Chapter 6 -
Utah Beach and the
European Theater

"Utah Beach - 12 August 1944"

FINAL PREPARATIONS - ENGLAND

The 945th did not stay in Scotland for long, heading by train from Glasgow to Nuneaton, England. The howitzers and equipment were shipped separately, and were picked up at Liverpool during the month that the 945th spent at Nuneaton (I20). Nuneaton was near Coventry, the English city that had a forty square block area destroyed by a Luftwaffe attack earlier in the war (I36). The advance party with Major Gray and T/5 Charles Schwarz had arrived earlier on the Queen Elizabeth, sailing from New York to Greenoch, Scotland (I14). The first entry in the War Diary of the 945th FAB in the ETO is from 1 to 4 August:

"Battalion was located 1 mile W. of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, (vk 7909 British Cassini). Troops were quartered in Nissen huts in Arbury Park, estate of the Fitzroy-Newdigates. Equipment was being drawn and prepared for overseas move- ment which curtailed training activities drastically."

The howitzers were calibrated to ensure accuracy once the real action started (I36). The calibration took place in England. The calibration identified which howitzers fired approximately the same distance, and those with similar characteristics were grouped together in each firing battery (I36). There were 12 howitzers that for the three batteries. A medium artillery battalion (155mm M1) in World War II had the following allocation (1):

  • 12 - 155mm M1 howitzers
  • 29 officers
  • 500 enlisted men
  • 2 warrant officers
  • 21 - .50 cal. machine guns
  • 454 - .30 cal. machine guns
  • 40 - 2.36 inch anti-tank rockets
  • 16 - M5 tractors
  • 17 - 1/4 ton trucks
  • 19 - 3/4 ton weapons carriers
  • 8 - 3/4 ton command and recon truck
  • 1 - wrecker, heavy

By June 1944 the Army authorized over 530 tractor and 500 truck drawn medium artillery battalions (1). Other training took place, including a demonstration of how the German uniforms blended into the background foliage (I47). The cosmolene, a protective coating put onto the tractors, howitzers and everything else mechanical to resist corrosion, had to be removed by the men - a messy job.

While in England the men had a chance to visit and become acquainted with English customs. Ed Hinkel did not learn quite fast enough as he was slapped by an English girl for making an innocent comment that she was "nice" (I22). Unfortunately for Lawrence Literal, he discovered the "right" side of the road at little late to avoid disaster. Literal's First Sergeant had purchased a bicycle so he could "ride down the main street of Berlin", and Literal borrowed it one evening to go into town on a pass. Another fellow in the 945th had a bike, and they were "splitting the wind" - on the wrong side of the road! Nearing the bottom of a hill they met an Englishman on a bike. The Englishman, recognizing that the foolish Americans were on the wrong side of the road switched sides. Unfortunately so did Literal and they collided head-on. Literal sailed 10 feet through the air and broke his shoulder. A nurse who lived nearby revived him with a "slug of whiskey", and the MPs that arrived assumed he had been drinking. They finally convinced the MPs that he was not under the influence. While recuperating he was able to visit his brother who was an MP with the Army Air Corps. Literal rejoined the 945th in Luxembourg.

Walter Kline was also able to visit a brother who was near Birmingham with the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd dropped behind Utah Beach in the early hours of June 6 to secure the inland routes to the beaches. The majority of the time in England consisted of equipment preparation and howitzer calibration. On 6 August the howitzers were calibrated and service practice was conducted to ensure that the batteries could remain in supply during active combat operations. The use of aircraft was also practiced to conduct fire missions. The pilots would proceed to France from a separate marshalling airfield. And of course, many administrative and organizational aspects of being ready to enter the war continued through 8 August.

On 9 August the battalion left bivouac at 0400 and arrived at the marshalling area near Piddlehinton. The trip was conducted at night to conceal movement, and the weather was drizzly and foggy. The cobblestone streets were very slick and one tractor slid into a building. No time to stop, they just backed out and kept going (I36). The batteries were divided up into teams for transport to Utah Beach. Larry Horning said the equipment was backed onto the transport ships so they could roll right off upon landing at Utah Beach (I17). The years of training, anticipation, and planning finally came to an end on 11 August 1944 when the 945th FAB departed Portland Harbor for Utah Beach.

THE STRATEGIC SITUATION IN THE ETO

When the 945th arrived at Utah Beach on 12 August 1994 it was almost D+70 from the Normandy Invasion, and the fighting was well inland as the American, British and Canadian armies were beginning to close on the Argentan-Falaise gap (2). The US Third Army under General George Patton, which had been formed on August 1, was pushing hard within a week pursuing Germans following the Operation COBRA breakout at St. Lo. General Ira T. Wyche, former commander of the 74th Field Artillery Brigade at Camp Blanding, was now in charge of the 79th Infantry Division, a key division in the Third Army at Falaise (2).

The XII Corps was activated under the Third Army by mid-August, although the advance units for the Corps had arrived on 27 July, three days after the official end of the Normandy Campaign (thus no fifth battle star for the XII Corps). Major General Gilbert R. Cook was in command of the XII Corps and had been since they geared up at Fort Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina. He was replaced due to health reasons on 19 August by General Manton Eddy from the 9th Infantry Division.

The 945th FAB was assigned to the 182nd Field Artillery Group, a unit that originated as a Michigan National Guard regiment in the Detroit, Michigan area prior to World War II (3). The 182nd FAR trained initially at Fort Knox, then Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The 177th Field Artillery Group, which included the 177th FAB and the 943rd FAB, was the sister unit to the 182nd back in Michigan. The 945th FAB was under the control of both of these Field Artillery Groups during the war, but the 182nd Field Artillery Group was the permanently assigned organization (3). The XII Corps History - Spearhead of Patton's Army, mentions the 182nd as being one of the "combat charter members" of corps, with assignment taking place immediately after arrival on 12 August (4).

DEPARTURE FOR UTAH BEACH

Two LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) and two LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) were used. They were LSTs B1220 and B1221, and LCTs B178 and B179. It should be noted that LSTs were large ships, 328 feet in length and displacing over 4,000 tons and capable of carrying 20 medium tanks on the tank deck (2). The LSTs and LCTs were boarded by the 945th late in the afternoon of 11 August, and the ships spent the night at anchorage near Portland Harbor. The following day the ships headed for Utah Beach.

When the XII Corps headquarters was in transit to Utah Beach on 24-26 July, two weeks before the 945th joined them, they saw the aircraft headed for the St. Lo area, the site of the "Normandy Breakout" during Operation Cobra. Unfortunately, many of the aircraft dropped their bombs short of the targets near St. Lo, killing many Americans including General Lesley J. McNair, who was forward to observe the kick-off of Operation Cobra. His death was concealed for several weeks in an effort to confuse the Germans over where Patton was to be assigned (2).

On the way to Utah Beach Cruser observed a US destroyer firing in rapid succession at some inland target. That's when he "first began to get the distinct impression that things could get hot as hell around here pretty soon" (I36). The trip over was such that Roy McMahan was afraid that some of the equipment might be lost overboard (I26), although Gino Ricci remembered the seas being "like glass" (I20). The thought of landing on a potentially hostile beach was a concern, and Steve Giacovelli said that thinking about the landing was scary, as were most days of the war - a very understandable thought given the capability of the Germans to inflict casualties on Americans.

ARRIVAL: UTAH BEACH

"The biggest event was Utah Beach for the real thing, the rest is history" said Richard Bish (I3). The LSTs and LCTs disembarked the battalion between 2000 (eight pm) and 2300 (eleven pm). The LSTs and LCTs were run right up onto the beach with anchors deployed behind the ships. There was less than one foot of water as the men and equipment unloaded (I36). Two white tapes had been laid down to indicate the area that had been cleared of mines (I4). When the men and equipment were unloaded the ships waited until high tide and then using the anchors they pulled themselves back out to the depth were t hey could maneuver and turn around for the trip back. The LST crews even shared some food, a bit of a drink with the men on Wallace Bolton's ship, a nice gesture from men that were in a much safer occupation (I17). DeWitt Scarborough remembered fondly the cherry pies that the crew of the LST shared with the 945th men (I34). They enjoyed the pies they provided during the entire trip over, a nice touch of home before entering the shooting war.

In late July when the XII Corps HQ reached Utah Beach they observed many barrage balloons that prevented strafing aircraft from attacking the beach, hulks of ships destroyed near the beach (possibly the USS Corry, the only American ship lost during the landings), and they heard the periodic rumble of distant artillery fire (4). The 945th men saw a similar scene two weeks later when they came across. The beach had blimps, planes, and search lights (I20). Dale Curfman remembered he buildings that were still burning near Utah Beach (I40). Fred Mackey said that the front when they landed was 150 miles from the beaches (it wasn't that far), and that was "just the right distance for me, if I could keep it like that" (I43)!

However, Utah Beach was much safer than the morning of 6 June when the 29th Infantry Division landed. Although not as heavily contested as Omaha Beach, the 29th suffered great losses as they pushed inland towards St. Mere Eglise where the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions were opening routes of advance for the Americans and shutting off routes to the Germans (2). When Bob Frey (HQ) came ashore after a rough trip from England in early October. Frey was a replacement from the 97th Infantry Division he found a similar situation at Utah Beach, lots of mud and dysentery (I6). Frey was assigned to the 945th from the Replacement Depot near Utah even though he had no field artillery training, but as he said, "you don't ask questions". The battalion was east of Nancy when he joined them as a radio operator.

On 14August General Patton offered a speech to his Third Army staff that after only two weeks in combat they had "advanced further and faster than any Army in the history of war" (2). Patton and his army were at their best when pursuing the Germans relentlessly, and Patton's style was perfectly matched to the pursuit of the German Army after the Normandy breakout. It was under Patton that the XII Corps would strike deep and hard against the Germans remaining in northern France. The race across France would not slow down until reduced fuel stocks, unusually wet fall weather, and increased German resistance near the border slowed the advance.

Chapter 6 Notes

1. Stanton, Shelby L., World War II Order of Battle, Galahad Books, New York, New York, 1984.
2. Weigley, Russell F., Eisenhowers Lieutenants, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1981.
3. History of the 182nd Field Artillery Group, US Army Military History Institute, 204-182FA 1945, Carlisle Barracks, PA.
4. Dyer, George LTC, XII Corps: Spearhead of Patton's Army, XII Corps History Association, 1947.

###