Martin C. Evans

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Long Island Vets Remember D-Day Invasion

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 5:57 pm

In the early light of June 6, sixty six years ago this Sunday, men grim with anxiety began pouring onto the beaches of Normandy, France. They clutched rifles in their fingers, and cradled history in their hands.

The bloody D-Day invasion of western Europe had begun.

Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment seek shelter from German machine-gun fire in shallow water behind "Czech hedgehog" beach obstacles, Easy Red sector, Omaha Beach. © Robert Capa/Magnum Photos.

“The shore was filled with all sorts of burning wrecked assault craft,” wrote Billy Melander, 84, who landed that day on Omaha Beach, the scene of the invasion’s bloodiest fighting.  “Some were still unloading men, material and tanks. On the shoreline you could see the tanks and trucks that never made it out of the water and the gruesome sight of all those bodies being washed up on that littered beach.”

Melander was among the 156,000 Allied troops who landed on the first day, including fighters from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, the Free French Forces and Norway, according to the New Orleans based National World War II Museum.

He almost drowned  even before reaching the beach. The landing craft that delivered him and 230 other troops got stuck 25 yards out at sea, forcing them to wade through neck-deep water. He stepped into a trench and went under.

“The 70 pounds of equipment I was carrying at that time pulled me to the bottom,” he wrote in a brief memoir. “After a frantic struggle to get back to the surface, I had to dump everything …”

Later, in the confusion of trying to flush out the snipers who fired at them from the cliffs, he almost shot dead a fellow soldier, Tom Amoto, who with Melander is now a member of V.F.W. Post 7279, in Lyndenhurst.

“After looking at all this, I started to get a nasty feeling in my gut and the thought persisted that somehow these Germans knew of our plans to land on this very beach. …. But off shore, the sea resembled a large parking field for our Navy, with ships of all kinds as far as the eye could see. In the distance you could see the large gunships belching out flames and smoke as they fired on targets inland. In the air, English Spitfires and American Mustang fighter planes darted all over the sky, looking for German fighter planes. None came up to challenge them. Big flights of heavy bombers continued to fly over, to hit targets inland. So the sea and sky were ours and this restored my faith that somehow we were going to win this battle, because the Germans could never stand up to this invincible power being turned loose by all our combined forces.”

Jim Treuchtlinger, now 84 and living in East Meadow, landed three days later at Utah Beach, one of five spots on the northwest coast of France where Allied leaders planned the assault on the European mainland.

Treuchtlinger, who was drafted in 1943 when he was a Columbia University freshman, and returned after the war to work as a corrections administrator in Nassau County, said the battle helped shape history.

“June 6th was the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler,” he said. “And that was good for the world.”

Although the Allies had eliminated the German gun positions near the beach that had claimed nearly 3,000 Allied lives on the invasion’s first day, fighting continued for months in the hedgerows beyond the shore.

A storm had roiled the waters of the 100 mile wide English Channel, adding seasickness to the list of challenges face by troops already coping with fear and fatigue.

Far worse, troops who arrived on June 6, already burdened with waterlogged equipment, had to wade ashore and across the wide beaches to reach safety. Set upon by German soldiers who fired from cliffs overlooking the sand, thousands of Allied troops were killed or suffered grievous wounds in the invasion’s first hours.

“Omaha took all damned day,” said Tom Czekanski, director of the museum’s collections and exhibits.

Prior to the Normandy landing, Germany’s ultimate defeat remained very much in doubt, Czekanski said.

An Allied thrust from the south had been bogged down in Italy since September, 1943. Germany’s occupation of France and the Low Countries helped keep it going with access to scarce food, raw materials and industrial capacity. And with no ground threat on its western flank, Germany had been free to focus its dwindling war resources against Russian advances from the east.

“We became the hammer, smashing the Nazis against the Russian anvil,” Czekanski said.  “The ultimate impact of the invasion of Normandy was the downfall of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe.”

Mission: To defeat the Nazis by forcing Germany, which was dug in against the Russian Army in the east, to also defend its western flank.
The Plan: To establish an Allied toe-hold in western Europe by sending troops to Nazi-occupied France.
Number of troops: 156,000
Countries involved: The United States, The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Norway
Number of vessels: 5,000 ships and landing craft
Number of planes: 11,000
Point of demarcation: Portsmouth, England
Target: A 50-mile stretch of beaches on Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula, in Atlantic France.
Code Names for the beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
U.S. Casualties: 6,603, including 1,465 killed.
Total Allied Casualties: 10,400.
The Outcome: By June 11, some 326,000 troops and 100,000 tons of equipment had crossed into Europe. Paris was liberated within two months, and Germany surrendered the following May 8.
Survivors living today: estimates range from 8,000 to 60,000.

Source: National World War II Museum

Advertisements