Captain John R. Armellino
1st Infantry Division - 16th Infantry Regiment - L Company
|On June 6, 1944, I was the Commanding Officer of Company “L” of the 16th Regiment, First Infantry Division... Company “L” had fought in the Algerian, French Moroccan, Tunisian, and Sicilian Campaigns, and my men were both seasoned and tired. I didn’t look forward to telling them of our new assignment. I held a meeting in the mess hall and broke the news – they were not a happy bunch. There was a lot of grumbling and many asked, “How long can our luck hold out?” However, being the good and well-trained soldiers that they were, they accepted their mission with the pride and honor of The Big Red One.
We were transferred to Great Britain and trained in England and Scotland for several months prior to the invasion. This training was on terrain similar to that of France...
After the completion of our training, we were loaded onto trucks and transported to Liverpool, a port city in England, where we embarked onto our mother ship. While on board, I was given an assault map, reconnaissance photos, and the final objective of my Company, which was to capture the Village of Colleville-sur-Mer located several miles from the beach. While giving my officers and men this information, I was told that the invasion might be postponed because of the very bad weather conditions in the English Channel. General Eisenhower finally gave the order to proceed. He spoke to our Division over a loudspeaker system. He spoke to the troops about the importance of our mission and its success to the entire world. A vast fleet of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and other ships escorted us across the English Channel. We were also provided with air cover. Naval ships were used for supporting fire to pound Omaha Beach prior to the landing and during the landing.
We were heavily armed with automatic weapons, Bangalore torpedoes, flamethrowers, wire cutters, hand grenades, smoke grenades, gas masks, and TNT. Our clothing was impregnated against a gas attack. Bangalore torpedoes are long pipes loaded with dynamite and fuses and were to be used against the German pillboxes or concrete bunkers. The Germans soldiers fired their automatic weapons through open slits in these bunkers and we would fire our Bangalore torpedoes into these slits, followed by our flamethrowers to burn out the enemy soldiers and neutralize the pillbox. Finally, we carried two life preservers per man, one for the soldier and one to float heavy equipment into the beach.
Upon our arrival at our destination off the coast of France, we were given orders to disembark from the mother ship onto the landing craft. My men went over the side onto rope ladders hanging from the ship. The soldiers, fully equipped, climbed down these ladders into the landing craft, which were rolling and turning in the rough waters of the English Channel. We started towards Omaha Beach. One of my landing craft was swamped by the violent seas and sank. To this day, I don’t know how many of those men were lost. Since we were the first combat wave, there was complete silence on the way to the beach. You could hear a pin drop. We didn’t know what to expect when we landed. We soon found out.
Our Intelligence had not informed us that there was a German Panzer Division training on the high ground above the landing area, occupying the pillboxes and the defensive positions. In addition, our air support, which was to bomb the landing beach to form craters on the 200 yards of open beach for us to use as cover, had missed the beach completely, leaving the advancing troops without any cover at all.
About a quarter-mile from the beach, all hell broke loose. The landing craft came under an intense attack, including mortar and artillery fire. One of my landing craft took a direct hit from enemy fire as it was unloading onto the beach. Half the men on this craft had already left the boat when it was hit. Some of these men crossed the beach. The remainder were either killed or wounded. As we landed, enemy fire peppered the ramps as they were lowered to allow my men to disembark and cross the 200 yards of open beach. The German pillboxes and machine-gun nests were laying a vicious crossfire on the beach. Many men were cut down as they left the landing craft. Small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire were all concentrated on the landing area, but we suffered our greatest casualties just after touching down because of the crossfire of the German automatic weapons.
Few of the landing craft were able to make a dry landing. Most of them grounded on sand bars 50 to 100 yards off the beach. The water was neck deep. Some men climbed over the sides of the landing craft trying to avoid enemy fire. We lost some of these men because in the excitement they failed to open their garrison belts and the weight of their equipment took them under water. Some of these men drowned while others shed the equipment and swam to shore. The water was loaded with obstacles to which mines were attached. Those who reached shore started running across the beach through heavy machine-gun crossfire, mortars, and artillery fire. We headed towards a bluff to give us cover. I lost many of those young soldiers who joined my company right before the invasion in England. They had no fear and failed to hit the ground after every few yards running directly for cover. The more seasoned men hit the ground very often as a result avoided being hit by enemy fire. After reaching the cover of the bluff, I began to reorganize my Company. I had approximately 125 men left of the 200 I started with. I directed my Lieutenants to organize their sections for the start of the attack to knock out the pillboxes and to advance to and capture our objective — Colleville-sur-Mer.
I directed one of my Officers, Lieutenant Monteith, to move his section up a draw to take out a pillbox that was laying heavy automatic fire on the beach. The other sections were ordered to move up on his flanks towards the Village of Colleville-sur-Mer. Lieutenant Monteith accomplished his mission, knocking out the pillbox, and taking several German prisoners. In the process of doing so, Lieutenant Monteith was killed by German automatic fire coming from this bunker. He had exposed himself to enemy fire time and time again while repeatedly standing up to lead his section. I recommended Lieutenant Monteith for the Congressional Medal of Honor, which he received posthumously for his brave deeds.
As my combat sections were moving forward, I went over to one of our tanks to direct supporting fire. I had already called Regiment Headquarters for additional naval fire on the German positions, which was badly needed. As I was directing the tank commander where to fire, I was hit and knocked down by enemy fire. My right leg was gushing blood. A piece of shrapnel from an anti-tank grenade had severed the main artery. An anti-tank grenade is designed to pierce a tank and explode inside, killing its crew. In this case, it exploded prematurely and a piece of shrapnel hit me.
A medic came to my assistance quickly. He applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, treated the wound with penicillin, and wrapped it with bandage. He then told me to remain on the beach and I would be evacuated after dark. I stayed on the beach the entire day under cover of the bluff and witnessed the successive waves of our troops cut down by the savage crossfire laid down by the Germans. By dusk, the beach was covered with dead and wounded soldiers. You could hardly walk the beach without stepping on the body of a dead or wounded soldier... While I was waiting to be evacuated, I sent some men to the low water mark to carry the wounded or dead off the beach towards the bluff so that they would not be carried out to sea with the tide change. It was the last order I ever gave.
I cannot adequately express the pride I feel for the actions of my men on that terrible day.
(Submitted by his son: John N. Armellino)