Archive for June, 2014

Engineer Moment in History June 1944

Engineer Assault Gapping Teams on Omaha Beach – June 1944
(From the USAES Historian’s Office)

Belgian Gate

Model of a Belgian Gate, part of engineer demolition range

On 6 June 1944, the Allies began Operation Over-LORD. This invasion of the European continent was designed to bring a close to German Occupation. With the support of the 5th and 6th Engineer Special Brigades (ESB), they provided landing support for V Corps on D-day. This set into motion 34,250 men and 2,870 vehicles. Of these, 5,632 men and 315 vehicles belonged to the Engineer Special Brigade Group. There where another 2,500 Engineers assigned to corps and divisional units.Engineers made up 25 percent of all troops that landed on Omaha.Assault Gapping Teams were designed to blow holes in the obstacles lines on the beach.  The teams were trained at the British Assault Training Center. Army Intelligence provided aerial photographs showing the types of obstacles on Omaha Beach, and then developed mockups of them for training purposes.

The Engineers planned the development of the Omaha beachhead in three phases: the assault phase, the initial dump phase, and the beach maintenance dump phase. The first two phases took place on D-day. At 0630 during the assault phase, Engineer Gapping and Support Command Teams came ashore and destroyed the obstacles lining the shore. Engineer battalion beach groups followed the Engineer teams and established initial dumps of ammunition and fuel, cleared the exits, and developed roads for the supported infantry units

Against stiff German opposition, the American teams began to open exits. At exit E-1, Sgt. Zolton Simon, of Company C, 37th ECB, led his five man squad in clearing and marking a narrow path through the mines. Wounded once while sweeping for mines, Sgt Zolton got a second, more serious wound after reaching the top of the bluff, but a path had been cleared. For his actions he was awarded the Silver Star. 1st Lt Charles Peckham of Company B stood in the path, cleared by Sgt Zolton and his men, and urged the infantrymen to follow Sgt Zolton up the now mine-free trial. For his actions he received the Bronze Star.

Engineers lay out roads on soft sand for heavy vehicles and equipment to come ashore on 6 June 1944.

Engineers lay out roads on soft sand for heavy vehicles and equipment to come ashore on 6 June 1944.

Despite the doubts and fears of the early hours on Omaha, the invasion was successful, in great part attributable to the efforts of the engineer teams but with a high price. Without their efforts in destroying obstacles on the beach and clearing minefields, the Allies might not have held the beachhead and established the critical toehold in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The above was taken from “The Normandy Landing” by Barry W. Fowle published in the Spring 1994 issue of ARMY HISTORY¬†

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