Eyewitness: Off Utah Beach


THIS is a round-by-round story of the invasion of France and the opening of the Second Front.

It covers the secret passage of the invasion fleet under fire and the most glorious sight of the arrival by glider of 10,000 air-borne troops.

The battle continues as this is written.

But one thing is certain. Our beachhead is established.

The story begins on the open bridge of a United States heavy cruiser (the USS Quincy), Capt. Elliott M. Senn, United States Navy, commanding.

It is 2 p.m. Monday, June 5. I am standing under the sky. I am dictating this story as it happens.

Our vessel, with its home port at Boston, is one of the fleet's newest and finest. There is another task force. The combined flotilla with landing craft will be vast.

The sky is overcast. The sea is lead-colored but quiet. There is hardly any wind. Even a squall no worse than last night's would hamper landing craft, result in thousands of casualties, maybe upset the whole show. Well, we have done what we can - the weather is nature's business.

This high open bridge covers three sides. Forward and below are decks and gun turrets.

5 p.m. We have overtaken and are passing the landing craft. They make slow headway, their barrage balloons, tied front and stern of larger craft, tug ahead as though pulling. They will catch up to us as we anchor in the night.

6 p.m. We are leaving England. The great adventure begins. The coastline fades as we steam slowly.

7 p.m. A battle message has been received for this task force. It is pungent, without false heroics. ``Let's put the Navy ball over for a touchdown,'' it sums up. The sailors chuckle.

And now the chaplain offers the final prayer before the battle. All over the ship, out here in the breeze and down in the engine room beneath the surface of the sea, the men pause with bared heads.

There will be general quarters (battle stations) tonight from 10:30.

10:30 p.m. Now we are ready. The sky is overcast. Somewhere up there the moon is one night from being full. Behind us are a few red streaks of sunset.

Midnight. It is June 6, D-Day.

There is a gray light and we can see one another. We keep peering out, wondering when the enemy will go into action, but nothing happens.

2 a.m. The Germans must know we are here. But nothing happens. Just bombers.

A few minutes ago a great flock came back from France flying low, scudding past like bats showing the prearranged signals of friends. Behind tight wedges come stragglers, some with limping motors.

There will be simultaneous attacks by the Americans and British. Our beachhead is the farthest north, nearest Cherbourg.

5:30 a.m. It's come!!

This is the bombardment. My ears pound. Our big guns are just under me and every time they go off - as just then - I jump and the ship jolts.

Enemy shore batteries are ineffectual so far. They produce only geysers of water.

Dawn is breaking. There's more light every second. The sea is calm as a lake. We are in a sort of bay. We have moved in and the landing craft are coming in. Dawn found us on Germany's doormat like the milk bottle. Now at 6:30 the landing craft should be hitting the beaches. It is H-Hour.

7 a.m. An American destroyer has been hit. It is heart-breaking to watch. A whaleboat leaves the destroyer. Distress signals blink. A cloud of steam or smoke appears. A sister ship moves in right under the fire to pick up survivors.

Forty minutes later a line of ships goes ashore and empties are coming back. The drama has shifted from ship to harbor.

9 a.m. Our radio has just picked up a German radiocast denying any troops are ashore. They seem thoroughly befuddled.

Noon. It looks so quiet and peaceful. The splashes of water look like top splashes. Except when they come in our direction. There is one persistent battery that keeps trying to get us. It quiets after we fire and then comes on again after we shift to something else.

2 p.m. I have just been on the head phones in the communications room. Shore groups with walkie-talkies are telling the parent control what they find. More and more crackling static. Suddenly a quiet voice identifies itself.

``I'm pinned down,'' says the quiet voice. ``I am between machine-gun pill-box cross-fire.'' So that's it.

And now our radio leaves him.

That's what a battle sounds like under the scream of shells. We can't really tell what's happening. We are in it, but we might be losing for all we know.

4 p.m. Well, things are going well. We know because we have just heard a BBC broadcast! BBC seems delighted. It says reports are splendid. OK by us.

6 p.m. Six of the clumsy LCMs go by - the most angular craft ever built. They carry a five-man crew and will lug a tank ashore. They come in abreast closer than anything so far. I can pick out figures - almost faces - with my glasses.

I can see the burly captain and even at this distance notice his arms akimbo. He is contemptuously looking at our towering warship and staring it out of countenance.

We let go an eight-inch-gun salvo over his right ear that must at least establish a feeling of joint respect.

Midnight. We are, I think, winning the battle.

And here is the place to stop, because I have just seen the most glorious sight of all. The paratroopers have come in and released their gliders filled with crack troops to reinforce the weary invasion companies that have battled all day.

After seeing the things I have in the past 24 hours, I know one thing now - the road may be tough, but we can't lose.

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