5 facts you may not know about the Coast Guard at Normandy

When the Allied Forces landed on Normandy Beach, the U.S. Coast Guard took part in the greatest amphibious operation the world had ever seen. On June 6, 1944, the Coast Guard joined the other U.S. military branches and Allied Forces in the operation code-named Overlord. As the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of D-Day, we bring you five facts you may not know about the Coast Guard at Normandy.

“The Jaws of Death.” A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division on the morning of June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach.

“The Jaws of Death.” A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division on the morning of June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach.

1. The Coast Guard played a critical role in Operation Neptune.

Operation Neptune, the naval assault phase of Operation Overlord, was the largest single combat operation the Coast Guard has ever taken part in. During the initial days of the liberation of Western Europe, the Coast Guard demonstrated its expertise, versatility and value in the maritime domain in a number of ways including combat operations; ship and small boat handling; loading and discharging cargo at sea and ashore; directing vessel traffic; and search and rescue operations – in most cases under enemy fire.

2. Coast Guard-manned landing craft carried troops to the beach.

There were a variety of Coast Guard cutters and Coast Guard-manned Navy vessels that participated in the Normandy invasion. The smallest sea-going amphibious craft involved in the invasion were landing crafts. These vessels, crewed by less than 30 men, carried troops or equipment into the invasion and then pulled the soldiers of the beaches of France.

The various types of landing craft included:

A landing craft approaches the beach on D-Day. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A landing craft approaches the beach on D-Day. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

• LCI(L): Landing Craft, Infantry (Large)
• LCH: Landing Craft, Headquarters
• LST: Landing Ship, Tank
• LSI(L): Landing Ship, Infantry (Large)
• LCVP: Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel
• LCA: Landing Craft, Assault
• LCM: Landing Craft, Mechanized

3. Sixty Coast Guard cutters formed Rescue Flotilla One.

A few weeks prior to D-Day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested that Operation Neptune needed a rescue flotilla. Roosevelt ordered U.S. Navy Adm. Ernest J. King, chief of naval operations, to work out the details. King in turn contacted Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche, who noted that there were dozens of coastal patrol craft that would do the job. Sixty 83-footers were selected and each cutter was transported “piggy-back” on freighters to the U.K. where they were offloaded. The cutters of Rescue Flotilla One saved more than 400 men on D-Day alone and by the time the unit was decommissioned in December 1944 they had saved 1,438 souls.

4. The Coast Guard played an important role in capturing a port for the Allies.

Omaha Beach, secured. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Omaha Beach, secured. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh, while assigned to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, helped develop artificial harbors and planned the occupation of the French port of Cherbourg. He and 16 men were sent in to assess the port’s condition. Approaching a German-­held fortress, Walsh waved a torn parachute fragment as a flag of truce. He was invited to meet with the fort’s commander who ultimately surrendered the fort. The Americans then began the dangerous job of clearing the demolished and booby-trapped port with Walsh’s assistance. They cleared it in time for the Allies to begin unloading supplies in July. For his actions Walsh was awarded a Navy Cross.

5. The day was filled with both triumph and tragedy.

More Coast Guard vessels were lost or damaged that day than at any time in its history. Destroyed in action were LCI(L)-85, 91, 92 and 93. The latter three were lost on Omaha Beach while the 85 sank offshore. Their burning wrecks served as navigation markers that day. Fifteen Coast Guardsmen died in the invasion on D-Day. Most were crewmen from the landing craft that participated in the Omaha Beach assault. Six of those who were killed in action are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

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  • Eric Forslund

    I’m proud to be part of our nations oldest continuous sea going service! Semper Par!

  • LEDETCoastie

    The capture of the fort by Walsh is exceptional and all because he bluffed the GErmans.

  • Mark Foor

    I actually did know this! I used to work with a gentleman who was retired Coast Guard. His father fought in WWII and he served in Korea as a medic assigned to the Marines.

  • raptureready

    Semper Paratus!!!

  • http://batman-news.com Tom Teare

    Great article!
    Semper Paratus!

  • BubbysGrampa

    Once a Coastie, always a coastie … Coast Guard Vets save lives afloat :-)

  • Neil Wasserman

    I’m proud to say I was a Coastie….Semper Paratus !!!!

  • William Beal

    A valuable asset in both peace and war!!

  • Mo

    I never knew and really appreciate knowing now. As and Army brat and former Army wife, this is information that we should all know. Thanks U.S. Coast Guard

  • Darrell Parks

    I found a magazine years ago called “The Fighting Coast Guard”. Great stories including the Escanaba, D-Day landings. Also have a book, “Lucky 13″ written by the coxswain of an LCVP in the S. Pacific and his adventures, deeds, misadventures, and misdeeds. Darrell Parks, EM3, 1969-1973, Arctic 70 and Operation Deepfreeze 71 AND 72. Square Knot Sailor.

  • Connie Lyons Shook

    My dad Army vet, WW11 , used to say to my hubby, USCG. that ‘I thought you said you were in the military, his way of ‘pickin’. Bet Dad didn’t know CG was there, when he was…:), cant ask Dad now…

  • Joe Downey

    another things that was not known much about was, the Coast Guard manned quite a few Destroyer Escorts. I was proud to have served aboard one of them doing Convoy duty in the European theather . Our sister ship USS MENGES DE320 with an all Coast Guard Crew was torpedoed in the Med losing I think the count was 31 COASTGUARD MEN and quite a few injured. Near the end of the war we were assigned duty in North Atlantic in what was known as A KILLER GROUP the only all Coast Guard Group OF four Destroyers all manned by the COAST GUARD. We were credited with the sinking of the German u boat Ui88 I think that was the number LIKE THE MAN SAYS ONCE A COASTIE ALWAYS A COASTIE. PS. The Uss Menges was re fitted with a new stern an was back in action with us as one of the ships in our Killer Group. She was giving the first run on the sub we sank.

  • Darrell Parks

    Arctic Summer West 70 and Operation Deepfreeze 71 and 72. I have an old magazine called The Fighting Coast Guard about the CG in WWII. Great stories.

  • Kurt Jahnke

    The net result of the Coast Guard’s participation in WWII including those who served in both the Atlantic & Pacific was that per capita, the Coast Guard suffered the highest mortality rate of U.S. Forces. Many served in both areas of operation.

  • Joe Downey

    some other facts many people don’t know is that the Coast Guard manned quite a few Destroyer Escorts that did Convoy duty I was proud & honored to have served aboard one of them. THE USS MOSLEY DE321 our sister ship the USS MENGES 320 was torpedoed by a German Sub blowing off the stern of the ship killing quite a few men an injuring many more. But the ship survived an was back in action before the end of the war, getting some revenge when she was giving the first shot at a German Sub we sank near the end of the war IN A KILLER GROUP OF FIVE DESTROYERS ALL MANNED BY COAST GUARD.

  • CHARLES SEITZ

    HI EVERYONE I AM CHARLES SEITZ BM1 MEDICAL RETIRED PURPLE HEART RECEVED. I SERVERED IN VIETNAM 1967 TO 1968,I WAS A PBR RIVER PATROL BOAT OFFICER IN CHARGE,I WAS DOING NIGHT PATROLS INTO CAMBODIA,TAKING SEAL TEAM MEMBERS AND ARMY RANGERS ON INTELL.AND ASAIN MISSIONS, DROPING THEM OFF ONE LOCATION AND PICKING THEM UP AT ANOTHER.THERE WAS ALWAYS A FIREFIGHT AT THE PICKUP POINT.MY LAST PATROL MY BOAT CAUGHT FIRE AND EXPLODED KILLING EVERYONE ABOARD AND BLOWING ME CLEAR.AND ARMY RECON WAS IN THE AREA AT THE TIME THANK GOD,THEY PICKED ME UP AND TOOK ME BACK TO THE D.M.Z.IT US 11 HOURS TO GET BACK THRU THE JUNGLE.I WAS CHOPPERED OUT THREE DAYS LATER.SENT TO THE P.I. THEN BACK TO A MERCHANT MARINE HOSPITAL FOR ONE YEAR TO GET A NEW KNEE REPLACEMENT.THEN I WAS DISCHARGED IN 1969 FULL MEDICAL DISCHARGE.I UNDERSTAND LATER THE COAST GUARD PUT ENSIGNS IN CHARGE OF THE PBR RIVER PATROL BOATS THERE.I AM COAST GUARD AND HAPPY NOW.THANK YOU.

  • Charlie Spivey

    Proud to have been Coastie. Served in Vietnam in ’67 -’68.