The NCDUs in Operation
NEPTUNE were attached to the U.S. Naval Beach Battalions for administrative purposes. The Naval Beach
Battalions were naval elements of the Army Engineer Special Brigades for the invasion of Normandy. On D-Day 6
June 1944, all U.S. Army and U.S. Navy units going ashore were attached to the 1st Infantry Division.
According to meticulous research by Lt. Wesley Ross,
146th Engineer Combat Battalion, just two weeks prior to D-Day, TOP SECRET NEPTUNE orders dated 24 May 1944 indicate
"direct control of the beach obstacle demolition mission passed from the navy to the army at this late date. These
orders, and much other information, were not declassified until years later long after many authors had passed
on inaccurate information, gleaned from the previous writing of others, inferring that the NCDUs were in charge
of the beach obstacle demolition mission, and were under direct navy control."
Since February 1944, the 2nd, 6th and 7th NBBs had trained with the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) and were
preparing to go to the marshaling area with the Army for training aboard the assigned landing craft that would take
them to France. Although the beach battalions had already been briefed of their role in Operation NEPTUNE
(amphibious assault phase of OVERLORD), the NCDU officers were left in the dark regarding their unit's participation
in the invasion. Lt. (jg) Walter "Scotty" Cooper, 6th NBB demolition officer during amphibious training at Fort
Pierce, wrote a desperate request to Commander Eugene Carusi reminding him of the specialized skills of the Navy
demolitioneers and proposed a plan for their use during the amphibious assault.
Coincidentally, at the time Commander Carusi showed Lt. Cooper's demolition plans to General Dwight D. Eisenhower,
the Allied Supreme Commander had been particularly alarmed by the Nazis' accelerated construction of beach obstacles
and the placement of additional mines along the Normandy coast. Eisenhower knew that lanes would have to be opened
up in order for the Navy Beachmasters to signal landing craft ashore and get casualties off the invasion beaches.
As a result, the revised NEPTUNE plan for Normandy D-Day had the NCDUs scheduled to blow 16 fifty-foot-wide gaps
through the beach obstacles for the follow-up infantry waves beginning at H+3 minutes or 6:33 A.M. Elements of
the 6th NBB were scheduled to arrive one hour later to assist the demolition teams in the Easy Red sector of
Omaha Beach. Lt. Reardon of Battalion Headquarters confided in Yeoman Bill Finnie the suicidal role the NCDUs
would have in the tidal surf of the English Channel.
After reading the cover article "Untold Stories of D-Day" in the June 2001 National Geographic, a number of D-Day
veterans who remembered the 6th Naval Beach Battalion contacted C-8 Beachmaster Joe Vaghi. The following memoir was
received from Lt. Wesley Ross, Officer-in-Command (OIC) of Boat Team #8 w/attached NCDU #137, ashore "Easy Green"
Omaha Beach at 0633 on 6 June 1944. Walter "Scotty" Cooper was Comdr. of NCDU #22, Gap Team 12, responsible for gap
clearance on the "Easy Red" sector of Omaha Beach.
On Omaha Beach where my NCDU units, consisting of some 15 LCMS with 44 men and explosives in each craft landed there
was the most incredible assortment of obstacles in progressive rows from low water to high water (25' tide) along the
entire beachhead. Our job was to clear sixteen 50 yard gaps through gaps on the approaches to designated beaches,
which would be marked by the Army Demolition Group assigned as part of each gap assault team, with 5' high standard
gap markers. Those obstacles not removed were to be marked with pieces of red muslin to allow the first waves to
proceed to the beaches.
Tankdozers embarked on the LCT's (A) will land at H-Hour and proceed against the obstacles to continue widening and
subsequent clearing of the beaches.
As we approached, the exceptional high seas, early morning mist, smoke, dust and lateral current scattered our units
badly. German fire was exceptionally strong and many of the wounded men were drowned in the rising tide. The
presence of an elite German infantry division that had for three months escaped Army Intelligence appeared in the
area and kept a constant fire on the approaching troops who were able to reach the beach above and beyond.
The beach became congested with disabled and burning vehicles. This [occurred] primarily because the vehicles were
unable to negotiate the shingle (round rocks) that lined the beach shore. Consequently they created a traffic jam
which drew ever-increasing fire from the shore batteries.
Of primary concern was the loss of important leaders and communications equipment by practically all units both Army
and those of the Beach Battalion which was supposed to establish a beachhead and call in the units and equipment to
support the initial assault units as they proceeded inland. All day long this situation existed but troops kept
pouring in. There was no turning back! I'm sure that the allied Command was prepared to keep troops coming even if
bodies were 5 ft. deep on the beach.
At Omaha the Americans lost approximately 2,000 men most during the early hours of the landing. My unit suffered
68% casualties of which there were 27 Navy dead. The Army units assigned to us suffered equally.
Cmdr. Carusi, 6th Beach Battalion asked me to go to the USS ANCON to see what could be done to reestablish
communications between beach and ships so that the equipment could be called in. I departed on a wounded evacuation
vessel, climed aboard the ship, was immediately escorted to Adm. Hall's (Amphibious Cmdr.) cabin and interrogated.
I only had to say we were in deep trouble, the ships are too far out and we cannot communicate. Without question
or argument, Adm. Hall ordered all ships to up anchor and move in to receive visual Communication to expedite
discharge of requested equipment.
I can never forget Adm. Hall. What he did in my opinion resulted in the successful completion of the landing and
averted a possible setback of the Normandy landing with thousands of more casualties.
Navy Combat Demolition Units on
Jerry Markham NCDU No. 46, Gap
Team #11, "Easy Red" Omaha Beach
NCDU No. 42, Gap Team #5, "Dog Red" Omaha Beach
John Talton, NCDU No. 44, Gap
Team #9, "Easy Red" Omaha Beach
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