~ D DAY ON HMLCT 2304 ~
UK & USA FORCES TOGETHER
Two accounts of HMLCT 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day are presented here... one from the perspective of crew member, Midshipman John Mewha and the other from the perspective of a passenger, US Army Lieutenant Ernest C James of Company A of 238 Engineer Combat Battalion.
John Mewha (photo) of His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank 2304 (HMLCT 2304) often wondered what became of the men of 238 Engineering Combat Battalion (ECB) he delivered to Utah beach on the morning of D-Day, June 6 1944. Sixty one years later through the good offices of Tony Chapman, John Mewha was reunited with former Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A of 238 Engineer Combat Battalion. Under their commanding officer, Captain Richard Reichmann, the men were shipped to Utah beach by HMLCT 2304.
The planned order of beaching on Utah assigned seven British Mk5 LCTs to the U.S. Army’s 238 ECB. The craft involved were 2056 and 2057 with the men of Company A, 2477 and 2304 with the men of Company B and 2011, 2074 and 2302 with the men of Company C. We now know that LCT 2331 was a late addition.
The details here relate to LCT 2304 of the Royal Navy’s 107th Flotilla of ‘O’ LCT Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Commander Skrine. Midshipman First Lieutenant John Mewha was just over 19 years old on D-Day - the same age as his counterpart Midshipman George Boulton serving with LCT 2331... young indeed to be shouldering such responsibility. This is John Mewha's story. [RIP 17.2.08 - Port after Stormy Seas.]
After our arrival in Brixham our fairly restful time was broken only by a trip to Dartmouth where 2304 was checked out. According to my records she was built in the USA by the Omaha Steel Works (Sic). She was shipped across the Atlantic in three sections on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) and assembled on arrival in the UK. Her class was the smallest tank landing craft in use at the time with a capacity to carry a maximum of five tanks. The craft benefitted from additional armoured plates and was re-designated as the Mark 5 LCT (A)... 'A' denoting armoured.
On or about the 31st May we left Brixham and sailed across Torbay to the harbour at Torquay. We had orders to take 70 American Combat Engineers and their vehicles on board, together with a medical team and their Jeep. I have a copy of the boarding orders showing that the detachment departed from Stover at 0135hours and expected to arrive in Torquay at 0245hours. Loading commenced at 0300hours and I was responsible for the safe stowing of vehicles and men on the craft. This was the occasion I first met Ernest James.
The boarding documents show that Lieutenant James was C/L CO for this operation. The secret embarkation personnel rosta, which lists everyone we carried from Company A, also shows the medical detachment – H/S Company – Engineer DUMP TRUCK company – 991st Engineer Treadway Bridge Company and two members of 237th Headquarters Battalion. The loading was successful and we returned to the harbour at Brixham where we anchored.
On June 3rd we left Brixham with other vessels and sailed to the south of Start Point where we waited for the convoy from Plymouth, Salcombe and Dartmouth. This convoy was given the name 'Force U' and was to land on the eastern side of the Cherbourg Peninsula in an area code named UTAH.
The convoy made its way to the south of the Isle of Wight which we reached some time late on 04 June. We started the journey across the English Channel to Normandy but, during the night, we turned round because of the appalling weather and were escorted by cruisers to Weymouth Bay. This part of the voyage was completed without either lights or radio and no anchorage was available so we circled for several hours in very rough sea conditions. This period was probably the most dangerous – there were many collisions and explosions.
Later on 05 June we regained our position in the convoy and once more headed for Normandy. During the night I came off the bridge and saw an Officer sitting in our crew’s mess deck writing a diary of events. Was that Lieutenant James by any chance? I can recall having a drink with him and Captain Reichmann in our little wardroom.
We all had great admiration for the fortitude of our passengers. They had been on board several days and nights with hardly any protection from the elements and totally inadequate sanitary facilities. It was no easier for my crew who worked hard under similar conditions and were very supportive. When dawn broke we could not believe our eyes; the whole sea was covered in ships of all shapes and sizes... a sight never forgotten. (Click on map to enlarge).
On approaching the holding area off UTAH we proceeded directly to the beach with three other British manned landing craft. To reach the swept channel we sailed under the guns of several battleships which opened fire as we passed by. The noise was deafening. There was a lot of activity now as landing craft with batteries of rockets fired their lethal cargos toward the shore and the many destroyers and cruisers fired salvos after salvo in the same direction. [Photo opposite; US LCT(A)-2008 was the same type of landing craft as the 2304.]
When the photo was taken she was loaded with reinforcements moving toward the beach at Normandy on 7 June 1944. Note the missing bow ramp. She lost it on the beach the day before. In the centre of the photo is a British LCR and various supply ships in the background. US Army Signal Corps photo provided courtesy of Navsource. For more information on 2008 click here.
We followed a marked channel and eventually reached the beach area where we discovered that the initial landing was some one thousand yards away from the planned site. We spent some time searching for a way into the beach avoiding the stakes embedded in the sands... but without much success. Under increasing pressure and less than favourable circumstances, Lieutenant Rankin made a decision... we dropped our kedge anchor and went in. We sustained some damage to the craft and we also hit a sandbank. As a result the landing ramp was unable to reach the beach resulting in a drop of several feet into water for the disembarking men and machines.
On landing or beaching it was my duty to look after the door and the disembarkation of our cargo. As the door was lowered it became clear that the craft’s bow was not square to the beach due to the rough sea conditions, unpredictable currents and wind. To rectify this I, and one of my crew, secured ropes to the forward bollards, took them on to the sandbank and tried to hold the craft’s head steady. I have no idea if our efforts did any good but all the while the noise of shelling around us was deafening. The landing craft next to us was badly damaged.
I have no clear memory of the order of disembarkation... vehicles or men. Lieutenant James reminded me that to assist the vehicles onto the beach a bulldozer gained the shore and winched all the vehicles on to the beach. The men were understandably reluctant to jump into several feet of water and Captain Reichmann used all his influence to 'persuade' them to go ashore. We were keen to return to the holding area and to unload more vehicles and men from the larger Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) and merchant ships positioned some distance off the landing beach. We left the beach knowing that we had sustained some damage but fortunately none to our engine room.
We sailed to a marked channel where a US Navy Landing Craft Infantry (Large) [LCI(L)], immediately in front of us, disintegrated as a result of a shell or mine. We reached the holding area safely and reported our damage. We were holed in several places by the underwater obstacles and were advised that our 'craft was expendable.' We were to await further orders concerning our evacuation before our craft was sunk. We had become rather attached to our landing craft since it had been our home for at least nine months and against orders we moved to an anchorage some distance from the holding area.
We were very tired as none of us had slept for at least three or four days. Despite this, at dusk we slipped away from the anchorage and made our way to Southampton on our own. This was an adventurous night for us since we knew that German E-boats were patrolling the area looking for the likes of us. However, our luck held and we arrived safely in Southampton where the damage was assessed. We were made to feel very welcome especially by the dock workers. After repairs were completed we returned to Utah beach with another load of equipment and men and then we proceeded to the British Gold beach where we unloaded larger merchant ships into and around the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche.
As a matter of interest, when attending the 40th anniversary at Arromanche with my older son, and when the ceremonies were all over, we were standing on the promenade as dusk fell. My son noticed a man standing on his own a few yards away. He approached him and a short time later he called me over. It transpired that the gentleman had been a Free French pilot and leader of a group that laid the smoke on the beach as we were approaching. It was the first time that he had attended one of these ceremonies and he had brought with him copies of his flight plans etc. He told us that we were the only people who had spoken to him during the day.
I am delighted to have been reunited with Ernest James after all this time and this is largely due to the efforts of Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association of which I am a member.
In more recent times I have had the opportunity to confirm that I loaded the 238th Company from a ramp in the inner harbour of Torquay. Local people were most surprised believing that the loading had been confined to American built 'hards.' No one in the town had known that we used the inner harbour and no doubt a plaque commemorating this is now in place. If not, it should be! (John Mewha talking to Her Majesty the Queen on 1st Aug 2004. Photo courtesy of the Daily Echo, Bournemouth.)
These are the recollections of US Army Lieutenant Ernest C James of Company A of 238 Engineer Combat Battalion. On June 5th-6th 1944 he was aboard the Mk5 HMLCT 2304 of the 107th Flotilla of O LCT Squadron making her way to Utah beach in support of the US 4th Infantry Division. His writings here are reproduced with his permission.
We started loading our vehicles in late May and early June. All trucks carried twice their normal load, about seven and a half tons, including several tons of explosives on each truck. All available space was filled with extra equipment which we were instructed to dump on the beach on landing, thus getting replacement materials to the beachhead. On arriving at Torquay our trucks and invasion equipment were loaded on LCTs and then we waited. Sleeping space was found in the open boats usually under the canvas tarp covering of our trucks. The LCT was moored for four days in the harbour, waiting, while troops ate K rations (cold food) and wondered when we would leave.
Our portion of the invasion fleet departed Torquay and was scheduled to hit the beaches on the morning of June 5. As it left two boats collided and burned in the water making a perfect beacon for German planes. By this time the Allies had air superiority so there were no attacks. The weather on June 4 was foul so our boats pulled into Weymouth harbour that evening... D-Day was delayed a day. By this time most men were deathly seasick and many ships and troops were left behind due to mechanical trouble.
At dawn our invasion fleet left the harbour and soon after our LCT sprang a leak. The British Captain told us that he couldn't get the bilge pumps started. Lt. Knapp, our motor officer, pulled out our water supply units to pump the bilge but we calculated that we would probably sink on the morning of the sixth. We succeeded in keeping the LCT afloat until dawn on June 6th when it appeared that we may not remain afloat. Thoroughly soaked our 'gas proof' clothes made us even more uncomfortable. The LCT Captain, sensing our dilemma, invited Reichmann, Knapp and I into his cabin to share a small draught of his precious rum.
We couldn't help feeling a thrill as a destroyer pulled alongside and the Captain yelled to us that June 6th was D-Day and 0630 was H-Hour. From that time we had a single sense of purpose as the landing craft headed for France and the beaches of Normandy. Knowing it was a matter of hours before we would enter combat for the first time this last night was spent anxiously awaiting our uncertain future. Only the more hardened souls and those worn out by prolonged bouts of sea-sickness managed to sleep.
Just after midnight on the 6th the drone of hundreds of planes was heard above the noise of the LCT's engines. Crawling from under our protective tarps into the biting wind we saw the signs of war on the horizon. The sky to the east was lit up and the shadows of planes carrying paratroopers floated ominously overhead. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were pounding the coast and bombers were giving inland installations a pre-landing drubbing. Long lines of flares dropped though the overhanging clouds and the sky appeared like a gigantic illuminated Niagara Falls. Needless to say there was no more sleep that night. No matter, it was a spectacular, but deadly show!
When dawn broke an unbelievable scene of thousands of boats circling and heading in to the beach created a panorama never before seen. Infantry climbed down nets from troop carriers into small boats, and groups of these boats were circling while waiting orders to peel off and hit the beach. A nearby destroyer hit a mine and sank and we saw other boats rescuing sailors tossed into the sea. Orders to move in towards the beach came from loud speakers on private British yachts which had been converted for this purpose. Because we were in danger of sinking we were given permission to proceed to the beach without delay. Our LCT headed for a line of buoys leading to shore and landed at about 0700 - an hour and a half before our scheduled time. Thus we were the first of the 238th to land in Normandy.
While making our run into Utah Beach, the battleship Texas fired salvo after salvo over our heads. 16 inch projectiles could be seen flying through the air and hitting their targets in a resounding blast. Our LCT had only a few inches of freeboard and while approaching the beach at high speed our bow high and stern low, we hit bottom many yards out. German 88mm shells hit the landing area around us creating geysers in the rough seas. It was a baptism of fire. We should have been able to drive our equipment and trucks directly off the boat onto the beach but we were floundering in several feet of water.
Reichmann and I jumped in, inflated our Mae Wests, and swam to the shore with several others. Seeing many couldn't swim, we both removed our outer clothes, swam back to the LCT and helped those who were stranded to reach the shore. I received a Bronze Star for this action, but due to an unfortunate circumstance, described later, Reichmann did not receive any recognition.
A young bulldozer operator volunteered to drive his dozer off the LCT ramp into several feet of water and on to the beach. There he was a head, an exhaust pipe and an air intake moving through water as 88mm shell blasted around him. When the dozer was on the beach he winched the truck off the boat and on to the shore loaded with troops left on the boat. This way we got all seven vehicles on to the beach without losing one. To our knowledge the LCT never made it back to England.
The shoreline consisted of a long, shallow beach with sand dunes above the water line. Behind this was a road, and then a few miles of swamp lands criss-crossed with canals. There were several causeways leading from the beach to the hedgerow fields and farms beyond. The swamp was flooded as tide gates had been opened by the Germans to obstruct the Allied advance into the hinterland.
While in the process of landing and breaking through the sea wall, we were under fire from nearby artillery and pill boxes on the beach. Engineers with satchel charges and flame throwers quickly decommissioned the emplacement. [In 1979 I took photos of those pillboxes while on a trip following my wartime routes.
Shortly after landing I had the first of many lucky escapes. I was standing beside a truck loaded with tons of explosives when a 88mm shell exploded a few yards away. Plover, the truck driver, was knocked out and later evacuated. The next shell hit the truck but it was a dud... it had hit a primed satchel charge but the nitro-starch had not exploded. The truck tyres were blown and the body peppered with shrapnel. There was not enough brown paper in our K-rations to clean us!
By about 1030 most of the battalion had landed on Utah Beach and were on their way to our immediate objective an assembly area. While walking along the road parallel to the beach we soon came under a barrage of 88's. Reichmann and I ordered our men into the ditches and we crawled through an intersection. We saw a group of infantry men standing up, wondering what to do. I yelled for them to take cover but too late - an 88 hit in their midst. Seven men died because they didn't know how to protect themselves. We learned from our training! Shortly after arriving at the assembly area we saw 4th Division Infantry men advance across the swamps chasing after retreating Germans. We had received our baptism of fire on land!
Other than amphibious tanks our trucks were among the first vehicles to land in France. We were attached to the 4th Division and our first mission was to open several roads from the beach to the high ground about a mile away. Most of this area was covered by swamps and creeks with many causeways under water and all bridges blown up by the enemy.
Fortunately for us the Germans garrisons in the area were less experienced because their Command did not expect a landing adjacent to flooded marshy ground. On the other hand our intelligence, good as it often was, failed to recognize the ease with which the Germans could flood the area. Tide gates were normally closed at high tide and opened at low tide to drain the swamps. Reversing this process the Germans easily flooded the area. Hundreds of casualties resulted from this snafu (error) in intelligence.
Mongol soldiers captured on the Russian front were placed in these positions by the Germans. Enemy artillery, and to a lesser extent their air force, gave the beaches a terrific pounding, especially a day or two after the landing. By this time we were miles inland. Our air and navy bombardments pounded their positions so hard that many German troops withdrew, leaving the beachhead to us. One Nazi strong point on the coast towards Cherbourg held out and kept shelling us for several days.
By 1435 hours on D-Day, Company B had opened road U-5 to the high ground. Tanks and artillery poured through this road and long before Utah Beach was secured. This road required a 30' steel tread-way bridge which was under artillery and small arms fire. It was the first bridge built in France on D-Day. When Company B men completed the bridge the first tank was hit by a 88mm shell as it reached the middle but the momentum carried it over to the other side. Our tanks blasted the German tank which fired the shell and the bridge stayed intact.
T/5 Alton Aldman Ray of Company C received the Croix de Guerre for his heroic action in evacuating wounded infantrymen. The entire Battalion had no casualties that day due in part to the excellence of our training in the past year. During the entire day of June 6 the Battalion was engaged in clearing assembly areas of mines, repairing roads, clearing the beach access, building bridges and draining the swamps in order to use the causeways.
Late that afternoon as we worked on access roads we heard the distant drone of aircraft. Looking seaward we saw a huge armada of fighter planes leading C-47s which passed above us as they dropped gliders and paratroopers over our heads. We could see enemy tracers passing through both and the gliders crashing as they landed. These were the much needed reinforcements for the first air drops. Many of the planes and gliders blew up in the air... it was a carnage but the reinforcements saved the day.
That night we moved into a bivouac area at Hebert but most of us worked on. By daylight, and by using any materials which were at hand, Company A had opened a return causeway which had been entirely under water. Company B had secured the outgoing causeway and these were the only beach accesses for days and were vital to the Allies. The going was rough in these early hours for engineers, paratroops, infantry and the light tanks which had landed. There was, as yet, little in the way of artillery or support troops.
My brother-in law, Ralph Fell, had been a Sergeant in WWI in France. He wrote several letters which hit at the heart of what we were experiencing. One such was written to my sister Edith on D-Day. He suspected that I was on the landing.
JUNE 6, 1944. Lincoln Nebraska. EDITH: Today is the day. I think everybody should say a prayer for the success of our army. I think they have the same feeling I had in 1918 when we landed in France. Chateau Thierry had just been fought and the Germans had made their last bid for Paris. We knew the tide had turned, and what we were in for.----RALPH
Army records of the day's events showed that;
• Sunrise on June 6, 1944 was at 0558 and H-Hour was at 0630
• The 238th Combat Engineers landed from 0700 to 1100 on D-Day. Most landed in the first hour.
• The total force of the landing was about 24000 men, of which 16000 were American and 8000 were British.
• 1000 aircraft took part, landing the 81st and 101st Airborne behind Omaha and Utah beaches and the British 6th Airborne around Caen near the Orme River. The Americans were scattered, but each small group organized when they met, and created confusion and fear in the German troops.
• By nightfall, the 4th Division and Airborne were 6 miles inland from Utah Beach.
• The Airborne had about 2500 casualties (15%) and the 4th Division had 197 casualties.
Two LCT's with 238th personnel had engine trouble and returned to port on June 5. On one was the Battalion CO, Col. McMillian, so Major Martin Massoglia assumed command of the Battalion on D-Day. Other than these two LCT's one sunk in Southampton harbour before it could be unloaded.
There were no casualties on D-Day. However, weeks later Lt. Chalfaunt claimed a Purple Heart for a piece of shrapnel which hit him while he was watching a dog fight on the beach! We had been in the midst of the full action all day and night. Our training paid off! For a few days we bivouacked at Hebert. Records are incomplete of other bivouacs until 06-12-1944. Mostly we slept where we were working.
We worked without let-up during the first few days just trying to keep alive and to get our jobs done. Very rapidly we became seasoned combat troops for our training had prepared us for this baptism. Shortly after noon on D+1, we opened a water point near St. Marie du Mont... the first on Utah beach head and in France. Throughout the day and night of June 7 we continued to rehabilitate cratered roads U-5 and T-7 and opened road S-9 from the beach across the swamp to the high ground. S-9 was also under water for about a mile and required rubble and road expedients all the way. Continual intermittent artillery fire came in all day as we worked on the roads. Several enemy air raids occurred every night during the first week making sleep difficult.
The remains of crashed gliders were everywhere. How anyone survived it all was amazing. One glider hit a tree and a jeep secured in the rear shot forward killing all inside. It was not a good sight to see. Many injured or dead paratroopers were pulled out of the swamp and out of trees by my men. Abandoned parachutes lay like gigantic white flowers about the countryside. I saved one and later a sister made me several shirts from the nylon cloth.
While working on a bypass around a large crater made by a 16" shell from the battleship Texas, several paratroopers came by with four German prisoners. They had been captured while shooting American paratroopers hanging by their shrouds in the trees. They asked us to take the prisoners in order to get back to the fighting but we pointed them in the direction of a prisoner compound on the beachhead about a mile away. They took them around the corner and we shortly heard a tommy gun. The paratroopers returned and told us that the prisoners tried to escape. Their vivid memories of buddies hanging in trees, riddled with bullets from German burp guns, had affected them. The prisoner's bodies were riddled from head to toe.
At night everyone kept as quiet as possible. If a noise was heard the soldier on guard duty immediately fired. Experience taught us that it would likely be a German soldier creeping up on our positions. However, if the noise was a cricket, it was friendly. Each man had been issued with a child's toy which, when pressed with the thumb, made a noise like a cricket. If the response was not a cricket the intruder was a dead man. In addition nightly passwords had to be countersigned or the man was shot. A chaplain with the 1106th group felt his duty was with the combat troops and paratroopers. He was a wonderful person... a Hell and Brimstone chaplain from the Pentecostal church. Going out one night to relieve himself he heard the cricket and password. Sadly he had forgotten his cricket and response and died at the hands of a paratrooper. He was a great loss for he was a boon to morale.
On the night of June 9, Sergeant Columbus Weeks of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Company A, was killed by enemy machine gun fire while making a reconnaissance for a bridge over the Douve River just north of Carentan. Two other A Company men were wounded at the same time, and Pvt. Brown, an A Company aid man, evacuated them from under the enemy guns. For this Brown earned the Silver Star. Sgt Henry V. Cash, Company A, of Montebello, Tenn. later died of wounds received..
All troops were well protected against gas attacks. We wore clothes impregnated with a chemical which was said to protect us from gas. These comprised woollen shirts and trousers, heavy socks, impregnated shoes, long john underwear, gas masks and a gas salve. We were thoroughly soaked on landing and hadn't had our clothes off in days. Several times at night, in the distance, you could hear the yell Gas! The yell reverberated from thousands of mouths throughout the beachhead area. The ranking officer or non-com was responsible for declaring All Clear! With gas on our minds even innocuous smells had us thinking of Phosgene gas. What we were smelling, and us old farm hands knew it, was cut hay. We soon became aware that there was no gas danger and our gas proof clothes were replaced with more comfortable attire.
During the afternoon and night of June 12 we built a 480 foot steel Treadway bridge across the Douve River about 2 miles northeast of Carentan. It was a very difficult task due to the swift current, tidal flows and a rise and fall of 12 feet between the tides. Company C and B constructed the bridge and Company A constructed the approach roads across more than a mile of low land. There was great danger of an enemy counter attack and B Company provided far shore security. This was the first major bridge constructed in France by our forces in World War II. At the time we were in support of the 101st Airborne Division and General Collins noted that Perhaps the most spectacular achievements of the Corps of Engineers came in the many river crossings, commencing with the first such operations in Europe by our forces, the crossing of the Douve River near Carentan and Etienville.
During the afternoon, Lt Chalfont and his Reconnaissance Section made contact with the V Corps at Isigny while on road reconnaissance, the earliest contact made between Utah and Omaha beach heads. During the night, enemy aircraft dropped bombs on the road in front of the Battalion bivouac areas, injuring one of the A Company men, and destroying a passing ammunition truck.
The 1st Army established Headquarters at Pointe du Hoc on June 10. Omar Bradley was in his headquarters the next day.
Five days after the invasion, Lt. Reichmann and I were walking along a hedge row near Carentan with some of our troops. We kept close to the hedge row for protection since its base was covered with trees and thick brush making good cover in case of shelling. Artillery was still a constant threat at this time and while we passed an opening in the hedge row an 88 landed just five feet from us. This was another of my miraculous escapes... it was a dud!
Later we worked on a road near Carentan where we on the receiving end of sporadic artillery and small skirmishes. In a field next to us, apparently oblivious of danger, was an old lady about 70 years of age, stacking hay with a pitchfork. As I aimed my camera she motioned me to stop, dropped her fork and ran to the house. She shortly reappeared wearing a colorful feathered hat, her pride and joy. She continued working in the midst of what was a battle ground!
While attached to the 101st Airborne we laid anti-tank mines and put up a double apron barbed wire fence in the front of the entire division front lines southwest of Carentan. Nearby there was a large explosion which turned out to be a truck load of mines. The feeling was that a Company B truck hit a mine or someone dropped an armed mine. There were a number of fatalities - Lt Stuart S. Wise of Youngstown, Ohio, Cpl Richard R. Miller of Beltsville, Md, T/5 Freddie L. Camano of Boco Grande, FL, T/5 Luther C. Willis of Crystal River, FL, PFC. James C. Hardy of Ruffin, N.C., PFC. Victor H. Dunnam of Leaf, Miss, Pvt. Ezequiel Cias of Juarez Chi, Mexico, Pvt Julius E. Webb of Kerrville, TN and PFC. Sam Weiss of Chicago, IL. Several others were wounded. This proved to be our greatest tragedy of the war. My platoon was laying mines about 300 yards away when it happened. We were knocked over by the concussion but continued laying mines.
Earlier Lt. Reichmann, Company A Commander, received orders to lay mines in the sector north in the 101st Airborne front. He went to the front lines under continuous shell and small arms fire. A Colonel from the 101st told him he couldn't go out as it was held by the enemy and he wouldn't provide protection. Despite Reichmann's protestations the Colonel ordered him out. This account of events was later denied by the Colonel. The 101st Airborne Division CO., Maxwell Taylor was furious as a major counter attack was expected that night and he ordered Reichmann to lay the mines. Reichmann later told me that had they attempted to lay the mines at the earlier time they would have been killed working between the front lines without protection.
The 101st provided protection after General Taylor's order and the mine field was laid. Major McMillan was relieved of command partly as a result of this and partly because he had lost control of himself during a combat encounter. This episode also lost Reichmann the award of a Bronze Star (mentioned earlier in this text) for saving many men from our sunken LCT on D Day. Reichmann was one of our finest Company C.Os, with deep concern for his men, a good military mind and an excellent citizen soldier. Years later, Lt. Rule, the S-1, told me that the Battalion CO had instructed him to rescind Reichmann's Bronze Star because Reichmann's involvement in this minefield incident tainted the case for his award. Reichmann was correct in not proceeding with the laying of mines because he was ordered by a Colonel from the Airborne to delay it. Lt Wong was at the scene and substantiated Reichmann's side of the incident. Reichmann and I were equally involved in the saving of the men and he was the one who initiated the action. Reichmann deserved the award.
During the next two weeks we cleared mines, made road repairs and posted roads on the Contentin Peninsula in the vicinity of St Saveur le Vicomte, Barneville, Le Pieux, Briquebec and Cherbourg. We also built several timber trestle bridges in this area. During this period we supported the 82nd Airborne Division and the 90th and 79th Infantry Divisions. A major storm destroyed a portion of the Mulberry Harbour at Utah and Omaha Beach severely hampering the supply effort.
During the next few weeks we built bridges, cleared mines, repaired roads and fought small skirmishes as infantry. It was a little more than a stalemate for we did advance, captured Carentan and other cities and moved up to the area near St. Lo. Although the local French civilians had been through Hell they greeted us with enthusiasm. People everywhere were out waving at us. In many places whole families stood out in the road offering us cognac, calvados or wine. We had a whole jeep load of flowers which people threw at us. They were happy people. If there were any Germans around they would turn them over to our troops.
During the month of June, the people of the Contentin Peninsula had endured many hardships. They had been occupied by a defensive German Army, subjected to severe aerial bombardment, an aerial infantry assault and an invasion of their coast. Their farms were ruined, livestock killed and many had not lived through the siege. They still welcomed us as liberators. We tried to return that feeling.
Probably one of the most important battles fought since the invasion was the battle for St. Lo in the first half of July. During this time the 238th was primarily occupied in the area south of Carentan to Tribehou, building and repairing roads and bridges. We had been heavily engaged for over a month, without rest, and the operations in the battle for capture of St. Lo was primarily the responsibility of the First Army's XIX corps, which included the 29th, 30th, 35th and 2nd Divisions and the 3rd Armoured Division.
An entire book has been written on this phase of the War in Europe as part of the "American Forces in Action" Series entitled "ST-LO". In order to place the importance of the St-Lo breakthrough in perspective the introduction of this book is quoted in part:
St-Lo, capital of the department of Manche, can be used as one symbol for the First U.S. Army's victory in a most difficult and bloody phase of the Campaign of Normandy - the 'Battle of the Hedgerows' during the first three weeks of July, 1944. Other names figure in this battle - La Haye-du-Puits, Periers, Hill 192. They will be remembered by First Army soldiers as a stubborn struggle for gains too often measured in terms of a few hundred yards, or of two or three fields, conquered against a bitterly resisting enemy.
Much more was at stake in the Battle of the Hedgerows than possession of a communications center on the Vire River. In June, First Army and British Second Army had won their beach-heads and had captured Cherbourg (26 June). Supplies and reinforcements were building up for a powerful offensive, designed to break out of the Normandy pocket scheduled to be mounted in the First Army zone. But more room and better jump-off positions for the crucial offensive were needed before this blow could be delivered. The attack that began in early July was planned to gain this ground, on a front of 25 miles.
Four Corps, employing 12 divisions, were involved in the effort. All these units faced similar problems of advance, and all contributed to the measure of success achieved. There, in the larger tactical sense, it would be unfair to identify the Battle of the Hedgerows with St-Lo and later military studies, treating the Campaign of Normandy in different scope, will give the operation in truer proportions. Here, one phase of the hedgerow battle can be used to illustrate, in tactical detail, the character of the larger action.
The advance which reached St-Lo is the story of the XIX Corps, aided by the action of the 2nd Division of V Corps on its left flank.
Cpl. Donnell C. Gravette of Rutherford, Tn was killed on July 10, when his vehicle hit a mine. Years later his family was contacted by Ernest James and told of the details of his death. A friend of James's was in Rutherford and saw a road named after Donnell Gravette which lead to the contact.
Most of July was spent in building bridges and roads in preparation for the taking of St. Lo. Major Massoglia was in command of the Battalion while, on July 17, St. Jean De Daye was replaced by a West Point graduate, Major Jay Dawley. Dawley decided that our military demeanor was in need of improvement and despite being only a mile or so from the front lines, well within artillery range, he called for full parade, close order, to introduce himself. Needless to say this didn't go down well with the gun shy, combat wise, 238th. We did, however, take the opportunity to have squad and platoon photos taken.
During the next two weeks we cleared mines, built roads near St Jean de Daye and reconstructed Routes C and D in preparation for the St. Lo breakthrough. While the VII Corps, which included the 238th Engineer Combat Battalion, was preparing for the jump off at St-Lo, the XIX Corps was battling for the capture of that key military objective. They suffered 11,000 killed, wounded and missing to gain a mere three to seven miles of front. Nevertheless, the ground gained attained more favorable country for the opening blow of the planned breakthrough. Without this the movement through France would have been delayed for months.
Tony Chapman has been contacted by another veteran who was aboard the LCT 2304 as she approached Utah beach - former US Army/Technician 5 Jack Potter on the day part of Company A of 238 ECB. Jack's family lived in Penzance in Cornwall prior to emigrating to America in 1923.
Jack Potter recalls that he and his friend Corporal Amollo A. Fiore were trying to rest on some rags that had been bundled up in the forward locker in the bow section of the 2304. Then came a great explosion of noise... the bombarding battleships assigned to Utah had opened up with their 16 inch guns. Wake up Fiore, it’s like the fourth of July out here said Potter Nah.. replied Fiore, I’ll see it in the morning.
When the time came for Potter to disembark from 2304 he remembers Captain Reichmann saying Come on boys, it’s not deep. Thereafter Potter found himself in some seven feet of water as did others. Some of the men were Mexicans and short in stature so they struggled to make the shore… those who could hitched a ride on passing tanks making for the beach. On attaining the beach Potter met up with Reichmann and asked permission to help bring the little guys in as they struggled to get ashore. Get the hell out of here barked Reichmann. Potter got the hell out of there!
One man who has remained in Potter’s memory is someone by the name of Jack. He was a big man but could not swim. The weight of the pack and ammunition he was carrying kept turning him over face down in the water and unable to breathe. Potter grabbed him and assisted him ashore. Potter can’t help thinking about how scared Jack must have been.
Note: LCT 197 (see below) was the army serial, or loading number, for HMLCT 2304. It was this number rather than the craft number that those going aboard looked for at the point of embarkation.
U.S. ARMY EMBARKATION PERSONNEL ROSTER
Co.A 238 Engr.Combat Bn. 45106 Station. Torquay
USLCT(A)2008 is the same class and type as LCT 2304. On arrival in England 2008 was assigned to the Royal Navy under Lease-Lend. On November 21st 1943 she was at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England where 19 year old leading motor mechanic Thomas Harding C/KX 143840 fell overboard and was tragically drowned. He rests in Kings Lynn cemetery close by. Prior to the invasion of Normandy 2008 was transferred back to the US Navy under Lease-Lend in reverse. On June 6th 1944 she was under the command of Ensign Ray Cluster USN as part of the Commander Gunfire Support Group. She was assigned to the western flank of Fox Green sector of Omaha beach with tanks of Company C of the US Army's 741st Tank Battalion and was due to land at H hour. The photo was taken on June 7th 1944 minus her bow ramp lost on the Normandy beaches the day before. A new ramp was fitted after delivering the troops seen in the photo. She remained in service until the 'Great Storm' of June 19th-22nd 1944 when she sustained severe damage and was stranded on the beaches.
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These two accounts of HMLCT 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day were compiled by Tony Chapman, Archivist/Historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association from the combined recollections of Midshipman John Mewha of the MK5 HMLCT 2304 and First Lieutenant Ernest C James of Company A 238 Engineer Combat Battalion. In both cases the texts were edited for presentation on the Combined Operations website by Geoff Slee.