Day 1: D-Day

The invasion of Normandy was undertaken by the American, British and Canadian militaries on five separate beaches in Normandy France. The British forces landed at Gold and Sword, the Canadian forces landed at Juno, and the American army landed on Omaha and Utah, with Airborne forces being dropped behind Utah overnight.

The Norwich University alumni who were in the ground invasion were Major Bill
McNamara, NU '36, Lieutenant Thurber Raymond, NU ’41, and Lt. Colonel Carroll Stowell, NU '40, of the 1st Infantry, Major Jim Ballard, NU '39, and Lieutenant George Briggs, NU '32, of the 29th Infantry, Captain Arthur Harrington, NU ’40, of the 5th Special Engineer Brigade, Lieutenant Eugenio Bonafin, NU '43, of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, Lieutenant Thomas Fulham, NU ’47, and Lieutenant Robert Harrington, NU ’47, of the 4th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Lawrence Elman, NU '43 and Lieutenant Fredrick Meinken, NU '47, of the 4th Cavalry Regiment and Private Richard Austin, NU '44 of the 101st Airborne. In the air, Lieutenant David Steward, NU '47, Captain Jim McCarthy, NU ‘40, Lieutenant Sherman Crocker, NU ‘44, and Sergeant William Crawthorne, NU ’47, and possibly Sergeant Edward T. Yeller, NU ‘49, of the 9th Air Force were also involved with the invasion, covering the ground forces with bombardment runs in Thunderbolt fighters or bombers. In addition, Lieutenant Edwyn Florcyk, NU ‘44, of the 8th Air Force, was also present in the airs above Normandy. It is also possible that Sergeant Mitchell Esoian, NU ‘49, Sergeant George Edwin Guidi, NU ‘49 and Sergeant Robert Wieler, NU ‘49, all part of the 8th Air Force also participated in various bombing or escort missions during the lead up to D-Day or during the actual invasion.

Prior to the beach landings, elements of the 8th and 9th Air Force Bombers began to bomb German emplacements, in order to hamper the enemy’s ability to repel the incoming American soldiers. However, due to the poor weather and overcast skies, pilots were forced to rely on instruments, or release their payloads late, causing most of the bombs to land in the wrong places.[1] In addition to the aerial bombardments, allied ships just off the coast of Normandy began their own bombardment of the landing sites, to further disrupt the German force’s ability to counter attack. These would be slightly more effective, as they would later be credited to opening up key areas for infantry to enter.[2] Captain McCarthy described some of what he saw on June 6th to reporters, an account that was later picked up by the Norwich University Record for the July, 1944 edition:

One minute, the houses of Caen were sitting side by side and the next minute, there weren’t any houses in the center of town at all. There was nothing but flames, rubble and dust…. We dropped down through the overcast on inspection. All of a sudden Caen just went completely to pieces in the center. Sidewalks, trees, houses, parked vehicles seemed to melt away.[3]

Captain McCarthy had witnessed the navel bombardment from off the coast of Normandy, targeting German emplacements inland.

Private Richard Austin, NU ’44, would have been the first of the Norwich alumni to land in Normandy, just after midnight on June the 6th. Over 13,000 airborne soldiers were dropped over the Normandy region during the early hours of the 6th, taking the German forces in the area completely by surprise.[4] The airborne mission was to secure vital areas behind the beaches that would soon be visited by American soldiers. While the German forces were surprised, they did react to the airborne invasion, throwing up flak that would scatter the planes, and along with less than favorable weather conditions, turn the airborne landings into a mess of soldiers. Most would not land in the right place. It is unknown where Private Austin landed on the morning of the 6th, although much of the 101st Airborne division landed somewhere behind Utah Beach. Austin survived the jump into Normandy, and it is possible that he would have found some of his fellow members of the 501st Regiment and, most likely, other members of the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions. Many objectives were undertaken by soldiers from different units, improvising to their surroundings and nearby targets. By the end of the day on June 6th, only 2,500 of the 6,600 troopers were organized into their units. While very disorganized, they were instrumental in beginning to secure the area for the soldiers coming in from the beaches.[5]

In front of the airborne landings was Utah Beach. The Norwich alumni who landed there was Lieutenant Eugenio Bonafin of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, Lieutenant Lawrence Elman, NU ’42, Lieutenant Fredrick Meinken, NU '47, with the 4th Cavalry Regiment, Lieutenant Thomas Fulham, NU ’47, and Lieutenant Robert Harrington, NU ’47, of the 4th Infantry Division.

The 4th Cavalry Regiment put the first sea-borne soldiers into Normandy, two hours before H-Hour (0430) to take out a suspected observation post. Off shore to the North from Utah Beach are the St. Marcouf Islands; reconnaissance planes had spotted buildings that could pose a problem for the upcoming landings. The unit, along with the 24th Cavalry, found that the islands were abandoned, but was cluttered with mines, which killed and wounded a number of soldiers who had landed.[6] Neither Lieutenant Lawrence Elman, NU ‘42, nor Lieutenant Fredrick Meinken, NU '47, was among the casualties on the island.

The 4th Infantry Division was one of the first divisions to land on Utah Beach, and was able to do so with little difficulty – they received only scattered gunfire. Because of the weather, the entire landing was pushed down the beach, into a quieter region. While this meant that there was little resistance, the invading army had only one exit, a single causeway, rather than two at the original landing site. From the beaches, the US forces would move inwards, and link up with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, who had landed the night before, and had been tasked with securing the key roads in the area. The exact role that Lieutenant Thomas Fulham, NU ’47, and Lieutenant Robert Harrington, NU ’47, played in the invasion is unknown, although it is likely that they were involved with the invasion, given their unit. Harrington (No relation to Captain Arthur Harrington, who was landing at Omaha on the same day) was a member of the 4th Recon Troop, which might have been an early arrival to the beach. Fulham was a member of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, and would have most likely landed with the bulk of the attacking force.

In the 87th Mortar Battalion, Lieutenant Bonafin, NU ’43, would have landed alongside various infantry units as they landed on Utah. He was assigned to A Company, in support of 1st Battalion of the 8th Infantry Division. The mortar battalion landed later in the attack, after the first waves of infantry hit the beaches. With the first waves, forward observers had landed from his unit, and by the time Lieutenant Bonafin would have landed, they would have called in information once the unit had deployed their mortars. The mortar battalions launched a number of rounds that morning in support of infantry, and after about an hour, moved inland, keeping pace with the advancing infantry. During the attack, they targeted a number of enemy emplacements, such as machine gun posts and pillboxes. His unit would continue to support the 8th Infantry in the days ahead.[7]

The initial landings at Utah Beach went along fairly smoothly. There was almost no opposition during H-Hour (0630), but the entire first waves of soldiers arrived at the beaches in the wrong locations, almost two thousand yards from where they were supposed to land. While the units landed on in an area that was lightly defended, all of their planned actions were useless, and units were forced to improvise.

Omaha Beach was another story entirely. Landing teams faced heavy opposition on the beaches, with entire platoons being killed before they even reached the sand and a number of the landing craft ended up in the wrong place due to poor weather. The Norwich Alumni who landed on Omaha were Major Bill McNamara, NU ‘36, Lieutenant Thurber Raymond ‘41, Lt. Colonel Carroll Stowell, NU ‘40, Major Jim Ballard, NU ’39, Lieutenant George Briggs, NU ’32 and Captain Arthur Harrington, NU ‘40. Major McNamara and Lieutenant Raymond were both part of the 1st Infantry, 1st Regiment, and were some of the first soldiers to land on the beaches, although their exact landing sites are unknown. Lt. Colonel Stowell was also part of the 1st Infantry, but was a member of the 1st Engineer Combat Battalion. Major Ballard and Lieutenant Briggs were both members of the 29th Infantry. Major McNamara’s boat dropped his platoon in the wrong location, due to rough seas and upon landing, came under fire from German machine guns. While he was unharmed, the next boat down the line was hit, cutting down most of the soldiers inside. After the landing, he and his soldiers moved up the beach, seeking shelter in a trench. They were on the beach for about an hour, before moving on.[8] Major McNamara would later be awarded an oak leaf cluster for the Silver Star for his actions on June 6th, as his unit came under fire, he moved up the beach and was able to locate a trench, which he led his unit to, possibly saving many lives.[9]

Major Jim Ballard, NU ‘39, and Lieutenant George Briggs, NU ’32, of the 116th Infantry, attached to the 29th Infantry, would have also likely been among the first waves of the assault on Omaha Beach. It is not known exactly what squads they was attached to, but it is likely that he would have landed on the Easy Green, Dog Red, Dog White or Dog Green sectors, within the first 50 minutes of the attack.[10] Lieutenant Briggs led a platoon of riflemen during the invasion.

Captain Arthur Harrington, NU ’40, landed in-between the 1st and 29th Divisions, and was attached to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade, and was tasked with linking communications between both divisions to better coordinate their attacks on the beach. He landed at H + 6 on Easy One, a beach sector on Omaha, several hours after the initial waves, but still received enemy fire, the only time during the war.

In most cases, the mission of the first waves of soldiers was to do either one of two things: attack the German emplacements to secure the beach for the next wave, or to clear the beach of emplacements, booby traps and barriers, as the latter waves of tanks and heavy artillery would be slowed by the German defenses. They were to breach the German defenses in two hours, and work their way inland. However , a number of problems occurred as a result of mis-landings and heavy enemy fire, destroying the engineering equipment or detonating explosives. In addition, few of the landing craft made it to the shores before beaching, requiring most of the soldiers to wade into the beaches, making them easy targets for Germans soldiers.[11]

By 0800 to 0900, breakthroughs to the bluffs overlooking the beaches were being made, although soldiers did so without the support of much artillery or armor. For the rest of the day, much of the fighting behind Omaha was in three areas: Colleville, St. Laurent and Vierville-sur-Mer. In all areas, units were met with German resistance. It seems, given the citation for Major McNamara’s actions on June 6th, that his unit was in the Vierville-sur-Mer area.[12] This also seems to be where much of the 116th Infantry and Rangers were concentrated, and it is likely that Major Ballard and Lieutenant Briggs were also be in this area after leaving the beach. In the first day, they had only established a foothold that extended roughly a mile and a half into France.[13] At the same time, the units coming in from Utah beach met with far less resistance.[14] By the end of the day, casualties at Utah Beach numbered only around two hundred[15], while the casualties at Omaha beach were nearly ten times that, with around two thousand killed.[16]

[1] Harrison, 300

[2] Harrison, 302

[3] Norwich Record, July 1944

[4] Harrison, 278-279

[5] Harrison, 288

[6] Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day. Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 162

[7] Elliot, Bruce. Unit History of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, (2006)

[8] Sivret, 1

[9] September 1, 1944 Norwich University Record, 26

[10] US War Department Historical Division, Omaha Beachhead, Washington D.C., 31

[11] Ibid, 42-44

[12] September 1, 1944 Norwich University Record, 26

[13] Harrison, 329

[14] Ibid, 328

[15] Ibid, 329

[16] Ibid, 330