Saturday, June 08, 2019


Those who have a limited understanding of history will pause on June 6 and give lip service to the Normandy invasion, and then move on. Most likely they thought little of what occurred in France on June 6 as the years passed into the 1960's, 1970's, 80's 90's, and beyond. But the current daily intrusion by electronic media caught their eye this week, and they paused with  faint praise this Friday, without understanding the significance of the day or the men who fought on the Cotentin Peninsula or the sacrifices made. This faint praise includes this blog yesterday, for which we offer an apology. D-Day should never be mentioned in a line or two  as an afterthought on a post about some pedantic local politics. Neither should Antietam, Gettysburg, Meuse-Argonne, The Somme,  Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Midway, Bastogne, The Chosin Reservoir, or Khe Sanh, to name other important battles in American history. 

On D-Day + 75 years, we've decided to  examine General Norman Cota. Cota was 50 years old on D-Day. He landed on Omaha Beach at H hour plus one. As a One Star General he was one of the highest ranking officers to land on the beach on D- Day. Cota landed with the 29th Division, which was led by a cadre of West Point Cadets and had a nickname of "The Blue and Grey" division. Prior to the landings, Cota was heavily involved in the planning, and highly critical of the invasion's plan. Most presciently, Cota did not believe the bombing and naval shelling would destroy the German fortifications and that when the 1st and 29th divisions landed at Omaha Beach they would face heavy opposition. 

Cota was correct. While the 4th Division which landed at Utah Beach suffered less  than 200 casulaties during the landings, V Corps (the 29th Division and the 1st Division nicknamed The Big Red One )  suffered close to 5,000 casulaties at Omaha Beach, giving rise to the nickname "Bloody Omaha."

The First wave at Omaha floundered completely. Some units lost over 90% of their men. Cota landed in the second wave around 7:30 am, with the 116 Regiment of the 29th Division at a portion of the Beach known as Dog White.  At Dog Green, to the right of Dog White, the Second Rangers batallion lost two thirds of their men during the landings. The earlier support of tanks and naval bombardment had failed to materialize and the Dog Green landing  was a disatser.  

Meanwhile, at Dog White Cota and his regiment had also landed without much support.  Lt. Colonel Max Ferguson Schneider, the commander ot the Fifth Rangers batallion  in a landing craft behind Cota recognized the sitiuation at Dog Green and ordered his boats diverted to Dog White. 

There is a small sea-wall separating the beach from the road at Dog White and Dog Green. Directly across the road is a small bluff, rising perhaps two hundred to three hundred feet. At the base and  top of the bluff, the Germans were dug in and well armed. To the right, at one of the exits off the beach on a road leading in land, was a German bunker (see below) that had a clear view of Omaha Beach and had survived the bombings and was laying down a deadly stream of fire. 

Cota and the members of the 116 of the 29th huddled under the beach wall. Wave after wave of men landing on the beach behind them  were being cut down and killed. The tide was now beginning to come in , and those men who were wounded at the water's edge began to drown. It was almost 8 am, June 6, 1944, and something needed to be done. 

Cota called for Bangalore torpedoes to attack the fortifications at the base of the bluffs. Slowly the equipment came forward and holes were blown in the barbed wire and some of the defenses at the base of the bluffs were neutralized. 

Lt. Colonel Max Schneider bumped into General Cota. Cota asked Schneider what outfit he was leading. "5th Rangers" came the reply. 

Now came two quotes that Cota is remembered for. But beyond the words, it is the action of this one American that turned the tide at Omaha Beach. 

When Schneider told Cota he was was with the Rangers, Cota stood up and pointed to the holes the Bangalores had blown open and shouted "Rangers lead the way!". Schneider's Rangers charged though the holes and up the bluffs and engaged and defeated the German defenders.
Rangers Lead The Way!  has gone down in history and now is the motto of the Rangers. 

At some point Cota began walking along the beach wall, ignoring the bullets, and rousing his men huddled behind the wall- shouting the second phrase he is remembered for: "Gentlemen, we're being killed on the beaches. Lets get up there and be killed in-land.
Slowly Cota led his men off the beaches and up the bluffs. Once the Germans at the top were cleaned out, the Rangers headed towards Point Du Hoc to meet up with the battalion that was scaling what later became the famous cliffs. Cota led the 29th in land to achieve the objectives of the 29th division. 

Your faithful blogger has stood several times at the precise spot on Dog White where General Cota and Lt. Colonel Max Schneider met. There are peaceful beach homes at the base of the bluffs  that belie the carnage of the beach on June 6, 1944. Rumpole has walked up (mostly crawled) the steep bluffs behind the sea wall and hiked from Dog White all the way to Point Du Hoc. Every American should visit Normandy once in her or his life. 

For his actions on Omaha Beach  General Norman "Dutch" Cota received the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery under fire (the only higher award is the Congressional Medal Of Honor). Lt. Colonel Max Schneider was also awarded the DSC for his actions on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. 

Cota was later given command of the 28th Division and was part of the liberation of Paris, and then took part in the invasion and liberation of Belgium. He was awarded the Croix de guerre with Palm by France, the Croix de guerre with Palm  by Belgium. The Croix de Guerre is awarded to an individual or unit that distinguishes themselves with heroism under fire. Field Marshall Montgomery pinned the British Distiguished Service Order on Cota. The DSO is awarded only to military officers who distinguish themselves under fire in combat. 

Cota died on October 4, 1971 and is buried in the West Point Cemetary. 

Gen. Dutch Cota- A true American Hero. 

The Beast Of Omaha: 

One of the defending Germans at Omaha Beach  was MG42 gunner Lance Corporal Heinrich Severloh who was in a well emplaced bunker; "Widerstandsnest 62" with good fields of fire. Severloh was instructed to target the US troops while they were still wading towards the beach. That Bunker still stands today and you can visit it. Severloh engaged the landing Americans for 9 hours, firing 12,000 rounds before his ammunition ran out and according to some historical analysts, Severloh may have been responsible for up to 3,000 of the casualties taken by the American forces. Severloh was nicknamed the "Beast of Omaha" by US survivors of the landing


Anonymous said...

Way to trash the captain. And he deserved it.

Anonymous said...

Monty almost blew all of D Day. He said he would take Caen in D Day + 8 hours. Liar. Caen fell on July 22 after being obliterated by aerial and Naval Bombardments.

Anonymous said...

What about Rommel not releasing the 15th Panzers? If released early they would have broken through the weak allied lines and you would have had a German Panzer division on the beaches wreaking havoc.

Anonymous said...

Rommel was worse than Monty. Rommel was sure the invasion would be at Pas de Calais. It was the shortest distance on the channel between Britain and France and the allies built a deception around Patton invading at Calais. The Germans were certain after North Africa that Patton would lead the invasion.
Rommel was the victim of social engineering. A massive deception that worked perfectly.
Well done.
Plus he was in Berlin on June 6 because the weather was too bad and he was sure there would not be an invasion and he had a new pair of shoes for his wife that he had bought in Paris.

Anonymous said...

Fun facts- Yogi Berra landed at d Day.
So did JD Salinger. Salinger fought in combat all the way to the Battle of Bulge. He came home suffering from PTSD. He kept his sanity in combat by writing at night.

Anonymous said...

Monty was way way way overrated. And he was an egotist. Patton was better by far. So was Norm Cota. But Ike had to placate the British and they needed a lead role. England had stood alone and was entitled to share in the glory.
But when Ike's nuts were in the fire at the Bulge the British couldn't help relieve Bastogne but Patton disengaged elements of his Third Army, marched them almost two hundred miles and re-engaged the Germans at Bastonge within 48 hours. It was a remarkable feat of Generalship.

Anonymous said...

No member of the 101st Airborne would ever admit they needed Patton to rescue them. As one paratrooper put in on Xmas - "The Germans have us surrounded ...the poor bastards."

Anonymous said...

From the German commander to the American Commander Bastogne. We have you surrounded and offer you a peaceful surrender which will save many lives.

From the American Commander Bastogne, to the German Commander: NUTS!
Gen McCauliffe

Anonymous said...

JD Salinger landed at Omaha Beach. His landing craft was a 1000 yards off course. He was in the third or fourth wave. The wave of his division just before him landed on course and was wiped out. Salinger often mentioned the only reason he survived the d day landings was because his landing craft was 1000 yards off course.

Anonymous said...

"Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor..."

The invasion is ON

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Major John Howard and his leading the British 6th Airborne Infantry glider attack at the Pegasus bridge over the river Orne.
"Attack at night. Hold until relieved."

A true hero of D Day.

Anonymous said...

Yes.. Major Howard of the Oxs and Bucks.
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry.

Right o old chap.

Anonymous said...

German General Max Pemsel, chief of staff of the German 7th Army had it figured out before dawn on June 6. He pieced together the paratrooper drops and the bombardment at Calais as a feint and wanted reinforcements sent up immediately.
After the war General Pemsel was one of the very few of the Wehrmacht officers to serve in the West German army.

Anonymous said...

General Theodore Roosevelt, jr., of the 4th Infantry division, the assistant division commander, went ashore on the first wave at Utah beach. The division was dropped way off course but Gen Roosevelt made the decision "This is where we are and this is where we will start the war."
He won the congressional medal of honor for his bravery under fire at Utah Beach on the first wave June 6, 1944.

Anonymous said...

Jodl, Von Rundsteadt, Rommel...the Germans had some very good generals rump.
Very good.
But Der Fuhrer schläft...Hitler was asleep and no one would wake him to release the 15th Panzer division.

Der Fuhrer schläft
Der Fuhrer schläft