SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry
The fleet of landing craft transporting the main body of the Second Cavalry to Normandy joined another group and together made a convoy of 31 ships. Escorted by U.S. Navy destroyers and corvettes, the convoy was further protected by the many silver barrage balloons tugging at their static lines 300 feet above the ships. The convoy encountered calm seas with an occasional blanket of fog. Excellent meals were served aboard the LST’s and morale was high.
We sailed a distance of 65 miles and the convoy came to anchor in the midst of hundreds of other craft also flying barrage balloons, off Utah Beach (map UB) northeast of St. Mere Eglise, France (map UB) at 2000, 19 July 1944. Preparations were made to unload at 0200.
At approximately 2300 the ships at anchor at Omaha Beach detected enemy planes overhead and anti-aircraft fire from ship’s guns and shore batteries were brought to bear on the targets. Immediately the red warning signs on Utah Beach flashed signals to all ships that lay at anchor and a smoke screen was rapidly laid down which covered all the ships.
During the voyage Lt. Col. Stephen. W. Benkosky, Group Executive Officer, became sick and a doctor had to be brought on board to treat him. After examination the doctor announced that Col. Benkosky had a ruptured appendix, and must have an operation. Due to the problem of getting the Colonel to a hospital on shore at that time the doctor decided to perform the operation in the dining room of the LST. The operation was performed in the evening of 20 July prior to the debarkation of the troops. A heavy fog enveloped the beach area at the time scheduled for unloading and it wasn’t until 1500 on the 20th that it was accomplished. The tide was ebbing then, allowing the LST’s to beach and disembark their vehicular cargoes directly on the beach.
Each LST had a definite location on the beach assigned by the Shore Party at which it would unload its troops and equipment. As that berth became available it was immediately occupied by a waiting LST. As soon as the LST beached a bulldozer quickly prepared a ramp from the LST to the beach to facilitate the unloading of the vehicles.
With the exception of A and B Troops, 42d Squadron, all Troops were quickly and successfully unloaded. Prior to the disembarkation of A and B Troops a storm came up and the ships were unable to beach until 22 July.
Upon completion of the unloading, Group Headquarters, followed by the 2d Cavalry Squadron and the 42d Cavalry Squadron (less Troops A and B) proceeded to Transit Area B, which was directly behind the beach. On every side there was evidence of the struggle that had taken place for that little section of beach over a month before. Anti-tank guns sited to enfilade the beach, steel obstacles, mine fields, bomb craters and abandoned artillery pieces were visible. All of which tended to quicken the pulses of the green young soldiers that rode in with the Second Cavalry.
At the transit area, where incidentally we first saw the hedgerow, so distinctive to the Normandy bocage country, and so effective as a defensive aid, we drew up our vehicles in the shadows along the edges of the little fields and awaited orders. There was hardly time to break open a K ration when march order was given and the men were briefed on the route to the bivouac areas, just north of Valognes (map UB).
On the way we passed great prisoner of war cages, and began to feel like veterans. Group Hqs and 2d Sq. closed in their areas just above Valognes by 2000. The 42d, however, had some slight difficulty at an indistinct crossroad that didn’t seem to follow the map. Rather than risk a mistake Lt. Col. Hill went into a conference with Major White, the S-3, and they decided to have the S-2, who had taught French language classes at Fargo (map SE), question one of the Frenchmen in that vicinity as to the correct route. The S-2 came forward and, approaching a young Frenchman, began haltingly “Ou – est – la route – a Sauxemenil?” with the Frenchman staring uncomprehendingly until the last word when he brightened perceptibly and replied, “Sauxemenil (map UB)? Why just take the right fork then go straight ahead – about 8 kilometers.” That did it; after that the 42d Squadron asked questions in English first.
However, it was the right road to the bivouac area and the 42d Sq. closed near Sauxemenil at 2030 hours.
Tents were pitched and all Troop installations camouflaged and security measures taken in all areas. Slit trenches were dug in event of hostile air attack, air guards and area guards posted.
The Group commander reported to Hq. Advance Section Communications Zone on 21 July as ordered, while the Staff and Troop Officers visited the Headquarters of adjacent units to acquaint themselves with the situation and make the general reconnaissance of roads, bridges, and towns in the area.
Hq Ad Sec Comm Zone directed that the defense of the sector behind the Army rear boundary (map CP) be divided between the Second Cavalry Group and the 15th Cav. Group with responsibility for protection of lines of communications as of 24 July. The left or western sector being the responsibility of the 15th Cav. Group, the 2d Cav. Group was given the responsibility for the right or eastern sector.
Both Cavalry Group Commanders met and agreed on boundaries and methods of liaison. Orders were issued to Squadrons and Troops assigning zones of responsibility.