60th Anniversary of D-DAY
Normandy Invasion - Operation Overload: 2,500 Americans fall at Omaha Beach, another 2,499 lost in airborne assault. During the Normandy Campaign (6 June to 24 July), 16,293 Americans would be Killed in Action and 41,051 Wounded in Action. On July 3, 1944 the "Battle of the Hedgerows"on the Contentin Peninsula begins. On September 14, 1944 the Northern France Campaign would end with an additional 17,844 Killed in Action and 47,469 Wounded in Action.

“Tuesday, 6 June 1944, 03:30 hrs: Reached transport area (Portland, England) and started down mine swept channel to beach. Last ship in column of eight, Ensign R. B. Gilfert, officer in charge, USS LCT-590.”

That morning my cousin Robert Gilfert from Erie (later Lake Havasu City, AZ) was commanding a LCT ship with four DD tanks and twenty men belonging to the 743rd Tank Battalion, six vehicles and six men of the 81st Chemical Weapons Battalion and four men attached to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion towards Dog White Sector, Omaha Beach. In addition to the standard twelve man crew on board ship.
Gilfert’s ship was one of twenty-four assigned the top secret task of delivering these DD tanks to the invasion beach at H-hour along with the infantry. These M4 Sherman tanks were developed to swim undetected and were the brainchild of British General Percy Hobart. The DD tanks were so called because of their duplex drive which could activate either their treads or twin propellers and a water proof, air filled canvas shroud all around the hull gave them enough buoyancy to swim into the beach at a speed of four knots. Then the steel treads would be engaged, the canvas deflated and fully operational Sherman tanks supporting and attacking with the first assault waves of infantry.
The one problem that morning were the heavy seas and the canvas shroud only had nine inches of clearance above the sea level. Twenty-eight of the first thirty-two tanks launched at 6,000 yards from shore were swamped and lost, taking many lives with them. Orders were immediately dispatched to the remaining LCTs to take the tanks directly to the beach.

Lieutenant Junior Grade
Robert B. Gilfert
1921 - 1994
U. S. Navy Reserve

DD Tanks

“05:00 hrs, Received message saying that tanks would have to be taken to the beach due to weather conditions existing. 05:30 hrs, Maneuvered 090° left turn. 05:45 hrs, All ships make a 090° right turn and headed for beach. 06:30 hrs, Hit beach with enemy shells still falling around us. On the beach waiting for tanks to go off. Were shelled by shore batteries and machine gun fire. Return fire with our 20 mm guns and machine gun fire from the tanks. 06:34 hrs, Last tank went off and we retracted from beach.”

Gilfert’s LCT-590 was part of Flotilla 12, Task Group 124.4, Group O-2, Western sectors of Omaha Beach - Easy Green, Dog Red, Dog White and Dog Green. A total of twenty-four landing crafts delivering men and equipment to support the 29th Infantry Division’s beach assault. Gilfert’s LCT actually landed on the Dog Green Sector of Omaha Beach facing the bluffs towards the village of Vierville.
LCT-590, 591, 713 and 588 landed sixteen Sherman tanks and half were destroyed within minutes. The German fire was so severe, LCT-590 would sustain serious casualties and damage to the naval ship. German 88’s and machine gun fire pounded the ship and killed Machinist Mate 2c C. Reed, Coxwain G. Jackson and Electricians Mate 3c J. J. Gatins. Two additional seamen were wounded as well as two Army personnel.
Five LCA’s landed men from Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment and sustained eighty percent losses. LCT-2227 was damaged by mines and beached. Two LCM’s landed personnel from the Navy demolition teams and sustained seventy percent losses. Another two LCA’s landed men from Company B,116th Regiment and suffered seventy-five percent casualties and two LCVP’s landed Company D, 116th Regiment, sustaining fifty percent casualties. The previous night’s aerial bombardments and the naval artillery immediately prior to the assault turned out to be ineffectual.
The German defenses had remained practically untouched and raked fire upon the attacking American forces. Very little progress was made to push off the beach and this caused significant backups on the beach. Slowly, as individuals and then in groups, soldiers began to fight their way across the enemy fire-swept beach. A few years ago, a film called Saving Private Ryan depicted these actions on the beach in grave detail and showed the horrors of combat experienced by soldiers and sailors like my cousin that day.
The wounded from Gilfert’s LCT were evacuated to the USS Charles Carroll (APA-28), an Attack Troop Transport ship. LCT-590 was so badly damaged that it began to take on water and was in need of emergency repairs. LCT-536 substituted for the 590’s second assignment to land personnel from APA #3 on Dog Red at H+180. The USS Arikara (ATF-98), a Navy Ocean Going Tug was assigned to keep the beaches clear of wrecks, but soon had to change jobs of rescue and repair ship. The German mines, underwater obstacles and gun fire were taking a toll on the small crafts. LCT-590 set sail for the USS Arikara to receive emergency repairs. At 12:52, Arikara completed repairs to LCT-590.

Ensign Gilfert was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star for gallantry in action on D-Day. He was soon thereafter promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. Electricians Mate 3c John J. Gatins, one of the crew killed in action, was buried at Plot E, Row 5, Grave 21. Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.
Scenes from Omaha Beach 6 June 1944
(National Archives)

Ode to the LCT
Here’s to the men who sail the seas
On the bucking decks of the LCT’s.
The battleships, cruisers and destroyers as well
Get all the glory, the LCT’s catch hell.

And when its all over and the work is done
And the medals are given to the men who won,
And outfits are lauded by the powers that be
Forgotten as usual will be the LCT.

By Jim Howard
LCT(A)-2339 & LCT-244