing to advance in the direction of the other five. After the Company --- less two boat teams --- had reorganized, it moved a short distance southward to a Battalion assembly area, at which point the two missing boat teams caught up with them. The Company as a whole then retraced its steps a short distance, to attack on the left of the road with N° 6 advancing on the right of it. The road, as they moved toward the village, was under heavy automatic fire crossing from both flanks. Casualties mounted as they came nearer to the position and the attack proceeded uncertainly, due largely to the fact that the Company could not tell the source of the enemy fire. "The men became confused from the whizzing of the bullets. The stuff was whipping low around us. We were so intent on keeping out of the way of it that we forgot to listen for sound." (White) The Company came under check before gaining the village, immobilized by the fire and by uncertainly as to the enemy location. From the ground then held, "L" was not in position to deliver a counter bullet fire, but replied --- ineffectively, it seemed to the men --- with mortars and bazookas.
A BAR man, Pfc Elwood J. Watts, in endeavoring to work up to high ground ahead of the Company, got into the road and drew direct fire. He went on frd, made a brief recon, then rtd to the Company position and told Lieutenant Ira C. Nelson that he thought he had lacated one source of fire. He then went frd again, and was shot through the knees in crossing the road. Nelson, S/Sgt James R. Van Fossen, and two riflemen went on up to him and got him frd to the high ground. There, they got a line on the enemy fire coming from an emplacement at the RJ just short of Les Moulins. They engaged, and remained there all afternoon, directing what fire they had against the enemy. The fire in the meantime had cut across their rear and they became isolated. Boat team N° 4 tried to advance around one flank toward the enemy position, but the attack wilted under heavy fire. N° 1 tried it around the other flank and was driven back. Late in the afternoon, Nelson got back to the Co line; the others remained frd, covering Watts.
The Company made one last attempts to advance along the road. This time they drew an intense arty shelling from their rear and had to call it off. "Of 10 men with me in the field at the time, 7 were hit. Elsewhere in the company, the casualties were heavy." (White)
This attack engaged them all afternoon and got no place, though the fire may have assisted in the reduction of les Moulins. That night "L" bivouacked on the high ground near les Moulins, believing that the SP there was still holding out. But the road had become clear and vehicles were already toiling up the hill. Apparently, naval shelling just before dark had accomplished the object.