By Jeff Veesenmeyer
There was a strange silence on board the LCI 35…and on the streets of Brighton too. The Normandy invasion had begun.
Over 280,000 men were crossing the English Channel uncertain of what lay ahead. In the near empty pubs and dance halls of Brighton, on England’s south eastern coast, locals awaited word of invasion news.
We left our port of Newhaven about 8 pm on June 5th. We had 190 British troops on board. It was quiet, but the sea was rough.
– Phil Reed, MoMM2/c, LCI 35
LCI 35 was part of Flotilla 2. They would be landing a second wave of British troops on Sword Beach near the French town of Ouistreham. Their sector was marked by stately villas that had been seaside vacation homes. Some were torn down by the Germans to make room for pillboxes and shooting lanes. Taller villas became observation posts and sniper hideouts. The crew of LCI 35 remained at General Quarters throughout the night. Sailors were issued chemically treated protective clothing, gas masks and helmets. With over 5,000 ships crossing the Channel, the danger of being spotted and attacked by German submarines, torpedo boats, the Luftwaffe or hitting a mine was very high. All crews were on high alert. Phil Reed’s General Quarters was in the engine room with 17-year old George Berkley. Reed was 25 and experienced in all things mechanical. During the 10-hour crossing he had some time to think of home and family.
Reed was from the upper peninsula of Michigan. He helped his dad overhaul their Model-T and was driving it by the age of ten. He was a natural mechanic. When the war broke out he was in California working at Douglas Aircraft and living with his sister. He could have sat out the war by working in the defense industry. But he drove back to Michigan to join the Navy. His younger brother David decided to join up too. They went to Great Lakes for boot camp and both ended up on LCI 35 at Bezerte, Tunisia on the northern coast of Africa. That’s where David got reassigned to LCI 188.
Africa is where we got separated because of the Sullivan Brothers. (all 5 Sullivans died during the sinking of the USS Juneau). By the end of the war I was assigned to a minesweeper and David was back in Baltimore, MD.
– Phil Reed, MoMM2/c
Reed’s thoughts also drifted to the young lady he had been dating from Brighton. He met Joy Taylor at the Regent Ballroom Brighton. The city of Brighton was the place to go for liberty. It was about 10 miles from Newhaven Harbor where LCI 35 was preparing for the invasion. English people loved ballroom dancing. The Regent had been built on the rooftop of the Regent Cinema in 1923. The huge dance hall could hold up to 1500 dancers. The floor was on springs. The hall was described in a newspaper column as an “explosion of primary and secondary colors flung in an interesting criss-cross of light.” Local girls saved their money for Saturday nights at the Regent. That is when the Regent was a must. It was an escape from the war.
When we moved from London, we went 60 miles south to Brighton on the coast. That’s where my mother was from. It’s only a short train ride from Newhaven where Phil’s ship was docked. Newhaven being a quiet village – and Brighton a busy town – so all the service men congregated there. Brighton had three dance halls and lots of pubs, so where else would a service man go? I loved to dance. My favorite band was Ted Heath who played many Glenn Miller songs. I wasn’t interested in anything but dancing, hence I was at the Regent dance hall when I met Phil…and he can’t dance, he just hops up and down!
– Joy Taylor Reed
Joy Taylor was born in London. She remembers being sick with chicken pox when war was declared on September 3, 1939. Her mother thought they would be attacked immediately. So, her family went down into the cellar of a mortuary. The bombing blitz of London didn’t begin until the next year on September 7, 1940. Strategic bombing of Britain’s industrial and military targets had been unsuccessful. The RAF Spitfires always seemed to know where the next bombing raid would be. The Luftwaffe losses were too high. Germany changed strategy and unleashed a merciless terror bombing campaign against London and Britain’s major cities. Even the mortuary basement was no longer safe. Joy’s family moved south of London to her mom’s hometown of Brighton. It was safer, but not much. The city of Brighton and ports along the southeast coast were being bombed too. This area would have been the primary beachhead for the German army’s invasion of Great Britain. There were 198 people killed in Brighton during the blitz and hundreds more were injured.
We were bombed in Brighton too. The Germans dropped two bombs on the Wild Park Hills on their way back to France. We all went to look at the large craters the bombs made.
– Joy Taylor Reed
The Battle of Britain was over by the time Phil Reed had arrived at Newhaven, England. The port town was at the mouth of the Ouse River at Seaford Bay. Seahaven Naval Academy was outside of town. Two huge piers and a breakwater formed a safe berthing for cargo, fishing and now naval ships. The port had been the kicking off site for the ill-fated Dieppe Raid in 1942. Six Thousand Canadian troops were sent on the raid. Only 2300 returned. Lessons learned at Dieppe had been part of the planning for D-Day.
The nightly Luftwaffe bombing raids had ended, but there were still air raid alerts. German scientists had invented two types of long range missiles. They were known in German as Vergeltungswaffen which is hard to say and harder to spell. They became the V-1 or V-2 missiles to the military. To the English citizens who were targeted by them, they were Doodle Bugs. Their short wings and buzzing sound reminded people of these silly little bugs.
One night I looked out my bedroom window and saw the flames shooting out the behind of a Doodle Bug. The buzzing was getting closer. When they ran out fuel, they’d go silent, dive to the ground and explode. It was still buzzing but my mother ran me, my sisters and brother all down to the cellar anyway.
– Joy Taylor Reed
Joy’s dad was in the Air Force working on balloon barrage. These were the huge helium balloons that were sent up on cables to protect airfields and harbors and other targets. They made low level air attacks more dangerous to German pilots. The cables could clip off an airplane’s wings. These were used extensively on ships during and after D-Day landings. Her dad had also served during WWI in a Highlander Regiment. “He wore kilts” said Joy, “but he was too old to serve in front line combat for World War Two.”
The LCI 35 had participated in landings in Africa and more recently Italy. Sailors found those countries to be dirty. They struggled with foreign language and customs. In contrast, England was clean. The girls spoke the Kings English. They welcomed the Yanks. When Joy met Phil at the Regent Ballroom in April of 1944 she lied about her age. She was just 16. He was much older. But they hit it off. He asked her out on a date and they went to the Gaiety Cinema to see a movie. They continued to date until all liberties were cancelled in June. Joy’s mom knew she was dating an American sailor, but they didn’t tell her dad.
On the morning of June 6, all thoughts of home, family and girls vanished as ships funneled into the lanes that had been cleared by mine sweepers. At 1030 all hands were at beaching stations. LCIs in Flotilla 2 Group 4 started towards the beach with ramps in dropping position. Phil Reed was now up on the bow in charge of the ramps. He was the only one of their 20-man crew who was able to start the finicky ramp motors.
Ramps were lowered with a one-cylinder engine. When they got wet they wouldn’t work. I was the only one on board who could get the motors to work. I had them both going about 15 minutes to the beach. The motor would take the ramp straight out and then I’d release a latch that would let the ramp drop down.
– Phil Reed MoMM2/c
The LCI 2 Flotilla would be hitting the most easterly Queen Red Sector of Sword Beach near the Orne River. During the final approach to the beach each ship was on its own to maneuver through obstacles. They had to avoid defensive stakes, sunken tanks, and wreckage of landing crafts to find a patch of bare sand. Shelling was coming in sending up geysers of water and shrapnel. Underwater stakes tipped with land mines would blow up under landing crafts. The impact of small mines did little damage to the 300-ton LCIs but were a frightening nuisance to troops cooped up below deck. They’d feel the full impact of the blast. They were glad to finally get up on deck and get off this slow-moving target.
The invasion had already started so it was pretty hectic. I was in charge of the ramps. I was up at the bow and could see all the action. I was preparing the landing ramps to allow the troops to disembark.
– Phil Reed MoMM2/c
The stern anchor was dropped for retracting from the beach. Phil Reed lowered his ramps. Snipers opened-up from the villas on top of the dunes. Every 20mm in Flotilla 2 Group 4 opened-up on the snipers. Devastating fire from the Oerlikon guns perforated the building facades and silenced their attackers.
It took only 2 minutes for 190 troops to descend from the port and starboard ramps. Reed raised the ramps and locked them back in place. The stern anchor was being hauled in to help retract LCI 35 off the beach. That’s when disaster hit. The ship was afloat, but the stern anchor had become fouled on a sunken tank. She was now drifting to port toward obstacles and other LCIs.
Shells from 88s and mortars were exploding closer and closer.
They had to clear the snagged anchor or LCI 35 would be joining the wreckage on Sword Beach. The Captain ordered the cable cut with an axe. Once free of the Army tank 35 began to maneuver back out to sea. Moments later two shells exploded where the bow of LCI 35 had been bobbing helplessly. Clarence Robbins reported that the German 88 artillery fire came close to the LCI 35. So close in fact that he thought the ship had been “bracketed.” Enemy shells had landed on both sides of the ship. When Skipper Lewis made the decision to cut the cable and move the ship, the next shells landed in the 35s wake.
By noon, LCI 35 was back off the coast of Normandy and forming up with a convoy to head back to Newhaven, England. Beaching stations were secured. Pilot house and engine room watches were relieved. “All’s well” was reported in the log. On the way back to Newhaven the crew began cleaning the four troop compartments. They would be loading reinforcements and heading back to Normandy on June 9th.
On the way back to England we were cleaning up the ship. We found a Brit soldier hiding in the head down below. I don’t know what happened to him. There were British military personnel waiting for him when we got into port. In WWI deserters were executed. That only happened to one American soldier during WWII.
– Phil Reed MoMM2/c
For the next two months the crew was busy taking troops and supplies to Normandy. A couple dozen more trips between England and Normandy were made during June and July. Opportunities for liberty while in Newhaven were limited. When Phil had liberty, he’d head over to Brighton to see Joy Taylor. He never told her about what he saw during D-Day. She didn’t tell him what she was doing while he was gone.
I knew what she was doing while I was off fighting the war. She was dancing with other sailors.
– Phil Reed MoMM2/c
There was nothing else to do but go dancing. Six of us girls, all buddies went to the dance every night. The Regent was on the top floor of a theatre. It had spring flooring. It cost 2 & 6, a half crown per person to get in. We never had enough money for all of us. The girls would give me enough for one admission. There was a stairway fire escape in the back. Once inside I’d sneak down the creepy cement stairwell to the alley. I’d open the back door and let my friends in. We did that every night.
– Joy Taylor Reed
American sailors had more money than the English. They would go to the bar and stockpile shots of whiskey and beer until the bar was sold out. This left nothing for the Brits to drink and gave the Americans an edge for meeting girls. “They’d fill their tables with shots and bottles,” said Joy. “I didn’t drink, I was too young. I was only interested in dancing.”
By November of 1944, beach landings in Normandy were no longer needed. Major ports had been taken by the allies. LCI 35 was sent back to New York. Reed was sent to advanced Diesel School at Richmond, Virginia and assigned to the minesweeper 365.
When my ship left Newhaven for New York I didn’t think I’d ever see Joy again. We were all being assigned to other ships. I went on a minesweeper.
– Phil Reed MoMM2/c
As the war wound down the relationship between Phil and Joy continued by mail. “We wrote letters to each other. I had written to his mother and she wrote back.” After Phil was discharged from the Navy, he had no desire to go back to work for Douglas Aircraft. He wanted to own a business. He bought a small gas station with one pump and a hoist. Six months later somebody offered to buy the station, so he sold out. He worked at several jobs, always intending to own another business. He helped his brother in a metal plating shop. He worked on the assembly line at General Motors installing glove boxes. “You had to work fast, or a car would continue down the assembly line without a glove box” said Phil.
Joy sent Phil a new photo of herself and let him know she’d like to come to America. In 1946 they decided to get married. That was about the only way to get into the U.S. during the post war period. Phil applied for and got a visa for Joy. He sent her $500 and she flew to California on TWA. They got married in David Reed’s house surrounded by Phil’s family and none of hers. Their honeymoon was in Palm Springs for one day and one night. Phil’s brother-in-law was playing in a band there. Next day Phil was back to working his two jobs. “I’d get up 6 a.m. to work one job, get off at 4 p.m., go to the other, get home about midnight, catch a few hours sleep and then start all over.” They lived on about five to ten dollars a week. “I had a good cook. She’d feed us with the little money we had,” says Phil.
Phil never stopped dreaming of owning a business. One day he met a guy who needed a specialty part plated. Nobody could do it. He told Phil, “If you can plate this, I’ll give you all my business.” Phil knew he could do it and had the part plated by the end of the day. In 1956 he got a loan, a small building, a truck and started his chrome plating shop in Santa Fe Springs, California. He handled the sales and plating and Joy drove the delivery truck. Today, his two sons run Electronic Chrome & Grinding Co. with 17 employees. But Phil still goes in to work every day.
They both enjoy fond memories of the past. Phil collects antique cars. In 2008 they drove his 1927 Model T Ford 3,000 mile from coast to coast. It took them 23 days averaging 35 mph on seats never intended for luxury.
In December 2018, the Reed’s will celebrate 72 years of marriage. To think it all began with a war, an LCI, and a dance floor on springs. As they look back at their chance wartime meeting they agree on one thing. Those were the good old days. Joy admits that it is awful to look back at war this way, “But these were really the good old days. My sister and I talk about it often. Compared to today we were all so innocent.”