Torch, Husky, Avalanche, Shingle, Overlord/Neptune, and Anvil/Dragoon
The first American offensive against Nazi Germany came on 8 November 1942, in North Africa. Operation Torch was designed to take French Morocco, Algiers, and Tunisia from the Germans. Two convoys converged on North Africa, one from England and the other from Norfolk. Coast Guard-manned Leonard Wood (CDR Merlin O’Neill) was the flagship of the Norfolk convoy. Coast Guard-manned Samuel Chase was flagship of the England convoy. Also present were the Coast Guard-manned Joseph P. Dickman (CDR C.W. Harwood), and several other ships with partial Coast Guard crews. As in the Pacific, Coast Guard crews manned hundreds of landing craft. Coast Guard beach masters went ashore with the first waves to coordinate beach activities. Adm. Morison wrote, “The value of previous experience in small-boat handling was proved by the superior performance of the Coast Guard at Fedhala.” Both Harwood and O’Neill were awarded the Legion of Merit.
The next step in the European campaign was the “soft underbelly” of Europe, Sicily and Italy. Operation Husky aimed at Sicily on 10 July 1943. There were 580 American and 795 British ships in the invasion fleet. The Coast Guard manned two large transports, two sub chasers, three LSTs, and 21 LCIs. CDR Miles Imlay commanded Coast Guard LCI Flotilla Four. Several other ships had partial Coast Guard crews. The Large Stationary Targets had made a 32-day, 4,200-mile trip across the Atlantic fully loaded with troops who could not wait to get ashore in Africa to prepare for the landings. It was decided to make a surprise landing. There was no pre-landing shelling. The landings started on time in heavy weather. Later in the day, German planes added to the misery. The unloading proceeded for two days under heavy weather and heavy air attack. But all landings proceeded successfully. CDR Imlay was awarded the Legion of Merit.
The transports retired to Africa to prepare for Operation Avalanche, the invasion of the Italian mainland. Avalanche was targeted for Salerno on 9 September 1943. A new landing craft was going to debut at Salerno, the DUKW. As at Sicily, a surprise landing was planned. There would be no advanced shelling of Salerno. Unlike at Sicily, this time it was not to be. On 7 September, as the convoy was sailing out of Africa, it was detected by a German scout plane. It was under attack for the entire transit and LCI-624 was blown out of the water during the transit. The landing was hotly contested and the beaches would see the most difficult fighting of the European war to date. Nevertheless, DUKWs crawled ashore and a beachhead was secured. All the next day, Coast Guard ships evacuated casualties form the battle. With that, Coast Guard activity in Italy came to a temporary end. During the landings LTJG Grady Galloway was warded a Silver Star. He was commanding a rocket-armed scout boat from Dickman and leading landing craft to the beach when a machine gun opened up on the landing craft. Galloway silenced the gun from his boat. BM1 James Hasburgh was promoted to BMC for shepherding 24 landing craft at night for 20 miles without incident. LTJG Roger Banner was awarded the Legion of Merit for escorting 59 DUKWs 12 miles to their assigned beaches, navigating by stars through mine fields and shells. LCDR James Hunt was awarded a Silver Star for making an extended recon patrol alongshore in an assault boat under heavy artillery fire and obtaining vital information for the landing forces. BM2 Jack Miller made a successful landing, unloading and retraction under intense fire after being severely wounded. Coxswain Leonard Ruehle and his crew ran for 25 hours making 18 trips from lighter to beach and back. Coxswain Eugene Arndt made 14 round trips to the beach.
When the Italian campaign bogged down, it was decided to make an amphibious end run and land far up the coast at Anzio. Operation Shingle began on 22 January 1944. Ten Coast Guard-manned ships participated in this operation. The invasion fleet was forced to remain on station through May delivering supplies to the stalled beachhead. LT John Sting, CO of PC-545, was awarded a citation for conspicuous gallantry for his attack on a German torpedo boat on the night on 18 March. He sank the boat before it could launch torpedoes at transports.
The next amphibious landing in the European Theater would also be the final amphibious landing in the European Theater. It was Operation Overlord/Neptune, the landing in northern France that would breach the Atlantic Wall and put Allied troops directly into Festung Europa, Fortress Europe. It was scheduled for 5 June 1944. Weather forced a one-day delay to 6 June 1944. Neptune would consist of 5,000 ships carrying 500,000 men. Of the 5,000 ships, the Coast Guard manned 99.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was in overall command of the operation. The Western Naval Task Force, under the command of Navy RearAdm. Alan Kirk, transported the US First Army to the American assault area of Utah and Omaha Beach. The Eastern Naval Task Force, under the command of RN RearAdm. Sir Philip Vian, landed the British Second Army on Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches.
Most of the Coast Guard vessels were congregated in Assault Group O-1 that landed the First Infantry Division on the easternmost beaches of the Omaha assault area. Commanded by CAPT Edward Fritsche, this group consisted of Coast Guard-manned Samuel Chase, USS Henrico, HMS Empire Anvil, six LCI(L)s, six LSTs, and 97 smaller craft. CAPT Miles Imlay was the deputy commander and commanding officer of Coast Guard-manned LCI(L) Flotilla 10. The Utah beaches assault group was commanded by Navy RearAdm. Don Moon. His flagship was the Coast Guard-manned Bayfield (CAPT Lyndon Spencer). Other Coast Guard-manned ships were the Joseph T. Dickman and Barnett. Several other ships had partial Coast Guard crews. Four Coast Guard-manned LSTs and several ships with partial Coast Guard crews carried British troops to the Gold beaches.
On 28 May, the crews were sealed in their vessels and the troops were confined to their bases. The soldiers began to embark on 2 June. They would be aboard for three days before the invasion and were provided with motion sickness medication and bags, which the Army described as “Bag, vomit, one”. On 4 June, the ships sortied, but the weather grew so bad that Eisenhower delayed the invasion 24 hours. The ships returned to port. On 5 June, the weather cleared marginally. The tide and moon would not be right again for two weeks. Eisenhower thought for a minute and, at 0415 5 June, said, “OK, We’ll go.”
The fleet was in position off Utah Beach by 0230 6 June. Dickman’s 1MC announced, “Now hear this. Stand by all troops.” At 0353 Dickman ordered away all boats. Loading and leaving went off without a hitch, despite heavy weather. But the heavy seas washed over the landing craft drenching the soldiers and crews. It would prove a miserable ride to the beach. The troops on the Lousy Civilian Ideas were not any better off. Seasickness was rampant throughout the fleet. At 0530, the naval bombardment began. The beach stretched for about 3,000 yards and each of the LCVPs had a specific point on the beach to aim for. Two minutes after the initial assault wave, the second wave brought the underwater demolition teams who had 30 minutes to clear channels. Then new assault waves would follow at ten-minute intervals. By 0600, despite all the meticulous planning, confusion reigned on the Utah Beach. Control ships had struck mines, mine channels had not been cleared, smoke from the naval gunfire obscured the featureless beaches. Beach masters began sorting out the mess. But, the second assault wave brought in the underwater demolition teams and soon channels were cleared through the obstacles. With open channels, logistics runs began in earnest. In spite of all of the confusion, both transports and landing craft disembarked the troops and supplies on schedule. Landing craft bringing supplies to the beach brought casualties back to the transports. Seven of Dickman’s landing craft were lost. Bayfield did not loose any.
Similar events took place on Omaha Beach where the fleet anchored by 0315 and boats were away by 0530. The landing craft had a grueling 11-mile run to the beach. Most of the soldiers were soon seasick. But, as at Utah, despite the confusion, the soldiers and supplies landed on schedule and, for the most part, on target. LCI(L)-85 was hit by 25 shells as she unloaded her troops on the beach. She took aboard some wounded and returned them safely to Chase before she sank. Three other Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)s were sunk off Omaha Beach and several others were damaged. On D-Day, the Coast Guard lost more ships than on any other single day in history.
There were no Coast Guard losses at the British beaches.
Bayfield continued to operate off Normandy for 19 days as the command and control ship. The other ships continued to bring reinforcements and supplies from England and taking wounded back. LST-261 made 53 crossings in the days following D-Day. Operation Neptune officially ended on 29 June with the liberation of Cherbourg. All LCI(L)s off Flotilla 10 were awarded Coast Guard Unit Commendation Medals.
There were no Coast Guard manned vessels in Anvil/Dragoon.
As in the Pacific, the final action of the Coast Guard in Europe was Operation Magic Carpet, transporting thousands of troops back home.
Rescue Flotilla One, Normandy, 6 June 1944
A few weeks before the Normandy invasion, President Roosevelt suggested that Operation Neptune needed a rescueflotilla. The obvious source of the flotilla was the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard had a fleet of 83-foot patrol boats that had been built specifically for antisubmarine warfare off the East Coast. With the U-boat threat dying down, the boats became available for other missions. The Navy requested 60 for the invasion. The boats sailed to New York and were loaded aboard freighters bound for England as Rescue Flotilla One commanded by LCDR Alexander Stewart.
For the invasion, the boats were divided evenly between the two amphibious groups. Originally, only five boats were to be between the transports and the beach in each zone. The others were to remain with the transports where it was believed the most danger would be. This assumption was wrong, and soon all boats were prowling the surf line. Since the LCVPs had right of way, the rescue boats were not only dodging shells and beach obstacles, but the landing craft themselves.
Minutes after H-Hour, ENS Bernard Wood, Commanding CGC-1, made the first rescue less than 2,000 yards off the beach. Coastguardsmen had to go into the water to help survivors aboard. In all, CGC-1 picked up 47 survivors. ENS O. Tinsley Meekings’ CGC-2 rescued nine unconscious men from a swamped DUKW 300 yards offshore. Artificial respiration saved the men. After rescuing the crew of a sinking US tank, LTJG William Starret, in CGC-3, towed several disabled LCVPs close enough to shore to deliver their troops. LTJG James Smith’s CGC-4 also towed disabled DUKWs to shore. All of this was within the first 30 minutes after H-Hour. By noon, CGC-5, commanded by ENS S.G. Pattyson had picked up 34 men. When a German bomb set the British transport Fort Pick on fire, the troops panicked. ENS Richard Peer steered CGC-8 to the side of the ship and, using an electronic bullhorn, restored order to the men and convinced them to heed the transport’s commanding officer’s orders. The sight if the cutter standing by for rescue if needed had a calming effect and order was restored. A high-ranking British officer aboard the transport officially reported that the Coastguardsmen “showed great courage” and were “deserving of high praise”. The distinction of rescuing the most survivors went to LTJG R.V. McPhail in CGC-16, who delivered 126 survivors and one fatality to the hospital ships. ENS John Kellen took CGC-23 into Le Harve harbor, which was patrolled by German E-boats and ringed by German guns, to pick up the survivors of an Allied aircraft that had crashed there.
The rescues went on far after D-Day. In August, a British hospital ship hit a mine and sank quickly. LTJG Burke Powers, in CGC-31, rescued 99 survivors, including a British nurse. CGC-31 had the distinction of rescuing the only woman during the campaign. Though she was in shock form the immersion, she pitched in and helped the crew in aiding the other survivors. As late as September, the Matchbox Fleet was picking up survivors from ships of the vast supply fleet that kept supplies and reinforcements coming to the beaches.
Such were the accomplishments of Rescue Flotilla One. On D-Day alone they had rescued over 400 men. By the end of June, the number had grown to 1,438. Many of the deeds went unrecorded. Typical of these is the case of LTJG George Clark of CGC-35. Long after the invasion, LCDR Stewart received a letter on Admiralty stationary addressed to Clark. The letter stated, “I am commanded by My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to inform you that they have learned with great pleasure that, on the advise of the First Lord, the King has been graciously pleased to award you the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty shown when in command of Coast Guard Cutter No. 35 in the initial landings of the Allied Forces on the Coast of Normandie on 6th June, 1944”. Clark’s trip report for that period simply states, “Survivors rescued, five. Corpses, none. Comments, none.”