Thursday, June 27, 2019

First to Fire: The Georgia National Guard’s 230th Field Artillery in Normandy

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects the 230th Field Artillery Battalion in the days leading up to the D-Day invasion (Jacobs)
The Call to Arms
On June 8, 1944, the 230th Field Artillery Battalion was stationed in Wycombe England. While they were aware that the D-Day landings had commenced two days previous, the men had no idea how soon they would be employed as part of the continental invasion. That afternoon, blaring sirens heralded the beginning of movement. The men were given 45 minutes to load up in vehicles bound for Southampton. Many of the Soldiers must have imagined that this was yet another in a series of drills. These rumors were quickly crushed as the men learned they were being rushed to France to replace a field artillery battalion of the 29th Infantry Division which had lost its field howitzers during the assault on Omaha Beach. These former Georgia Guardsmen turned 30th Infantry Division artilleryman were now part of the 29th Division, and within hours, the 230th would become the first Georgia Guard unit to enter combat in France.

Coat of Arms of the 230th FA BN.  (Jacobs)
Prelude: From Savannah to Southern England
On September 16, 1940, the Georgia National Guard and its 5,200 Soldiers were accepted into federal service. [i] Among the Guard units swept up in the pre-war fervor were the two Savannah-based battalions of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment. Shortly after activation, the field artillery batteries were sent to Fort Jackson, S.C. for initial training as part of the 30th Division. The 118th FAR participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers in from June to August 1941 and the Carolina Maneuvers, which took place in October and November 1941.[ii]

On February 16, 1942, the 118th Field Artillery Regiment was reorganized as the 118th Field Artillery Battalion and 230th Field Artillery Battalion[iii]. The 230th was comprised of The Chatham Artillery, who formed Batteries A and C; the Irish Jasper Greens which comprised Battery B and the German Volunteers who formed the Service Battery.[iv] The reorganization was initiated after the 30th Division was reorganized and redesignated as the 30th Infantry Division. Another result of this reorganization was the reassignment of the 121st Infantry Regiment to the 8th Infantry Division.[v]

Following the reorganization, the 230th participated in the second Carolina Maneuvers in the spring of 1942 before stationing at Camp Blanding, Fla. in September. At Camp Blanding, the ranks of the 230th were bolstered by recruits from 44 of the 48 states, the majority of which coming from Georgia and Pennsylvania.[vi] Additional training followed at Camp Gordon, Ga. and Camp Forrest, Tenn. Arriving in Tennessee in June 1943, the 230th formed a combat team with the 120th Infantry Regiment. The two units trained together for five months before moving north by rail through Fort Knox to Camp Atterbury, Ind. Training continued through the winter of 1944 and culminated with the 230th passing the Army Ground Forces Test and being proclaimed combat ready.[vii]

On February 1, the Soldiers of the 230th boarded a train bound for Camp Myles Standish, a mobilization and debarkation camp located near Taunton, Mass. Over the next ten days the men received passes to visit Boston or New York and shivered around camp stoves against the effects of the Massachusetts winter. The long wait ended February 11 as the men boarded trains bound for Boston and embarkation.

Arriving at Boston Harbor, the men milled about the docks enjoying hot coffee and donuts while equipment and men were loaded aboard the S.S. Argentina, a former passenger liner that had been converted to haul troops in bulk rather than passengers in luxury. The Argentina’s convoy sailed out of Boston Harbor February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The men took this as an auspicious start to what would prove to be an uneventful voyage. The 230th shared the Argentina with the 120th Infantry, the former being crammed into the stern of the ship with headquarters so far down that “only the bilge separated the boys from the keel.”[viii]

On February 22, the S.S. Argentina sailed up the Clyde River and anchored at Gourock, Scotland 25 miles east of Glasgow. From there, the Soldiers were crammed onto trains which puttered their way through London eventually depositing the batteries of the 230th in southern England. The men were lodged in damp cold huts made the more inhospitable by the rationing of coal. Lying in their cots at night the men could hear the sound of bombs exploding in London fifty miles away.

On April 4, the 230th was moved to Wycombe to make room for the staging of troops that would go ashore on D-Day. In Wycombe, training and preparation for the invasion continued. The men fastidiously waterproofed their vehicles and howitzers until the trucks could be driven through test wading pools with only the drivers and windshield exposed. As these trials and training events continued the drone of Allied bombers steadily increased as did the frequency of visitors to the training camps. General Bernard Montgomery, who would command all ground forces during the initial phase of Operation Overlord, addressed units of the 30th Division in May. That same month, General Courtney Hodges, deputy commander of 1st Army inspected the 30th Division Artillery and spoke with the men. May concluded with a visit from General Dwight Eisenhower who moved among the men of the 230th inspecting equipment and talking with individual Soldiers. [ix]

On June 5,  Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs, commander of the 30th Infantry Division, addressed the Soldiers of the 230th FA telling them “This is a day (you) will never forget.”[x] Thus, as airborne troops assembled to board transport aircraft and Soldiers of the assaulting divisions waited tensely aboard countless naval vessels the men of the 230th made final equipment preparations uncertain of the outcome of future operations, or when they would be employed. The sirens of June 8 relieved that uncertainty.

Soldiers of the 230th FA await transport from Southampton
to Normandy (Jacobs)

Omaha Beach
The convoy carrying the 230th left Southampton the evening of June 9, crossing relatively calm seas and arrived off the coast of France by dawn the next day. As the sun rose, the artillerymen were confronted with an unparalleled spectacle of military might. Ships were anchored from one end of the horizon to the other while the sounds of combat emanated from Allied forces fighting throughout the hedgerows of France. Amphibious ships scuttled about bearing their cargo from anchored ships to the shore. 

The 230th arrived on Omaha Beach on two LSTs but grounded in ten feet of water and
Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Vieman, commander
230th Field Artillery Battalion.  (Jacobs)
had to wait hours for the tides to shift. After fitfully pacing the deck of his LST, Lt. Col. Lewis Vieman, commander of the 230th could contain himself no longer. He climbed from the deck of the LST onto an adjacent barge and waded ashore thus becoming the first member of the 230th on French soil.[xi]

Eventually the tide rose and the 230th was able to disembark beginning with Battery A. By 3:30 pm all men and equipment had unloaded onto Omaha Beach. The Soldiers made their way via a winding road about one-half mile inland past fields bordered by rows of trees to Colleville sur Mer.

The route to Colleville sur Mer brought the full panoply of war home for the men of the 230th. The frames of ruined houses smoldered in the fading light. Dead German Soldiers and dead cows alike littered the landscape. A cross by the side of the road marked the fresh graves of four American Soldiers, their final resting place decorated with flowers by an unknown French citizen. Every tree, every bend in the road held the promise of danger and death from a burst of German machine gun fire. Nervous Soldiers fired into the night at the sounds of rustling. One Soldier shot fifteen holes in a towel that was snapping in the breeze on a clothesline while a wandering mule generated enough noise to create a veritable crossfire near battalion headquarters. Soldiers had to duck fire from a nearby tank that had mistaken their movements for those of the enemy. Diving into a ditch, Cpl. Ralph Hyder of Battery A discovered a hidden German sniper who quickly became a prisoner, the first for the 30th Division and the first of 229 to be captured by the 230th. It was an eventful and fortunately bloodless first day in France.[xii]

On the Way
Staff Sgt. Edward Smith. Georgia Guard Archives
The 230th fired its first round the next morning to reinforce the fires of the 110th Field Artillery Battalion. On June 12, the battalion lost its first Soldier, Staff Sgt. Edward Smith. The 22-year-old Georgia National Guard Soldier had served in the 118th FA before the war. He was moving in advance of friendly lines with a forward observer party when he was killed by German machine gun fire.

The battalion displaced forward to St. Clair On June 12. The next day, the 230th was reassigned to the 30th Division and ordered to move to Catz, southeast of Carentan. That evening after crossing the Vire River and setting up firing positions, the battalion was strafed by Luftwaffe aircraft. As a result, a battery of the 531st Anti-Aircraft Battalion was attached to the 230th and would provide air cover for them until they reached the Elbe River.

Allied units including the 30th ID continued to expand the D-Day lodgement pressing ever closer towards the German-held city of St. Lo. During the advance to the Vire River, the 230th provided fire support for the 120th Infantry Regiment.[xiii] From their position on the high ground overlooking the river, the 230th were tempting targets for German artillery. Shells rained onto the artillery positions. Shrapnel from a bursting artillery shell struck Cpl. Robert McClanahan of Battery A but the lucky Soldier was spared serious injury when the shrapnel was stopped by a roll of Life Savers candy he had in his uniform pocket.[xiv] After crossing the Vire, the 120th occupied the town of Mont-Martin en Grainges.[xv] By the time the 230th entered the town on June 22,  the 30th ID had received orders to hold a defensive line along the Vire while the 2nd and 29th Infantry pressed the attack towards St. Lo.

This chapter provided a sketch of the actions of one Georgia Guard Battalion from its Operation Overlord beach landing to the prelude of Operation Cobra that would precipitate the Allied breakout of Normandy. With the 230th FA poised for Operation Cobra, the narrative now returns to the beach and the landing of the 118th Field Artillery Battalion. The next chapter will follow the 118th from Omaha Beach to the outskirts of St. Lo. The succeeding chapter will follow the 121st Infantry Regiment from the sands of Utah Beach through the hedgerow battles of Normandy and end with them poised for their breakout mission.

This work owes a great debt to the historians of the 230th FA who recorded the history as it happened:

First Lieutenant John W. Jacobs, 230th FA
Sergeant Harold Burney, Headquarters Battery
Corporal Francis X. Hennessy, Able Battery
Corporal Louis A. Cesario, Baker Battery
Sergeant Zane G. Hunter, Charlie Battery
Sergeant Lloyd B. Ellington, Dog Battery
Corporal William E. Fitz Gerald Service Battery

[i] Carraway, William. "The Georgia Guard on the Eve of War: May 1939." May 23, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2019.
[ii] History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, 6.
[iii] Ibid, 7.
[iv] Jacobs, John et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 1945, 1.
[v] 121st Infantry Regiment. The Gray Bonnet; Combat History of the 121st Infantry Regiment. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Co., 1946, 4.
[vi] Ibid, 2.
[vii] Ibid, 3.
[viii] Ibid, 4.
[ix] Ibid, 10.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid, 13.
[xii] Ibid, 14-15.
[xiii] Ibid, 18.
[xiv] Ibid, 19.
[xv] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 377-379.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Georgia Guardsman On D-Day, Part II

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


In September 1940, nearly 5,200 Georgia Guardsmen entered federal service on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II.[i] While the majority entered combat with Georgia Guard units such as the 121st Infantry Regiment, 118th Field Artillery Regiment and 101st Antiaircraft Weapons Battalion, many Guardsmen would serve in active duty units in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. They volunteered for the Army Air Corps, the Airborne, and for other duty assignments. On June 6, 1944, many of these Georgia Guardsmen would enter combat from the sky and from the sea as part of the D-Day invasion force. The first article in this series examined the Airborne landings and the Georgia Guardsmen who entered France with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. This second article will focus on the beach landings and profile the experiences of Georgia Guardsmen who went ashore at Utah and Omaha Beach.

Planned Airborne and beach landings for Operation Overlord. Harrison, Map III
The Beach Landings
Huddled in a landing craft with Soldiers of Company C, 116th Infantry Regiment, 1st Lt. Thomas Royce Dallas could discern the sounds of the first assault wave striking the beach to the south of his position off Omaha Beach just after 6:30 a.m. June 6, 1944. Dallas, a native of Griffin, Ga. had been a stand-out football player for Griffin High School before the war. He joined the Georgia National Guard after graduating in 1938. Enlisting in the Griffin-based Spalding Grays, Headquarters Company, 30th Infantry Division, Dallas was accepted into officer candidate school in 1942. Commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry, he was assigned to the 116th Infantry Regiment as a platoon leader in Company C.[ii] Two years later, Dallas was poised to participate in the largest amphibious assault of World War II.

Planned landing sites for the Omaha Beach Assault. Harrison, Map XII

Omaha Beach
Two American infantry divisions, the 1st and 29th, supported by the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions made up the assault force for Omaha Beach, one of the two American landing objectives of the beach landings. The initial assault wave was composed of nine companies. Four companies of the 29th ID’s 116th Infantry struck the western half of Omaha Beach supported by Company C, 2nd Ranger Battalion while four companies of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st ID struck the eastern section. Of the nine companies, only Company A, 116th Infantry arrived at its designated landing zone on the right flank of the assault. But while Company A’s landing had been fortuitous, its landing conditions were not. One of its landing craft sank before reaching the beach while another sustained multiple hits from mortar rounds. Amidst a hail of small arms fire, the remaining Soldiers of Company A and the adjacent Company C, 2nd Ranger Battalion staggered ashore under a bewildering weight of gear made heavier by the soaking of seawater. Fewer than half of the Rangers and one third of Company A’s Soldiers survived the murderous distance from the beach to the sea wall.[iii]

View from Point du Hoc looking east towards Omaha Beach.
Photo by Capt. Bryant Wine
While the nine companies of the initial assault were intended to arrive ashore evenly dispersed along the beach, the combination of smoke, cross currents and intense ground fire created a 1,000-yard gap between the two companies of the right flank and the remainder of the 116th Infantry. Further east, the 16th Infantry Regiment experienced similarly scattered landings and intense machine gun fire from fortified German positions. As a result of the dispersed landings and heavy casualties sustained by the initial force, none of the initial objectives were met. Beach defenses had not been effectively reduced and the engineers had not made significant progress in clearing beach obstacles.[iv] Another alarming development was the loss of much of the 29th ID’s artillery assets in the landings. The 111th Field Artillery Battalion lost all but one of its 105 mm howitzers when the ships carrying them foundered. In another setback, only five of the 32 tanks destined to support the 16th Infantry made it ashore.[v]

1st Lt. Thomas Dallas in 1941.
Georgia Guard Archives
Thirty minutes after the arrival of the initial assault wave, the second much larger wave was committed. Lieutenant Dallas’ Company C and the remaining companies of 1st Battalion 116th Infantry followed Company A’s landing on the Dog Green section of Omaha. The 116th’s objective was the Point du Hoc coastal battery, a position comprised of six artillery pieces protected from naval bombardment by casemates.[vi] Many of these units would face the same horrific conditions encountered by the Rangers and Company A. Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion was effectively immobilized by fire. Company B was also devastated by withering fire and Company D, the heavy weapons company, was able to assemble only three mortars and three machine guns.[vii]

The landing craft carrying Lt. Dallas was spared the conflagration that had gripped the units of the 1-116th. Arriving nearly 1,000 yards east of their intended landing zones, the Soldiers of Company C waded ashore on a narrow front taking advantage of the impromptu smoke screen provided by burning brush along the seawall. Unlike its sister units, Company C suffered few casualties. One of those who fell before reaching the relative safety of the sea wall was Lt. Dallas. The 24-year-old officer jumped from the landing craft and had made it to the edge of the sand where he was felled by a bullet.[viii]

Utah Beach
To the west of Omaha Beach, the 4th ID landed along a one-mile section of beach east of Ste. Mere Eglise. While experiencing similar landing errors as those encountered at Omaha Beach, the 4th ID encountered relatively light resistance. Not only had the smoke and ocean currents shifted the landings to less heavily defended areas, the Utah Beach Sector benefited from the successful airborne operations to the west. Nevertheless, German small-arms and machine gun fire combined with the surf to create a miasma of error and confusion for the assaulting troops.

Utah Beach in June 2019. Photo by Capt. Bryant Wine
Where the Omaha Beach landings had wanted for artillery support, the 42nd Field Artillery of the 4th Division succeeded in bringing its 105 mm howitzers ashore. Jumping into shoulder deep water, the artillerymen struggled to the beach taking what cover was available before the landing craft bearing their trucks and howitzers arrived onshore.[ix]

Staff Sgt. Raymond Mayer in 1939 with the
118th Field Artillery Regiment. Georgia
Guard Archives
Amidst a hail of gunfire and artillery explosions 1st Lt. Raymond Mayer organized his guns into action against German defensive positions. A native of Savannah, Ga. Mayer had entered federal service in September 1940 as a staff sergeant with the Georgia National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Regiment. After arriving at his initial duty assignment, Mayer was accepted into officer training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Taking advantage of his enlisted experience in the Georgia Guard, the Army assigned Mayer to the field artillery branch and a battery of the 42nd Field Artillery Battalion.[x] As June 6 wore on, Mayer and his artillerymen would provide devastating fire in support of the 4th ID landings and would be relied upon heavily in the coming days as American infantrymen expanded the D Day lodgement.

As the sun set on June 6, 1944, the American beach landings had achieved mixed results. The 4th ID had cleared Utah Beach and enabled the landing of follow-on forces from the VII Corps. Elements of the 4th ID would soon reinforce the positions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions whose efforts had contributed mightily to successful landings.

While the 4th ID had suffered fewer than 200 casualties,[xi] the divisions on Omaha Beach had suffered ten times that number and were clinging tenuously to defensive positions on the base of the cliffs overlooking the beach. American Soldiers held a sliver of beach running west from the 16th Infantry Regiment at Colleville to Point du Hoc where Rangers of the 2nd Ranger Battalion had scaled the cliffs. In order to exploit the beachhead and advance further, the Soldiers of Omaha Beach needed artillery support. Without the guns of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion the 29th ID issued a call for reinforcements from the 30th ID which was still in England. In response, the 30th ID dispatched the 230th Field Artillery Battalion, a Georgia National Guard unit that had been raised in Savannah from elements of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment. On June 10, 1944, the first Georgia National Guard unit arrived on Omaha Beach.[xii] The experience of the 230th FA in Normandy will be explored in the next chapter of the World War II blog.

[i] General Orders Number 13, Military Department, State of Georgia, October 7, 1941, Sion B. Hawkins, The Adjutant General.
[ii] Carraway, William. "Biographical Sketches of Georgia National Guard Fallen Soldiers from WWI to Afghanistan." Unpublished.
[iii] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 313.
[iv] Ibid, 315.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid, 308.
[vii] Ibid, 318.
[viii] Hobie. "1LT Thomas Royce Dallas Jr." 1LT Thomas Royce Dallas Jr. January 01, 1970. Accessed June 08, 2019.
[ix] "GIs Remember D-Day, 75 Years Later." Accessed June 9, 2019.
[x] Carraway.
[xi] Harrison, 329.
[xii] Jacobs, John W. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 10.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Georgia Guardsmen on D-Day, Part I

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Operation Overlord, launched on June 6, 1944, established an Allied foothold on the German-held European continent and made possible the successful drive to Berlin and the defeat of Nazi Germany. The events of D-Day have been the subject of countless books and major motion pictures such as The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. But while these works have cataloged, in detail, the planning and execution of D-Day and the subsequent Normandy Campaign, no works have focused on the Georgia Guard’s contribution to these great events. This two-part feature is intended to shed light on the role individual Guardsmen played in D-Day.

In September 1940, nearly 5,200 Georgia Guardsmen entered federal service. While the majority would enter combat with Georgia Guard units, such as the 121st Infantry, 118th Artillery and 101st Antiaircraft Weapons Battalion, many Guardsmen would end up serving in active duty units in the Atlantic and Pacific Theater. They would volunteer for the Army Air Corps, the Airborne, and for other duty assignments. On June 6, 1944, many of these Georgia Guardsmen would enter combat from the sky and from the sea. This first article will focus on those Guardsmen who participated in the Airborne landings while a follow-up article will examine the beach landings.

A Mighty Endeavor
As dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944 the greatest armada ever assembled stood off the Normandy coast. Thirty-two Allied battleships and cruisers, more than 100 destroyers and more than 70 landing craft were part of a landing force of nearly 5,000 ships. Naval bombardment of the coast detonated mines and weakened enemy defensive positions before more than 100,000 Soldiers stormed the beach under heavy fire. It was, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described, in his radio address of June 6, 1944, “a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve… our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.[i]

Approaches of Allied assault forces on D-Day. U.S. Airborne routes are depicted north and west of Cherbourg. Harrison, Map VII

Airborne Landings on D-Day
Critical to the success of that mighty endeavor would be the efforts and sacrifice of the Soldiers who would enter the battle from the air, parachuting from C-47 transport planes into darkened skies lit only by flak and machine gun fire. The United States Airborne effort at D-Day consisted of two Airborne Divisions comprised of six parachute infantry regiments[ii]. Of these regiments, the 501st, 506th and 507th were activated at Camp Toccoa in north Georgia while the 502nd and 505th were activated at Fort Benning.

On the evening of July 5, 1944 more than 13,000 paratroopers loaded into nearly 1,100 transport aircraft. These aircraft took off from numerous marshaling fields in England just before midnight and converged on the Cotentin Peninsula of France just after 0100 June 6, 1944[iii]. The main body was preceded by specially trained pathfinder units who jumped in nearly one hour ahead of the assault force to mark drop zones on the ground.
The Airborne assault plan for D Day.  Harrison, Map VIII

The 101st Airborne Division
The paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division were assigned the mission of seizing the boundary of the flooded areas west of the beaches from Pouppeville to St. Martin De Varreville. In addition, the 101st was tasked with protecting the flank of the VII Corps south in the vicinity of Carentan. This first mission fell largely to the 502nd and 506th PIR. As the planes carrying these regiments approached the drop zones their formations were broken up by German antiaircraft fire. The bulk of the 2nd Battalion 502nd thus dropped well outside their assigned drop zone and was unable to assist materially in achieving the division’s objectives. Additionally, only one of the six artillery howitzers of the 502nd’s assigned artillery support was serviceable after the drop.
Drop pattern of the 101st Airborne Division. Harrison, Map IX

The paratroopers of the 3-502nd did not experience the difficulty of its sister battalions. Landing east of St. Mere Eglise, approximately 250 Soldiers of the battalion concentrated near Audouville-la Hubert at the western edge of the causeway after determining that their assigned objective, the coastal artillery battery at St. Martin had been relocated. They thus secured two of the four exits from Utah Beach.[iv]

Landing near St. Germain de Varreville, the 1-502 had a much more difficult fight to secure their assigned objectives. Finding the northern beach exits in his sector already clear, Lt. Col. Patrick Cassidy, commander, 1-502 dispatched paratroopers to secure the crossroads west of St. Martin and to clear a series of buildings killing or capturing over 150 Germans in the process.[v]

Moving to the sounds of the fighting was Pvt. James D. Hogue of Macon, Ga. Hogue had entered federal service with the Georgia National Guard’s Headquarters Company, 121st Infantry Regiment August 1, 1940[vi] at the age of 19. He volunteered to serve in the Airborne and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1-502[vii]. Hogue landed well north of the battalion’s designated drop zone and was moving with a small group of paratroopers south towards St. Martin. Reaching Ravenoville approximately two miles north of where Lt. Col. Cassidy was directing his battalion’s action, Hogue was killed by a German sniper[viii].

Pvt. Albert Cobb in 1941. 
Landing in the vicinity of 1-502 were the paratroopers of the regimental headquarters company. Among them was Pvt. Albert Cobb. Cobb had joined the Georgia Guard’s Savannah-based Battery F, 118th Field Artillery Regiment September 30, 1940[ix] at the age of 18. He was wounded in action near Brandeville and later killed by German forces after being evacuated to the beach[x].

To the south of the 502nd, the paratroopers of the 506th PIR succeeded in capturing and holding their assigned beach exits at Houdienville and Pouppeville thanks largely to the rapid consolidation and movement of the 2-506. It would be in Pouppeville where the first link up between airborne forces and seaborne troops occurred when Soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment successfully expanded their beachhead[xi]

Among those Soldiers of the 2-506th who helped secure the exits from Utah Beach was Pvt. Albert Gray of Atlanta Georgia. Gray had enlisted in the Georgia National Guard’s 122nd Infantry Regiment May 15, 1939[xii] at the age of 15. After the 122nd was reorganized as the 179th Field Artillery Battalion, Gray volunteered for the Airborne and trained at Camp Toccoa. Gray would survive the Normandy Campaign but was killed in action January 2, 1945. He is buried in the Henri Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium.[xiii]

The 82nd Airborne Division
The Church of Sainte Mere Eglise in June 2019. Photo by Capt. Bryant Wine
Within hours of landing, the 101st Airborne Division had largely achieved their objectives of securing the western edge of the flooded areas west of the beaches and securing the beach exits for Utah Beach. Meanwhile, the 82nd Airborne was still facing strong opposition. 

Dropping along the banks of the Merderet River, the mission of the 82nd Airborne was to clear the western portion of the beachhead from the Douve River to the town of St. Mere Eglise. The 505th PIR was to seize St. Mere Eglise, secure crossings on the Merderet and to tie in with the 502nd PIR. At the same time, the 507th and 508th were tasked with consolidating the bridgeheads and establishing a defensive perimeter west of the Merderet[xiv]

T/5 Carl Kleinsteuber in 1941. Georgia Guard
Of these objectives, only the capture of St. Mere Eglise was accomplished as originally designed. Taking part in this action was T/5 Carl G. Kleinsteuber. In January 1941, Kleinsteuber had enlisted in the Georgia Guard’s 118th Field Artillery[xv] at the age of 19. After arriving at Fort Jackson, S.C. Kleinsteuber volunteered for Airborne service and was assigned to the Regimental Headquarters of the 505th. He was killed in action in the early hours of June 6 and is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.[xvi]

While the 505th PIR repelled savage counterattacks on St. Mere Eglise, the 507th and 508th struggled to move into positions west of the town. Unable to land on their original drop zones due to the presence of enemy forces, these regiments were widely dispersed, and precious time was required for the forces to consolidate.

Drop pattern of the 82nd Airborne Division. Harrison, Map X.

Consolidation and Casualties 
By noon, three companies of paratroopers successfully crossed the causeway near la Fiere; however, German artillery and small arms fire drove the bridgehead back. By the end of the day, the 82nd held St. Mere Eglise and had successfully beaten back enemy counter attacks. Additional paratroopers and equipment would arrive by glider the afternoon of June 6 and June 7 while landing craft continued to bring troops ashore on Utah and Omaha Beach. By that time, the 101st had managed to assemble less than half of its 6,600 men while the 82nd had assembled approximately 30 percent. D-Day casualties for the 101st Airborne Division were 1,240 while the 82nd suffered 1,259. Of these, 338 were killed while more than 1,200 were declared missing[xvii]. The terrible cost paid by these paratroopers bought time and precious terrain vital for the success of the allied beach landings.

Next Chapter: Georgia Guardsmen in the Beach Landings

[i] "A ‘Mighty Endeavor:’ D-Day." FDR Presidential Library & Museum. Accessed May 02, 2019.
[ii] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 279.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid, 280.
[v] Ibid, 281.
[vi] General Orders Number 13, Military Department, State of Georgia, October 7, 1941, Sion B. Hawkins, The Adjutant General
[vii] Carraway, William. "Biographical Sketches of Georgia National Guard Fallen Soldiers from WWI to Afghanistan." Unpublished.
[viii] “A Brief History of the 502nd and 2nd Brigade” Ryan P. Niebuhr. Accessed May 15, 2019
[ix] Hawkins
[x] Niebuhr
[xi] Harrison, 283.
[xii] Hawkins
[xiii] Carraway
[xiv] Harrison, 289.
[xv] Hawkins
[xvi] Carraway
[xvii] Harrison, 300.