D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II


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I went swimming, pretending to be a soldier and charging ashore through the surf. I wanted to climb Pointe du Hoc, but I didn't do it. I really wanted to, and I gave it a shot, but I was too old and too fat. It's about a hundred-meter-high vertical cliff. I tied a rope at the top and ran it down to the bottom, and I tried to pretend to be a ranger. I got about halfway up, and I decided that this was a mistake so I came down again.

About half of them never got through the sixth day of June, and of the -- were either killed or wounded. So not a lot. LAMB: You also mention -- and then we'll come back to that -- in the preface the number of 1, accounts of oral histories that you have. Then I did a bunch by telephone, and then some of them were written. Some guys didn't want to be interviewed, but they were willing to write about it. They'd start thinking about their buddies who fell to the left of them and the right of them, and they can't handle it.

My father was in the Pacific.

I was 10 years old, and I was doing what I could for the war effort. I had a victory garden; I collected tin cans. We used to save the tin foil from the chewing gum and get great big balls of it, and we would turn it in. I'm not sure that it was anything more than a morale booster for the kids. I guess they made use of it.

But we felt very much a part of the war effort. He was about the same age. We're in the same racket. We've been doing this for a long time. How did you get interested in this subject? He had read a couple of my Civil War books. I mean, you can't do Eisenhower's biography and not be interested in D-Day. It was in his office in Gettysburg.

We talked for a whole afternoon about what access I would have, what papers would be available to me, what would be involved in doing this work. At the end of that conversation, he said, "I notice you're teaching in New Orleans. Did you ever know Andrew Higgins? I knew who he was, but he died in and I didn't move to New Orleans until That's where they turned out the landing craft, and that's what he said.

He said, "If Andy Higgins hadn't designed and built these landing craft, we never could have gone in over an open beach. I don't know how we ever would have gotten back into Europe," he said. That got me very interested in Mr. Higgins, and we followed that up at the Eisenhower Center. I've had graduate students do various studies of the Higgins boat yard, and one of them, Jerry Strahan, just this spring published a biography of Andrew Higgins.

He had been building flat-bottomed boats for the exploration of the oil companies in the swamps of Louisiana in the late s, so he was into flat-bottomed boats already. The Marines came to him in and said, "We're going to get into the war, and we're going to need landing craft. You're doing the best flat-bottomed boats around. Will you enter a competition? The Navy Bureau of Ships didn't like his boat, but the Marines loved it and they insisted on it. It was a foot boat -- it carried a platoon of men; 30 men and two officers -- a flat bottom with a steel ramp and made out of plywood.

D-Day Illustrated Edition: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

Very cheap construction. Very simple design. A floating cigar box is what it is. But it was a boat that could handle heavy seas; it could go through a surf. It could go into a beach, drop that ramp, and you've got 30 men charging out of that boat, going right on into the enemy position. Then, and this was the key to the thing, he developed a system.

He had a protected propeller on it so that he could go right on into the sand and bottom-out on it, drop an anchor, a stern, as he went in. Higgins had 80 employees in The Marines went for this boat. The Army loved the boat. Orders were placed. Higgins expanded from a little almost ma-and-pa kind of a factory into an assembly plant.

He had four different ones in New Orleans, some of them under canvas, 30, employees, and he turned out 20, of these landing craft in the course of the war. He was just a genius at design and a genius at production. He was a lousy businessman, and he went bust after the war. But he's the man who won the war for us.

D-Day: June 6, -- The Climactic Battle of WWII - Stephen E. Ambrose, Albano - Google книги

It's bigger than just honoring Higgins' industry. It's going to honor all of American industry because you've got similar figures. We had no landing craft at all -- none -- in We had 30, in We virtually didn't have an air force in By we were building 8, planes a month. Some of these were big four-engine bombers.

So we want to honor American industry for what it did to make D-Day possible, and Higgins is the man we center our attention on. But there was Henry Kaiser and there was Henry Ford and General Motors, and everybody pitched in -- and then the men of D-Day, of course, and what they did.

So we're building this museum in New Orleans. It will be the only museum in the United States that is devoted exclusively to World War II and the only museum in the world that has as its central theme one day in the world's history. But what a day. You can't overstate it. It was the pivot point of the 20th century. It was the day on which the decision was made as to who was going to rule in this world in the second half of the 20th century.

D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II.

Is it going to be Nazism, is it going to be communism, or are the democracies going to prevail? If we would have failed on Omaha Beach and on the other beaches on the 6th of June in , the struggle for Europe would have been a struggle between Hitler and Stalin, and we would have been out of it. If Hitler had won, I don't think he would have been able to take Britain, at least not in the immediate future, but he would have gone all the way to the Urals.

Hitler's plan was to turn the problem of conquering America over to the next generation, utilizing the resources that he intended to have as a part of the greater German Reich as a result of victory. It really did turn on getting ashore and penetrating that Atlantic Wall. Now, once that Atlantic Wall was penetrated and we had a beachhead and you could begin to move from England into the continent, this tremendous outpouring of America's factories that we had managed to get over to England by winning the battle of the Atlantic in , if you penetrated the Atlantic Wall then it was no longer a question of who was going to win.

It was when is the end going to come. Germany could not possibly prevail against -- but if Rommel stopped them cold on the beaches -- this was an all-or-nothing operation. Eisenhower, when he took command in January of , said, "This operation is being planned as a success. There are no contingency plans. This was Hitler's great chance to win the war -- stop them in June of on the Atlantic coast, then he can move 11 panzer divisions to the east.

Eleven panzer divisions might well have swung the balance on the eastern front, or they might have had another effect. They might have led Stalin to conclude, "Those blankety-blank capitalists. They're up to their old tricks. They're going to fight till the last Red Army soldier. To hell with that. I'm going to cut a deal with my friend Adolph again, just like we did in We'll divide Eastern Europe between us. Sooner or later they would have clashed, but the democracies wouldn't have been in on it anymore.

LAMB: I want to ask you a question, and I don't know that this is fair to you, but of all the 1, accounts and the that you did -- oral histories -- the first question is, are they all stored somewhere? They're in the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, and they'll be a part of the national D-Day museum when we get it built. Here, we've got maybe rangers all told" -- no, not that many -- rangers all told.

They read one, "God, this guy is great.

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Where do I find him? And it's just great for these guys. I mean, they just love it, being able to go on national television and tell their stories. As I say, it's just immensely satisfying to us. But it's for 13 years that we've been collecting these in obscurity, looking forward to the 50th anniversary. And it's not just the television, it's the newspapers and it's book writers and scholars of all kinds, and they're all coming to New Orleans because we have the most accounts from eyewitness sources -- "I was there" -- of any single battle in history.

Those Higgins boats may have won the war for us, but every man who went in on one hated them. They were flat-bottomed, they did this in the waves, the gunnels were only 6 feet high, the waves were washing over. Everybody was seasick -- everybody. The decks were just awash in vomit. There was no place to sit down on these boats. They were like sardines packed into them, and everybody was sick.

One guy told me the story, he said, "I'm from Omaha. I'd never been on salt water before. Everybody around me was getting sick, and I was holding on. I was proud of myself. The guy next to me took his helmet off and upchucked into the helmet, and I held on even when that happened. I wondered, Why the hell is he bothering to do that since the deck is already awash in vomit?

And then he reached into his helmet and he pulled out his false teeth and popped them back into his mouth, and I lost it all when that happened. Ken was from Tennessee. He was 18 years old. He was in the airborne, and as they were flying across the Channel he was struck by the thought, my high school class is graduating tonight.

He came down in Ste. Mere Eglise, where there was a fire on the edge of town in a hay barn, set by a tracer bullet. He watched as the guy next to him got hit in his gammon grenade, coming down in his parachute, and that set off -- they all were carrying land mines underneath their reserve chutes, and that grenade set off that land mine, and just suddenly the guy wasn't there. It was just an empty parachute. He looked to his right, and his buddy over to his right was being sucked into the fire. The fire was drawing oxygen and drawing parachutists into it.

He screamed once, Ken says, and he screamed once more and then he disappeared into the fire and he didn't scream anymore. Ken came down onto the steeple of the church at Ste. Mere Eglise. Now, this is famous from Cornelius Ryan's book and Darryl Zanuck's movie, but actually, it was more than one guy. It wasn't just John Steele who was caught on that roof. Ken Russell also was. He's hanging there, trying to get to his trench knife so he can cut himself loose from his risers, when a German sergeant came around the corner.

Ken says, "I'll never forget him -- blue-eyed and red-haired. John Ray from Homer, Louisiana, came down right behind that German. The German turned and cut him, as I gather from Ken's story, almost literally just cut him in half with a burst from that Schmeisser, turned back to shoot Russell and Steele, and Sgt. Ray, in his dying gasp with his guts spilling out, got that. Then Ken cut himself loose from his risers, and in the process he cut off one of his fingers and didn't know it for the next three hours.

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He ran. He said, "I was the loneliest man in the world. Ken says, "I did what I was trained to do. I pulled the pin on my grenade and tossed it up there on that platform, and they weren't shooting anymore. Now, all this happens before 5 a. Gee, with soldiers like that, it's no wonder we won the war. What are the differences in what you've found?

Ryan interviewed men. Ryan didn't know about the Ultra secret, for example. There is an awful lot of high command stuff that Ryan never knew about. I'm not knocking Ryan's book. It was an inspiration to me. I read it when it first came out.

Omaha Beach, D-Day (June 6, 1944)

I saw the movie, like everybody else in this country, and I loved the movie. The Germans had this fabulous encoding system which they thought was the best in the world, and they were right. It was. They also thought it was unbreakable, and they were wrong about that. Ryan didn't know that we knew so much about the Germans.

The biggest disagreement that I have with Ryan -- it's not a disagreement; it's where he was wrong. He just didn't have the full story. For example, he missed Ken Russell. He didn't interview him, so he didn't know that there was not just John Steele hanging from that church steeple. But Ryan and Zanuck then repeated this in the movie and presented the battle as if it went according to plan. The plan was, at Omaha Beach, to go up the draws, up the ravines. Little dirt roads ran up them. The bluffs were too steep for a vehicle. A man can hardly get up them. So everybody was supposed to go up these ravines.


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The whole movie turns on this incident, with Robert Mitchum in the end encouraging a couple of lieutenants to get up there and get those torpedoes under that barbed wire and then get the TNT up to the antitank obstacles at the head of the ravines and blow them up.

And that happens as a climax in the movie, and Robert Mitchum says, "Let's go on up that hill," and it's like the cavalry to the rescue. Guys from all over the beach start yelling like banshees and start moving up that draw. It's a great movie scene, but nothing remotely like that ever happened in fact. What happened in fact was, those ravines were much too well-defended to get up. The tanks that the infantry were told were going to be coming in with them, beside them -- these swimming tanks, these Shermans that had the inflatable rubber skirts around them, 32 of the 35 of them sank.

There was no way to get up the ravines, and the true story of what happened at Omaha was much more inspiring than the way Daryl Zanuck presented it. The true story is, junior officers and noncoms who had been college students two years before and had ROTC commissions pinned down at that sea wall and couldn't retreat, couldn't go back -- it was just chaos back behind them -- couldn't, as the plan called for, go up the draws.

They were getting butchered where they were at the sea wall because the Germans had it all zeroed in with their mortars that were coming down on top of them. And, "Over here, Captain," "Over here, Lieutenant, over here. If I'm going to get killed, I'm going to take some Germans with me. Hitler didn't believe this was ever possible.

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The commanders -- 4. Where and when? Utilizing assets -- 6. Planning and preparing -- 7. Training -- 8. Marshaling and briefing -- 9. Loading -- Decision to go -- Cracking the Atlantic wall : the airborne into Normandy -- A long, endless column of ships : the naval crossing and bombardment -- Visitors to hell : the th Regiment at Omaha -- Utter chaos reigned : the 16th Regiment at Omaha --

D-Day: June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II
D-Day: June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II
D-Day: June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II
D-Day: June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II
D-Day: June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

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