February 26, 2015

1944. Charles Collingwood on D-Day

Charles Collingwood from Utah Beach



From Utah Beach
June 6, 1944 (broadcast June 8)
EDWARD R. MURROW (from London): This is London. Late on the afternoon of D-Day, Charles Collingwood took his recording gear in a little 36-foot LCVP onto a French beach. Nearing the beach, the water was filled with floating objects. Part of a parachute; a K-ration box; a life jacket; wreckage from a ship; shell cases. Here is part of the recording.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: This is Charles Collingwood. We are on the beach today on D-Day. We've just come in. We caught a ride in a small boat which came in from our LST loaded with a thousand pounds of TNT, half a ton of high explosives on this beach which is still under considerable enemy gunfire.

While we have been here we have just seen one of the strangest and most remarkable sights of this invasion so far. Two great fleets of over a hundred gliders have gone overhead towed by C-47 transports, who are certainly proving the workhorses of this invasion. They've hauled them right over the beaches and it seems as though the German gunners, amazed at this incredible sight, have stopped firing on the beach now because it's quiet here, and the second batch are droning over now. I can see them. They're casting off the gliders as they circle around over the beach and the transports are circling around and beginning to make off home. Where they're landing we don't know because we're down here on the beach, and there's a seawall in front of us and we can't see the land behind.

This is the way the beach looks, which was hit by our troops about twelve hours ago early this morning. It's a flat, sandy beach, like almost any beach that you're likely to see, and it floats gently away from the shore—from the seashore up to the dunes and then to the seawall, which was the first objective of our troops and which they took early on in the game.

Since that time, we have been able to bring in quite a bit of equipment. There are various trucks and jeeps and motor vehicles of all kinds here. There are also antiaircraft guns. We breached the seawall in various places and have set up guns there to defend against any possible enemy counterattack on the beaches, which has not occurred.

A naval party has just come in from the shore and begun to unload our TNT here, which is taking a load off my mind as well as a load off this vessel. And I asked him how things were going and he said it was pretty rough still. I asked him how far the troops had gone on inshore and he said that they'd got five or six miles inshore, which sounds as though they're making good progress. He said that the beach was still under considerable gunfire. The Germans had some 88s which we haven't been able to silence.

These boys are apparently having a pretty tough time in here on the beaches. It's not very pleasant. It's exposed, and it must have been a rugged fight to get it—although as nearly as we can see there is not a great deal of evidence of damage. Perhaps that's because it has been smoothed up. We can look along down the coast now and see this flat part of the beach which joins the water, going all the way down to the lower beach which is marked for us by columns of white smoke which are arising from it. And further up at the end of this beach we can see another huge column of white smoke which has apparently been caused by naval gunfire.

Looking out to sea, all we can see of the vast invasion fleet which is assembled for us are the silhouettes of the big warships, the battleships, and cruisers which have been putting a steady bombardment against the enemy positions all day. We can also see a few of the transports, but the fleet of LCTs and LCIs and other craft, which we have brought and assembled back maybe ten miles offshore, is invisible from us at this moment. They're coming back now, taking off more and more of this ammunition.

We've got a captain here who has come by and is looking rather curiously at this gadget we've got. Captain, can you come over here a minute? Can you tell us how things are on the beaches?

LIEUTENANT: Thank you for "captain," but actually I'm a naval lieutenant. Sometimes we get on these beaches by—we get to look like all kinds of things, particularly after you take a few running jumps in the sand.

COLLINGWOOD: Well Lieutenant, what's your name?

LIEUTENANT: Well, I work for a rival network in New York City...

COLLINGWOOD: You do?

LIEUTENANT: So that—or I did and I don't think I wanna ruin your broadcast. Let's just—let's say we dropped in, and that alone.

COLLINGWOOD: Okay, well, how are things going on the beach there?

LIEUTENANT: I've only been in for a little while, while these other boys have been there all day and if you might have made—maybe an army word, it's "rugged" as a matter of fact.

COLLINGWOOD: Is the beach still under some enemy shellfire?

LIEUTENANT: The beach is being pounded by enemy shellfire, though we hope to have it knocked out in the near future.

COLLINGWOOD: Boy, those gliders that just went over were quite a sight, weren't they?

LIEUTENANT: That was a impressive thing. I think that all of you folks listening at home, if you could've heard the "oohs" and "aahs" from men who are really dug in the shell holes in the sand—if you had heard those it would've done your heart a lot of good. It certainly did mine to see them go by.

COLLINGWOOD: Well I can agree with that too because it was a very impressive sight.

And now looking out we can see them going back very low along the water. The C-47s—which brought the gliders in—they've cut loose. And here comes another flight. The third flight of gliders which is being pulled in. I can't tell how many of them there are. They're coming in over the beach here. Squadron upon squadron of them have lined up in perfect formation, with the gliders coming along behind the big C-47s, and they're coming in apparently to drop right where they dropped before. Further up the beach, there's a fire which has apparently just been started by enemy shelling. It's maybe a quarter of a mile up from us.

At the moment there's no shelling in our immediate vicinity, although when we first beached our little LCVP about a hundred yards down the beach, German 88s were kicking up big clouds of sand as they shelled our positions down there, and you can still see some smoke drifting off from it. And over to our left, there's what is left some small craft or other which has been hit and is burning.

A great big Rhino ferry is making its way into the beach loaded with every kind of vehicle and craft. I can make out jeeps and trucks on it, and men sitting up there manning their guns which are already in case of enemy air attack. But there is no enemy air to be seen anywhere around here. The sky however is filled with this third fleet of gliders which are coming in full of our airborne infantry.

There is something which just dropped into the ground—into the sea. I don't know whether it was a plane or what it was that it made a big splash up there as it dropped down from out of the sky. The gliders are coming in now hauled in by the C-47s and protected by fighters which are around there. I can make out Thunderbolts and Spitfires which are giving them cover, and they've just taken off the last of our thousand pounds of high explosives, which is making it considerably more pleasant on this little boat. They're having to wade in across maybe fifty yards of water to get it into the beach.

We've come in in this LCVP through the transport area where our ship is. It's taken us about two hours to get in, and we came in through the choppy seas, with every second wave breaking over the ship and dousing us with spray. Gene Ryder and I are—and everyone on this little boat—are soaked absolutely to the skin. We're wet through and through. The salt is (?) on our eyebrows. Every time we lick our lips we taste the salt. Our hands are cold and chapped as... We just found ourselves lucky that, after having made a trip like that, we don't have to go onto the beaches and fight. All we have to do is make the trip again.

GENE RYDER: I might tell the Navy Department we owe them one recorder.

COLLINGWOOD: Gene is referring to the fact that we took our recording machine which the Navy has lent us along with us here, and it has been absolutely inundated with the spray. Somehow or other Gene has made it work. I don't know what—he was out there polishing it with his handkerchief. Gene says he doesn't know how he made it work either.

And looking back now, turning around with my back to the beach and looking out to the sea, more and more and more of these glider-borne troops are coming in. These gliders are coming in towed very slowly by the big C-47s in what is apparently an unending stream. It's an incredible sight. And as that navy lieutenant told us a moment ago, the troops are waving and pointing and talking about it on the shore, at least those of them who have time and are not too busy taking care of themselves.

The troops are well dug in here along the seawall which is partly covered by sand. They're sitting down now, most of them dug deep into the ground as close as they can to the seawall to protect themselves from the enemy shelling. Some men are lining up further down the beach near a sign which says "five." They are taking over a truck and are apparently about to move off, whether through a breach into the seawall back inland or not, one can't tell.

We're standing here—it's an absolutely incredible and fantastic sight. I don't know whether it's possible to describe it to you or not. It's late in the afternoon. The sun is going down. The sea is choppy and the beach is lined with men and materiel and guns, trucks, vehicles of all kinds. On either side of us there are pillars of smoke perhaps a mile, two miles away, which are rising from enemy shelling. And further back we can see the smoke and results of our own shelling. Looking behind us we can see the big ships and the—some of the transports which have brought the troops in.

And overhead this incredible sight is still going on as more and more gliders are towed in by the C-47s going over the seawall, disappearing out of sight in apparently a wide sweep, and dropping their men somewhere back there who—for a function which we don't know anything about. All we can do is stand here and marvel at the spectacle. Now our men—we're trying to get the LCVP in closer to pick up the men who have been waiting ashore in this cold sea and choppy wind to pick up the stuff.

This place even smells like an invasion. It has a curious odor which we all have—associate with modern war. It's a smell of oil and high explosives and burning things. All—thank you. Come on over here! (?), who is one of the sailors, has just come with a handful of sand because he heard me say a while ago that what I wanted to do most of all was just to get ashore and reach down and take up a handful of sand and say "This is France!" and I've got it in my hands. France at last, after four years. (?), how does it feel just to reach down and grab a piece of sand and say "I'm grabbing French soil," huh?

SAILOR: Well it's—since I was born in France it has special meaning to me.

COLLINGWOOD: Were you born in France?

SAILOR: Yeah.

COLLINGWOOD: Where were you born?

SAILOR: In Calais.

COLLINGWOOD: You were? Well that's not very far from here. Well it has a special meaning for me too, as you can imagine. Have you got some? We've gotta save this. We've gotta put it in a bottle or something.

Now the transport planes are going back. The C-47s who came in towing the gliders, they're going back very close to the sea and we're going back too. We've got our men aboard all with handfuls of France in their hands, and we're going to save it because this has been a momentous occasion for all of us.

There go our motors. The ramp is going up. We're backing away from the beach now, and soon we'll be out in the salt spray and it'll be impossible for us to broadcast anymore.

MURROW: That was a recording made by Charles Collingwood at a French beach on the afternoon of D-Day. We return you now to the United States.