Monday, June 08, 2009

D-Day Story: Baker Company & Lt. Walter Taylor

D Day, for Able and Baker Companies which assaulted Omaha Beach, was an incredible disaster. The men of these companies mostly helped win the war by dying.

Able Company was the first to approach Omaha beach. Only two men of Able Company even fired shots on D Day, and that was because they washed up down the beach from their target. The vast remainder of Able Company were killed (most of these before ever reaching sand). Some of the rest staggered - shocked, exhausted, half drowned, disarmed - to the sea wall. They took shelter there until darkness, never firing a shot. Most of these men had stayed hidden in the water, only advancing as the tide crept up the beach and closer to the sea wall. Every man they saw who pushed onto the sand was viciously cut down. They were conducting the war as best they could, using their wits.

Lt. Walter Taylor was in Baker Company, and was scheduled to immediately follow Able Company onto Omaha Beach. The coxswain of his boat, seeing the decimation of Able Company in the water, steered the boat wide of the designated landing area, searching out a more promising area to land.

S.L.A. Marshall:
Taylor is a luminous figure in the story of D Day, one of the forty-seven immortals of Omaha who, by their dauntless initiative at widely separated points along the beach, saved the landing from total stagnation and disaster. Courage and luck are his in extraordinary measure.

When Baker Company's assault wave breaks up just short of the surf where Able Company is in ordeal, Taylor's coxswain swings his boat sharp left, then heads toward the shore about halfway between Zappacosta's boat and Williams'. Until a few seconds after the ramp drops, this bit of beach next to the village called Hamel-au-Prêtre is blessedly clear of fire. No mortar shells crown the start. Taylor leads his section crawling across the beach and over the sea wall, losing four men killed and two wounded (machine-gun fire) in this brief movement. Some yards off to his right, Taylor has seen Lieutenants Harold Donaldson and Emil Winkler shot dead. But there is no halt for reflection; Taylor leads the section by trail straight up the bluff and into Vierville, where his luck continues. In a two-hour fight he whips a German platoon without losing a man.

The village is quiet when Pearce joins him. Pearce says: "Williams is shot up back there and can't move."

Says Taylor: "I guess that makes me company commander."

Answers Pearce: "This is probably all of Baker Company." Pearce takes a head count; they number twenty-eight, including Taylor.

Says Taylor: "That ought to be enough. Follow me!"

Inland from Vierville about five hundred yards lies the Château de Vaumicel, imposing in its rock-walled massiveness, its hedgerow-bordered fields all entrenched and interconnected with artilleryproof tunnels. To every man but Taylor the target looks prohibitive. Still, they follow him. Fire stops them one hundred yards short of the château. The Germans are behind a hedgerow at mid-distance. Still feeling their way, Taylor's men flatten, open fire with rifles, and toss a few grenades, though the distance seems too great. By sheer chance, one grenade glances off the helmet of a German squatting in a foxhole. He jumps up, shouting: "Kamerad! Kamerad!" Thereupon twenty-four of the enemy walk from behind the hedgerow with their hands in the air. Taylor pares off one of his riflemen to march the prisoners back to the beach. The brief fight costs him three wounded. Within the château, he takes two more prisoners, a German doctor and his first-aid man. Taylor puts them on a "kind of a parole," leaving his three wounded in their keeping while moving his platoon to the first crossroads beyond the château.

Here he is stopped by the sudden arrival of three truckloads of German infantry, who deploy into the fields on both flanks of his position and start an envelopment. The manpower odds, about three to one against him, are too heavy. In the first trade of fire, lasting not more than two minutes, a rifleman lying beside Taylor is killed, three others are wounded, and the B.A.R. is shot from Pearce's hands. That leaves but twenty men and no automatic weapons.

Taylor yells: "Back to the château!" They go out, crawling as far as the first hedgerow; then they rise and trot along, supporting their wounded. Taylor is the last man out, having stayed behind to cover the withdrawal with his carbine until the hedgerows interdict fire against the others. So far, this small group has had no contact with any other part of the expedition, and for all its members know, the invasion may have failed.

They make it to the château. The enemy comes on and moves in close. The attacking fire builds up. But the stone walls are fire-slotted, and through the midday and early afternoon these ports well serve the American riflemen. The question is whether the ammunition will outlast the Germans. It is answered at sundown, just as the supply runs out, by the arrival of fifteen Rangers who join their fire with Taylor's, and the Germans fade back.

Already Taylor and his force are farther south than any element of the right flank in the Omaha expedition. But Taylor isn't satisfied. The battalion objective, as specified for the close of D Day, is still more than one half mile to the westward. He says to the others: "We've got to make it."

So he leads them forth, once again serving as first scout, eighteen of his own riflemen and fifteen Rangers following in column. One man is killed by a bullet getting away from Vaumicel. Dark closes over them. They prepare to bivouac. Having got almost to the village of Louvieres, they are by this time almost one half mile in front of anything else in the United States Army. There a runner reaches them with the message that the remnants of the battalion are assembling seven hundred yards closer to the sea; Taylor and party are directed to fall back on them. It is done.

Later, still under the spell, Price paid the perfect tribute to Taylor. He said: "We saw no sign of fear in him. Watching him made men of us. Marching or fighting, he was leading. We followed him because there was nothing else to do."

Thousands of Americans were spilled onto Omaha Beach. The high ground was won by a handful of men like Taylor who on that day burned with a flame bright beyond common understanding.

2 comments:

knobgobbler said...

Thanks, that was a good read for today.

Catherine Harris said...

Dubious facts. It was not the Vaumicel it was la ferme Ormel.