LCI(L) 502 ON D-DAY
USS LCI(L) 502 carried 196 Officers an men of the Durham Light Infantry to
Gold Beach on the wild and windy morning of June 6th 1944. This account is based
on the writings and recollections of John P Cummer and information from the
craft's Deck Log.
D-Day Draws Near
On Saturday the 3rd of June 1944 our ship, the United States Ship Landing
Craft Infantry (Large) 502 or USS LCI(L) 502 for short,
moved to Royal Pier, Southampton, England, and embarked 196 officers and men of
the Durham Light Infantry, 151st Brigade, 50th
Northumbrian Division, British 8th Army. They were carrying freshly
printed French currency, a positive sign that this trip was for real.
As they clambered aboard, carrying folded bicycles and with
various bits of equipment hanging about them, they looked more like
peddlers than soldiers. They were, however, first class troops and were to prove
themselves so in the fighting that lay ahead.
Crowded to the limit, we moved back to our normal berthing
place at New Docks along with the other LCIs of Group 31. On Sunday, June 4th,
the crew turned to for final preparations for the coming operation. A church
party went ashore and returned, and the crowded troops were permitted ashore for
some much needed exercise. The usual general quarters were sounded for an air raid alert
at 2030 and we stood to our guns for some twenty minutes before securing. [Photo; the author John P Cummer]
Our group did not participate in the abortive foray on June 5th
which had to be recalled because of bad weather, but the certainty of our sailing for the "far shore" was underlined when,
at 1400, shipís company was assembled to hear the message of General Eisenhower
to the Allied Expeditionary Force. Open thumbnail opposite.
Throughout that day more and more ships slipped out of the
once crowded harbor until it seemed that we were the only ones left. It was an
eerie sensation. Finally, at 2000, our group began slipping lines and standing
out into the channel. The 502 cast off at 2012 taking its place in column behind
the 512. Our escort ship, HMS Albrighton, met us as we passed Needles
Light on the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight and, forming into divisions for
the assault, we were on our way.
Jolly Miller and I shared the bow watch from 2000 to midnight that night. As
usual he was ebullient and talkative, excited about what was coming. "Just think, JP," he said to me, "by this time tomorrow weíll be veterans!" I think I shared some of his anticipatory excitement, but
when we were relieved at midnight, I felt the need to be alone. Imminent danger has a way of awakening spiritual concerns.
Godly parents had raised me to take the Christian faith seriously. On this night
before battle, I felt the need for reminding myself of the certainties and
comforts of that faith.
Finding a place to be alone on a 153 foot landing craft
crowded with 196 troops can be a problem, but I had my own private place,
cramped though it was. Under the fantail deck was the small magazine where
ammunition was stored. As the Gunnerís Mate, I had the key to that small
cubbyhole and so it was to that place that I retreated for my quiet time.
I sat on the cold, steel deck, surrounded by the cases of
ammunition and read from the New Testament that had been given to me by the
Gideons. The guide to references inside the front cover had suggestions for
special times. One was "for times of peril or danger", and it directed me to
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is
my refuge and my fortress: my God, in Him will I trust. Surely he shall
deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that
flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the
destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and
ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee . . . "
". . . but it shall not come nigh thee . . ."
A deep sense, not of fearless bravado, but of assurance in
the protection of a sovereign God came to me as I read those verses. To this
day, every time I re-read them, that tiny steel cubicle, surrounded by cases of
ammunition, pitching with the motion of the sea, comes immediately to mind. In Godís providence, that protection was afforded to me and
my shipmates on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
In the early hours of June 6th, as we entered the
swept channels through the minefields north of Seine Bay, hoping that the
minesweepers had done their job, the nine LCIs of Group 31 formed up for the
assault as directed in Group Commander Patrickís order. We were in three
columns, the first led by 501 with 507 and 509 in her trail. In the center column, Commander Patrick rode in
512, his flagship, with the 500 and the 499 astern. In the right hand column 506 led with our 502 and the 508
As the sun rose that morning, we could make out the vast
armada around us, and the almost-total canopy of allied aircraft overhead with
the distinctive D-Day markings of black and white stripes painted on wings and
fuselage. Someone, later describing this scene, said that it looked like you
could walk across the English Channel on the wings of the aircraft. In the distance we could see the smoke of the beach. The
noise of the naval bombardment was continuous.
At 0755, our escort vessel, HMS Albrighton, used their
blinker signal light to advise us that assaults were going according to plan. We
sighted the coast of France at 0855 and began circling in the ingoing area
waiting for the signal for our group to proceed to the beach. Shortly after 0900
Commander Patrick signaled the group to prepare to beach. The last movement was
My battle station was at the number one gun atop the focsíl,
thus placing me in the farthest point forward aboard our ship, a genuine
ring-side seat, but one which had the drawback of being an excellent and highly
visible target.. With our gun cocked and loaded we talked, watched and waited,
speculating as to what was going on ashore, when we would head in, and how much
opposition we would face.
In the log book, Mr. Krenicky, our Engineering Officer, who
made the entries for that memorable day, noted that they observed a German tank
hit on a hillside and, as we shifted to beaching stations at 1030, that a German
75mm gun was still in operation as well as mortar fire. At 1040 he wrote: "Standing in to Jig Green sector of Gold Beach,
Asnelles-Sur-Mer, Arromanches sector."
The noise, smoke and confusion grew as we threaded our way through a mass of
wrecked landing craft, tanks, and beach obstacles. The nice, tight directions of
our Group Commander as to our order of landing disappeared as the confusion of
the beach made it totally impossible. It was every ship for itself. I was told years later by a crew member of the 508 that their Captain had his
eye on the same landing spot for which we were headed, and cursed our Skipper
roundly as we beat him to it.
Our landing resembled none of the multitude of practice
landings we had made. We scraped over some submerged object for the length of
the ship but suffered no damage. At one point, close to the shore, our bow was aimed directly
at a sunken truck with two wet, forlorn-looking soldiers clinging to it. At the
last moment, we changed course to avoid them. [Photo opposite
left]. With a look of great relief on
their faces, they waved to us as we lurched past them on our way to the rather
improbable landing spot our Skipper had chosen out of necessity - a broached
HM LCT 857 was stranded, parallel to the beach. She had taken
a good pounding and was in no shape or position to disengage herself from the
beach. but she did make what our Skipper considered the best possible place for
disembarking our troops, so he ran our bow right up on to the broached LCT. [Photo opposite right; Gold Beach on D-Day: LCI 502 with her bow up against HM LCT 857
a Mk4 LCT of the 33rd LCT Flotilla of D LCT Squadron. The flotilla delivered
Royal Artillery on the morning of D-Day on to Gold beach.]
The ramps were extended, dropped onto the LCT at somewhat
perilous angles, and our bicycle-toting Tommies struggled down our ramps,
clambered over the LCT and finally dropped off onto the beach itself. While our troops were disembarking we became involved in two
rescue missions. With no threat from German aircraft (and much too small to
consider challenging German 88s!), we on the Focsíl secured our gun and became
busily involved in those rescue missions
First, the skipper of the British LCT on whom we had
descended uninvited, asked if we could give him a tow as we retracted. Bosín
Walt Sellers and some of the deck gang rigged a cable and passed it to the LCT,
the plan being to try to "unbroach" them as we retracted. Then some British sailors, stranded on the beach after losing
their small boats in the first wave, asked if we could take them off the beach.
We passed another line down to them; they secured it to some place on the
broached LCT and began climbing, hand over hand, up to our focsíl. We hung,
somewhat precariously, out over the bow, leaning down to grab them and haul them
aboard. We were able to rescue 27 of them when the Skipper decided it was time
At 1141 Bosín Sellers was ordered to cast off the line to the
LCT and the Skipper began backing our LCI off the beach. The line that the small
boat survivors were using snapped taut; one sailor fought for dear life to hang
on. We were able to reach down and grab him before the line parted. With the perspective of a sailor on the bow, instead of an
officer in the Conning Tower, I was livid. I was sure we could have rescued more
of the British sailors and spared them the continued danger of exposure to
gunfire on the beach. I was equally sure that we could have done more to help
the broached LCT get off the beach. The issue, I was told later, was that time
was running out before the tide began to turn. [Photo opposite;
On Gold Beach. Taken from conn of 508, which was next to 502.]
Was the Skipper right in pulling out when he did? Probably.
Other crew members grumbled angrily about it, as I did, but, in retrospect,
there is no reason to question his decision. The "what if . . ." game is one of
the most futile of all enterprises. After successfully retracting, we threaded our way back
through the wreckage that littered Gold Beach. Our part in the D-Day assault was
over. We had successfully landed our troops. The work of support - ferrying
fresh troops across the channel - was about to begin.
We stayed at action stations for the rest of D-Day. Around us
the gun support ships were firing almost continuously. HMS Belfast, now
on permanent display in London on the Thames just opposite the Tower of London,
was one of the ships closest to us. We could tell little of what was happening
ashore. There were ceaseless explosions on the beach and a pall of gun smoke
hung over everything. Overhead, wave after wave of aircraft, fortunately bearing
the black and white D-Day striping of the invasion forces, came on steadily.
Around 1600 we were formed up with other LCIs and set out on
our return trip to England. We had been warned about the possibility of German E-Boats
dashing out for raids, so we were more than usually tense that night as we
strained our eyes to see in the darkness. Nothing happened, but the long
tension-packed day and anxious watch left me, and I am sure other crew members,
At 2315 the lights of the Isle of Wight came into view. We
were safely back from the "far shore".
Troops in Southampton
prior to D-Day awaiting departure.
LCI 502, first left, awaits the order to sail for
France. Southampton Docks
Conn of 502 from
adjacent LCI Southampton docks.
US LCIs underway
across the channel on the evening of June 5 1944
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.
Thanks are due to John Cummer for this interesting account of USS LCI (L) 502
on D-Day including photographs and to Tony Chapman, archivist and
historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association for his assistance. More
contributions from the USA will be warmly welcomed.