The Invasion Starts
EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT
By GEORGE HICKS, Radio Commentator of Blue Network
Recorded under fire, rebroadcast over National Hook-up of Radio Systems, June 7, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 575-576.
WE have yet to see a German plane over the amphibious convoy which doesn't necessarily mean that we shan't see them before the attack is over. Our air support has been fine . . . and the loudspeakers call . . . almost constantly Spitfires on the port are overhead, our B-17's passing on the starboard side. As far as I know, no report has come in of attack by Nazi sea craft on to the convoys. Now it's almost blacked out and you see the ships lying in all directions just like black shadows on the water . . . some signaling out to sea, sheltered on the inside from the German's eyes . . . signaling with red lights blinking code. . . . There are 4 fires on the shore, looking like pin points winking, suppressed by smoke. Our planes are going overhead—roar of low airplane motor.
The baby was plenty low. We just made the statement that no German planes have been seen. . . . This was the first one seen so far. It came very low, just cleared our stack and as he passed he let go a stream of tracers that did no harm and just as that happened there was a burst of fire on the coast just off 5 miles. German planes have been in the sky now. The darkness is on us and the tracers have been flying up. They seem to have been withdrawn for the moment, but the plane that just had come over our ship was the first Nazi we've seen so far. He took a pass at us and nothing in particular happened—screeching siren.
Our own ship is just sounding the warning whistles and now flak is coming up in the sky with streamers from the warships behind us. The sparks just seem to float up in the sky and we're too far away to hear their explosions. Heavy firing now, just behind us and anti-aircraft bursts in the sky and bombs bursting on the shore and along in the convoy of the German planes that are beginning their first attack on the night of June 6. Now the darkness has come on us. These planes you hear overhead now are the motors of the Nazis coming and going in the cloudy sky. The reverberation of bombs, every once in a while you see a burst of fire of a bigger caliber on the warships—deep boom—flying up. That was a bomb hit. Another one! The tracer lines keep arching up into the darkness. Very heavy fire now at the stern. More ships in that area. Fire bursts and the flak— loud crash of ack-ack—and streamers going out in a diagonal slant . . . right over our head . . . right over our head from a ship . . . —continuing ack-ack which slowly dies down—right over our head and we can't see the plane-nothing but the flak bursts as they ack-ack in the dark sky. Here come the planes. More anti-aircraft fire. Inward toward the shore—and the Germans must be attacking low with their planes off our stern because the stream of fire, the tracer is almost parallel with the water. Our tracer lines are coming up almost all around us off the stem and off the side toward the French coast. Flares are coming down now. You can hear the machine gunning. The whole sea side is covered with tracer fire, going up meeting the bombs, machine gunning, the planes come over closer . . .
low thick smoke, firing down low towards the French coast a couple of miles. I don't know whether it's on the coast or whether the ship's on fire. Here's heavy ackack now—very loud noise of firing; muffled shouts of crew. Well, that's the first time we've shot our guns. . . . Still coming down—drone of a plane. Burst right over our heads . . . the way of the outboard side. Flares are going up in almost every direction as we pick up the German bomber overhead. . . . Heavy fire from a naval warship as well as 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter tracers were the sounds you just heard . . . and perhaps the burst or two of the bombs. . . . Quiet for a moment now. There is nothing but black cloud tufts from the explosions in the sky and the distant . . . —roar of plane motor. They're working toward our aft again. Down there near some of the British convoys.
You'll excuse me, I'll just take a deep breath for a moment and stop speaking.
Now the air attack seems to have died down except for the British convoy off a couple of miles beyond us and for that one fire burning near the shore, the French shore, which is beginning to die down somewhat.
Can't report that there were any hits because there seem to have been none on any of the ships around us at all. I see nothing in the night, no fires, or anything of that kind—loud firing of guns. Here we go again! Another plane has come over—roar of plane motors. Right over our port side. It's right over our bow now . . . before they burst. Tracers still going up and now the plane is probably gone beyond. It looks like we're going to have a night tonight. Here we go boys. Another one coming over. The cruiser right alongside of us is pouring up. Streams of tracer, hot fire coming out of all the small ships and the barge as well. Something burning is falling down through the sky and circling down. It may be a hit plane—machine guns fire for many seconds. Here we go. They got one—they got one—for a moment Hicks turned away from microphone to speak to a gunnery officer. Voice of some of crew.—We got it. (Loud cheers by crew.)
Hicks: They got one.
(Crew voice)—We got that one with the gun right here.
Hicks: That big one?
Hicks: Great block and fire . . . came down and is now just off our port side in the sea, an oozing mass of smoke and flame.
Crew Voices: We got one—you said it! We made it look like polka dots.
Hicks: We've had a few minutes pause. The lights of that burning Nazi plane are just twinkling now in the sea and going out. When the tracer starts up again, and there's warning of another plane coming in. It's now 10 past 12 and the German air attack seems to haVe died out.
To recapitulate, the first plane that was over that we described at the beginning of the broadcast was a low-flying German, probably JU-88 that was leading the flight and came on the convoy, in surprise we believe, because he drew up and only fired as he passed by and perhaps he was as surprise as we were to see each other, and there seems to be no damage to the amphibious force that we can discover. One bomb fell astern of this warship, 150 yards away. A string of rockets were fired at a cruiser beside us on the port side. No damage was done and gun number 42 at our port just beside the microphone shot down a plane that fell into the sea off to the port side.
It was Ensign William Shriner of Houston, Texas, who's the gunnery control officer and Seaman Thomas Squirer of Baltimore, Md., handled the direction finder. It was the first kill for this gun. The boys were all pretty excited about it. It's a twin-barrelled 40 millimeter anti-aircraft piece. They are already thinking now of painting a big star on their turret. They'll be at that the first thing tomorrow morning when it's daylight.
Meantime now, the French coast has quieted down. There seems to be no more shelling into it and all around it is darkness and no light or no firing. Now it's 10 past 12, the beginning of June 7, 1944.
This is George Hicks speaking.