RIVIERA BEACHHEAD – Eye Witness to the Invasion of Southern France

By Sgt. Harry Sions

YANKS Staff Correspondent

WITH THE SEVENTH ARMY IN SOUTHERN FRANCE [By Cable]–We sat on our dead hams, spat out the skins of juicy purple grapes and admired the view of this section of the Riviera. To our right was a small pleasant valley with orange-roofed farmhouses and back of the valley were green pine hills. All around us were thick vineyards and cane fields.  A little while before, Sgt. Frank Moran had caught three Jerries in one of those fields.

“I was clearing out mines,” said Moran, a veteran of four landings, “when I saw one of our artillery officers and some German prisoners in back of a jeep. He’d found the prisoners in some woods a mile away.

“The only weapon I had was a sickle picked up in a French house that I was searching for booby traps. ‘This country’s alive with Jerries,’ the officer told me. ‘You’d better go back and get yourself a weapon.’ I was on my way back to the bivouac for a carbine when three Jerries jumped from the cane brush.

“They were riflemen. I made a lunge for them with the sickle and all they did was put up their hands. I took them down the road a piece and there was that artillery officer. I turned the Jerries over to him and went back to the cane field.”

southern france invasion dday

Landing sites for the Southern France Invasion

It’s been just about as easy as that ever since our LST sailed with the convoy for southern France. The weather was bright and sunny that afternoon and the Mediterranean calm. There wasn’t a Jerry plane or sub around for the entire trip. We dropped anchor off France 2 1/2 days later.

As the LST waited offshore, we quickly wore out the novelty of counting crisp new French bills, skimming through the French-language guidebooks and putting on our American armbands. After that, many of the GIs just lay out in the sun, staring into the sky or across the sea with the blank stare of “two-year men.”

T-5 Kenneth Anthony, a photographer who’s been overseas 28 months, explains that look: “It doesn’t mean we’re dreaming of home or girls or anything,” he said. “We’re past that stage. We’re just looking, that’s all–looking and waiting.”

There were plenty of the usual lines to sweat out on shipboard–lines for chow, lines for latrines, for washing, for water. With only three toilet bowls for more than 400 men on the ship, sweating out the toilet lines took up lots of slack time. The latrines were next to the boiler room; consequently you got the benefit of what amounted to a Turkish bath. When we climbed out of our sacks after dawn on D Day our ship already lay at anchor. All about us, as far as the eye could reach, were rows of Allied ships: LCTs, mine sweepers, Liberty ships, destroyers and destroyer escorts, cruisers and battleships.

Two hours before H Hour the warships opened fire on the German positions in the hills behind the beachhead. Our LST shook each time the battleships’ 14-inch gun thundered.

Mine sweepers patrolled up and down the shoreline, LSTs all around us opened their broad bows and poured out invasion equipment. LCIs and LCVTs loaded with combat infantrymen and tanks sped toward the beachhead. Far overhead Thunderbolts, Spitfires and Lightnings searched the sky. Flocks of Liberators swing toward the hills beyond the beachhead, and soon we heard, faint but clear, the reverberations of exploding bombs.

At H-plus-five an LCVP swings alongside our ship. A GI yelled up: “It’s all over but the shouting here. We walked right in.”

That was the only news we had on the progress our doughfeet were making on the beach until late afternoon when another LCVP came by to report that our troops were eight miles inland, although the Jerries were putting up a stiff rearguard action. We lined the top-deck rails and waited for an official announcement of the invasion’s progress, but it never came.

southern france invasion dday

Invasion craft of every kind crowd this beach in Southern France. SPs stand ready to direct units to proper positions as they come ashore.

Throughout the afternoon, the gunfire of our warships increased. Great clouds of smoke billowed over the hills on the coast. We listened for the return fire of the Jerry guns, but there wasn’t any. “Jerry’s getting it this time,” said a GI grimly. “It sure was different at Salerno.”

At H-plus-10 our LST made its way around the peninsula to our designated landing point.

We were ordered to pack and prepare to disembark. We crowded into the hot, stuffy tank deck. The ship’s doors swing open and through the giant tunnel we could see flame-colored splashes of sunset. For a half-hour we waited in vain for the order to disembark.

The RAF men started singing “Oh why are we waiting? Oh why are we waiting? Oh why, of why, oh why?” with profane variations, following up with “They’ll be no promotions this side of the ocean, so take my advice: Blank ’em all, blank ’em all.”

They were filling the tank deck with the sentimental refrain of “Annie Laurie” when the ear-splitting staccato of ack-ack burst on the top deck. We ran for the lifebelts–already tossed aside–and the bow doors swiftly closed. “Army personnel,” came a loudspeaker voice, “will return to their former positions and remain on the ship until further notice.”

When we reached our corner of the top deck, we were told that a Jerry ME-109 making a recon over the convoy had been shot down.

At H-plus-20 the orders to disembark finally came through. We walked out of the open doors of our LST across narrow pontoon strips to a short, sandy beach. The early morning air was damp, cold and full of mist. Two hours later the sun broke through the mist and the air became bright and warm. As we trudged up the road from the beach to a wooded slope, our bivouac area, we felt a cool breeze coming from the hills.

The invasion of southern France was scarcely one day old when T/Sgt. Murray Johnson of Boston, Mass., sauntered into the bivouac area bringing a pretty French girl walking her bicycle and a gnarled French farmer with a wine jug. We pulled out our canteen cups. The wine was bright red, clear and dry.

“He’s been saving it for us,” Johnson said. “He’s been saving it for us a helluva long time.”

For Further Reading on the Invasion of Southern France Check Out:

Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France

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