One of the First Men to Land on Omaha Beach
Ben Asquith was born in Kansas and moved to Oregon with his family at an early age. In 1943, he enlisted in the United States Navy to go and fight the Japanese but fate would intervene and he would instead begin a year of extensive training for what would become his tour of the European Theater of Operations (ETO).
LCM – Landing Craft Mechanized
Asquith soon found himself assigned to an LCM. LCM’s came to prominence during WWII when they were used to land troops or armored vehicles during Allied amphibious assaults. These flat bottomed craft were rugged and capable of bringing their cargo right up to the beach. Asquith was assigned to the four man crew as a seaman who was capable of doing any job on the ship. His primary responsibilities ranged from making sure that the engine was running properly to monitoring the mechanics of the front ramp and just about anything else that moved on the boat.
Training….and more training
Asquith’s training went on for many months as the crew familiarized themselves with the specifics or their LCM. He recalled one grueling time near Miami Beach that went on for weeks where they filled and loaded sandbags, loaded the LCM and sailed out to a specified location offshore. Once there they would return to land, unload the sandbags and start the process all over again. In the spring of 1944, Asquith and his LCM division were shipped to England where their training continued.
On June 5th, Asquith’s boat was carved out along with another boat from his division for a special mission. They knew something was up because instead of the usual dummy cargo, they were loading live explosives. Asquith’s and the other boat were given the assignment of landing on each end of a landing zone. Their goal was to deliver demolition for the combat engineers to use to blow beach obstacles. The purpose was to clear the beach obstacles in order to permit the landing of supporting armor. The point of the map would soon forever be known as Omaha Beach.
On the morning of June 5th 1944, Asquith’s boat was in the middle of the channel in the pitch dark. “H-Hour” was scheduled for 6am and Asquith and the crew were already heading in. As the naval bombardment began, the German shore defenses began to fire back. “Those Germans were making a lot of noise” Asquith recalled. At the same time, the landings at Omaha were just getting underway, but there was a lot of confusion and several landing craft had been swamped and sunk with many more coming in to shore not on the right compass headings.
The Combat Engineers
Like the infantry, the engineers had been pushed off their targets, and only five of the 16 teams arrived at their assigned locations. Three teams came in where there were no infantry or armor to cover them. Working under heavy fire, the engineers set about their task of clearing gaps through the beach obstacles—work made more difficult by loss of equipment, and by infantry passing through or taking cover behind the obstacles they were trying to blow. They also suffered heavy casualties as enemy fire set off the explosives they were working with. Eight men of one team were dragging their pre-loaded rubber boat off the LCM when artillery hit; only one survived the resulting detonation of their supplies.
After unloading his cargo, Asquith and crew headed back to their “Mothership” to make another delivery to the beach.
Men and Material
With each passing hour, Asquith and the crew of the LCM delivered more troops and equipment to the bloody beach. He recalled the carnage on the beach but cited his training as what got him through. “I remembered those sandbags during all these months of training and it was then that I realized that those sandbags were now the men that I was delivering”. Asquith delivered waves of infantry and a Sherman tank equipped with a special flail apparatus that enabled the clearing of mines. By noon much of the fighting had started to die down and he remembers delivering a load of K rations. The deliveries continued until around 2am on the morning of the 7th, when the exhausted men were finally given permission to take a break.
For the next several months, Asquith and the crew were used to help clean up the beach as the Mulberry artificial harbors remained as a vital point of supply for the advancing Allied armies.
Crossing the Rhine
Asquith and the LCM crew’s next mission would be in early 1945 and the crossing of the Rhine river. Asquith called this crossing a “piece of cake” compared to Normandy but did recall one time when the LCM was heading down the Rhine and began to take fire. After raising the American flag to identify themselves, the gunfire became even more intense and that’s when the crew realized they had sailed too far down the river and were taking enemy fire.
As the war was ending, Asquith found himself in Mainz, Germany where he remained until the end of the war. He then began training and preparations for deployment to the Pacific but did not deploy as the war abruptly ended following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan.
Legacy of Omaha Beach
When asked when he knew that Omaha Beach would become hallowed ground and stand beside places like Yorktown and Gettysburg as sacred American battles, Asquith said it wasn’t until he got home after the war. “It was just a point on a map and we were just doing our jobs. That’s all”.