First Wave at Omaha Beach – S. L. A. Marshall

English: German Casemate at Omaha Beach (Normandy)

English: German Casemate at Omaha Beach (Normandy) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’ve got one more to share with you on D-Day. This is SLA Marshall’s account of the first wave at Omaha Beach. I find it telling both for what it says about soldiers and how important leadership is, and in truth how well the army trained its junior officers all thing considered.

My understanding is that there has been much criticism in recent years of Marshall’s work. It may be true, or it may be more revisionists. I don’t know. This article in no way makes anybody (other than a few individuals) out as heroic, or cowardly either. Just normal Americans trying to get a job done under conditions that we cannot imagine. And that is why I’m publishing this, every year while we remain grateful, we understand less of how bloodily horrific full on battle is, and I think it important to remember. So while, overall, some of the veracity here might be questionable, for me it rings true with the little that those who were there (and survived) were willing to say about it. First published in The Atlantic in November 1960, with a hat tip to Powerline Blog.

When he was promoted to officer rank at eighteen, S. L. A. MARSHALL was the youngest shavetail in the United States Army during World War I. He rejoined the Army in 1942, became a combat historian with the rank of colonel; and the notes he made at the time of the Normandy landing are the source of this heroic reminder. Readers will remember his frank and ennobling book about Korea, THE RIVER AND THE GAUNTLET, which was the result of still a third tour of duty.S. L. A. MARSHALL

NOV 1 1960, 12:00 PM ET0

UNLIKE what happens to other great battles, the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day.This fluke of history is doubly ironic since no other decisive battle has ever been so thoroughly reported for the official record. While the troops were still fighting in Normandy, what had happened to each unit in the landing had become known through the eyewitness testimony of all survivors. It was this research by the field historians which first determined where each company had hit the beach and by what route it had moved inland. Owing to the fact that every unit save one had been mislanded, it took this work to show the troops where they had fought.How they fought and what they suffered were also determined in detail during the field research. As published today, the map data showing where the troops came ashore check exactly with the work done in the field; but the accompanying narrative describing their ordeal is a sanitized version of the original field notes.This happened because the Army historians who wrote the first official book about Omaha Beach, basing it on the field notes, did a calculated job of sifting and weighting the material. So saying does not imply that their judgment was wrong. Normandy was an American victory; it was their duty to trace the twists and turns of fortune by which success was won. But to follow that rule slights the story of Omaha as an epic human tragedy which in the early hours bordered on total disaster. On this two-division front landing, only six rifle companies were relatively effective as units. They did better than others mainly because they had the luck to touch down on a less deadly section of the beach. Three times that number were shattered or foundered before they could start to fight. Several contributed not a man or bullet to the battle for the high ground. But their ordeal has gone unmarked because its detail was largely ignored by history in the first place. The worst-fated companies were overlooked, the more wretched personal experiences were toned down, and disproportionate attention was paid to the little element of courageous success in a situation which was largely characterized by tragic failure.The official accounts which came later took their cue from this secondary source instead of searching the original documents. Even such an otherwise splendid and popular book on the great adventure as Cornelius Ryans The Longest Day misses the essence of the Omaha story.In everything that has been written about Omaha until now, there is less blood and iron than in the original field notes covering any battalion landing in the first wave. Doubt it? Then lets follow along with Able and Baker companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Their story is lifted from my fading Normandy notebook, which covers the landing of every Omaha company.ABLE Company riding the tide in seven Higgins boats is still five thousand yards from the beach when first taken under artillery fire. The shells fall short. At one thousand yards, Boat No. 5 is hit dead on and foundered. Six men drown before help arrives. Second Lieutenant Edward Gearing and twenty others paddle around until picked up by naval craft, thereby missing the fight at the shore line. Its their lucky day. The other six boats ride unscathed to within one hundred yards of the shore, where a shell into Boat No. 3 kills two men. Another dozen drown, taking to the water as the boat sinks. That leaves five boats.Lieutenant Edward Tidrick in Boat No. 2 cries out: “My God, were coming in at the right spot, but look at it! No shingle, no wall, no shell holes, no cover. Nothing!”His men are at the sides of the boat, straining for a view of the target. They stare but say nothing. At exactly 6:36 A.M. ramps are dropped along the boat line and the men jump off in water anywhere from waist deep to higher than a mans head. This is the signal awaited by the Germans atop the bluff. Already pounded by mortars, the floundering line is instantly swept by crossing machine-gun fires from both ends of the beach.

via First Wave at Omaha Beach – S. L. A. Marshall – The Atlantic.

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14 Responses to First Wave at Omaha Beach – S. L. A. Marshall

  1. Ike story was very moving. Father’s older brother was first wave Iwo Jima.

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    • NEO says:

      Thanks. Then he was a great man, without question.

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  2. boudicabpi says:

    Reblogged this on BPI reblog and commented:
    First Wave at Omaha Beach – S. L. A. Marshall

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  3. the unit says:

    There are so many memories, thanks. Mention of Higgins boats. I grew up near Higgins Industries, drove past many times after the war. Knew of their contribution. There was many of their boats, private cabin cruisers in our harbor in the ’50’s. even a PT boat @ Marine Life in Gpt MS back then.
    Well the PT boat was in the ’60’s. Really don’t know if it Higgins or another company like Elco.
    In spite of our construction knowledge today these boats were amazing. All I heard back then was they were plywood. Read of amazing ply wooding of techniques back then at Wiki.

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    • NEO says:

      I hear you, I grew up in IN, managed a tour of the shipyard in Evansville where they built LSTs, not to mention the diplomatic brouhaha with Canada over carrier training on Lake Michigan.

      Gulfport? Really? All dad’s glassware (and a bunch of other stuff) came from Gulfport Creosoting, he bought about 5 railcars a year of poles from them for his job, last time we were there together, there was still a freighter on the beach from hurricane Camille. Small world it is.

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      • the unit says:

        I lived there then, freighter long gone, cut up by torch. Move to Florida northwest coastal area about 8 years later, on a high hill 30 miles inland. After freighter removed and coast rebuilt then came Katrina. N.O. got all the news stories, but MS coast wiped cleaner than with Camille in ’69.
        In the ’50’s my dad was doing some small construction with a need for some creosote materials, and he purchased from them too. I believe finally some EPA thingy caused them to shut down in the ’70’s. They were right on the bayou waterway with their soaking pond. Actually I swam and waterskied just down stream for years in whatever creosote pollution was put out. That was really beginning 60 years ago and no ill health effects yet, bidding my time I guess.

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        • NEO says:

          I saw some stories about that re: Katrina. I always wondered what happened to the company, they seemed to be good people. Yeah probably, creosote is basically tar, burns bad under the skin but other than that-hard to believe that copper arsenate (the green stuff) is less harmful but that’s the feds for you. Makes a hard pole too, need special gaffs on your hooks to climb it, easier than steel or concrete though. 🙂 which is mostly what they use out here now. Just don’t burn either in your fireplace-the fumes will make you sick. 🙂

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        • the unit says:

          Yeah, I don’t really know if some gov epa rule shut them down. I knew the manager in the early to mid ’70’s, then I moved in ’77. Came back visiting often ’cause my folks still lived there. No need to purchase anything, then one day heard they closed up. Old business, maybe no one else in family desired or was able or capable to keep it going. Happens that way sometimes.

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        • NEO says:

          Could be, after dad retired, I never had any reason to talk to them any further, so didn’t.

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        • the unit says:

          “easier than steel or concrete though. 🙂 which is mostly what they use out here now. Just don’t burn either in your fireplace-the fumes will make you sick. :-)”
          OK, I promise…no steel or concrete be burned in my fireplace. 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          Good plan 🙂

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