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.

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