Breakthrough
Home Up Reflections

   


Part 5 - Breakthrough!!

Story written by Rick Archer


Dawson, Streczyk and Spalding


The Americans were pinned down on the beach.  If someone didn't do something, they weren't going anywhere but to their graves.  However, everyone was too paralyzed with fear and shock to move. 

Deeply traumatized by the horror of the Omaha bloodbath, these men had never been more frightened in their lives.  Oh sure, 'courage is ability to act in spite of fear'. 

When you have just seen your best friend's head ripped off by a mortar shell and your Captain is lying dead on the beach with his guts hanging out and the guy next to you is screaming for you to shoot him because of the agony he is in, you go into shock.

Shock is a state of self-preservation.  It is the mind's way of saying that to move invites almost certain death.  The state of shock is beyond rational.  An overwhelming fear takes control and prevents any conscious thought from occurring.  It isn't like those men were hiding behind the shingle wall saying, "Well, should I get up and attack?"

Nonsense.  They were frozen.  They were numb, mindless, dispirited zombies.  They were afraid for their lives and they weren't moving. 

   
The 5-mile sector of beach that the Allies had code-named Omaha was lined with rolling hills and cliffs.   There were five major gaps, or "draws", between those hills.   Steep bluffs ranging from 100 to 150 feet high dominated the entire beach.   These bluffs were divided into different sections by five small wooded valleys known as "draws" along the beach.  These five draws were codenamed D-1, D-3, E-1, E-3 and F-1.

The main purpose of the assault at Omaha Beach was to gain possession of a "Draw", the military term for these openings between the hills.   The American tanks could not go up the hills and bluffs, but they could go through the Draws.   Therefore a premium was placed on gaining control of the Draws so the Americans could get their tanks rolling into open country towards Caen and Cherbourg. 

Defending the draws were German strong points known as the WNs (short for WiderstandsNest).   The battle of the day revolved around knocking out these powerful German WN defensive strong points

Unfortunately  the Germans were determined to protect those gaps at all cost.   The Germans wanted to keep the American tanks on the beach where they could destroy them with their powerful artillery guns. 

With WNs positioned on either side of every draw, the Allies were determined to knock out the WNs so their tanks could get through.  The Germans were just as determined to stop that from happening.  American tanks could not be allowed to enter the French countryside where they would wreak havoc.

   
   
   

The Germans had a counter-attack strategy in play.  The defenders expected that Captain Bronikowski's feared 21st Panzer Division was headed towards them to join the fight late in the day.   If they could just hold on, the Panzers would be there soon to kick the Yanks back into the sea.

The Germans had all the advantages.  They had the high ground, they had fortifications, they had trenches, they had every possible sector crisscrossed with fire, and they had mine fields and barbed wire as well to protect their lofty positions.  With this kind of leverage, one machine gun could keep 100 men frozen on the beach all day long.

As D-Day began, Rommel's strategy was working to perfection - keep the men on the beach.  As long as they stayed on the beach, a bullet would find them eventually.

Unless the Americans could knock out some of those guns, the German strong points would continue the slaughter until the last man on that beach was dead.  Someone had to get to those guns and silence them!  But how?  To leave the sea wall invited instant death.

Of all the Draws, E-3, the opening which led to Colleville-sur-mer (Colleville by the sea), was the most tempting. 

This draw was nearly 600 yards wide with only WN62 standing in the way.   The American strategists decided to concentrate their attack on this point of the beach.

This would become one of the worst decisions of the day. 

   

1,000 Americans were killed in front of strong point WN62.  Of the men that died, Heinrich Severloh, the Butcher of Omaha, was responsible for most of those deaths.  Severloh manned a machine gun with an unobstructed view of the entire beach.  With nowhere to find cover, 1,000 helpless GIs died under his withering fire. 

The men who created the amazing Breakthrough were Company E led by Lt John Spalding and Sgt Phil Streczyk, and Company G led by Captain Joseph Dawson.   These two companies had the good fortune to land just a few yards beyond the reach of Severloh's machine gun 15 minutes apart.

Captain Dawson's company arrived second.  Dawson was supposed to attack WN62, but all it took was one look at all the dead bodies to change his mind.  Instead Dawson decided to take his chances with the gully right in front of his landing point.   About halfway up, Dawson's company met Spalding's company.  Ordering everyone to stay put, Dawson then proceed forward by himself.  What he did from there was amazing... 

After the Breakthrough, Dawson and Spalding's companies met
at the top of the Bluff.  Dawson's men went on to Colleville
 while Spalding's men turned right in search of WN64

 


Excerpts on John Spalding and Philip Streczyk from the War Chronicle 

Rick Archer's note:  One thing to always keep in mind as you read this remarkable story is that I have consistently borrowed from the hard work of other men to tell this story.  Some of the material is from newspaper clippings, military archives, and public records while other material was taken from some of the excellent books written about D-Day.  In addition I have visited some wonderful web sites like the War Chronicle that are dedicated to honoring the memories of the soldiers who fought that day... including the many men who gave their lives in the process.

Therefore, I freely admit my own account of the events of D-Day rests completely on the shoulders of other fine people who - like me - want the world to remember the accomplishments of the young men who risked their lives for American freedom.

I have no idea of the identity of the person who created the "War Chronicle" web site... he seems to prefer anonymity... but I would like to acknowledge his (or her) immense contribution to our history of D-Day.  You cannot imagine the wealth of information contained on the War Chronicle web site.  I hope this individual does not mind that I have borrowed heavily from his (or her) work. 

I assume this gifted historian will understand that my motives are the same as his - the story of D-Day needs to be shared with as many people as possible.

 

 


Lt. John Spalding (from the War Chronicle)

Before our country was at war, while Europe was in flames, the United States hastily began building an Army. In October of 1940, all males from the ages of 21 through 35 were required to register for possible military service. At local draft boards, men who passed the exams were given a number. Thousands across American had the same number, and they were drafted when it was picked out of a glass tank in Washington, D.C.

Sixteen million men registered. A million of them were drafted. John Spalding wasn’t one of them, but he joined the Army anyway. He kissed his wife and young son goodbye, and left his home in Owensboro, Kentucky. Ten months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Soon Japan, Germany, and Italy had all declared war on the United States. The Second World War, as a global conflict, had begun.

Germany was America’s strongest enemy and America was their weakest opponent.  America needed years to amass and train enough soldiers for a direct attack on the Nazi heartland.  John Spalding spent those years far from the frontline as part of the great build-up. Meanwhile, combat soldiers of the 1st Division, the Big Red One, helped stop Nazi aggression by invading two continents, first Africa, then Europe via Italy.

The first D-Day was the invasion of North Africa on 7 November 1942. Then came the invasion of Sicily on in July 1943. Starting in the fall of 1943, the 1st Division was secretly shipped from Sicily to England to join the gathering forces. No one explained the next mission.  No need to.  Despite the secrecy, the soldiers knew in their bones that the big one was next. Fresh troops joined the division as reinforcements and replacements for soldiers killed in action.  One of those new men was Lt. John Spalding (the younger man pictured on the right).

Spalding was appointed  the commanding officer of the 1st Section just shortly before the eve of D-Day.  For him, the war was about to begin.  On the night before D-Day, Spalding's commander, Capt. Ed Wozenski, gave his men a final briefing. Their mission was to destroy a German strong point on top of a hill overlooking Omaha Beach. 


Sgt. Phil Streczyk  (from the War Chronicle)

Phil Streczyk was a warrior: the most daring fighter his men and officers ever knew.

He was born near East Brunswick, New Jersey.  Streczyk was one of ten children.  Like many kids during the Great Depression, Streczyk worked full time from an early age. He dropped out of school after the 8th grade to earn money and help his family.  One might assume given his background that he was a tough kid.

By the time Streczyk was 21, he was a truck driver. Then his draft number was picked.  After months of training, he was shipped overseas. In Tunisia, North Africa, Streczyk won his first of many medals. His men were trapped and Streczyk risked his life by crossing into the open and attacking the enemy with grenades. He took out two enemy guns in the process.  For his courage, Streczyk was awarded the Silver Star. He mailed it home to his mom.

Although he was extremely popular, Streczyk sometimes scared his own men as much as he scared the enemy.

“One time in Africa,” Clarence Colson remembers, “Streczyk got hold of a German motorcycle, and he came riding that thing like a wild man. Maybe he figured the Good Lord was watching over him, but he just didn’t seem to care.

We had an awful time keeping a helmet on him. When someone would start shooting at us, everyone would keep their heads down, taking little peeks out of the foxholes.  Not Streczyk.  He would be popping up like a robin.”

When the 1st Division reorganized in England, soldiers were shuffled into 32-man sections so that a team could fit in one small landing craft.

Sgt. Streczyk was second-in-command. The new men listened carefully to everything the sergeant said. He was brave and, more importantly, he knew how to keep them alive.  (Streczyk is the one shaking hands)

 
Captain Joe Dawson

Joseph T Dawson was an officer in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division during World War II.  He was the third child of Baptist clergyman Joseph Martin Dawson and Willie Turner Dawson.  He was born in Temple, TX, in 1914. His father was the minister of the First Baptist Church in Waco, TX.

Dawson was a 1933 graduate of Baylor University.

Dawson enlisted in 1941 as a private and fought earlier campaigns in Africa and Sicily. Before D-Day, Dawson served as a staff officer in the First Division and the 16th Regiment during the campaigns in North Africa and Sicily.  He served well and worked his way up in rank.  Shortly before D-Day, Dawson was promoted to Captain.

Dawson landed at Omaha Beach with the 1st Infantry Division -- "The Big Red One".  Before the day was over, Dawson, 30, would be credited for spotting the first path off of the beach.  By the end of the day, Dawson's troops were the farthest inland of all the Americans.

 


The Story of Spalding, Streczyk, and E Company

Rick Archer's Note:  In 1945, eight months after D-Day, John Spalding (sometimes spelled 'Spaulding') was formally interviewed regarding his role at Omaha Beach on D-Day.  For the following part of the story about Spalding's E Company, I used several excerpts.  Please be aware that I have paraphrased Spalding's report in several places.  I did not change a single incident, but I did try to make his dry military report a bit more readable.  You may read Spalding's original (and unedited) oral history here.  In addition, I added comments from several of the members of his Company E who participated. 

Okay, folks, put on your seat belts; here we go.  You are about to read one heck of an amazing story.

 


Lt John Spalding's Narration:  "When we got 200 yards offshore the boat halted and a member of the navy crew yelled for us to drop the ramp. Sgt Bisco and I kicked the ramp down.

We had come in at low tide and the obstacles were noticeable. They stuck out of the water and we could see teller mines on many of them. No path had been cleared through them, so we followed a zigzag course in. It is difficult to know if the navy could have taken the boats in further.  It is possible that they would have stuck on the sand bars. I am in no position to know whether the boats could have done any better.

Because we were carrying so much equipment and because I was afraid that we were being landed in deep water, I told the men not to jump out until after I had tested the water. I jumped out of the boat slightly to the left of the ramp into water about waist deep. It was about 0645 (6:45 am). Then the men began to follow me. We headed ashore and the small arms fire became noticeable.

As we left the boat, we spread out in a V formation about 30 yards across. There was soon a noticeable decline of sand beneath our feet.  We were soon over our heads, so we tried to swim.  Fortunately when I pulled the valve of my lifebelt it inflated and saved me. I lost my carbine. We lost none of our men, but only because they helped each other or because they got rid of their equipment.

There was a strong undercurrent carrying us to the left. I had experience with the strong current of the Ohio River as a swimmer, but this was much stronger. Sgt. Streczyk and the medic—Pvt. George Bowen—were carrying an 18 foot ladder which was to be used for crossing the anti-tank ditch or scaling a steep ridge. They were struggling with the ladder in the water just about time that I was having my worst trouble staying afloat. As the ladder came by me, I grabbed it.


Streczyk yelled and said "Hey, thanks, Lieutenant, but we don't need any help!" 

Hell, I was busy trying to get some help, not to give it!  Once I regained my balance, I told them to leave the damn ladder behind. 

About this time we were able to put down our feet and touch bottom; the water was up to our mouths.  I had swallowed about half of the ocean and felt like I was going to choke to death.  
I wasn't the only one.   We pulled out Sgt. Edwin Piasecki who was about to drown. 

About this time Pfc. Vincent DiGaetano, who was carrying a 72 pound flame thrower, yelled and said, "I'm drowning, what do you want me to do with this flamethrower?"  Streczyk told him to drop it, so he did.  Then Streczyk changed his mind and told DiGaetano to go back and get it.  It's a good thing he went back, that flame thrower came in very handy later on.

In addition to losing many personal weapons, we lost our mortar and most of the ammunition, one of our bazookas and much of the bazooka ammunition.  However, I noticed the men who kept their weapons were able to fire them as soon as they came ashore. It shows that the M-1 is an excellent weapon.

Our first casualty came at the water's edge. Pvt. William Roper was hit in the foot by small arms fire just as he hit the beach. He kept trying to get his legging off, but couldn't reach the lacing, so I helped him get it off.

Just after we got ashore one of my two BAR men was hit.  Pfc. Virgil Tilley was hit in the right shoulder by a shell fragment, which drove a hunk of the shoulder out towards the back but did not come all the way through.

I noticed a number of my men on the beach were all standing up and moving across the sand at a steady pace. They were too waterlogged to run, but they went as fast as they could. It looked as if they were walking in the face of a real strong wind. We moved on across the shale to a house which was straight inland. 

The first place we stopped was at a demolished building; there was some brush around.  The building had a concrete wall we could hide behind.  Why the Germans allowed even a single part of this structure to stand made no sense, but I was glad it was there.   My section was spread out—the men in accordance with orders had deployed the minute they hit the beach. They had been told to get off the beach as soon as possible. We were halted there by barbed wire at the first slope.

They walked on across because nobody stopped them. I was curious why there was no MG (machine gun) fire to speak of.  Someone pointed out a pillbox on the hill facing us that didn't seem to be in operation.  It doesn't hurt to be lucky."

Sgt Clarence Colson's Narration: "But then there was a path. When I looked and seen that path...there was this pillbox way over here that wasn’t manned. They didn’t have nobody manning that pillbox.  I couldn't believe it.  They didn’t have nobody manning that pillbox.  What the hell.  Enemy fire was all coming from this other direction, but not from that pillbox. Why wasn't anyone in there?"

Lt John Spalding's Narration:
 "I didn't see any mines on the beach except Anti-Tank mines.  Down near the water's edge we ran into wire. S/Sgt. Curtis Colwell blew a hole in the wire with a bangalore.  We picked our way through; I personally didn't see the gap he had blown, but I was still in a daze."

 


The Story of Joe Dawson and G Company

Rick Archer's Note:  Now we turn to Capt Joseph Dawson's story.  Please be aware that in places I have paraphrased Dawson's story for brevity.

(Note: The following excerpt comes from Joseph Dawson's book, From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge, pg 148-150)

Captain Ed Wozenski, who commanded Spalding's E Company, remembered,  

"Men were falling on all sides and the water was reddened with their blood. The survivors still moved forward and eventually worked up to a pile of shale at the high water mark. Unfortunately, most of our guns were jammed with sand, but every rifle that worked was brought to bear on the enemy.  Men armed with no more than pistols were firing at machine guns in an effort to cover the men still struggling to get ashore."

Enemy snipers mercilessly mowed down anyone attempting to return to the water and drag their wounded comrades to the base of the shale. By the time Wozenski's men reached the summit later in the morning, a rough check revealed that well over one hundred men of the 183 who landed were killed, wounded, or missing.  So much for Patton's promise of a 2% casualty rate.

"Utter chaos reigned," Joe Dawson recalled, "because the Germans controlled the field of fire completely. The first wave was totally disorganized by their tremendous number of casualties."

Most of the first wave lay dead or dying, with their bodies, equipment and the wreckage of battle clogging the shoreline.

The initial wave had become pinned down "mentally if not physically," Dawson remembered. "There was no coordinated fire from the Americans ashore. They were bunched shoulder to shoulder and huddling on whatever patch of ground gave them partial cover from the enemy fire."

Dawson realized some of these men were remnants of Wozenski's E Company who had landed on the wrong beach and had become demoralized. The inferno of Omaha consumed everyone and everything that touched its shore.

Landing under extremely heavy fire in his designated zone on Easy Red, Dawson was the first man off his landing craft, followed by his communications sergeant and his company clerk. Ordinarily it was the first man off the boat who took the first hit, but this time things were reversed. Just as Dawson jumped, an artillery shell struck the boat, wiping out the remaining 33 members of his headquarters platoon.  This included the naval officer who was the fire control officer assigned to coordinate the fire from ships offshore. His loss would result in further tragedy later in the day.  Dawson had missed death himself by an instant.  As the men said all day long, some people are born lucky.  No one who survived that beach landing ever doubted the possibility of a guardian angel.

Within seconds, soldiers from the company's five remaining assault crafts landed. The boats were hurriedly emptied, the men jumping into water that was shoulder deep all the while taking intense machine gun and anti-tank fire.

Fortunately the division's initial assault wave had reduced a number of beach defenses in G Company's zone, but enemy fire remained heavy.  Remarkably, other than the bad shelling of Dawson's boat, most of Dawson's 219 men survived the initial landing intact.  G Company then suffered 63 casualties as the men attempted to crawl or run from the waterline to the shingle mound 5-10 feet high.  Once they were at the sea wall, finally the company had a chance to regroup.

Overwhelmed by the sheer horror of the spectacle, Dawson took command of all survivors who huddled in fear at the sandbar whether they were in his company or not.  Dawson realized, "There was nothing I could do on the beach except die. I knew no one else was going to do it for me.  Some things one does automatically, some by circumstance, but I knew it had to be done. There is no other way to say it."

Looking back, Dawson said leading his men off the beach was the toughest decision he ever made as a company commander. He had no idea what their chances were once they left the relative safety of the sea wall.  It upset him to know he might be leading men to their death. "I was fortunate enough to realize that there wasn't any point in me standing there and, frankly, I felt the only way I could move was forward.  I certainly couldn't go backwards.  I chose to go up and see if I could get off the beach."

Dawson found a sergeant and two soldiers who refused to advance. Dawson exhorted them to follow him, but they just stared at him.  Dawson kept moving when they refused to acknowledge him, figuring they would move soon enough if he didn't hassle them.  Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the trio still huddled behind a beach obstacle.  Angered, Dawson returned to confront the men when he suddenly realized all three of them were dead. This strange encounter reaffirmed his decision to get off the beach.  There might indeed be death waiting for them up ahead, but there was only death waiting for the men who stayed here.

Those three dead men bothered him more than he cared to admit.  Dawson made a fateful decision. He couldn't bear the thought of doing something stupid and getting more men killed.  He would rather go himself with three other men, but leave most of the men behind till he could ascertain what kind of danger they would be looking at on that hill. 

Dawson peeked over the sand dune.  There was no fire at the moment.  He decided to go.  He discovered a mine field immediately behind the shingle.

Dawson:  "We dropped over that sand bar and got into this minefield. And there was a body of a boy who had found the minefield and unfortunately also found the mine and destroyed himself, but he pointed the way for us to go across him, which we did.  Now Sergeant Cleff and myself and Baldridge, plus another man in my company, started up the hill.

As I can recall, I think the beach at Normandy was a very unusual beach in that it came down from a great height of over 250 yards in a sloped manner until it reached the beach water.  I stared up there and the ridge was a long way away, but there didn't seem to be much at the top where I was.  The main defense of the Germans was closer right halfway up the slope overlooking the beach.  These were pillboxes that were encased in an area just beyond the beach.  Their strategy seemed to be all or nothing.  Once we got past the beach, we encountered very little gunfire on our way to the top. 

I found this path….it seemed to generally go in the right direction toward the crest of the hill, and so I started up that way.

And about half way there I caught up to Lieutenant Spaulding with a remnant of his platoon. I think he had two squads and a person in a third squad.  They were the only survivors that I knew of E company at that time.  Meanwhile my own men were still on the beach waiting for my orders.  Spalding decided to head to the right and I said I would hang to the left.

I figured it was safe enough, so I told Baldridge to go back and bring the men up.  I said, “They’ve got to get off the beach. Tell them to come up here with me.”  I was up there alone now.   Well, I decided not to wait, so I climbed some more.  I had no idea what was on top of that hill.  I couldn't see any defense up there, but then I had a bad angle.  Finally I reached a point where it would not be safe to continue.  Just before you reach the crest of the ridge, it becomes almost vertical for about a 10-foot drop.  In other words, whatever was on top I couldn't see them... and they couldn't see me either.

And there was a log there.  So I got behind the log to wait and see if I could spot my men coming up."
 

 


Omaha Beachhead - Assault on the Bluffs

Rick Archer's Note: Now that you have begun the story of Spalding and Dawson, I think maps and some background information will help the reader understand what comes next. Much of the following write-up is taken directly from John's Military History, an invaluable resource created by John Hamill.  I am in Mr. Hamill's debt for clarifying the route taken by Spalding to the top.

To better understand how Spalding's men and Dawson's men were able to succeed on D-Day, this map should help.

With the benefit of hindsight, we see that Spalding's Company E has caught four enormous breaks.

1. Company E landed in the weak spot where neither WN62 or WN64 had a machine gun that could reach them. 
2. A dangerous pillbox with a commanding position overlooking the beach is mysteriously unoccupied.
3. Amazingly, they found a demolished building that afforded cover from the small arms fire in the area so they could regroup.
4. Much of the 4-mile stretch of Omaha Beach featured steep hills or cliffs.  Not the Weak Spot... it was an easy climb.
5. The Germans had only one line of defense.  Once Dawson and Spalding got off the beach, their chances improved considerably.

Unlike most of the Americans on Omaha Beach, Company E is clearly operating under a lucky star.

Break #1

The light blue line marks the Breakthrough Alley that Spalding and Dawson used on their climb.  Both Spalding and Dawson had the good fortune of landing in the weak spot area above. They hit the beach halfway between the WN 62 and WN 64 strong points. Those strong points were built 1,300 yards apart.  The range of their guns was 600-700 yards.  The weak spot was at the extreme end of the range of its guns.

WN 62 and WN 64 were so far away from the Weak Spot that their guns could barely reach it. I might add anyone landing at the mid-point would appear no larger than ants to anyone at WN 62 or WN 64WN 64 was a little farther away than the other strong point. The yellow lines indicate the likely range of its guns.  I am skeptical its guns could even reach the weak spot. 

Break #2

In addition to their good fortune of landing in an area relatively safe from the dangerous strong points, Dawson and Spalding appear to have caught yet one more incredible break when they encountered an unmanned pillbox. 

I came across an observation that hints that one of the nearby beach pillboxes was not functioning.  Clarence Colson, a member of E Company, said in his oral history that a menacing pillbox near the area where he landed was completely unmanned. 

"Of course they were firing, but there was one pillbox way over and there was nothing coming from that."

Spalding made a statement in his interview that lends further credence to the possibility that this particular spot was poorly defended: 

"We headed ashore and the small arms fire became noticeable."  

Small arms fire?   Where were the machine gun nests manning this spot?

"They were too waterlogged to run, but they went as fast as they could."

On other parts of the beach, men had to crawl to get to the wall.  But these men staggered upright.  This narrative is yet another hint that the spray of bullets could not possibly have been intense.  Spalding notes only two injuries - a man shot in the foot by small arms fire and a shoulder injury from an artillery shell.  But where was the machine gun spray?  With men plodding across the beach upright as Spalding indicates, they would have been sitting ducks.  Any nearby machine gun would have inflicted a vast number of casualties. 

This comment about the two injuries is an indirect confirmation that the men did indeed only face limited small arms fire.  If so, what an incredible break!

Colson's comments suggest that a spot already weak due to its location between strong points was made even weaker by the unexplained loss of a crucial pillbox meant to guard this sector.  We will never know just how much fire Spalding's platoon encountered, but there doesn't seem to be any doubt the intensity was nowhere near as serious as what other men faced that day. 

Break #3

Spalding had yet another stroke of luck.  Thanks to the high waters and confusion, he had landed where F Company was supposed to hit the shores.  In this spot, there were three ruined old houses on the beach that provided some protection from enemy fire and observation.  Spalding's platoon had somehow stumbled onto the only beach protection available on the entire five mile stretch. 

Spalding was right about Rommel's all or nothing approach to defense. Rommel understood that his strong points were too far away.  Accordingly he had placed dangerous pillboxes, artillery, and foxholes right above the beach to defend this critical mid-point. But for reasons we will never be sure about - why was the pillbox empty? - not just one but two companies were able to penetrate the defense in this same spot while thousands of other men spread along Omaha were getting absolutely nowhere. 

Break #4

As this picture makes clear, only one section of Omaha Beach featured hills that could be climbed easily.  Those cars in the picture are parked close to where WN 62 and Heinrich Severloh, the Beast of Omaha, did the killing. Spalding and Dawson landed halfway between those cars and that town in the distance.

Both Company E and Company G benefitted greatly from landing in front of this bowl-shaped ravine which was easily climbed.

Break #5

Dawson commented that the Germans had an "all or nothing" defense strategy.  Once his unit got off the beach, the men met very little resistance.  Both commanders noted that once their platoons made it past the beach, the quality of the defense dropped considerably.  Compared to the beach holocaust, climbing the hill was relatively easy going.  

For one thing, once the two units were inside the gully that I have named Breakthrough Alley, they became completely invisible to the strong points with their huge barrage of death-dealing weapons.  

Now they only had to deal with a remaining handful of Germans guarding the mid-points of the hill.  Yes, they still had German defenses directly in front of them to overcome, but these were small pockets of resistance - one, two, three men a time.  There was no longer anything ahead of them even remotely as deadly as the Monster WN Strongholds.


Spalding and Dawson still had to contend with foxholes, pillboxes, snipers, mines, and barbed wire - no easy task to be sure - but they outnumbered the Germans and had nearly equal firepower. Plus they had the natural cover of uneven terrain to help disguise parts of their climb. 


By some fluke of D-Day, both platoons were fortunate to begin their attack at one of the few places on Omaha Beach where an American soldier actually had a fighting chance.
The Germans still had the high ground, but not enough weapons to defend this vast amount of space adequately. Unlike the thousands of men still pinned down on the beach, Spalding's men had room to maneuver.  So did Dawson's men.

Furthermore, as we will soon learn, some of the enemy defenders would turn out to be Polish conscripts who would far rather shoot at the Germans than shoot at the Americans.

So what explains the weak spot?  Rommel simply did not have enough men to cover every inch of Normandy effectively. If he did have enough men, would he have put Polish prisoners in charge of firing the machine guns?  I think not. 

More about the Weak Spot Between the Colleville and St. Laurent Draws  (from John Hamill's Military History)

This is the approximate area that the group of Company E, 16th Regiment landed. The 1st Division men under Lt. John Spalding landed at 0645. They strode across the beach as fast as they could. Taking flanking fire, they got 20 of their 32 men across the beach. They had landed at a weak point in the German defenses between strong points, about halfway between the Colleville (E-3) and St. Laurent Draws (E-1). At this point,
WN 62 500 yards to their left dominated the Colleville Draw. To their right, WN 64 dominated the St. Laurent Draw.  However, in the middle of the strongpoints, the resistance was much weaker.

To their front in the distance the bluffs had minefields, trenches, and German soldiers, but nothing like the defenses at the draws. Immediately to their front were three run down houses with stone walls. Blowing a hole through the wire with a bangalore torpedo, Spalding's men immediately went forward through the gap, past the run down houses to a minefield at the foot of the bluffs. Seeing a somewhat sheltered route up the bluffs, platoon sergeant Phillip Streczyk led the men up the hollow, despite the mines that the Germans had laid to protect the vulnerable area. Amazingly, none of the men set off mines, although later groups would.

At around 0700, another wave landed near Colleville Draw, also with bad results, including the death of a battalion commander. Near here, additional troops landed as well. Some tanks were now on the beach, and Company G, 16th Regiment under Cpt Joseph Dawson landed in six LCVPs. Weighed down with heavy equipment, the men of Company G walked across the beach.  Now the group had machine guns of their own to fight back with.

(Source: John's Military History)

Attack Up the Bluffs   (from John Hamill's Military History)

This is the hollow, sowed with mines, that Spalding and Dawson's men climbed on D-Day.  This picture does an amazing job of conveying the protected nature of "Breakthrough Alley".  There was a depression in the land that reduced sightlines from a distance. To the Americans, it was like walking in a very wide ditch where only the nearest people could see them.

Now you begin to see why the soldiers in the two nearby WN strongholds had no way of detecting the Americans as they climbed this weak point in the German defense.  Yes, Spalding and Dawson's men were shot at by the smaller defensive units in this area and yes, they had men wounded in action, but neither platoon sustained a single casualty despite engaging in several gun battles during their climb up the hill.  The land mines proved to be a bigger deterrent than the Germans themselves.

Once the breach was established, more men from the beach below came pouring in through this breach to join the fight on the hill.  The men from the 116th Regiment soon joined the attackCompany C, 16th Regiment, landed nearby and advanced up the bluffs too.  This area became the initial penetration of the entire beach on D-Day.

The breach made at Breakthrough Alley marked the beginning of the end for the German defense at Omaha Beach. 

(Source: John's Military History)

Rick Archer's Note:  I created this map based on what I learned from my May 2010 visit to the area plus the various reports I read.   I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this map, but I thought the reader would enjoy getting a rough idea of the probable locations described in the narrative above and in the individual stories of Spalding and Dawson. 

The Empty Pillbox was likely to be placed somewhere between WN 62 and WN 64.  The Machine Gun nest that Dawson took out with a hand grenade was probably on the bluff to the right of the viewing platform.  The Machine Gun with the Polish Gunner was likely on the bluff to the left of the viewing platform.  Colson's pillbox had to be somewhere halfway btw the two bluffs and WN 64.


John Spaulding's Story Continued

(note: Spalding's Company E began to climb the ravine 10-15 minutes ahead of Dawson's Company G)

After reaching the sea wall, Spalding and his E Company were trapped on the beach by a deadly combination of gunfire and a thick stretch of barbed wire.  No man could possibly cross barbed wire that thick.  The only way to break out of the trap was for a man to risk his life by crawling forward with wire cutters or Bangalore torpedoes – 20 pound tubes packed with explosives – and attempt to cut the tangle of wire while exposing himself to enemy fire. 

Sergeant Curtis Colwell bravely made a dash for the wire.  He used his bangalore torpedo to blast a hole through the wire despite every German weapon in range shooting at him.  The Germans seemed to understand full well what this penetration could mean, but their efforts proved futile.  Suddenly Colwell was through.  He began waving for the troops to follow him.  

Spalding wasn’t going to let this heroic effort go to waste.  Spalding had 20 men left.  He gathered these few men and burst through the opening as fast as possible.  The men had to dodge a furious barrage of rifle fire, machine gun fire, and mortar shells. 

Once the men were through, this was the break they needed.  Amazingly, after they passed the barbed wire and reached the hill, the shooting stopped completely.  Were they invisible or something?  Spalding looked up and saw nothing.  If he couldn't see them, maybe they couldn't see him either.  Spalding decided they were apparently tough to see from above.   This gully in front of him looked deserted.  Maybe it was only the beach that was covered with crossfire.

Spalding's Narration:

"The first place we stopped was at a demolished building; there was some brush around. We were halted there by a minefield at the first slope.  My section was spread out—the men in accordance with orders had deployed the minute they hit the beach. They had been told to get off the beach as soon as possible. They walked on across because nobody stopped them.  The company was getting heavy small arms fire. One burst from a machine gun left a series of dots along the wall in front of the men.  Sgt. Louis  Ramundo was killed here, the only man killed in my section on the beach."  

Spalding and his men crept forward.  Spalding spotted a narrow path up the hill and began following it.  He stopped cold when he noticed a dead soldier in front of him.  Spalding recalled thinking, 'What the hell is this guy doing here?  How did he get ahead of us?'

The man’s body was torn to bits.  That was all the clue Spalding needed to realize the man had stumbled on a mine field.  Spalding was immediately on guard.  As he crept closer, Spalding realized the dead soldier was a German.  Of all the luck! 

Spalding Interview:

"Streczyk and Pfc. Richard Gallagher (who won the Distinguished Service Cross that day as did Sgt Colson) went forward to investigate the minefield. They decided we couldn't cross it.  We had to stop.  There was pretty heavy brush around there."

Then someone pointed out places where there was no grass growing.  Spalding smiled grimly.  He figured that was a 'dead giveaway'... if the grass couldn't grow, there was probably a mine underneath.  Spalding ordered the men to walk on the grass, not on the path.   That little twist on the old axiom worked.

There were no bullets at this point.  Where was the enemy?   Spalding guessed they had protection from hostile observation and fire provided by the hills on either side of the gully.  At the time, the terrain was helping to shield them from enemy fire or observation.  Spalding had a hard time accepting that this hollow was so poorly defended.  Other than mine fields, there seemed to be no other obstacles.  Where was the defense?

Once they passed the minefield, the men resumed their ascent.  There were grass fires everywhere from the day's constant shelling.  Using smoke from the many grass fires for concealment, the men systematically climbed towards the bluffs.  Spalding could not believe their good fortune.  This part of the hill had to be one of the few places where the enemy defenses were weak.  On the way up, there was not one machine gun nest to deal with.  Spalding recalled thinking that perhaps a bomb from the morning barrage had found the bunker guarding this area.

Spalding Interview:

"On our left we bypassed a pillbox, from which MG (machine gun) fire was coming and mowing down F Company people a hundred yards to our left.

There was nothing we could do to help them. We could still see no GIs to the right and there was no one up to us on the left. We didn't know what had become of the rest of E Company.  Back in the water, boats were in flame. I saw a tank ashore about 0730-0745 and get blown up.  Then I saw more men getting mowed down.  After a couple looks back, I decided I wouldn't look back any more.  I couldn't bear seeing all those men dying back on the beach.

About this time Gallagher said to follow him up the gully which was about 400 yards to the right of the pillbox we just passed.  Finally we spotted resistance.  They must have seen us up top because now we were getting terrific small arms fire.  Fortunately only a few of the men were hit. About this time we were nearly at the top of the hill.  We returned fire but couldn't hit them."

Narration by Sgt Walter Bieder:  "All hell broke loose when we hit Omaha Beach.  The tide was out, so we had an extra long beach to cross with a lot of obstacles, including land mines. Only four guys from one of our landing craft got out of the landing craft alive.

When they dropped the ramp of the landing craft, the Germans cross-fired right into it. Four guys jumped off the rear of the landing craft; that's how they got out alive.
 It was so bad on that beach, I can't find the words to even describe.  All I can remember is that night my company commander (Wozenski) broke down in tears.  He cried because he said they lied to us.  The beach was supposed to be full of bomb craters.  We were counting on them being there, but there were not any holes around to use for cover.  He said, "There's only 60 men left.  Where's my men?  Can you believe that?  I just lost 140 of 200 men!" 

And he broke down and bawled like a baby.  Hey, it didn't bother me none to see him cry.  A lot of us cried that day and we weren't ashamed of it.  We earned the right to cry.

I don't know how we made it, but we were determined to made sure our buddies didn't die for nothing. 
Our platoon leader was Spalding.  He was young and this was the first action he had ever seen.  What a way to start!  But you know, he did pretty good.  When we were going up that hill there and when we got pinned down way out in front, I thought he held his head pretty good.

Spalding’s platoon, we made our way up the hill and kept pushing.  We were sort of spread out.  Spalding didn't want us together in case of a hidden machine gun.  Piasecki  and a couple of other guys were around me.  

Our first platoon got up there and we began taking fire from this machine gun nest.  It was set not on top of the hill, but just a ways down and dug in. I had a grenade launcher on my rifle. It was an armor piercing grenade, but not like a hand grenade.  I slipped a hand grenade onto the launcher of my M1 rifle and fired.  I barely missed.  It went boom right in front of them.  So I quickly put another one on, brought her up a little bit, and boom — I got them!  

Farther up, in a little ravine, was a small anti-tank gun and I aimed at that and I hit that too. And then my rifle, I don’t know what the hell happened with it, the mechanism fell apart, and I had to grab a rifle I found laying around from one of the guys that was hit.

I also got a couple snipers to throw up their hands.  I took them back down the ravine and left them there so I could rejoin the men.  It wasn't easy, but our platoon was clearing small resistance units along the way as we scaled the hill."

Spalding Interview:  

"We were getting pounded by a machine gun nest we couldn't see.  When Gallagher found the way up I sent word back for my men to come up to the right. Sgt. Hubert Blades, Sgt. Grant Phelps, Sgt. Joseph Slaydon, and Pfc. Raymond Curley went first. I went next; Sgt. Bisco followed me and the rest of the section came along.

I couldn't take my eyes off looking for the machine gun above us, so Sgt. Bisco kept saying: "Hey Lieutenant, watch out for the damn mines."  

He was right.  I was so worried about the MG nest I almost stepped on a mine.  They were a little box type mine.  Now that I paid attention it seems that the place was infested with them, but I didn't see them till Bisco warned me.  Bisco saved my life.  We lost no men coming through them, although H Co coming along the same trail a few hours later lost several men.  The Lord was with us and we had an angel on each shoulder on that trip up the hill.

We knew where the shooting was coming from, but we couldn't see the gun.  Trying to get the machine gun above us, Sgt. Blades fired his bazooka and missed.  He was shot in the left arm almost immediately.  One down.  Pfc. Curley, a rifleman, was shot next.  Two down.  Sgt. Phelps had picked up Tilley's BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) on the beach after he was hit.  Phelps tried to move into position to fire and got shot in both legs.  3 men down.  Damn it.  This German unit was putting up a good fight.  Pretty soon I was going to lose a man if we didn't disable this post. 

By this time practically all my section had moved up.  We decided to rush the machine gun from about 15 yards away.  You may ask why we hadn't been able to hit it yet.  I don't know.  We sure tried hard enough.  But we couldn't see them!  Then just as we rushed, the German operating the gun threw up his hands and yelled "Kamerad!  Freunde!" 

I told the men to hold their fire.  I kept looking for the other Germans to join him.  No one.  I couldn't believe that just this one guy did all the damage.

'Comrade-Friend' my ass.  We should have killed him for plugging our three guys, but we needed prisoners for interrogation.  I ordered the men to stand down.  At the time I still couldn't believe this one single guy had kept us pinned down so easily."

Rising up from a hidden foxhole on top the hill, the machine gunner had decided to surrender.  The man began sliding down the slope on his backside with his hands up.  At this point, Sgt Streczyk took charge. 

Narration by Vinnie DiGaetano:  "This gunner had been in a one-man foxhole and he’s been giving us hell.  Finally, we get around behind him. He could have surrendered a long time ago.  He only threw up his hands when we got behind him and put a gun to his head. Smart guy [Laughs]  He started talking Polish. That’s when we finally found out he was Polish.  We don't know Polish, but Sgt Streczyk does. 

Streczyk asks this Polack why they shouldn't shoot him on the spot.  The guy says, “I got captured, I don’t want to shoot!”  This guy was a one-man foxhole and shooting at us like crazy!  Now he tells Streczyk he was trying to miss the whole time!   Hell, the SOB hit three of our guys.  I hate to think how many guys he woulda hit if he was aiming!  I guess he decided to give up before he killed someone.

So Streczyk keeps talking to him in Polish and says he doesn't believe the guy.  Streczyk whacked the prisoner on the back of the head and yelled, “So why the hell are you shooting at us?”

The gunner was scared out of his wits.  He kept insisting he had not shot any Americans.  Streczyk looks at him wild-eyed and screams something in Polish, probably "Whaddya mean you ain't shooting at us?  You just shot three of my guys!"  

Streczyk looked like he was ready to kill the guy so I yelled, “What the hell are you doing, Streczyk?  Ease up!"  Pow!  Streczyk whacked him again for good measure!  Streczyk was boiling mad.  Didn't believe a word the guy said.

Narration by Joe Buck:  "[laughs] Later on Streczyk was coming back down the hill with a bunch of prisoners of war.  There were all these Polish prisoners and Streczyk was kicking them in the ass the whole way down and talking to them in Polack wanting to know why they fought so damn hard.  Streczyk was really raising hell with them!"

But let me tell you, Streczyk's tough interview paid dividends.  The Polish gunner explained he was captured by the Germans and forced to fight against his will.  He said that there were 16 Germans in a trench to the rear of his machine gun.  These Germans had told their Polish prisoners that morning that they had to hold the beach no matter what.  The Germans said they would shoot them in the back if the Polish didn't seem to be trying to fight.  After the interview, we decided to go find those 16 Germans in the trench."

Spalding's Narration:  "The Polish men had taken a vote on whether to fight and preferred not to, but the German noncoms made them.  He also said that he had not shot at Americans, although I had seen him hit three. I turned the PW over to Sgt. Blades, who was wounded.  Blades gave his bazooka to Sgt. Peterson and guarded the prisoner with a trench knife.

We moved Curley, Blades, and the other wounded men into a protected area and the medic—Pvt. George Bowen—gave them first aid. He covered his whole section of the beach that day; no man waited more than five minutes for first aid. Bowen's action did a lot to help morale.  He got the DSC for his work.

Now that the Polish MG nest was knocked out, the men were finally able to reach the top of the hill.  There were no immediate threats.  While Streczyk was occupied with gaining intelligence from the prisoner, Sgt. Clarence Colson decided to proceed further on his own. 

Colson and his buddy Sims noticed a pillbox nearby.  They were behind it.  The pillbox could not possibly know there were Americans on top of the hill.  Sensing that he had the drop on them,  Colson decided to make this pillbox his personal project.  Earlier Colson had picked up a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR, a light machine gun) on the beach.  As he came up along the crest of the hill,  Colson began to give assault fire as he walked along.  Colson rushed the pillbox, firing the weapon from his hip as he ran.  Colson opened up on the machine gun nest firing so rapidly that his ammunition carrier had difficulty getting ammo to him fast enough."

Sgt. Clarence Colson's Narration:  "When we were at that demolished house, I looked at the terrain in the gully in front of us.  So when I seen that path and all these wires I knew there’s minefields there.  I told Sims to watch out.  We got a BAR on the beach from a guy that was wounded. And we got a few magazines. I brought the extra magazines and we got some bandoliers (a belt of ammunition) that we carried.  And I said to Sims, "C'mon, let's head for the hill." 

So I went up the path.  Quite a steep hill.  There was no wires across the path, that’s what I was looking for, and running as fast as I could run. 'Course I was young then, I could move pretty good.  And when I got over there, then I motioned Sims to come.  And Sims came up. And he had the bandoliers.  So we got top of the hill and that’s where all the trenches were.  Damn.  Trenches everywhere!   Those Krauts must dig in their sleep.

And here is this one guy running back and forth in that trench, so I hollered at him "aufgeben", give up.  SOB threw a potato masher at me, a German hand grenade. I ducked down, put my hands up, my head down. It didn’t go off right quick and I kind of glanced and I see he hadn’t unscrewed the back and pulled the string.  Big mistake.  So I nailed him.

This pillbox was the one that was holding the Company up.  The pillbox was down at the end of the trench.  Now I could use the trench to come right down the back end.  Maybe they heard me shoot the guy in the trench, but they couldn't see me.  The pillbox had a door that goes downstairs, then you have your gunner slots, see.  So I got the BAR.  It had a tripod on it and I got it set up right, opened the door and started spraying.

I told Sims, I says, “Just as soon as I kick that magazine out, put another one in.” There was 20 rounds, I think, in those magazines. So we shot about three or four of them. Maybe more, maybe less. I know it was more than three. We shot quite a few rounds.

All of sudden a white flag came out and I quit firing.  A bunch of Germans came out.  I motioned for them to come on up and they came up. I don’t know how more many was dead in there or anything.  But it was a good thing to stop these guys.  Without that pillbox, the beach just got a whole lot safer.  That’s why we got all the troops up, pretty soon, on that part of the beach."

Spalding's Narration:  "Shortly after Colson took out the pillbox, Lt. Bleau of G Company came up and contacted me. He said he had come up our same trail. His company had landed in the second wave behind us. Just a few minutes later Capt Dawson of G Company came along too.  Now that the pillbox was gone, we saw no one on the right. Captain Dawson asked if I knew where the rest of E Company was and I told him that I didn't know.

Dawson said that E Co was 500 yards to my right, but he was thinking in terms of where they were supposed to land; they were actually 500-800 yards to our left. I later found out that they had lost 121 men.  Dawson said that he was going into Colleville and told us to go in to the right.  He had about two sections.  Said he had just seen the battalion commander. This was about 0800.  We had been fighting for an hour.

I went over and talked to Lt. Bleau about the information we had gotten from the Polish prisoner. I asked him to give us some support while we looked where the 16 Germans were supposed to be.

We drifted to the right, or west if you prefer.  As we went up in this direction we hit a wooded area. We found a beautifully camouflaged trench which ran along in zigzag fashion, but we were afraid to go in.  This was the trench the Pole had warned us about.

We went along the top of the trench spraying it with lead.  We used bullets instead of grenades since we had very few grenades.  We thought that the bullets would be more effective.  No one shot back, so Streczyk looked around a corner.  No one in the trenches.  Deserted.  Afraid of an ambush, we turned to the right and shot at a wooded area; got no fire from there either.  No one.  False alarm.  I began to wonder if the Polish gunner had fed me disinformation. 

Well, no need for G Company to hang around.  So I yelled to Lt. Bleau to shove off and he started for Colleville to catch up with Dawson. G Company went on to Colleville-sur-Mer.  My company headed west in the general direction of St. Laurent.  

As I watched them go, there I stood like a damn fool waving Lt. Bleau a fond farewell.  I caught myself waving and stopped.  How ridiculous."

Sgt. Clarence Colson's Narration:  "Now we had all these prisoners.  That's when Ramundo got killed.  In fact, he was the first guy.  Ramundo came up the same way Sims and I climbed the hill.  He came up right after we got the prisoners.

Ramundo told me, “I’ll go back down to get the company.”

And I said, “Don’t go down there, there’s snipers and mines around there, too. Ramundo, stay here. They’ll come up soon enough.”

But he said, “No, I’m going down after them.”  He went down, I heard one shot, I said, “Yeah, he’s had it.”  Sniper got him.

Just like I said, the Company got up.  But out of the whole Company we only had, oh, 20 men or so left.  I remember back in the morning, the boat next to me on the right, none of them got out of it.  We was on the further left.  10 feet made all the difference.

And it was a good thing for us because that pillbox near the shore wasn’t manned.  They didn’t have nobody in it.  That pillbox would have been a real problem for all of us. 

Instead it was empty.  Now we were at the top of the hill.  Looks like we had all the luck today.  From here on we just scattered out and moved forward looking for German resistance. That was all we could do."

The utter hopelessness of the situation was increasingly apparent.  Across the beach, the perspective was the Americans had lost this battle.  This explains why Dawson and Spalding's breakout was so crucial.

This picture was taken after D-Day which explains why the road is in such good condition - it was just built.  According to Spalding, this was the demolished building they used to hide from German bullets. 

Why the Germans allowed this building to stand to be used as cover on the beach can't be explained.   It remains a mystery.  They said that the nearby strongpoint WN64 wasn't finished either. 

One can imagine if Eisenhower had waited till the next full moon, perhaps all the gaps in the defense around here would have been gone.

This is the area Spalding's company crossed on their ascent.  The ropes suggest a minefield

The sea wall saved countless lives

 This is one of the two hills on the side of Spalding's ravine.  As you can see, it was very steep.

I can't be certain, but I believe this the spot Spalding's men were climbing when the Polish machine gunner began shooting.

Wherever Spalding went, there were defensive trenches

During the climb to the top, a pillbox began firing on Spalding's men. Sgt Colson took it out single-handed

The Germans were masters at disguising their fortifications. 
You would have to look twice to spot this pillbox.

I found this map titled "Spalding's Movements" with no accompanying explanation.  There is ambiguity in this map that I am uncomfortable with, but my best guess is that Dawson and Spalding both came up the same hollow together about 100-200 yards apart separated by about 15 minutes.  

After taking turns clearing out the bluff at the top of the hollow, at that point the two company leaders talked over their next step.  Dawson went on straight to Colleville while Spalding turned perpendicular to move west toward WN64.  The sideways route is probably Spalding moving on WN64. 

Sorry to say, but I don't have a clue what that long curved white line represents.  It might be Spalding, but I think it is the movement of another company.  Spalding ended the day with Dawson in Colleville.  I don't think that curve is him.

This is about what Colson's pillbox looked like after he was through with it.

German prisoners of war on Utah Beach... and a good example of the barbed wire the Americans had to penetrate to move upward

For reasons no one can explain, there was no artillery on the ridge for Spalding's men to worry about.  And why was the shoreline pillbox that Colson noticed early in the morning unmanned?   As bad as it was at Omaha, if it had been better staffed, things would have been far worse. 

The history of the day shows that the Germans were vastly outnumbered.  However very small German detachments were able to keep the much larger invading force completely bottled up.   For example, 31 men at WN62 held out for nine hours that day killing over 1,000 Americans in the process.

WN62 was too strong to be taken by frontal attack.  It was only when GIs filling the breach created by Dawson and Spalding came in on WN62 from the rear that the mighty stronghold started to weaken.  At 3 pm, WN 62 finally fell.  By comparison, WN 64 went down at 10 am.

Without the breach created by Spalding and Dawson, many more men would have died.  This underscores the magnitude of what Company E and Company G accomplished that day.

   
 


Joe Dawson's Story Continued

(Dawson was pinned down behind a log by gunfire from the top)

Dawson's Narration:  "I was up there pretty much alone.  Me and three other guys had reconnoitered.  I decided it was safe enough to bring the whole company up, so I told Baldridge to go back and bring the men up. I said, “They’ve got to get off the beach. Tell them to come up here with me.”  Baldridge took the two guys with him and went back down to deliver the message.

So I climbed a little more, then waited on the ground behind a log.  No one was shooting at me, but I didn't see any point in staying exposed.  I watched to see if my men were coming.  Pretty soon they began to filter in.  I could see a single file beginning to develop off the beach and coming on up.  That's when I heard a great deal of noise just above me.  Sure enough, there was a machine gun nest up there that had just sprung into action.  I had no idea they were even there!  I couldn't even see them from where I was, but I could see they were giving the men a lot of trouble.  Down below, my men scattered for cover. 

I decided to get closer.  I couldn't see the gunners because the hill was so steep at this point and I was below them.  However I could use the sound of the gunfire to guide me closer till I was in view.  Then suddenly I had a new angle and spotted them above me.  From this point, I crawled along in the brush till I was able to get within a few yards of them.  I was no longer under them, but rather beside them.  The Germans were right on the crest hiding in a trench with only their gun exposed.   They were well disguised.  No wonder I hadn't seen them before.  They were practically invisible if you looked at them from any spot down below. 

Suddenly the Germans spotted me and they were scared out of their wits.  They hastily swung their machine gun around, firing wildly.  I ducked for safety, but wasted no time retaliating.  I had a couple of grenades ready and I lobbed them both in there.  It was point-blank range.  One of them fell right between both men and silenced them instantly.  


Sure enough, that opened the beach up. It was a miracle.  It doesn’t mean anything on my part.  I certainly didn't plan to take on an entire machine gun nest myself.  It was just one of those wacky things that happen, that I was in the right spot to take them out.  They never had any idea I was nearby. 

The top was clear now.  E1 and E3 were the two exits that we had anticipated would be the exits off the beach. We didn’t get them open until the next day. And the only place on which that whole beach was able to get off was through that point that we established on the bluffs. 

At that point we began to move towards Colleville.  It wasn't easy.  We had several firefights from the bluffs on into the village of Colleville.  But we were successful in being able to do it as a unit.  My men did a superb job on getting there.

There was a calm over us. There was a mutual respect that began to develop, and it was almost incredible. I felt it in every one of my men. We had casualties. We had lost men there on the beach.  We had two or three men who suffered in this battle.  But we hung together strong.

Soon we took our positions in the town.  I led my men in there and we had quite a fight.  The little village was dominated by a church with a steeple in it.  One of the forward observers of the Germans was using that steeple to direct artillery fire down on the beach. 

So I went into the church with two of my men, a sergeant and a private.  We had a little encounter in there with the Germans.  And I lost the private.  The sergeant and I both were able to survive and we were able to neutralize the situation.

I left the building and started across the street from the church.  There was a typical French farmhouse.  The farmhouse was enclosed with an open courtyard but with the farm buildings making somewhat of a square.  And it was there that the bulk of my men congregated after we had taken the village.

And as I was going across the road, a sniper caught me with a bullet through my left knee.  It frightened me.  I was carrying a carbine.  That was the only time that I had a weapon other than my 45, but I had that carbine.  The bullet had gone through the stock and one of the fragments had lodged in my knee.  Another fragment came through the fleshy part of my right leg, which somewhat incapacitated me.  But I didn’t think anything about it at the time.  I just got out of there.

Based on Dawson's story, I think there is a good chance the hidden machine gun nest was on this bluff to the right.  I say this because it gets very steep here.  I could imagine how Dawson could be right underneath this area and not be seen by the machine gun nest hidden in the bushes.

I moved my men into a defensive position around the town.  Soon after that there was a little firefight that developed from the Germans that had shot at me down at the end of the street.  Other than our farmhouse, they had the town completely in control.  This was about 0330 in the afternoon.

At 0400 out of nowhere bombs started flying overhead.  I couldn't believe it.  We were being devastated with artillery barrage from our own navy.  The barrage leveled the town, absolutely leveled it, and in doing so we got hit too.  We suffered the worst casualties we had the whole day.  I was angered by it.  We were hit harder from our own navy than the enemy!  It angered me beyond all measure because I thought it was disgraceful.  My own navy had bloodied us from one end of the town to the other.  I lost more men to my own navy than to the Germans all day!

And I was quite bitter about it.  Captain Wozenski was very bitter about it too.  We brought the matter to the attention of the authorities.  The navy’s response was that the order called for the leveling of Colleville at H+60 minutes or as soon thereafter as visibility would permit.

Well, the pall of battle was over us. And there was no vision and we had no communication because my control officer, the navy-army fire officer, had been destroyed on the beach eight hours ago.  Thanks to his unfortunate death, I had not been able to identify my company's whereabouts until after the barrage leveled us.  And by that time I was frantically throwing up smoke bombs to alert them to the fact that we were in the town, but it was too late to prevent the barrage from occurring.

But their contention was that the pall of battle had obscured their vision until 4:00 that afternoon, which was H+8 hours or H+10 hours.  This snafu cost me 64 fine men killed or wounded.  With the exception of the tragic loss that morning when the bomb hit the boat behind me, this was the worst loss we suffered all day.  I thought it was disgraceful the Navy would be so careless to bomb Colleville without checking to see if there were any Americans there."
 

Although Dawson had trouble containing his contempt for the Navy's recklessness, he was undeniably proud of his own men.  Dawson pointed out that while other companies had fallen to pieces at the hands of the brutal German defense, his men had bravely gone about their business.  Between his men and the men from Spalding's company, all resistance on the bluff between the E-1 and E-3 draws was eliminated.  The gap opened by G Company was quickly exploited by hundreds of fighting men who came in right behind them.  This initial penetration allowed the men on the beach to safely follow their path and join the fight.  Indeed, the men who followed were able to take out the notorious WN 62.    

Dawson's Narration:  "I took great pride in what my men accomplished.  We landed 34,000 men at Omaha, but it took 250 men to open the way."

 


The Conclusion of John Spalding's Story:  The Fall of WN 64

Rick Archer's Note:  

Today there is German concrete all along the French coast.  Wherever there is a beach, there is some grim concrete reminder of the past. 

WN64 and WN65 guarded the two sides of Ruquet Valley.  WN65 (pictured) still exists today.  WN65 was located 200 yards across the Ruquet Valley from the heavily forested hillside of WN64. 

WN65 has all sorts of bunkers to see such as the one pictured.  This bunker can also be seen in the picture below directly under the "1" in "E-1".  

Unfortunately I was unable to find even a single picture of WN64 on the Internet.  Not one.  No D-Day picture, no modern day picture.  That is probably because WN64 was meant to be concealed in the heavy forest.  

A cursory glance at the hillside using Google Earth close-ups around the 'Question Mark' revealed not even a single bunker left standing in the area. 

It is like the place never existed.

The Germans were masters at disguising their fortifications.  This is the most likely explanation for the disappearance.

Whatever remains today of WN 64, it must be well hidden somewhere within that hillside forest. 


Spalding's Narration: 
"After Colson took out the pillbox,
we were on top of the hill by 0900.  We were the first platoon of the 16th to hit the top.  From there we advanced cautiously.   I had 22 men in my section.  Seems like I had spent more time at the rubble than anywhere else.  Plus I had taken up some time with that Polish prisoner.

We never did find those 16 Germans the Polish gunner had told us about.  It spooked me because I assumed they were still hiding behind some tree ready to pounce.

Our men were spread out wide over an area 200-300 yards.  As we went inland we heard rifle and machine gun fire to our right.

Streczyk and Gallagher volunteered to check on the situation. They located a machine gunner with a rifleman on either side of him. Streczyk shot the gunner in the back and the riflemen surrendered.

The two prisoners were German.  They refused to give us any information. With them in tow we continued to the west.

We still saw no one to the west, but we could hear artillery firing somewhere out ahead of us.  

Visibility was poor.  When we climbed the ravine earlier, the Germans had cleared much of the vegetation. 

However, now that we had breached their defenses, we were now in hedgerow and orchard country. 

The woods were quite thick at the top of the hill. 
We were watching our flanks and to the front and scouring the wooded area. 

As Balkoski's map indicates, after meeting at the top of the hill, Dawson's company moved south towards Colleville while Spalding's company headed west towards the well-disguised WN64 stronghold.

We couldn't see them and they couldn't see us.

I would send Sergeant Streczyk with 3-4 men to check on suspicious areas.  

We usually sent someone with an automatic weapon to cover them.  Too bad we did not have any heavy machine guns at this time.  They were currently sitting at the bottom of the English Channel.

We crossed through two minefields—one had a path through it, which looked like it had been made a long time ago. When we got through it, we saw the "Achtung Minen" sign ('watch out for mines').  No one was lost; we still had an angel on each shoulder.

About half a mile west from the spot where we first reached the top, we found a construction shack overlooking the E-1 draw to St. Laurent.  Sgt. Kenneth Peterson fired his bazooka into the tool shed, but no one came out.  The area was heavily wooded.

We were about to go on when I spied a piece of stove pipe about 70 yards away sticking out of the ground.  Was that a mortar tube?  I formed my section into a semi-circular defensive position.  Something was going on here.  Sgt. Streczyk and I went forward to investigate.

I froze.  It was indeed a mortar tube and we had just discovered an underground dugout.  I signaled for the men to get down.  There, dead ahead, we spotted the German strongpoint.  There was well-concealed concrete. 

This had to be WN 64.  What else could it be?   We had been looking for this place all morning only to completely stumble on it.  I could not believe how well something this big could be hidden from view.  Most of it was submerged into the side of the hill.  

The Germans must have gone out of their way to disguise the rear approach of this stronghold as well as the front.  They did a good job.  With the heavy forest providing excellent camouflage, we nearly walked right past it.

As I surveyed the complex, I swallowed hard.  This place wasn't going to be easy. 

WN64 was 50 square yards of concrete, steel, and guns.  There was an 81 MM mortar, a position for a 75 cannon and incomplete construction for a pillbox.   Two big pillboxes and four concrete-and-steel shelters overlooked the beach with artillery, mortar, machine guns, and riflemen. 

A maze of trenches ran from one end of the strongpoint to the other.  The whole thing might have held 40 German soldiers.  Maybe more.  The dugout was made of cement.  It had radios, excellent sleeping facilities, and dogs too.  This concealed strong point with its underground trenches and concrete-covered dugouts was virtually invulnerable to attack from naval or aerial bombing.   Besides, no one could even see it was there.

All this overlooked the E-1 draw.  I remembered from the maps that this strongpoint had a powerful position high above Omaha Beach and the road to St. Laurent as well.  As I watched, I could see they were busy firing on the beach.  I set my jaw.  They were killing our guys at this very moment.  We needed to take these guys out ASAP!

Unfortunately, I only had 22 men.  Surely we were out-numbered.  A direct assault was impossible. The attack would have to be cat-and-mouse, one spot at a time.  Sgt. Streczyk volunteered to lead the attack." 

Streczyk's Narration:   "The need for stealth was paramount.  Our company was badly out-numbered.  Our only hope was to retain the element of surprise.   There were four of us who crept on our hands and knees to get closer to the outlying bunker. 

There was a German smoking a cigarette on the edge of the bunker.  In addition we could hear voices inside.   I motioned for the men to stay back while I went ahead with knife in hand.   After I sliced the first German's throat, I picked up his gun and waved to the others to move forward.   When they saw me, I was covered head to toe in blood.  The men thought I was hurt and almost said something, but I put my finger to my fingers to indicate silence. 

Now we were able to see down into the underground bunker.  There were German soldiers playing cards.  Jesus, there were bombs exploding and men screaming and these Krauts just sat calmly playing cards.  We determined they were probably reserves for the gun crews.  They were waiting their turn to take over and shoot the big guns. 

That's when one of the dogs started barking.   Damn it, we didn't know there were dogs!

Right in the middle of the deal, the Germans froze and everyone looked up.  I guess the dog had them spooked.   I used the dead German's automatic to spray the area.  Suddenly, without warning, bullets flew into the bunker, sparking off concrete and ricocheting wildly all over the place.  Then I stopped firing.  I yelled at them, first in German and then in Polish, for everyone to give themselves up.  I promised them instant death for anyone who didn't comply.  When they saw me covered in blood, they were terrified.  They threw up their hands.  After that it was easy."

Spalding's Narration:  "After Streczyk took out the first bunker, one of the men pointed out a ventilation shaft nearby.   I started to drop a grenade into the ventilator, but Streczyk said 'Hold on a minute'.  Streczyk found the door and fired three shots down the steps into the dugout. Then he yelled in Polish and German for them to come out or die.  Sure enough, four men, disarmed, came up. They brought 2-3 wounded with them. 

That's Streczyk for you, talking that Polish gibberish.  The guy was magic.  I yelled for Colson to bring 5-6 men to help me watch them.  Streczyk went on ahead.   Streczyk had just captured this bunker singlehandedly and spared our lives and German lives in the process."

Side Note:  A post-war article on Streczyk that appeared in the East Brunswick, N.J. Examiner referred to Streczyk as "the one-man invasion".  That label surely referenced his actions that cleared out WN64

"We had taken our first step in clearing out an intricate maze of trenches and dugouts.  At this point, Streczyk reloaded and ran to the next trench nearby.  Gallagher, Peterson, and others were right behind him.  DiGaetano got his flamethrower roaring and sent a 15-foot flame into the gun slot of a pillbox.  Smoldering Germans ran out the back and surrendered.  Streczyk swatted his back and yelled, “Good going, Dig!”  After that, DiGaetano tossed the flamethrower aside because its fuel tanks were empty."

DiGaetano's narration:  "We got the flamethrower out and went to a pillbox. The Germans come out, Aaaaah!  They didn’t even know we had a frigging flamethrower. They were hiding in the back or something. If you get them, they know about it. Had to be like napalm. In 30 seconds, or a minute, all gone. The tank was empty. Goodbye."

Spalding's Narration:  "We began to get small arms fire from the road to the west of us. I yelled for Piasecki and Bieder to move forward to the edge of the draw.  A firefight took place.  In a trench in front of me, 14 Germans were cornered. 

At first I thought one of them had started tossing grenades because suddenly the entire ground began to shake.  But there wasn't any explosion.  I was stunned.  It felt like an earthquake.  I asked myself what kind of grenade can make the earth move like that?

It took us all a few moments to understand what had just hit.  The concussion was not being caused by German grenades, but rather the US Navy guns.

Once we figured out what was going on, we all began to smile.  The battle wasn't over, but we were sure we would win this fight.  It made us even more determined to do our job, assuming of course our own Navy didn't take us out first."

Much of the fight for WN64 took place in deep trenches like this

Visualize that the cemetery area was thick with woods on D-Day.  Spalding's company was walking through a dense forest.

Thanks to Spalding's discovery, WN64 became the German's weak link at Omaha on D-Day after Spalding cleared out the strongpoint at 1000 hours.  Only a lone pillbox at the head of the draw remained in German control until the evening.  

Although WN64 dominated the entrance to Ruquet Valley, it was said to be largely uncompleted by D-day. The stronghold was undefended from the rear, relying instead on camouflage to protect it.

The early loss of WN64 (10 am) was devastating to any German hopes of counter-attack.  The beach area beneath WN64 became the point where the Allies began to bring in supplies and reinforcements.  Any Panzer counter-attack would have had major trouble dislodging the Americans now. 

Ventilation shaft for German bunker

The shelling incident is depicted in this picture.  That is the E-1 Draw.  The destroyer is firing at WN65 on the hill on the right.  WN64 was on the hill to the left, but it was so well hidden the destroyer didn't even realize it was there.  That probably saved the lives of Spalding's men.

By coincidence the Navy had just begun to place fire into the E-1 draw at 1000.  The guns of battleships and destroyers went into action.

Huge shells landed nearby just as Spalding, Piasecki, Bieder, and their squad was locked in a dangerous firefight with the men in the trench. 

Bieder remembered wondering what was going to get him first, the Germans or his own Navy.

Bombs or no bombs, the fighting continued.  Piasecki deployed 6-7 men; shot several Germans and chased a number of men out of the strong point and down the hill straight into the E-1 draw. 

There was a destroyer so close by it was practically sitting on the beach.  The men on the ship spotted their escape.  Now the Germans were sitting ducks.  They were quickly dispatched by fire from the ship. 

Few Germans survived. 


Meanwhile down in a trench, Spalding made a mistake that nearly cost him his life.  Earlier in the fight, the lieutenant had dropped his weapon in a water-filled ditch.  He grabbed a German rifle to replace it, but after fooling with it, Spalding realized he didn't have a clue how to use this foreign weapon.  

When Spalding began to supervise the first set of prisoners, he asked one of his men to swap this German rifle for an American rifle.  The soldier flipped on his carbine’s safety lock and handed it to Spalding. However, Spalding was so preoccupied with the events, he forget to check out the other man's weapon. 

   

Spalding put another man in charge of the prisoners and went to explore the dugout.  To his surprise, he stumbled on the body of a dead German.  Spalding was somehow shocked to discover that his company had killed a German.  For some reason, it caught him off guard.  In a daze, Spalding went around a corner and was suddenly face to face with a German rifleman.

Reacting quickly, Spalding pulled the trigger of the carbine, but nothing happened.  The safety was still on!

Before the surprised German could react, Spalding reached for the catch but hit the ammunition clip release instead.  The ammo clip clattered to the ground.  Now the German raised his pistol, so Spalding turned to run.  At that exact moment, Sgt. Peterson appeared with his bazooka.  The German saw that if he shot Spalding, Peterson would return the favor.  So he quickly dropped his pistol and put up his hands instead.  Peterson's lucky appearance had just saved Spalding's life.

Spalding's Narration: "When Colson came over, I put him in charge of the prisoners.  Then I started down the line of communications trenches. The trenches led to the cliff overlooking the beach. We were now behind the Germans so we routed 4 out of a hole and got 13 more in the trenches. The trenches had teller mines, hundreds of grenades, numerous machine guns.  They had enough ammunition to take our company out easily.  Too bad for them they didn't see us coming.  They were firing down at targets in the E-1 draw when we came up.  Then they saw us and turned their firearms at us. 

But it was too late.  We had a short fight with the 13 men.  They threw three grenades at us, but they didn't hit anyone.  Once they saw it was hopeless, they quit. 

After the fight I wandered around and found one dead man in the trenches.  I don't know if we killed him, but if we did, he was the only German we killed at this location.

As I went to check the trenches, I did a fool thing. After losing my carbine in the water I had picked up a German rifle, but found I didn't know how to use it. When I started to inspect the trenches, I traded the German rifle to a soldier for a carbine, but I failed to check out his weapon.

Seconds after I found that dead German, I ran into a Kraut and pulled the trigger, but the safety was on. I reached for the safety catch and hit the clip release instead, so my clip hit the ground. I ran about 50 yards in nothing flat. Fortunately Sgt. Peterson had me covered and the German quickly changed his mind about firing his weapon.  So he put up his hands up instead.  That business of not checking guns is certainly not habit forming. 

We next took out an Anti-Tank gun near the edge of the draw. There was little resistance left. We now had the prisoners back near the dugout. We had split the section into three units. We got a little ineffective machine gun fire from across the draw to the right at this time.  I figured it was some Germans in WN65 trying to come to the aid of their Kamerads.  We tried to use the 81 MM mortar to shoot back, but no one could figure out how to operate the German weapon.

Now that the fight was over, for the first time I was in a position to look out onto the beach below.  I saw soldiers across the draw to the right (west). I supposed that they were from the 116th. They seemed to be completely pinned down on the beach by fire from WN65.  I smiled grimly to myself.  Well, at least they didn't have to worry about WN64 anymore."

The battle to take WN64 lasted nearly two hours.  Using the element of surprise, Spalding's men had started at the rear of this strongpoint and slowly worked their way forward by attacking one area at a time.  They were aided by the fact that the majority of the enemy were preoccupied at the front firing down on the beach below. 

The noise of the day was so intense the Germans firing down on Omaha Beach had no idea some of the gunfire they were hearing was taking place nearby.  They were unaware of the fight at the back until it was too late. 

Meanwhile, down below on the Easy Red beach sector, no one knew about the fight up above.  Soldiers, engineers, and medical personnel only knew that for some unknown reason they could suddenly move without being shot at.  They quickly relayed the message that this area was mysteriously safe.  This became the first safe landing point of the day.  All incoming vessels were redirected to this point. 

Quickly the base of the hill was crowded with troops and vehicles: tractors, tanks, bulldozers. More troops were landing. Combat engineers bulldozed paths through the dunes, loose rock, and barbed wire. Mines were cleared and anti-tank ditches were filled.  The Easy Red sector was the busiest spot on the beach.

At 1100, General Bradley received the first encouraging reports of the day.  One read: 'Men advancing up slope behind Easy Red. Men believed to be ours on skyline.'

Spalding's Narration: "We turned the prisoners over to Strecyk who began to pepper them for information.  About this time two stragglers from the 116th came up. I didn't ask what company they were from but just took them along. We went back and checked trenches again since we were afraid of counter-infiltration by the Germans.

In the meantime I sent the 17-19 German prisoners back with Streczyk the way we had come up. I told Streczyk to turn them over to anyone who would take them and to inform the men below that this strong hold was terminated. 

Then I told Streczyk to set off our last yellow smoke grenade to let the Navy know that there were Americans up here.  Their fire was getting very close to hitting us instead.

At this point I saw Lt. Hutch of Co E coming up.  His section had been directly to my left in the boats earlier that day.  I pointed out a minefield to him and he told me that there was a sniper near me.  We had sniper fire every few feet now. We were getting pretty jittery, so we found a trench and started talking about what the status was.

About 1045 Capt. Wozenksi of Co E came up from the left.  He had come along practically the same route we had used.  I was very happy to see him.  He said we had orders to go onto Colleville.  That surprised me because I thought they would want us to cross the draw and help take out WN65.

We never crossed the E-1 draw. Instead we went along the trail towards Colleville to meet up with Dawson.  We spent the rest of the day helping Dawson and some others hold the position.  The Germans were mad that we had broken through and wanted to take revenge.  It got pretty fierce there.  

About 1500 we got intense German fire. DiGaetano was hit in the butt by shrapnel fire; we told him that his butt was too big to be missed.  That was funny but losing Bisco wasn't.  Sgt. Bisco was killed; rifle fire hit him in the face and throat.  Then our navy went nuts and started bombing our position.  Only one round of artillery came in; we thought it was from one of our ships—exploded about 300 yards from us; had orange and yellow flame.  Heard Dawson got the worst of the naval bombardment. 

Spent the rest of the day defending out of a hedgerow.  There was a lot of gunfire, but we kept our heads down and stayed in a ditch.  Took no more casualties.  We spent the night of the first day in the positions near Colleville.  D-Day was finally over."

Once WN64 was disabled, the beach was finally open for the Americans to rush supplies and reinforcements ashore. 

There was still a lot of fear concerning a Panzer counter-attack, so no one took any breaks that day.  The Americans wasted no time moving in and establishing control.

Quickly the Easy Red sector became very crowded.

There were plenty of wounded soldiers to attend to.

Prisoners of War from WN64 being escorted down to the beach

They quickly found lots of things for the prisoners to do...
like digging up mine fields

 

Officers found interesting places to fill out reports.

Tight patrols were quickly established.  With all the hidden trenches, there was always a danger of a sneak attack. 

The battle was won, but it ended tragically for
2,000 Americans. 

An Amazing Accomplishment

With the fall of WN64, the Breakthrough was complete.  Spalding, Streczyk, Colson and the rest of E Company along with Dawson and his G Company had created the first major wedge in the formidable German defense.  The credit for cracking open the vaunted German defense belonged to both companies.   Now that this area was cleared, they were quickly joined by reinforcements who were able to systematically attack the remaining bunkers from all sides. 

Spalding, Streczyk and Dawson were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  All three men were honored to have General Eisenhower personally greet them and give them their award 

In his book, Dawson pointed that 34,000 men landed at Omaha Beach that day, but a handful of men - 250 on Dawson's part, 20 on Spalding and Streczyk's part - bailed out the entire American assault force at Omaha

When the Americans were stuck on the beach, it took these three heroes and their comrades to singlehandedly break the battle open.  Dawson and Spalding apparently worked the opposite sides of the same ravine. After marking the mine fields and eliminating several pockets of resistance on the way up, both crack units knocked out the remaining defenses at the top of the hill.  In so doing, they saved countless lives of men who had been pinned down on the beach under withering fire. 

While the battle for WN64 was going on, right across the Ruquet Valley Draw another pitched battle was going on for the control of WN65  Now the tide turned.  Once WN64 went down, soon the other strong points began to fall like dominos.  

Thanks to the heroics of Lt Col George Gibbs and Sgt Skiba, WN65 fell an hour after WN64.  At this point, the Americans had finally secured the precious prize they had sought all day - control of both sides of a draw. 

From this point, engineers worked furiously to clear out land mines, bulldoze a road through the shingles and strengthen the existing road through Ruquet Valley to support armored tanks.  The E-1 Draw was finally open for business.  Suddenly those tanks Rommel feared most began to burst into the French countryside. 

The path that men like Spalding, Streczyk, Gibbs and Skiba carved out became the main personnel exit for the entire V corps for the next 48 hours. 

These three leaders and their men had saved the day.  At 10 am, General Bradley had been convinced the battle was lost.   He would have ordered a retreat if that had been a possibility.   Unfortunately, just as many men would have died in any retreat or rescue attempt, so he let them fight on. 

One hour later at 11 am Bradley received the first news that what had looked like certain defeat was now turning the other way.  American soldiers had been spotted on the ridge and German fire was mysteriously lessening.   

Spalding, Dawson, and Streczyk were not the only heroes at D-Day, but a strong case can be made that they made the greatest single contribution. 

As one writer put it, by creating a safe path out from Omaha beach, these three men managed to put the first small crack in the fortress of Nazi Europe. 

Now that was quite an accomplishment. 


Chapter Six
- Reflections

A look back at the events
of this story

   
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