Countdown to D-Day:
The World War II Experiences of a U.S. Coast Guardsman
18-year-old Seaman Second Class Jack Rowe, from Rhode Island, kept a meticulous diary of his United States Coast Guard experiences leading up to the allied D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Aboard the USS Joseph T. Dickman, Rowe carried with him a typewriter and kept daily accounts of his time at sea and when the ship arrived at Portsmouth, England. Beginning in May 1944, Rowe really starts to question where they are headed; the success of the D-Day invasion was contingent on secrecy, and so, the allied forces involved had no idea where they were going or when the invasion would take place. As a result, Rowe began noting clues around the ship that he would eventually piece together and determine they were headed to France.
May 18, 1944
1100 - Payday. Rumors are the pay records are going ashore. That means one thing, the invasion is not far off.
May 25, 1944
1100- Just finished gas attack drill which the entire boat division had to attend as we are most likely to come in contact with gas.
Though the Geneva Accords prohibited any armed forces to utilize poison gas as a weapon on the battlefield, the Allies did not want to take any chances of being unprepared for such an attack on the D-Day invasion, given that the Germans used poison gas during World War I. As a result, allied forces preparing for the D-Day invasion were also given gas masks carried in plastic knapsacks just in case. When the allies realized there was no poison gas on the beaches, soldiers ditched their gas masks to reduce weight they were carrying.
May 26, 1944
1750- Moored to a buoy at Falmouth...There are two sunken ships in the harbor...A grim reminder that the Germans have bombed here and what can happen.
Following Rowe’s docking in England several days before the invasion took place, he and his buddies explored the town, went to dance halls, and went on dates with girls from the area. Rowe writes of converting his pay into the local currency and that he spent most of it each day by buying food and gifts for the girls he met in town. However, being able to see the effect that the Germans had on the English, and knowing that an invasion was coming, Rowe felt more inspired and proud of what he was going to be a part of.
2000-Been reading and talking about the invasion with the fellows, we all figure it won’t be long now.
Rowe and his friends spent time trying to put all the clues together and determine and when and where the invasion would take place.
June 1, 1944
2200-...We have two correspondents aboard for the invasion. One is from “Life Magazine”. It is only a matter of days now till the big bang.
The fact that news correspondents were aboard the same ships and that they were also preparing to cover the invasion, indicated to Rowe and the other allied forces, that this invasion was going to be large and if successful, history in the making. For Rowe, being apart of the invasion made him incredibly proud.
June 2, 1944
0530- Entire eighth division got up early for chow. Over the side at 0630. LCM’s didn’t go. We are bringing on troops now. It is France we are to hit and south. I know on a map about where it is but don’t know as yet which city of any size it is near.
Four days before the invasion, Rowe has finally determined where the invasion is going to take place: France. This is all he knows at this point - that they are going to face the Germans in France; however, they do not know where exactly. The Germans beleived that the allies would try to cross and perform the invasion at Calais, which is the closest distance between England and France, but the allies ultimately chose Normandy for the invasion, even though it was a larger distance to cross, it was a less suspected location.
June 3, 1944
1400-1500-...My bet is we will invade Monday, (morning) June 5.
2000-Got seven letters and some pictures of my aunt and uncle plus a picture of my best girl. Boy, it was swell to get up to date mail before we go into action. Am going to carry my girl’s picture with me plus my money, etc.
June 5th, Rowe and the others started to more readily prepare for the invasion and believed it was going to happen in a few days. The D-Day invasion was actually meant occur on June 5th, as Rowe suspects, but bad weather made Eisenhower, postpone the invasion to June 6th.
June 4, 1944
0945-An Army Colonel talked to us this morning of his great faith in us, as to getting his men onto the beach on time and in the right spot. A Navy Intelligence Lt. Commander gave us last minute dope on beach, what to expect - the various steps required to take a cement fortification. Next one of the boat wave officers (1st and 2nd wave) told us about the obstructions likely to be encountered; possibility of burning oil on water, gas, machine gun nests, air raids, etc. The chance of them using gas is 3 to 1.
During the weeks leading up to the D-Day invasion allied ships and planes bombarded Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, which is described above. Beginning in 1940, the Germans knew that the allies would attempt an invasion into Northern Europe, and thus, established the Atlantic Wall, which was a thick line of defenses lining the entire coastline of Northern Europe. These defenses included barbed wire fences, hedgehogs - which were structures meant to rip open the bottoms of ships at high tide, mines, and finally, the German cement bunkers. This was a lot for the allies to try to overcome while also being shot at by the Germans during the invasion, and so, before the invasion took place, the allies worked to bombard the wall and weaken German defenses.
June 5, 1944
1000- (D) Day is tomorrow morning, (H) Hour is 0600 - if all goes well.
1300- While eating chow we were read some farewell addresses from various generals and Lt. Generals. Lt. General Omar Bradley, General Montgomery and some English generals. Eisenhower’s speech is to be passed out to us sometime this evening. All the speeches ran along the same lines; How the world was awaiting the news of this invasion; why we are making it; how they were confident we would succeed, etc.
On June 5, 1944, General Eisenhower issued his Order of the Day to each soldier, which encouraged and inspired them in regard to the upcoming invasion. Many soldiers got their buddies to sign their Order of the Day as a memento of the invasion, and then carried that paper throughout the rest of the war. Eisenhower’s speech instilled valor, fidelity, and sacrifice in the men. However, the Order of the Day was not the only letter that Eisenhower wrote for D-Day; half-expecting a huge defeat, Eisenhower prepared a second letter in which he took full responsibility for the invasion, should it not go well.
Seaman 2nd Class Jack Rowe is prepared for the invasion and is very optimistic about his chances at survival. As seen in the final passage of Rowe’s diary, he was certain that he would be able to return to his typewriter at the end of the day and write about the invasion. Sadly, Jack Rowe was one of the 99 Americans who died on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. His diary ends with the quote below, and as a whole, Rowe’s recollections of the months and days leading up to the D-Day invasion provide an intimate glimpse into the daily life, struggles, and moments of happiness that D-Day soldiers experienced.
June 6, 1944
0300-Entire eighth division has just been called to chow down in 15 minutes. I have been up since 1130, put on some heavy underwear because it is cold out. It is rough and windy. Mine sweepers are sweeping the way and dropping buoys as they go. The sky is being lighted up by constant flashes about 2 points off the starboard now. My shipmates are climbing out of the pits, some noisy as usual, some of the noisy ones are very quiet, others talking, making speeches in a kidding way; the heavy sleepers weaving around the compartment trying to wake up. It’s hard to tell who is putting on a show to cover up his feelings but I think I spotted a couple. Most are glad the time is here at last. It has been tiresome waiting month after month for something you know is bound to happen. Well I have a few little odds and ends to do before I go over the side, so I guess I will be off to see history made and the biggest show of any war yet of its type. When I come back I will have a lot to write about. As to coming back, there is no doubt in my mind that I will.