TESTIMONY (Omaha Beach - D-DAY - June 1944)
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Normandy D-Day, June 6, 1944 -
senior US Officers on board USS Augusta (CA-31), from L to R,
Rear-Admiral Alan G. KIRK, Lieutenant General Omar N. BRADLEY,
Rear-Admiral Arthur D. STRUBLE, Major General Hugh KEEN

S 3/C Julius E. SHOULARS,
summer 1943, S.Francisco, ZI
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… in 1943, a group of 10 to 12 men were transferred from Ft. Pierce, Florida, by train to Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia . I was there too, I joined the Navy in July of 1943 . A short while later, 14 men were transferred from the 3d Naval Beach Battalion to Camp Bradford . On October 5, 1943, both groups of above men helped to commission the 7th Naval Beach Battalion (7th NBB) . Many people were transferred to the 7th NBB from the 1st – 2d – 3d and 6th Beach Battalions to form our unit . Most of them were regular Navy who had obtained rates such as First Class Boatswain Mates, Motor Macks, Carpenter Mates, Pharmacist’s Mates, and Shipfitters . Communications specialists were transferred to the 7th NBB from Communications/Radio Schools and Joint Assault Signal Companies (JASCO) . Then there were Officers who came from all Navy Departments, and of course the Seamen 2d Class who filled the jobs of the Hydrographic Section; further, also some Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) were transferred to us about three weeks before the Normandy Invasion ! After getting the Battalion’s quota filled, we were sent down to Ft. Pierce, Florida, for practice landings .

7th NBB personnel,
ready for Invasion practice landings,
England, April/May 1944
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The organization of the 7th Beach Battalion when stationed at Cp.Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia (for amphibious training) looked as follows; date is February 11, 1944 : Commander L.C. LEEVER (CO), Lieutenant C.F. Southward (XO), Lieutenant H.P. Brown (Radio Off), the complete Battalion’s Staff numbered 35 men – each Company was composed of a Beach Master, an Assistant Beach Master and a Medical Officer, it represented a total of 45 men, i.e. Company Staff (3) Hydrographic Section (18) Boat Repair Section (8) Communication Section (8) and Medical Section (8), while Companies (A, B, C) were broken down in 3 Platoons each, identified as A-1, A-2, A-3 - B-4, B-5, B-6 - C-7, C-8, C-9 . At the time I was a member of the Hydrographic Section, and a Seaman 2/C, responsible for beach survey, marking sealanes, removing beach and other obstacles, sweeping mines, and assisting landing craft .

7NBB Training Exercise - Slapton Sands,
England, April 1944
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Low tide, note line of beached vessels,
Omaha Beach, June 1944 
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Dog Red sector, Omaha Beach,
June 8 or 9, 1944
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Early spring of 1944, the 7th NBB sailed for Scotland on the former Cunard Liner, HMS Aquitania . We landed at Green Rock, Scotland and later boarded a train bound for southern England . Salcombe, in Devon, was to be our home base in England . In spring of 1944, after extensive training in and around Salcombe and including Slapton Sands, we began to be transferred to our staging areas, around the southern English ports, prior to the Invasion of France . And then it was D-Day, but … only part of the Battalion landed on the morning of June 6, 1944 ! The group I belonged to was supposed to land at 1500, and we were already in landing craft just waiting to beach, but due to the many wounded, debris, disabled vehicles and general confusion on the beaches, the Beach Master delayed our landing until June 7, 1944, around 1000 . When we landed, everything was rather calm, with gunfire over the hill, but, after we had landed for about 15 minutes, all hell broke loose ! Firing all over the place, the sector was DOG Red . Each Beach Battalion was attached to an Army ESB, and in turn each ESB Company would be attached to a specific ESB Battalion, the 7th NBB worked together with the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion

7NBB & other Navy personnel
in front of beached vessel,
Omaha Beach, June 1944
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7NBB personnel, Omaha Beach, June 1944
S 2/C Harry H. SCHERER Jr, S 1/C John HENSHAW,
S 2/C Julius E. SHOULARS
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We had been issued jump boots, Army HBT fatigues, even some impregnated coveralls, steel helmets with gray bands, adorned with a red arc + USN + numeral 7, and were armed with an M-1 carbine, while officers carried a sidearm (.45 cal pistol) . For the next coming three or four days, when things calmed down a bit, we lived in foxholes or pup tents, and witnessed the occasional sniper fire and nightly fly overs by German planes but that was about it . Our main activities consisted in unloading supplies, transporting these to a beach dump, loading wounded on landing craft for transport back to England, until we left about three weeks later … Some of the abandoned pillboxes were taken over to function as signal posts or first-aid stations . We ate K Rations most of the time, until the Army set up a field kitchen and if they felt like it, we could have chow down there . While on Omaha Beach, I was promoted to Coxwain . I personally did not shave, bathe or change clothes for the entire 21 days on the beach ! We later discovered an unfinished bunker near the beach, and lots of socalled ‘Belgian Gates’ too . Although against regulations, 2 officers, while on the beach, managed to take a lot of snapshots between June 8 and June 18, hiding the cameras under their jackets and snapping pictures when no one was looking … most of our Battalion was on Omaha Beach for 21 days, although some communications fellows volunteered to remain for 3 months .
(Julius E. SHOULARS, Coxwain, Hydrographic Sec, A-1 Pltn, A Co, 7th NBB, USN, 8357809, recollections)

Unfinished large German bunker,
still under construction at
WN66, EASY Green,
east of Exit D-3,
Omaha Beach, June 1944
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Navy sailor leaning against 'Belgian Gate' obstacle,
Omaha Beach, June 1944
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Impressive line up of 'Belgian Gates',
Omaha Beach, June 1944
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Churchill AVRE vehicle clearing 'Belgian Gates' from the D-Day beaches (mid June 44) click image to enlarge

Notes :

Allied Invasion experiences in Africa and the Pacific convinced US military leaders of the need for instruction in Amphibious Combat Techniques . Because of the protective barrier islands, running from Vero Beach to Port St. Lucie, located along the eastern Florida Atlantic Coast, Ft. Pierce was selected as an ideal location for Training in Amphibious Warfare . Low-lying sandy islands, narrow beaches, sand dunes and marshes were the ideal grounds for beach landing excercises . The Naval Base was commissionned January 26, 1943 under Capt. C. GULBRANSON, USN, and quickly became an important center of Amphibious Warfare . Navy personnel were trained in gunnery, boat and amphibious vehicle landing, beach supervision and salvage, reconnaissance and demolition . In anticipation of operations against heavily fortified and defended beaches in both Europe and the South Pacific, the Army and Navy formed the Joint Army-Navy Experimental & Testing Board (JANET) responsible for construction and destruction of beach fortifications replicating those found in the different theaters of the war, against which a series of different methods of demolition, destruction and detonation were experimented … it is here that the very first Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) graduated in July 1943 . The Ft. Pierce United States Naval Amphibious Training Base (USNATB) was closed by the Navy in 1946 .

Certificate, as issued for successful completion of the
Amphibious Training Program at Fort Pierce,
Florida (late war issue)
Originally a Construction Battalion Training Base (CB>SeaBee), Cp. Bradford became an Amphibious Training Base on March 16, 1943 . Between May 1943 and January 1944, over 100,000 troops trained at Bradford with help from seasoned Mediterranean assault veterans who gave trainees the benefit of their earlier combat experience . Use of the newly available types of landing craft was put into effect, and of particular interest were those designed to land on the beaches . Part of the training took place on board an LST mock-up (on dry land) representing top deck and bridge of a real ship in size and structure, although being built out of wood and concrete (USS Neversail). Cp. Bradford was disestablished by the Navy in July 1945 as a separate base, and recommissioned as the Little Creek United States Naval Amphibious Base in 1946 (today it is the world’s largest base of its kind) .

Activated February 1943, participated in the Invasions of North Africa (8 Nov 42), Sicily (10 Jul 43), Salerno (9 Sep 43), Anzio (22 Jan 44) and Southern France (15 Aug 44) .

Activated February 1943, participated in the Invasion of Sicily (10 Jul 43) and Normandy (6 Jun 44) .

Activated February 1943, primarily used in loading troops and supplies on transports .

Activated October 1943, trained in Florida (Ft. Pierce), and participated in the Invasion of Normandy (6 Jun 44) .

The Engineer Special Brigades included special communications companies referred to as Joint Assault Signal Companies (JASCOs) . They consisted of 3 different sections; a Beach Communications Section, an Air Liaison Section and a Naval Shore Fire Control Party (NSFCP) . This group combined a mixed force of Army, Air Force and Navy personnel . For the Normandy Invasion, the 286th JASCO worked under the 1st ESB (Utah Beach), the 294th JASCO was attached to the 5th ESB (Omaha Beach), while the 293d JASCO operated under the 6th ESB (Omaha Beach) .

The first class to enter the Combat Demolition School at Ft. Pierce, Florida, consisted of former Construction Battalions (SeaBees) and Navy personnel – classes started in June 1943 . A few Navy salvagemen were familiar with demolitions and used their skills during the landings in North Africa, and some trainees went off to assist in the Invasion of Sicily . During January 1944, it became obvious that the Germans had set up quite a number of ‘different’ beach obstacles on Utah Beach, consequently S.H.A.E.F. planners became gravely concerned, in case these obstacles would prevent landing craft from reaching shore . When the first Naval Combat Demolition Units arrived in England, i.e. in October 1943, they started practicing and developing operational procedures . The NCDUs were attached to the Navy Beach Battalions . During May 1944 (in view of the Normandy operation) NCDUs were reinforced with 5 Army engineers (with underwater demolition training) and 3 Navy seamen (for handling the rubber boats) and went to work out efficient methods for destroying the numerous types of beach obstacles … finally the NCDUs were to operate at Utah Beach under the Beach Obstacle Demolition Party (BODP), while at Omaha Beach they were attached to the Special Engineer Task Force (SETF) . Their primary mission was to prepare a number of 50-yd gaps thru all obstacles with the tidal ranges of the landing beaches, and to remove all possible beach obstacles .
Following NCDUs operated on Utah Beach, Teams #11 – 22 – 23 – 24 – 27 – 41 – 42 – 43 – 44 – 45 – 46 – 127 - 128 – 130 – 131 – 133 – 140 – 141 – 142, while Teams # 25 – 26 – 28 – 29 – 30 – 132 – 134 – 135 – 136 and 139 were assigned to Omaha Beach .

The above unit was part of the 6th E.S.B. and teamed with the 7th N.B.B. . It was assigned to Omaha Beach-West, supporting the 116th RCT, 29th Infantry Division "Blue-and-Gray" . The overall 149th Battalion Beach Group controlled a number of miscellaneous units including Engineer – Amphibious Truck – Naval Beach Battalion – Joint Assault Signal – Medical Collecting & Clearing – Chemical Decontamination – Quartermaster Railhead – Military Police – Ordnance Munitions – Quartermaster Service – Quartermaster Gasoline Supply – Medium Automotive Maintenance – Engineer Special Brigade – Engineer Combat – and Ordnance Bomb Disposal elements . (for Omaha Beach-East, the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion teamed with the 6th N.B.B., supporting the 16th RCT, 1st Infantry Division "Big-Red-One").

The 1116th Engineer Combat Group arrived in England January 17, 1944 (comprising 147th – 149th - 203d Engr Cbt Bns), and was redesignated 6th Engineer Special Brigade January 20, 1944 . Col. Paul W. THOMPSON, former Commander of Woolacombe Assault Training Center, was given command of this new Brigade in March 1944, while Col. Lucius CHASE was appointed as his XO . The 6th E.S.B. (total T/O strength 6,630 men) was under overall control of the Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group (CO > Brig. General William M. HOGE), activated February 17, 1944, which was to coordinate the activities of both the 5th and 6th E.S.B. elements on Omaha Beach, during D-DAY, the Invasion of France, June 6, 1944 . The 6th Engineer Special Brigade was responsible for the Omaha Beach-West sector (CHARLIE-DOG Green-DOG White-DOG Red-EASY Green), and supported the 29th Infantry Division>, while the 5th Engineer Special Brigade, CO > Col. Doswell GULLATT, was assigned to Omaha Beach-East (EASY Red-FOX Green-FOX Red) for support of the 1st Infantry Division. (the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, CO > Brig. General James E. WHARTON, was assigned to Utah Beach (TARE Green-TARE Red-UNCLE Green-UNCLE Red), in support of the 4th Infantry Division. The 6th E.S.B. subsequently moved further to take over general defense of the Cotentin peninsula, December 1, 1944 …

The Headquarters Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group was activated February 17, 1944 (total T/O strength, assigned & attached for Omaha Beach 21,928 men, and for Utah Beach 16,252 men) under command of Brig. General William M. HOGE (C0) who was appointed overall Cdr March 8, 1944, with Col. Timothy L. MULLIGAN (XO), and Col. Leland B. KUHRE (CofS) with the aim to coordinate the activities of the 5th ESB (Omaha Beach-East / 1st Inf Div sector), 6th ESB (Omaha Beach-West / 29th Inf Div sector + 2d & 5th Rngr Inf Bns), and 1st ESB (Utah Beach / 4th Inf Div sector) . Full dress rehearsals for the Normandy Invasion took place May 3 > 7, 1944 and included the 1st, 5th and 6th ESB .

'Element C' or Belgian Gate, was a specific antitank obstacle, developed by French engineer General Léon-Edmond de Cointet de Fillaire. This mobile steel obstacle was intended to supplement and link antitank fields holding thousands of traditional rails (vertically sunk in a concrete base in the ground) and thus block roads and other points of access to vehicles, primarily armored ones ! The 'Cointet' elements could be positioned and linked to each other, thereby creating a solid barrier of steel . The large fields with planted rails were part of the Maginot Line whereas the Germans opted for 'dragon teeth' as used in their Westwall (aka Siegfried Line) . The concept dates from 1933 and was adopted by the  French Army in 1939 . The Belgian Army was very much interested in the design, and after agreement with the French, not only adopted the steel barrier, but also reinforced its front parts . While the French in fact used  'C' elements to close and seal off strategic roads, by combining 2 elements, the Belgians would in fact use them as a kind of continuous antitank barrier . A total of 75,000 'Belgian Gates' were manufactured under strict military control in 25 different Belgian plants . We may thus assume that the 'Cointet' elements used by the Germans for their Atlantikwall defenses were probably captured French and Belgian steel barriers, originally intended as antitank obstacles for land warfare .

abandoned 'Belgian Gates' elements,
at one of the former Belgian Forts
(Antwerp province, Belgium)

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