FROM ISIGNY TO CHERBOURGH – SKETCHES IN NORMANDY WITH THE ENGINEERS

Sgt. John Scott was in the backwash of battle from the beachhead to Cherbourg. He went over with a regiment of engineers, arriving at the beachhead on D plus 5. He wasn’t in any battles, didn’t witness any great heroics. The closest he came to combat was a visit to a battery of airborne artillery that was shelling enemy mortar positions. But being away from the front lines he was able to see much that would be missed in the confusion of battle. What he saw he recorded here in the drawings on this and succeeding pages.



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normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

The beachhead on June 16. In the foreground is a burned-out LCI beached by the tide. It was hit by 88-mm. shellfire. Crushed against it is a landing craft. A constant stream of traffic moved along these improvised roads along the water’s edge. The roadside was littered with the debris of the landing operation–discarded lifebelts, helmets, water cans, gasoline tins, and other bits and pieces. In the foreground is the beach home of an GI engineer. It is roofed with heavy timber as protection against flak and night strafing. The sky is a cloud of barrage balloons, one or two attached to each ship and some moored to shore.

normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

Another view of the beachhead from the bridge of a Liberty ship. There was a constant stream of traffic, mostly barges and LCI’s scooting back and forth like water beetles from ship to shore and back again. When the time came for unloading, the engineers handles the job ordinarily done by a port battalion. The beach after the landing was a maze of beached ships, heaps of supplies and provisions of all kinds, the bodies of both Germans and Americans. One characteristic of the beachhead was the intermittent rumble of explosions as engineers would locate and destroy hidden mines. Sometimes a bulldozer would “find” a mine and as you watched half the bulldozer would disappear. Sometimes the engineers would explode a teller mine and this would set off an “S” mine nearby, showering the men with pellets of shot. They worked in constant danger of being blown to bits in their haste to get the terrain cleared.

This is a typical field hospital operating room, just off the beach, set up by an amphibious section surgical team. These medics told me that in this operating tent they had all the equipment and facilities that would be available in the finest operating room in a New York hospital, making it possible to give the wounded the full benefit of surgical science. The man on the table had a bullet through both thighs. He said it felt like being hit with a baseball bat.

This is a typical field hospital operating room, just off the beach, set up by an amphibious section surgical team. These medics told me that in this operating tent they had all the equipment and facilities that would be available in the finest operating room in a New York hospital, making it possible to give the wounded the full benefit of surgical science. The man on the table had a bullet through both thighs. He said it felt like being hit with a baseball bat.



normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

Engineers removing an 88-mm gun and cleaning out ammunition from an enemy flak ship which was sunk in the harbor of Isigny. It was heavily armored and armed. The center tower was made of two sheets of heavy armor plating with a core of concrete about eight inches thick. Smoke still rose from the town.

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The hedgerow where we bivouacked just outside of Isigny the first night we were ashore. This is a typical scene beside a typical French hedgerow, pitted with foxholes of the infantry who had gone a few hours earlier. The ground is littered with all sorts of things–plasma bottles, bloody bandages, K-ration tins and boxes, grenades, mortar shells, both German and American.

normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

Here are some German prisoners, medical aid men and wounded at an American first aid station. An American medical officer is talking to them through the GI medic (with his back turned) who could speak German.

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One of the GIs of the airborne artillery near their shelter in a ditch just behind a hedgerow that helped shield their gun emplacement. Pvt. Blackburn and others like him double in brass. They serve not only as artillerymen but also as airborne infantry, helping to rout out the German snipers and clean up their machine gun nests.



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This is a fire control post for a batter of 75-mm. howitzers, part of our airborne artillery. I ran into them on June 20 outside of Carentan and they were a busy bunch. The men in the sketch are Pfc. Andrew Wright, of Brooklyn; Pvt. Jon Libero, of Clifton, N.J.; and Pfc. Thomas Skonier, of Beccaria, Pa.

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And here is one of our Airborne Pack Howitzer sections firing on German mortar positions outside Carentan.

normandy dday carentan omaha beach engineers

The railroad at Carentan, just after the town was occupied. This is what our engineer corps was up against. The whole place was a jumbled mass of shattered freight cars and twisted rails. Airborne infantry had a gun position alongside the remains of a locomotive, their machine guns pointing down the tracks.

normandy dday carentan omaha beach engineers

Here the engineers are well on the way to clearing up the mess of the railroad station at Carentan. Two days earlier this was a shambles, a hopeless tangle of splintered and shattered freight cars piled crazily one atop the other and rails and ties twisted about like so much spaghetti. The yards were pocked with craters 30 feet across and as much as 15 feet deep. Some of the shells had struck underground springs and the craters were half full of fresh clear water.



normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

This was Valognes. It’s all like this. At the right is the Cathedral of St. Malo. The houses at the left were almost medieval with a stream just a few feet wide winding around in the backyards, and picturesque moss-covered steps leading to the water’s edge from alternate houses. The engineers were busy, when I did this, clearing the debris to make way for military traffic. Nothing was left of most of the buildings except an occasional wall. While I worked I could hear the rumble of explosion as the tottering walls were brought down by demolitions squads. This was only a few hours after the infantry had moved on.

normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

This is Valognes again. The town was deserted except for us. Engineers in bulldozers are clearing the rubble from the street. The driver of the one in the foreground is protected against sniper fire by a shield of armor plating. Sometimes thee men go to work to clear one end of a street while the infantry is fighting for the other end.

normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

Cherbourg, our engineers clearing away the wreckage of a bridge on one of the main streets of the city which had been blown up by the Germans. American, British and French flags were flying from the balcony of one of the buildings across the way. The engineers worked so fast that before noon on the morning I worked on this drawing most of the bridge still visible had been cut up and removed. One of the first organizations of “French sidewalk superintendents” met here to watch construction. The men were all in black berets with an occasional orange shirt lending a touch of color. In the background at right is a gendarme on his inevitable bicycle and behind him one of the endless columns of troops that passed by all morning.



normandy dday cherbourg omaha beach engineers

This is the wreckage of the Transatlantique Dock at Cherbourg. Ship trains used to run from this dock directly to the Gare du Nord in Paris. The twisted rails of one of the tracks can be seen at right. This destruction was no surprise to our boys. They had plans all ready for the repair job a year ago. They knew just about what to expect. Jerry had lived pretty well here. There were canned chicken, ox tongue, all sorts of tinned fruit–a large butchering plant.

For More Reading on the Battle of Normandy Check Out:

Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy


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




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