Tuesday, May 4, 2010

German fighter-bombers over Utah Beach

Above is a Coast Guard photograph showing the fleet of supply ships waiting off of Utah Beach. The 470th Amphibious Truck Company, 1st Engineer Special Brigade can be seen driving DUKWs into shore. On the right is a German 77mm gun. On the left is what appears to be a Rhino barge. June, 8 1944.

My grandfather stood on these DUKWs shipside, guiding the Liberty Ship's cargo net into place. The rest of his port company section worked the deck winches and loaded supplies in the hold. It wasn't the front lines, but that doesn't mean it was safe. The 90th Infantry Division was transported to Utah Beach on the same ships as my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion. Reading rather like a dramatic pulp novel, the following excerpt gives a good sense of the danger in the first week on Utah Beach:

June 8th
S/Sgt. Robert Tiefenbrun, “C” Btry., 344th F.A. Bn. [Field Artillery Battalion, 90th Inf. Div.]: This was UTAH beach—what an incredible spectacle. The unloading operations were going along at the prearranged rate of speed. When everyone had seen the spectacle on shore, no one seemed to be aware of the impending danger lurking just a few minutes away, then out of the pale blue clouds six enemy planes appeared. They raked the beach with strafing fire and all the anti-aircraft guns aboard the ships began to pour out hot lead. Two of the planes came directly over our ship, and the Navy gunners’ accuracy was soon rewarded, for one of them began to loose altitude and then burst into flames and plummeted like a falling meteor into the bay. The other plane fired some incendiary shells into another ship’s barrage balloon. It went up in flames and fell in the water like a burst paper bag and quickly became extinguished. Other gunners on another ship farther back finally dealt the death blow.
—from Colby, John. War From The Ground Up: The 90th Division in WWII. Austin: Nortex Press, 1991. p. 18.

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