Monday, June 2, 2014

The Destroyers that Supported the D-Day Invasion


By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

During the Allied landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, fire support from naval ships provided cover for the troops. Due to the failure of the initial Allied bombing of the beaches, the fortifications and obstacles were still largely in place on the morning of June 6. In addition, many of the amphibious Sherman tanks who were tasked with helping the soldiers get off the beach were swamped or otherwise lost on the approach to the beaches. It was up to the Navy to try to silence most of the guns in this part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, as well as opening up exits off the beach.
The Germans placed large guns like this one in fortifications along the Atlantic Wall.
The Navy's small destroyers took position on the front line of this fire support. With their shallow draft, they were able to come closer to shore than the heavier battleships and cruisers. Two of these destroyers, USS Herndon (DD-638) and USS Shubrick (DD-639), were built within months of each other at the Norfolk Navy Yard during the early part of the war. They were assigned to the same destroyer squadron and would fight near each other during the D-Day invasion. 

Herndon and Shubrick being built at the Norfolk Navy Yard.
Omaha and Utah beaches were assigned to the Americans. The plan of assault called for the destroyers to come in close to the beach for fire support, flanking the small landing craft. Shubrick was on the western end of Utah Beach during the invasion. The ship soon engaged a gun battery near Grandcamp (near Pointe du Hoc), and dueled with it for nearly 25 minutes before silencing the guns. The men fired on batteries, machine gun nests, and other positions. In just a few hours, the ship’s four 5-inch guns fired 440 shells. In addition to being shelled by shore batteries, Shubrick was attacked by a German plane, but the bomb missed as the plane was pounced upon by British Spitfires.  
USS Herndon (DD-638)
 During this action, Herndon stayed nearby, also shelling the fortifications. There seems to be some confusion over the exact location of the ship during this morning, as some say it was off Omaha Beach and some say Utah Beach. Regardless of the ship’s specific location, Herndon provided effective counter-fire on German positions near Grandcamp that were threatening the soldiers on Utah with accurate fire.

Both these ships, as well as dozens of others throughout the whole operation, assisted the landings by helping knock out strongholds and allowing the men to get off the beaches. Let us not forget the men in the “tin cans” who did their part in securing a victory at D-Day. 

2 comments:

Runningen said...

My father, Raymond M. Runningen, was on DD638 - the USS HERNDON, on D-Day and for the following 3 Years. He told us that it was the only ship in the D Day invasion that didn't get hit by a single artillery shell. As a result it became known as "the Lucky H". It fought in North Africa against Rommel' troops, accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta, went through the Panama Canal en route to Tsingtao China, and finally brought McArthur's troops home after the War. It was a most distinguished ship with an outstanding crew.

Ray Kallaugher said...

My great uncle, Joseph F. Buchanan served as a gunners mate aboard DD 638. He was proud of his service. He told how the 5" guns glowed red from heat as they poured shell after shell on German positions at Normandy. He later recalled his duties in the Pacific, calling her "the lucky Herndon". I still have his "Bluejackets Manual" .