07 June 2007

First on Omaha

The 299th Engineer Battalion is gone.

The colors are cased, the citations gathering dust somewhere.

The men have moved on--out of the Army or on to other duty assignments.

But for decades, the battalion sounded off with 'First on Omaha' in memory of those hours 63 years ago.

The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion (as it was then known) was formed in April of 1943. Soon after formation, it began training at a naval installation in amphibious warfare techniques. Upon staging in England, the Battalion received instruction on underwater demolitions as well as training blowing apart obstacles based on aerial photography of the beaches in Normandy. The unit was divided into boat teams, with fillers from other units to bring them up to strength. The commander was 'bigoted', or briefed with the details of the Operation Overlord.

On 1 June, the teams moved into the embarkation areas and loaded on the ships. The invasion was scheduled for 5 June, but was pushed back 24 hours due to weather.

At 0300, the men were awakened. Two hours later, they began loading the LCMs.

At 0633, 06 June 1944, eight assault teams of the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion landed on Omaha Beach (Easy Red, Fox Green, Fox Red) with the mission of clearing eight 50-yard gaps in the underwater obstacles.

The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion was the only Engineer unit to land on both beaches D-Day. Companies A and C and Headquarters and Service Company on Omaha and Company B on Utah Beach. Some of our men actually landed before any other American troops had set foot on the beach.

By 0715, 5 of the 8 assigned gaps has been cleared, even though two of the assault elements got lost and were not located until 0900. While the Engineers fulfilled their mission, the infantry were pinned down until 1000 before they began moving inland. The 299th continued to clear the beaches continuously until 2300 on the 9th of June, under heavy enemy mortar and artillery fire as well as the occasional air attack.

The Presidential Unit Citation for the action read:

"The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion, as part of a special engineer demolition task force, was attached to the 1st U. S. Infantry Division for the assault, with the mission of c1earing the beach obstacles within the tidal range of the beach from vicinity of Vierville-sur-Mer to Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. The battalion was organized into eight assault demolition teams, four support demolition teams, and a command. Each demolition team was landed in an I.C.M. at 0633, 6 June 1944, and was equipped with a ton of explosives and accessories, all of which were hand-carried. Due to the rising tide it was necessary to execute the demolition of the outer (seaward) obstacles within 30 minutes after landing. The battalion was equipped with tank dozers, sixty per cent of which did not reach the beach, in operating condition. The demolition teams worked from 0633 to approximate1y 1330 under extremely heavy enemy fire (both artillery and small-arms), and continued to work under intermittent artillery and small-arms fire until approximately 1600, 7 June 1944. The operation was further complicated because the infantry and other troops were within the danger radius of obstacle demolition. The battalion worked with little food or rest until 9 June 1944, suffering approximately thirty-three percent casualties. It was necessary, in at least four instances, for teams to interrupt their work and, attack enemy sniper positions in the hills. The mission of the battalion was completed under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions, which required extraordinary heroism and determination on the part of each individual. The esprit de corps of the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion exhibited in this action is worthy of the highest praise."

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