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 and 506th were activated at Camp Toccoa in north Georgia while the 502nd, 505th and 507th 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.

1 comment:

  1. This was very informative and extremely well written. Our rich heritage make me proud to be a Citizen Soldier in the GAANG!