We Remember D-Day, June 6, 1944 – 75th Anniversary June 6, 2019

By John Haas, Manuscript Curator

This has been a busy couple of weeks: pulling material and doing research for a newspaper article for the Columbus Dispatch, doing an on air interview with Ann Fisher on WOSU radio and watching all the coverage from England and France and doing this blog.
But I did enjoy doing the above research in order to find out about the Ohio Connection to those momentous events that took place on that Normandy coast of France.  What was the Ohio Connection to the D-Day events?

Of course thousands of Ohioans were in the Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Army Air Forces, Marines and Merchant Marine and were present in England or in the English Channel that day.  About 890,000 Ohio men and women served in World War II and over 23,000 died in service.  So on any given day a Navy ship, an Army Air Force bomber or fighter group, or any other military unit would have had about a 5% Ohio contingent.  That of course excludes National Guard units from other states.

But was there a unit of Ohioans there that day?  Yes there was: The Ohio National Guard 112th Combat Engineer Battalion!  Originally a full regiment of engineers the 112th was part of the 37th Buckeye Infantry Division of the Army National Guard.  The 37th was supposed to go to Europe and the first unit sent overseas was the 112th Engineer Regiment.  But the Army changed its mind and decided to send the 37th Infantry Division to the Pacific to fight.  But the 112th Ohio Engineers were already in Great Britain and it was decided not to bring them back across the Atlantic; so they became an independent engineer unit.

The regiment was reorganized several times and by D-Day the old 112th Ohio Engineer Regiment had become the 112th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 254th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 191st Light Pontoon Company and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 1121st Engineer Combat Group.

Picture of the 112th Engineers flag from Ohio Memory.

On D-Day morning, the 112th landed on Omaha Beach supporting the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.  Along with the 121st and 147th Engineer Combat Battalions, the 112th was to help clear obstacles and mines from the beach and help open the draws off the beach at Vierville-sur-Mer, Les Moulins, and St Laurent-sur-Mer.  By mid-day of June 6, 1944, the three draws were open due to the heroic efforts of the 116th Infantry, the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions and the 112th, the 121st and the 147th Engineer Combat Battalions.  The Ohio 112th Engineers suffered 37 killed and 45 wounded that day including the commander Maj. William A. Richards.  The 112th received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions on that day on Dog Green, Dog White, and Dog Red sectors of Omaha Beach.

Another Ohio National Guard unit was supposed to land on D-Day but the bad weather prevented that.  They landed on June 7, on Gold Beach and supported the 50th British Division.  That unit was the 987th Field Artillery Battalion manning M12 155 mm Gun/Howitzer motor carriage, big motorized Long Toms! They served throughout the rest of the war in Europe.

There was another Ohio Connection to the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944: it was the U.S.S. McCook, DD-496, a Gleaves Class destroyer assigned to Destroyer Squadron 18, which was part of the bombardment support group off Omaha Beach.

So it was just a US Navy ship what does that have to do with Ohio?   The USS McCook was named after Commander Roderick Sheldon McCook, one of the “Fighting McCook’s” of Civil War fame from Carrolton and New Lisbon Ohio.  Seventeen McCook’s fought for the Union armies and navies during the Civil War.  By sheer coincidence the McCook was assigned to the Dog Green, Dog White and Dog Red sectors of Omaha Beach, exactly where 112th Ohio National Guard Engineer Combat Battalion was landing in support of the 116th Infantry Regiment.

The USS McCook and the other destroyers of Destroyer squadron 18 could clearly see from their high power binoculars that the initial landings on Omaha Beach were not going well.  The weather was awful the landing craft were having a difficult time getting by the obstacles, and the troops were not moving off the beach.  The McCook and the other destroyers took matters into their own hands and moved into dangerous waters close to and parallel to the beach to lend direct fire support.

Eventually the admiral in charge gave the order for all the destroyers to go in close and destroy the German defenses on the bluffs above Omaha Beach.  The USS McCook went within 1300 yards (or less) off the Dog beaches knocked out numerous German pillboxes, caves, and buildings that were being used as observation posts for German artillery spotting, and expended almost 1000 rounds of 5 inch ammunition.  The image below shows how close the supporting destroyers got to the beach to protect the infantryman and engineers on the beach.

US Navy and Coast Guard images from page 1803, Part 65, Hist. of the Second World.
Image from page 1816, D Day, History of World War II, part 65.

In an interview by Walter Cronkite and ex-President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964 the President noted that everything that could go wrong did go wrong on D-Day morning.  What was he referring to with that comment?  And if so how did it succeed?

The problems and mistakes overcome included: bad weather, which included overcast skies, rain, wind and choppy seas and currents in the Channel and off the beaches.

Bad terrain: High Bluffs above Omaha Beach and few exits off the beach.

The 480 Heavy Bombers that were to saturate Omaha Beach with 1,300 tons of bombs completely missed the beach and the bluffs above it and the bombs were dropped in land.  So no beach obstacles or mines were eliminated and no bomb craters were available for cover.
The initial Navel Gunfire Support was too light and too short to do much damage to German defenses.  An Army General from the Pacific told the planners that it was totally inadequate, in length and weight, but he was not listened to.

Allied intelligence failed to note the arrival of the German 352nd Infantry Division in the Omaha Beach sector which doubled the number of defenders in that area.

And the American Duplex Drive Sherman tanks were dropped off at 3,000 yards from the beach and two thirds of them sank in the Channel before even reaching the beach to support the infantry.

How did it succeed?  Mainly by the bravery and courage of the infantryman, engineers, tankers, naval shore parties and demolition teams and boat coxswains to overcome the problems and mistakes.

Along with the naval gunfire support from the battleships and cruisers assigned to Omaha Beach, and especially the destroyers of DESRON 18, and particularly the USS McCook off the Dog sectors of Omaha Beach.  The battleships and cruisers were much more successful in the later morning, afternoon and evening of D-Day in suppressing German troop’s movements and targeting inland positions.

Despite the mistakes and conditions D-Day succeeded and opened the long awaited Second Front in Western Europe.

What were the losses suffered on that “Longest Day”?  The most current figures state that total Allied casualty figures on D-Day were 10,000 killed, wounded and missing.  That included 4,414 Allied deaths.  America suffered 2,501 deaths and 1,913 deaths were from other Allied nations.  The highest casualties occurred at Omaha Beach where 2,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing.  Of those at Omaha Beach the 112th Ohio Engineers suffered 37 dead and 45 wounded.  The Normandy American Cemetery located just above Omaha Beach can be searched at the American Battlefield Monuments Commission web site.

That cemetery contains 10,000 American names of dead and missing in that cemetery.  A search revealed the names of 46 Ohioans that died on June 6, 1944.  Of the 37 deaths in the 112th Engineers on D-Day 14 are buried in that cemetery.
May those Americans and Allies that served and died on that day be remembered forever.

Posted June 13, 2019
Topics: Military

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