Memoir of Robert Roderick, QM U.S.N.R
Submitted by Lisa Bittle Tancredi
There were few people who guessed how nearly England had lost the war. If Germany had continued her blitz from the air for a month or two more, she would have brought England to her knees. But the bulldog tenacity – yes, it was magnificent and brilliant, no matter what the attitude of the American people is toward the English – the stubborn will to resist and protect this beautiful and valiant island from slavery turned the tide of the European war, and perhaps saved the fate of the world.
When we arrived in England it was reported, but not confirmed, that half the British fleet had been evacuated to Halifax.
It was a queer sight – the barrage balloons, the rivers and streams clotted and clogged with every type of landing craft. The shores were bristling with guns and anti-invasion apparatus. The towns and cities were teeming with soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Forests were cut down and camps were set up overnight. England had been transformed into a terrific little powder keg, the hope of Europe, and of the world. From this small island the invasion of Europe was to be launched. We all knew that was coming, but the eternal question on our lips was “when?” There were guesses and bets, whispers and the usual scuttlebutt.
The regular work of the ship went on, but we were all straining our eyes and ears for outward signs of the big invasion date.
D-Day had originally been scheduled for June 4th, 1944. The date had been beautifully concealed. I can remember the LCI’s pulling out one by one on what we thought was the real invasion. We waved good luck to each other, made our “V” for victory signs, and wondered morosely if we would ever see each other again. That trip ended up in Plymouth Harbor – it had just been a “dry run.” The weather was exceedingly unfavorable for air protection and support.
MONDAY 5 JUNE 1944
Monday afternoon at about 1500 our task force of LCI’s departed from Plymouth for France. It was cloudy and hazy – little better than the time originally set for D-Day. In our company were about forty LCI’s. Others joined our group as we sailed northeast toward Portland. We met no subs, planes, or warships. The route we took had been tested many times. In fact, the British and American Navies had spent a good year in the Channel, trying different approaches to the French Coast, feeling out the enemy’s radar protection. Many of these “experimental” voyages included large convoys of LST’s and resulted in tragedy. These approaches to France were discarded. Others proved more successful: often ships would come within a few miles of the French Coast without being detected. If the Germans were aware of these voyages, then the real invasion seemed merely another routine voyage to them.
On into the late hours of the night we crept, the balloon barrages attached to each craft looking ghostly, and as unreal as this greatest event in all history – the invasion of Fortress Europe. Our escorting destroyer swept back and forth before us, like a mother hen leading her brood under the protection of her radar tracer, bringing us nearer to France. An occasional blinking light would break the calm of the night, indicating a change of course. Once, two of our transports carrying paratroopers flew overhead. We thought of these paratroopers, dropped across the Cherbourg Peninsula, sandwiched in between the enemy, with both face and back to the Germans. Some of us slept on deck. If we expected action we were disappointed.
TUESDAY 6 JUNE 1944
When we arrived in the Baie de la Seine, about ten miles northeast of Isigny, the beach was already taken, and a thriving little center, piled high with equipment had been established. Once we heard an 88 explode. The story made the rounds that fortunately the Navy had slightly miscalculated, hitting the wrong beach. The original point of the invasion was supposedly well-protected by obstacles including mines, spikes, rails, etc. Another story was that the German positions were undermanned due to the fact that half the normal complement was miles behind the coast drilling at anti-invasion maneuvers, at the exact time of the invasion. The greatest stroke of luck was that the Northwester, which came a few weeks later, did not occur during the first week of the invasion.
THURSDAY 8 JUNE 1944
As the night progresses, only distant blazes can be seen on the horizon in the direction of Cherbourg and Caen. Often tracers soar to the sky.
About an hour before noon our ship was shaken by a loud bump. I looked over the side to see what small boat had rammed us. There was no small boat in sight. I looked dead ahead into the area in which we had been anchored the preceding day and saw a tremendous geyser of water shoot into the air.
It doesn’t take long to learn what water explosives feel like. They make every beam in the ship shudder. When the geyser of water disappeared, I saw a small coaster with a gaping hole in its bow. In three minutes, the ship was completely sunk. We turned our eyes away from it. We do not like to think about it. We might have hit that mine. The Baie is full of them. We may strike one next.
FRIDAY 9 JUNE 1944
Enemy planes were overhead again tonight. We were warned that E-boats were in the vicinity.
About 0200 we could see a destroyer’s searchlight on the horizon. It struck an object in outline which we assumed to be an E-boat. Shortly afterwards, the destroyer switched off the light and fired. We were unable to judge results.
We were ordered to open fire on E-boats if they came any nearer. This seemed quite a ridiculous order; however, since the transport area was full of convoy ships and landing craft. To open fire would be to send our own ships to the bottom.
We made smoke with our smoke machine, which performed magnificently. The smoke poured down into crews’ quarters and a few light sleepers awoke cursing, “Who the hell is smoking those El Ropo Cigars?” The smoke, which was to be a protective measure against planes, blew away from our ship, affording us no cover whatever. It blew toward a cruiser, and completely blanketed it. The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see our hands extended arm’s-length ahead of us.
While the smoke protected us from planes, it provided an excellent blanket for any E-boats which might sneak into the area. We soon received the order to “negat smoke.”
For the most part, Utah Beach was sandy. Trees had been stripped to the ground by initial Naval batteries. It was green, smoking, flaming, quivering earth, almost volcanic; not in the geological sense, but from the fire, the stars, rockets, tracers that poured forth. From the hot human lava of soldiers’ blood pouring over the terrain it was quivering and changing form, and every mile won by the new nature was paved in blood. The news reporters 3,000 miles away sang on about “negligible losses.”
Courtesy of the George C. Marshall Foundation, Lexington, Virginia