LCT 614 on Dog Red – Omaha Part II

An LCVP coming in between the 614 and the 612 took a mortar or antitank round directly on its ramp. As the craft sank, the survivors jumped overboard and screamed toward the 614 for help. Machine guns opened up on the men in the water, and Carter and Carlson saw several of them roll over slowly. Other men scrambled for what safety they could find. Carlson saw several men gather behind a floating post that had broken off an obstacle. A shell hit the post, and when the spray and smoke cleared Carlson saw nothing there. Other men found cover behind the intact obstacles, many of them mined. Some of them were so close that Carlson could see the details of the large Teller mines with their pins slanted seaward, waiting for a bump.

Irwin’s ability to maneuver to avoid the obstacles and get around the sandbar was severely restricted by the anchor cable payed out behind them. All four craft had landed just to the east of their assigned positions, with the 613 and 536 landing in front or just to the east of the draw and the 612 and 614 coming ashore at its western edge. Because the Germans had positioned their guns to fire along the beach rather than out to sea, the 612 and 614 were in a more direct line of fire than the other two craft. The 612, in fact, was between the guns and the 614. When the 612 slowed to thread through the obstacles and sandbars, it caught at least three shells. One exploded in the galley, but the others knocked out all three engines and the two generators. The 612 was totally dead in the water, but fortunately only one man was wounded. They hoisted the breakdown flag, began fighting their fires, and waited, under fire, for help. Carter watched the smoke rising from the 612 and began to wonder whether the fire from the gun that got them would shift to the 614. He hoped the 612 and the smoke rising from her would shield them.

Apparently the sandbar was not as much of a problem farther to the left. Irwin noticed, with a mixture of envy and frustration, that the two craft on the far left of their section were having an apparently easier time than the 614 and 612 were. The wave leader, LCT 536, was able to land its load and retract after only a few minutes. Once that craft regained the rendezvous area, Leide assigned it to take the place of LCT 590, one of Rockwell’s LCTs carrying DD tanks that had taken a hit and was not available for a second load as planned. LCT 613, on the far left of the wave, retracted a short time later and came over to tow the 612 to safety. This left the 614 temporarily the only LCT on the Dog Red sector. Irwin knew his only two choices were either to retract and beach again farther to the left or to wait for the rising tide to lift him over the sandbar. He could see that the tide now was coming in fast, and knowing that the troops had been told to come in on a particular beach for a reason, he decided to wait for the tide.

Soon, though, the H+70 and H+90 waves began coming in on top of them. The craft in these waves had not been dispatched in an orderly fashion, and several craft from the H+60 wave, such as the 614, had not been able to retract. As a result, the craft began to crowd along the beach, making navigation inshore almost impossible. The larger LCTs and LCMs could only slowly work through the obstacles, and many waited just off the obstacles looking for a way in. By the time these craft began picking their way through the obstacles, the next wave of landing craft came in. Only the little LCVPs had the maneuverability to wend through the obstacles, but many of these plywood craft suffered damage from rifle and machine-gun fire and sank or broached, adding to the congestion.

Into all this came the first wave of four of the even larger LCI(L)s, two off to port and two immediately to starboard. The big guns shifted their fire to them, but machine guns kept up a steady fire at the 614, keeping the men pinned down wherever they could find cover. Mortar rounds continued to land all around them. The lead LCI(L) off to starboard, the 91, slowed at the line of obstacles and began taking hits. It backed off a bit and began nosing through again, only to begin burning and then to explode so violently that Carter and the others felt the blast. “My God,” Carter said. “They took it in the magazine.” The second craft, LCI(L) 92, rammed through the obstacles farther to the right, struck mines, broached, and began burning.

After several minutes, Irwin knew he wasn’t going to get closer to the beach anytime soon, and the fate of the two LCIs made him realize staying on the beach was suicidal. He could see men wading ashore from the craft around them, and even some craft behind them were letting their men out. He decided to risk it. Irwin ordered the ramp dropped, and Cromer whapped the last dog with his hammer. The ramp splashed down, and Cromer lost no time rolling off the locker and ducking into the winch compartment with Clark. Yelling, “Let’s go!” the lieutenant in charge of the men ran off the ramp and dropped into water up to his armpits. His second in command and several of the men followed. Carlson saw the soldier he had befriended looking up at him, crying, and repeating, “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”

The appearance of infantry drew the attention of at least one machine gun. A few quick bursts zeroed in on the ramp and hit several of the soldiers, two of whom fell on the ramp. The other troops stopped their advance and pulled the wounded men back on deck. One of them had been shot squarely in the stomach, the round just missing a rifle grenade. The other apparently suffered a painful but shallow wound to the back. With both of their officers now off the ship, the men showed no particular desire to move out. Irwin signaled to Pillmore to get the vehicles moving. The soldiers pressed themselves against the steel bulwarks to get out of their way.

The bulldozers rumbled off first, and some of the infantry followed behind them for protection. Other soldiers already in the water also bunched up behind the vehicles, not realizing that they were not only putting the steel of the dozers between them and the guns but also the dozers’ load of TNT. The dozers made it almost to the water’s edge before a large shell exploded between them and set them both ablaze. Fortunately the near miss did not provide the shock necessary to set off the TNT.

Next, two of the jeeps tried to land, but the driver of one was hit and the other jeep apparently swamped in a shell hole and drowned out quickly. The second jeep’s driver struggled through the water for cover behind an obstacle. Irwin realized he would need to get the LCT even closer to the beach if the remaining jeeps were to get ashore successfully, so he sent Pillmore down to tell the remaining drivers and soldiers to wait a bit before heading to the beach. That was one order they had no trouble obeying.

The men on deck could see dead soldiers everywhere. A row of them lay in the surf, washing ashore with the rising tide. Others lay scattered on the beach, especially along the line of shingle. Still others floated in the water around them, some with only their legs in the air. When these men hit the water, they had inflated their life belts, but their heavy packs had flipped them over, drowning them. Carter stared, fixated on a dead soldier rolling with the waves just in front of the open ramp. They could see very little activity on the beach besides burning vehicles. One man caught their eye, who was walking calmly along the beach as if on a holiday stroll. They all thought he was shell-shocked. This could have been Col. Charles Canham, commander of the 116th RCT. He and others of the headquarters staff landed in an LCVP on Dog White about the same time as the 614. He and Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, the deputy commander of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division, walked along the beach in opposite directions—Cota westward and Canham east—urging the men to move inland and looking for opportune spots to scale the bluffs. Cota’s efforts at the D-1 exit are now legendary in Twenty-ninth Division histories.

Again Irwin started shouting a flurry of engine orders and heading changes, trying to work the little craft through the obstacles and sandbars to the beach itself. If anything, the mortar and machine-gun fire grew even more intense. To Carlson, the shrapnel and bullet splashes looked as thick as raindrops on the water; instead of keeping tension on the anchor cable as the craft backed and twisted, he stayed in the gun tub. The starboard gun tub, perhaps because of its closeness to the pilothouse and conn, took more than its share of fire. Jarvis had already narrowly dodged one bullet, so he and Johnson pulled back to the cover of the pilothouse. Even Irwin, up on the conn, realized that his position was untenable, with the bullets zipping past and shrapnel buzzing around his head like angry bees. He and Kleen climbed down from the conn, and Irwin latched open the door to shout orders into the wheelhouse.

By this time, Carter realized he wasn’t going to get an order to shoot. He wiggled out of the gun’s straps in a Houdini-like accomplishment, considering that earlier both Carlson and Sparky had to strap him in around his life jacket.

“Sorry you couldn’t shoot,” Carlson said.

“That’s OK,” Carter replied. “I’m kinda glad to sit down a bit.” The short conversation drew Sparky’s attention to Carlson.

“Are you pulling in that anchor yet?”

Carlson thought the answer was obvious, but he managed a simple no.

Carter wasn’t the only one who was frustrated at not fighting back. Gudger, who had no traffic to direct off the ramp, picked up a Garand rifle from one of the wounded soldiers and walked aft. “Skipper, I can see Germans up on the bluff. I can get them with this rifle. Let me shoot.”

“Hell, no,” Irwin said. “You start shooting that thing and you’ll just draw more fire down on us.”

Wajda, who had been on deck with Gudger directing traffic, climbed into the gun tub with Carter, Sparky, and Carlson. “Hell, I’m not staying up there. I’m staying here.” Just as he climbed in, a shell exploded nearby and shrapnel from it clinked against their helmets. Carlson thought that for the second time that morning, his face had been saved by someone else’s helmet. The four of them, basically a third of the ship’s crew, lay as flat on the deck as they could manage inside the gun tub that was only seven feet in diameter. They stared at each other wordlessly, their eyes round and bloodshot, their lips white and tense. Carter thought of those carefree days with the Boy Scouts on the bank of the Hiawassie River in Etowah. Another third of the crew—Irwin, Pillmore, Kleen, Jarvis, and Johnson—clustered in the scant cover behind the pilothouse.

Another shell exploded off the starboard quarter. Jarvis, who was standing next to Irwin, suddenly spun around and began to crumple onto the deck. Irwin caught him and lowered him. Jarvis’s face was already covered in blood, and Irwin was sure that he was killed. But as soon as he and Johnson got Jarvis straightened out, he regained consciousness. A piece of shrapnel had caught him just below the eye and cut him as cleanly as a knife. Johnson took him below to bandage the wound. Soon the word spread around the little ship: Jarvis got it. No one knew how bad the wound was, and all wondered who would be next.

The LCTs of this wave, going in after the German defenses were fully active but before naval gunfire had begun to take effect, suffered the highest number of casualties among the LCT sailors. In the 614’s group, only the 612 suffered disabling damage, although all the craft had taken hits of various calibers. Three LCTs had gone off to the Dog Green sector, immediately in front of the D-1 draw at Vierville (the beach sector where Company A of the 116th—the Bedford Boys—suffered so badly when they landed at H-Hour). Two of those three LCTs took severe hits. LCT 703 struck mines that knocked out her engines, and before other LCTs could pull her off, several shells struck her, setting her afire and swamping her. She lay off the beach burning for the rest of the morning. LCT 622 also took several hits and casualties, but she was able to remain in operation. The 622’s skipper suffered shock as a result of the hits, and Leide later sent him back to England. The second officer, Ensign W. H. Nordstrom, took command. Like the 614’s Ensign Pillmore, Nordstrom had been aboard less than two weeks.

By now, LCT 614 had been on the beach not the three minutes as expected but almost an hour. The mortar and small arms fire had not let up in the least, and the water around them was filled with landing craft and men. Irwin knew that the tide was coming in because he had been watching the progress of two men holding on to the wooden post of an obstacle. One man had his arms around the post, the other held onto the first, and all the while bullets splashed around them and splintered the wood. Between the bullets chewing up the post and the tide pushing them toward the top, they would soon run out of cover. All this time, Irwin was ordering the craft backward and forward, letting the tide wash them to the left and testing whether the tide had come in enough so they could get over the sandbar.

At that point help arrived in the guise of a destroyer that ran in just a few hundred yards offshore and began an old-fashioned shoot-out with the guns on the beach. With the destroyer drawing the fire of the guns, the smoke from the burning LCIs and LCTs to starboard masking the fire of the mortars and small arms, and the fact that no men or vehicles were leaving the 614, the fire directed at the ship slackened slightly. The men could do a bit more than simply press themselves against the deck.

The screams of the men in the water had become intolerable. Pequigney could hear them clearly through the open door, and through the slit windows in the wheelhouse he could see how crowded the water was off to starboard. With the ship maneuvering back and forth and edging its way to port, Pequigney knew its propellers had to be chopping up many men in the water.

What he could not see was that Kleen, who had a good vantage point from behind the wheelhouse and who had little to do since Irwin was handling most of the radio traffic, had also spotted many men in the water around them and had called out to Carlson, Carter, Sparky, and other men topside. They clambered out of the gun tubs and threw lines to the men to bring them alongside the ship. There, Gudger, Cromer, Andin, and others on deck pulled them aboard. Soon they had rescued quite a number of men, some wounded and others simply stranded when their craft sank out from under them. Two of the men were the crew of an LCVP from the transport Charles Carroll. When they were dragged aboard, Irwin could see they were absolutely blue from their exposure to the cold channel waters. These men were so grateful for being rescued that they started emptying their pockets and giving everything they had, including their .45s, to their rescuers.

As proud as Irwin was that his men were risking themselves to save others, he also knew that they were exacerbating a problem he was growing more worried about. They had been on the beach for well over an hour now and landed essentially nothing. He knew he was doing his best to work in so that he could get the rest of the jeeps and the infantrymen ashore safely, but he also knew that he was disobeying orders by risking his ship and by not forcing the men off. Now he had even more men aboard that he was not forcing off. As an officer, he knew he was to display initiative, but what did that mean? Was he to force the army men off the ship to keep up the pressure of the attack even for the few minutes it would take to get them killed? Or did it mean he was to think of the men’s safety, so that when they landed they could do some good? Of course, the longer he kept the soldiers in safety meant the longer he kept his own men and his craft in danger. But officer or not, he knew he couldn’t force the men off the ship into the face of that withering fire.

The situation had grown frustrating to everyone. They couldn’t land their troops and vehicles, they couldn’t shoot back, and now they had rescued everyone within a line’s throw of the ship. There was nothing left to do but provide target practice for the German gunners. Finally Sparky yelled, “Skipper, let’s get the hell out of here!” Others took up the shout, and now Irwin wondered if, on top of his other worries, he was going to have to quell a mutiny or join it for he was as ready to leave as they were.

Finally, Pequigney yelled out of the wheelhouse door, “Skipper, listen to this.” Over the radio, Leide and Captain Wright were ordering all landing craft to stop beaching operations and to return to the transport area to await further orders.

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