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Seaman 1st C Aubrey L. Gilman

YMS 305

Utah Beach

 

The fourth of June the Captain called us all in to give us a pep talk and discuss other matters, which included a forewarning of the possible phase of gas attacks. He told us what effects gas would have on a person, such as blistering and turning the flesh red. The he asked if there were any more questions. The Stewards Mate, Calvin Evans, a colored man, said, “Captain, what color would I turn?” Everybody had a big laugh over that.

We started across (The English Channel), but due to bad weather conditions it was delayed for 24 hours. We cruised around for the required length of time, then started across. On our way we could see the bombing and firing as our airborne troops went in and did a swell job.

It was now the night of June 5, the eve of D-Day. We, the third of the minesweepers, went in close to the beach and streamed our gear at 0125 of June 6.  It was really dark, but you could see the beach very well. It wasn’t that you were scared, but excited, waiting for something to happen, as any and everything was expected. We were determined to do a good job as everything depended upon doing just that.

We made our first sweep with the starboard gear streamed, sweeping “O” type, and recovered to stream the port gear so as to make a sweep closer to the beach. When almost completing our sweep, the dawn broke the darkness, revealing our position to the shore batteries, which immediately commenced firing. We had started to recover our port gear to proceed to drop anchor; the shells were flying all around and close to us. Our ship was in line with the British cruiser, Black Prince, and the shore batteries. The near misses on the cruiser were almost direct hits on us. Our Boatswain’s mate, Leo Poole, was on the fan-tail along with a few of the crew working to recover the gear, when the first shell burst close to us. He remarked, “who let that crazy son-of-a-bitch have a gun?” It was said at just the right time as it produced a round of laughter. We saw a Spitfire laying a smoke-screen to protect us get shot down, but it didn’t faze the other pilots a bit as another came right out to continue the laying of the smoke screen.

We then cleared out to make room for the others to do their part.  When we had almost reached our anchorage, a mine was sighted and our ship was called upon to depose of it.  We had quite a time as it was the first opportunity to fire our guns since D-Day began. We finally sank the mine and proceeded to anchorage. We ate a good chow and prepared for the sweep that was to come at 1300 that afternoon.

Then we went back into the part where all the activities were in full swing. We swept for most of the evening. Most of the mines were of the magnetic and acoustic type, so we had to alternate our type or sweep. We secured from sweeping on the first day at about 2000 hours, however, as night came on more excitement was in store for us. Soon after anchoring for the night, a few enemy planes came over to avenge the invasion and destroy what they could. The clouds were low and the planes were forced to come in at a low altitude to find their targets. Attempts were made on the U.S.S. Arkansas, one of our oldest battleships, but no hits or near misses were scored. When one of the planes swooped down unusually close all the ships fired on it without any success. One of these planes made several calls the following nights and became known to the crew as “Washing Machine Charlie,” because of the sound of the plane’s motor.

The third day was spent in routine sweeping and more mines were disposed of. The fourth day, however, brought about an unusual bit of excitement. We had five other YMS’s there to sweep down by a place called St. Vasst [St. Vaast-la-Hougue], which was supposed to be clear of German forces, but later proved to have a few left.  We were sweeping in a group of two each, and a column of three. The truth of what type of gun that was used on us was never known, but the Square Heads waited until the first two ships came in to make the turn to go back out; our position was broad-side to the shore when they started firing. There were two fellows on the bow talking about “what a nice peaceful looking place” and wishing they could make a liberty there.  The words had hardly left their lips when the first shot was fired.  Upon seeing the flash, one of the boys told the other to hit the deck.  At the same the cook was looking out of the galley door, and the remark, “somebody fired at us.”...

S1C Gilman, USN