“The first wave went through hell” – how the courage of the sixteenth Infantry Regiment contributed to the victory on D-Day

Among the numerous Allied military units Storming the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was the sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division. Its members faced a very daunting task: As a part of the primary wave of the most important amphibious assault in history, the regiment was tasked with clearing the Omaha Beach landing sectors, codenamed “Easy Red” and “Fox Green.”

This was no unusual attack. Omaha became the essentially the most dangerous of the five D-Day landing beacheswhen the US, Great Britain and their allies attacked Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The liberation of Europe was at stake.

As the members of the regiment sat together for a steak dinner the night before the invasion, they were little doubt reflecting on their unit's legacy. Military and oral historianI researched the service of this particular regiment in Vietnam and was also fascinated by its earlier history.

The sixteenth Infantry Regiment had fought within the Indian Warshunted the Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa, fought within the Battle of San Juan Hill This made Theodore Roosevelt a national hero, and greeted the commander of the War of Independence, Marquis de Lafayette at his grave in Paris when the USA entered World War I. By D-Day, the regiment had already participated in World War II Invasions in North Africa and Italy within the years 1942 and 1943.

The regiment was so popular with the American public that when writer F. Scott Fitzgerald created his infamous antihero Jay Gatsby in 1925’s The Great Gatsby, he portrayed the title character as Veteran of the sixteenth Infantry Regiment.

The steak dinner on the evening before D-Day, Charles Hangsterferthen captain within the sixteenth Regiment, was “just as they would a convicted murderer his last meal on the night of his execution.”

A map showing the military units and geographical locations of the Normandy landings.
A map showing the D-Day landing plans shows the sixteenth Regiment's deployment location on the east side of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Archive New Zealand via Flickr, From

A dangerous attack

The invasion plan called for heavy bombardment by warships and aircraft to weaken the German defenses and to make use of amphibious tanks that would travel through shallow waters and on land to help the infantry in reaching the beaches.

But as dawn broke on June 6, 1944, bad weather intervened. Low clouds caused many of the bombing to miss its targets. Rough seas—swells between 3 and 6 feet and winds of 25 miles per hour—washed over many of the tanks.

The troops themselves were Seasickness resulting from pitching and rolling the small boats they used to achieve the beaches from larger ships off the coast, and upon landing they found that they arrived later than expected and were often removed from their planned destination.

Ted Lombarski, a sergeant in F Company of the sixteenth Regiment, recalled:

We were the first wave to reach the beachCompanies E and F of the 16th Infantry Regiment. Almost all the tanks that had penetrated before us were sunk. The tank crews had a hard time, as did the Marine personnel who drove us in. … When we penetrated, we knew that the Luftwaffe had dropped its bombs too far inland and that the Marine artillery bombardment had done the same. The first wave of the attack went through hell that day.”

As they approached Omaha Beach, the lads of the sixteenth Infantry Regiment were hit by a wall of enemy fire. The bullets and shrapnel left the ocean appears to be boilingin keeping with an oral tradition of the regiment.

The landing craft didn’t get as far toward the coast because the soldiers had hoped, Captain Everett Booth recalled:

“They didn't get us very close to the beach, I can tell you that. … We ran into the water, which was about chest deep. We were met by machine gun bullets hitting the water everywhere. … The enemy riddled the beach with machine gun fire.”

And Lombarski reported:

“Being in the primary wave was the best way to commit suicide. If you place yourself at risk, you were dead.”

Laden with weapons, ammunition, equipment and heavy baggage, many soldiers were overwhelmed by the ocean and drowned. Those who made it to the beach faced the 352nd Infantry Division the Nazi Army, a unit with significant combat experience against the Soviets in Eastern Europe.

Men in uniform with bandages on their heads, chests and arms sit on a rock wall.
Wounded members of the sixteenth Infantry Regiment await evacuation from the beach on D-Day.
National Archives

High losses

Despite heavy casualties and robust German defenses, because the day progressed it became clear that the sixteenth Infantry Regiment had gained a foothold on Omaha Beach. The soldiers fought their way through concrete and wood obstacles that the Nazis had erected on the beach, destroyed machine gun emplacements and step by step drove enemy troops from key positions.

There was no shortage of heroes that day—there have been almost too many to count. Two of the 4 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded for the exploits of June 6 went to men of the sixteenth Regiment. Earlier that morning 1st Lt. Jimmie Montieth He was exposed to enemy fire several times, including Leading tanks through a minefieldHe led his troops away from the beach and arranged the varied corporations to carry the enemy positions that the sixteenth had captured. Only just a few hours later he was killed in a German counterattack.

Technician fifth Class John Pinder Jr.Although wounded several times, he made several forays into the fire-soaked surf to retrieve communications equipment and helped establish radio contact along with his commanders offshore before succumbing to his injuries.

They were among the many almost 1,000 victims of the sixteenth Infantry Regiment were killed, wounded or missing on D-Day. Despite these heavy losses – a few third of the unit’s troops – the regiment’s relentless attack began break through the German defenseThis allowed the next troops to advance further inland. Victory was not guaranteed, nevertheless it was close by.

Their courage and sacrifice were honored in a ceremony on July 2, 1944, in a Castle 15 miles inland from the beach. The regiment had a Presidential Unit Quote for its role within the invasion. During the presentation, Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower told the regiment:

“I is not going to give an extended speech, but this easy little ceremony gives me the chance to come back here and say thank you thru you. You are among the best regiments in our army“I have known your achievements since the day you landed in North Africa and over Sicily. I am beginning to believe that your regiment is a kind of Praetorian Guard that accompanies me and brings me luck.”

image credit : theconversation.com