We dipped our mess kits in the cold greasy water with an effort to clean them and took another hasty glance at the smoking and blazing shoreline before ducking through the hatchway leading down to our quarters.
At approximately 7:40 a.m. five of us, Johnakin,
bosuns mate first class, tall, gangly, serious-minded, and 21, veteran of North Africa and Sicily, and leading petty officer of this platoon. Haynes,
bosuns mate first class, also a veteran of previous operations, Arts and Beemus and myself went topside to move all of our units, medical, hydrographic, communications, ship repair, geared to a prearranged position on the ship.
conning tower, portside, amid ships, and on the fantail. We had volunteered because of our swimming ability to cut loose and throw over the side the rubber raft lashed against the
conning tower. Loaded with the aforementioned gear and paddle, swim or drag this precious cargo safely ashore somehow while the remainder of our group landed in the usual manner from the two forward landing ramps.
According to our schedule, our craft was to land on beach,
Dog White, at H hour plus 100 minutes or approximately 8:10 a.m. through a 50 yard
patch cleared by our demolition men and the maze of obstacles and mines prepared by the Germans. Our ships crew were veterans of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno and promised they would get us ashore somehow.
At 7:55 only 15 minutes left before our scheduled landing. No shots had been fired on us and we were rapidly approaching what seemed and actually proved to be an impassable barrier. Nowhere in sight was the hope for clear passage. Finally with only a few minutes between us and our appointment with fate, our LCI veered sharply to the right and headed straight directly for the right flank of the
Dog Green beach.
Some few yards to the right of us another LCI was drifting aimlessly and
German machine guns were mercilessly cutting to ribbons any floundering troops who had managed to jump clear of the smoking and burning hull. On our left along the obstacles, I could see 2 or 3
LCMs aft, sunk or overturned by shell fire or mines.
Only 100 yards from the first row of obstacles it was still quiet, yes, I said to myself, it's too damned quiet. I spoke briefly with my executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Southward, who was standing by the number 3 hatchway forward and eased myself back to a position of readiness beside the rubber raft.
Suddenly, without warning a blast shook our sturdy little craft from stem to stern and a sheet of flame shot up some 30 or 40 feet in the air through the number 1 hold directly forward of the
conning tower. A fire broke out below and smoke poured out of the gaping hole torn by the flames.
As if the explosion were a prearranged signal, the Gerry's opened up with everything, 88's, mortar's, machine guns, and so forth. Terror seized me as I gazed horrified at the burned and bleeding frantically rushing and stumbling past me trying to get away from the blinding fire and smoke. I fought off the weakness in my knees and struggled to keep my mind clear.
Then I heard a voice yell for blankety blank sake somebody cut the
blankety-blank line and there against the rear of the thickening smoke I could see Johnakin slashing at the lines, holding the rubber raft against the
conning tower. Haynes cut the remaining strand and with the appearance of Arts and Beemus we quietly dropped the raft over the side.
As Johnakin tied the afts stern line to the LCI, I climbed over the side and dropped the remaining 7 or 8 feet and landed on all fours in a pitching and rocking craft. Haynes made fast the bow lines and I braced my knees against the gunnels to prevent my being pitched overboard while catching the radio set and medical packs they began dropping to me.
Arts leaped into the other end of the raft and together we managed to catch all the gear safely and stow it as compactly as possible. Next came our personal gear, packs, tommy guns, ammunition, canteens and finally, Haynes, Johnakins and Beemus dropped into the loaded craft.
Arts handed me his knife which was to cut loose three paddles, secured forward which we used heading towards shore some 150 yards away. Machine gun and rifle bullets whined past our ears, or plunked into the water near our craft. As we pushed our way through the iron and wooden ramps and poles to which were wired
telemines. As we reached more shallow water, where 3 and 4 ft waves were breaking, I marveled that there we were not dashed against some mine or reeled to pieces by gunfire as yet.
We slipped off the ramp into the cold channel water and keeping the ramp between us and the beach we pushed it into shore where we crawled out along the sides of it and dragged the equipment to the water's edge. From our position to the 3 ft. seawall was a scant 30 yards at Ropard beach littered with dead and dying soldiers, unused weapons, and off to our left some 50 or 60
yds. an amphibious tank with its treads in the water was firing bursts of machine gun bullets at German pillboxes and gun emplacements in the side of the hill while about 300 yds beyond the sea wall.
Destruction and chaos engulfed the entire area. Troops were dug in and still fighting from the beach. It was even tougher than we had anticipated. All this took just a matter of seconds to observe. I did not know just what to do next. As we dragged the last bit of gear out of the ramp, Johnakin yelled,
"Hey Bacon do you think that we can make it out to the ship again. Some of these wounded guys will never make it ashore."
" I'll give it a try if you will Johnny," I replied, so while Haynes, Beemus and Arts pulled the units gear away from the waters edge to the shelter of the seawall, Johnakin and I quickly tossed our packs, tommy guns, and helmets on the beach and crawled around behind the raft to catch our breath before starting out around the raft.