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
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].
Loading for D-Day
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
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
A False Start
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
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.
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.
Crossing the Channel
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
• The Airborne had about 2500 casualties (15%) and the 4th Division had 197
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
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
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
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
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.
Battle of St Lo
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
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,
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.
Jack Potter of 238 ECB
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
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
SERIAL NO. NAME AND GRADE
01101177 Reichmann, Richard
01103235 James, Ernest C. 1st
20318192 Freck, Frank R. S SG
35492027 Hedrick, Paul F. S SG
38339724 Hewton, Thomas G. S SG
deleted Smolkowicz, Joseph J. S SG
34357945 Creel, Joseph E.
34586226 Davis. Marion P. SGT
34525304 Shavers, Lee A. SGT
34587501 Swanner, Frank A. SGT
34596771 Rollins, Jackson W.
Late addition Harrison, Jack (NMI)
11048179 Fiore, Amollo A.
33567309 Gelnett, Lawrence E.
38393065 Atkins, Everett C. TEC5
33628466 Blevins, Herman L. TEC5
38393029 Long, Dwight L. TEC5
33112901 Potter, Jack TEC5 ((Photo)
34524393 Wales, Bennie H. TEC5
34998346 Ward, Edgar T. TEC5
34579466 Brooks, Samuel E. PFC
34502420 Bryant, Johnnie O. PFC
33417839 Kelly, Jesse L. PFC
38393016 Mills, Harold W. PFC
33408231 Mistretta, Joseph J.
34524420 Morgan, Charles C. PFC
deleted Michels, Laurius PFC
34581588 Reid, Amburst H.
33143321 Venture, Joseph M. PFC
38217016 Vielma, Trinidad F. PFC
34595552 Simpson, Haywood L. PFC
Late addition Shephard, Raymond C. PVT
31037196 Bewes, Frank R.
34579603 Brown, James H. PVT
33534787 Calvert, Charlie M. PVT
34578444 Castleberry, Buddie PVT
38417662 Donaldson, William. PVT
33476306 Elliott, Freddie PVT
13068287 Fink, Telford N. PVT
33413811 Griffin, Richard L. PVT
33458584 Jelinski, Edward F. PVT
37530377 Jones, Earnest E. PVT
35803278 Jones, George B. PVT
Late addition Wilson, Nesbit C. PVT
38393727 Maxey, Clark D.
36758189 Piekara, Walter S. PVT
33476335 Plover, Joseph J. PVT
34578663 Self, James J. PVT
35872446 Spencer, Homer V. PVT
34536960 William, Charlie M. PVT
Med. Det. 238th Engr. Combat Bn 45127 LCT 197
Sydney M. CAPT
34525343 Emerson, Rufus B. CPL
34502128 McClure, Romio R. Jr
34502128 Rawls, William K. TEC5
H/S Co. 238th Engr. Combat Bn. 45122
0468491 Knapp, Henry
D. 1LTW21311282 Jackson, Thomas T. WOJG
33408261 Buynak, John TEC5
34595179 Crouse, Carl R. TEC5
34539892 Hicks, Ernest R. TEC5
Late addition Marden, Lewis C. PVT
582nd Engr. Dump Truck Co.
46055 LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot.
35801584 Adams, Edward SGT
34675683 Ballard, Guilford TEC5
34654537 Bamberg, Albert N. PFC
34673678 Lewis, Willie H. PFC
34673647 Lewis, Clifton Jr. PFC
34246252 Strickland, Ralph W.
991st Engr. Treadway Bridge Co.
44454 Station:- Shiphay, Devonshire
32245559 Pesci, Dino V. TEC5
38337555 Howard, Malcolm J. PVT
34192304 Braden, Julian E. TEC5
36054081 Luachtefeld, Leo J. SGT
HQ. 237th Engr. Combat Bn.
LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot
Prepared by 1106th Engr. Combat Group.
32600466 Maggitti, Edward V.
32485217 Carrow, James W. TEC5
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
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be
purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner
checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and
paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions.
There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click
'Books' for more information.
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.