5 facts you may not know about the Coast Guard at Normandy
Posted by LT Stephanie Young, Thursday, June 5, 2014
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.
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:
• 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.
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.