Omaha Beach and Beyond
By John Robert Slaughter
Bob Slaughter joined the National Guard in 1941 at the young age of 16. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the United States was thrust into another World War, Slaughter found himself sent from his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia to Britain, where he would train with the 29th Division, 116th Infantry for the largest sea borne invasion in historyâ€”Operation Overlordâ€¦
Each man on our thirty-man boat team climbed over the railing of the Empire Javelin into our assigned seats on the LCA. We were then lowered into the sea by winches held by davits. The always-rough English Channel was much worse than usual, making it very difficult to disengage the ship. Our craft immediately began taking on water as its flat bow slammed into seven-foot swells that sloshed over the front and ended up in our laps. It wasnâ€™t long before all hands were ordered to bail water with battle helmets. It was to be a long, miserable ride. Yes, I actually looked forward to getting ashore.
Our boat circled around and around until the other five had lowered to the water. This maneuver, called â€œPiccadilly Circus,â€ was designed to slow our departure until the entire six-boat wave had formed a straight line. â€™Round and â€™round and â€™round we went, getting colder and wetter as the icy, briny water poured into the boat. Finally, the last landing craft in our wave caught up, and the wave commander signaled for us to proceed to the beach.
The roar of the engines made it hard to talk or listen. Besides, there wasnâ€™t anything more to be said. As far as I could tell, no one on our boat seemed reluctant to go. We were well aware that the road back home was through Berlin.
Others were undergoing, or soon would experience, similar conditions. Roanoker Captain James D. Sink, commanding officer of the 116th Regimental Headquarters Company, for example, vividly recalled that those aboard the Charles Carroll also rose â€œabout 2 a.m. while the ship was still in motion, and had an early breakfast. The anchorage, some twelve miles out, was reached about 2 a.m. The navy sounded general quarters as the anchor dropped.
â€œGoing out on the open decks in the dark, we could hear aircraft off in the distance as they flew toward the Cherbourg Peninsula. Flashes of light in the sky and the roar of the distant artillery indicated enemy antiaircraft fire. The wind was coming up and the waters were beginning to run rough when Colonel Charles Canham, commander of the 116th Regiment, left the Charles Carroll in his free boat (an LCVP), about 5:30 a.m. H-Hour was scheduled to be 6:30 a.m.â€
Sinkâ€™s account also testifies to the difficulty caused by overloading the men, and problems of radio contact which later occurred. He himself:
â€œ . . . experienced difficulty in loading Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM)-10-2-DG, which came alongside the Carroll from another ship at 6 a.m.. As loading over the side involved considerable hand-carried equipment, it was necessary to change loading stations to the leeward side of the ship and go over the side on a chain ladder, which gave better footing. This change in loading caused some delay in departing for the rendezvous area.
â€œThe craft proceeded slowly through the rough seas to the control ship, a British landing ship, the Prince Baudouin, to be told that our wave had departed and to return to our parent ship for instructions. This order was complied with and the Carroll ordered us to proceed to land on our own. Meanwhile, H-Hour had come and gone. Significantly, the many radios in the various command nets reported promptly on time to the net control stations aboard the LCM when radio silence was lifted at H-Hour. It was unfortunate that most of them would go silent upon landing and not be heard from further on D-Day.â€