Original U.S. WWII 3051st Engineer Combat Battalion D-Day Invasion Named Grouping
Original Item: One-of-a-kind. Private George Thomas was a member of A Company of the 3051st Combat Engineer Battalion who landed on Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion on D-Day (June 6th, 1944) and fought through the duration of the war in some of the most famous battles under the 82nd Engineer Division including St. Lo, AAchen, Battle of the Bulge and more.
Below is an interview with a fellow Battalion member of Thomas's, a solider name Harry Bradish, which he gave the the New York State Military Museum in 1994.
Harry Bradish Interview
New York State Military Museum
Interviewed on May 25, 1994
Baldwinsville Public Library
Baldwinsville, New York
IN: We are here with Harry Bradish, who is a local resident, who also fought in D-Day, and we’re going to hear some of your recollections about that time.
HB: I’d like to tell you a little something before D-Day. We were getting ready to go, and they were telling us in order to prevent telling us where we were going- they took us to a beautiful big mansion-the whole company was there. They brought us in one squad at a time. They had a big table with sand on it, the same sand that was on the beach in Normandy, that they picked up at night you know. So they told us exactly where we were going to go, exactly where we were going to hit, exactly what we were going to do, and I’m thinking here is the biggest thing in the world that is ever going to happen, that I know of and I can’t say a damn thing about it. [Both laugh] That really always bothered me. I’d never be able to get up and tell anybody, the whole world was waiting to know - that really got me.
IN: What kind of feelings were there amongst your outfit when you were getting ready to go in there?
HB: Well, they were pretty quiet. We couldn’t go anywhere after we found out where we were going and when we were going. We were under guard- they were standing with machine guns -that was it- we couldn’t say anything to anybody. We finally packed up and went. The sea was rough, the channel was rough -awful rough. So we came up with our boat- a long boat- a big boat- hold about 300 men. We go up onto Normandy, early in the morning, it was still dark out you know. As soon as daylight hit, they said “OK over the side”. I remember we were going by in our little boat- going in to land and the battleship Texas was sitting there. They were having a duel, I found out later with a railroad gun and they had big heavy shells going overhead both ways. The sailors on the Texas were hollering “Go get’em boys” you know that stuff. I wished by that time I could have been on the Texas. So we went on to hit the beach. It was kind of rough. There were quite a few bodies lying around already you know. A young kid was laying there and he was crying for his mother. Another one was crying for Blessed Mary. I don’t know who won out- but they were hurt bad, I don’t think they lived long.
Then we went up a sand dune and broke over it, it was supposed to be a big high sand dune but heck is was low, the water must have washed it away or something. So we got over that. There was another guy lying there and his head was gone. I said “Holy Jesus what did we get into here”. So, my squad was supposed to go as far as the swamp- it was about a mile and we were supposed to set up machine guns and get ready for a counter attack. The rest of the outfit -they worked on the beach- with the engineers and they were helping with things across the beach and stuff like that. It was kind of scary I’ll tell you pretty scary.
IN: What was your outfit?
HB: Our outfit was the 3051st Engineer Combat Battalion. They were trained just for that beach at that time. When we got over everything there, the way it should be then we had to have a break out at St. Lo - that’s when we first broke out of that place. I want to tell you about the planes. We were getting ready for St. Lo. Of course nobody knew what was going on but we were all ready to shove off, and there was- I think they said it was about 3000 bombers they had. I never saw so many planes in all my life. There was tier after tier of them you know, they were at different heights and they were coming over, they were bombing St. Lo. I thought, boy if I were a German, I’d run right back to Germany as fast as I could go. [Laughs] They were really banging away and they knocked some of our planes down too. So then we went on from there to the central part of the country and fought. Then we went up to Holland. We got there just in time for the Battle of The Bulge to start when they broke through Aachen. Somebody figured it out- we got there in time anyway. We had to set up our machine guns. I remember setting them up right in a guy’s front lawn. [Laughs] An old fella, he came out of the house and he said something in his language- I don’t know what he was talking about, probably “get off my grass” because we dug a big hole in there and sand bagged it. We had to wait there for the Germans to come up- but they never did- they never got that far. So we were on to other things.
IN: Did you feel like things were turning around at a certain point?
HB: Yes, because I hit on Utah beach, and Utah was one of the easier beaches. I got a break there. So, let’s see what were they doing what the heck was there now- my memory is not as good as it used to be. Well anyway...we finally... one of the other guys was talking about going into Cherbourg. We tried it but they had a heck of an army in Cherbourg– the Germans did. W
e had to wait for re-enforcements, we never thought they’d come up there. They took us out of that frame and we went on with the 82nd. We were assigned to them at that time. Then we were assigned to the 4th Army division after that. The next battle was in Hurtgen forest. That was my first site of the tiger tank. Have you ever seen a tiger tank? They were big! [Laughs] I remember I had a bazooka. We were in the forest there, this squad of us and this tiger tank came through the woods and it just sat there. I lined up that bazooka, I got it all set to really let go
you know, and I did but it was a poor shot. I just hit the - like a bumper would be on the front of a car-I hit that thing and it glanced off of it and God I saw all those big guns on that thing start to come around and I said to a young kid that was helping me at that time, “let’s get the heck out of here”. [ Both laugh] We ran down a ravine and they never did shoot at us, I don’t think they followed us really.
IN: Now you said combat engineers, what kind of stuff did you have to do usually?
HB: Well, combat engineers- their main job was when the infantry came up against the pill box or anything like that, it’s their job to knock the pill box out - get it out of the way, because we have the explosives. We also put a couple of bridges across the Albert canal. Well I don’t know, there was a lot of shooting and banging and stuff going on that’s for damn sure.
IN: Did you ever hear much from back home when all of this was going on?
HB: I wrote a lot of letters home. They said you could write all the letters you want but they won’t go out until after the invasion. I kept right on writing like I always did and my family kept writing to me – but then they weren’t getting anything back from me and that really scared them you know. They didn’t know what the heck was happening- of course because we wrote so often. My mother God bless her, I know she never missed mass in the morning for me. Every morning she went to church – went to mass, according to my wife. She had a baby -she was eight months old when I went into the service.
IN: When did you get out?
HB: About two years later. I spent nineteen months overseas. Then there was about six or seven months back in this country getting ready to go over.
IN: Any other things about D-Day that stick in your mind?
HB: No, not really. It was a real scary day, I know that. I never had anybody shoot at me before. That was the first time and it got real scary. The German’s with their 88 gun – their artillery pieces - they were good with them, they were awful good with them. We had to go up a ditch to get up to where our machine gun was going to be and we got up there and our 50 caliber machine gun – the barrel wasn’t there. This lieutenant said, “anybody see the barrel”. Well this one guy, Virgil Hostas his name was, he went right for the hills- he had the barrel. He [The Lieutenant] said “does anybody know where he is”, “yes I saw him go over to the pill box” a guy said. We had to go back down to the pill box and boy we hated to go back because they were really shelling that beach. So we got down there and sure enough, here was Virgil – he was just sitting there with the barrel over his arms, he was scared to death – he couldn’t move he was so scared. And there were Germans lying around on the floor that somebody had got earlier. So the lieutenant told me to take the barrel. So I took the barrel and he grabbed the other guy and we got back to our people again. So outside of that- the second night we got bombarded by dive bombers, the Stuka- Stuka dive bombers. Boy they came in- they dropped chandelier flares, that lights the whole ground up just like day you know – you’d think it was day. I had a foxhole dug I was in and all of a sudden it didn’t seem to me like it was really deep enough. The Stukas come down and they scream when they come down you know and boy they really scare you. So by this time the Navy had knocked out some of the flares. And I knew where a Corporal was- he had a nice great big hole and I go over and jump in his hole and there were about five more guys in there -and I guess we all loved the company –
we all liked each other and wanted to get away from everything. So... I don’t know. There’s so many things that happen you know – stuff that you can’t remember.
IN: All in the space of a few days too.
HB: Oh yea, sure. ell I didn’t even get anything to eat the first two days. But I wasn’t
hungry – I could’ve gotten something. The food truck was supposed to be on the beach
the first day– that didn’t come in for a week. I got it off the Navy – the Navy fed me. [Laughs]
IN: There were probably a lot of people that weren’t doing much eating or sleeping.
HB: No I don’t think there were, no. But when things kind of quieted down then all of a sudden you realize hey I’m kind of hungry you know.
IN: Right. Bob asked me to read this letter you got from Harry Truman; “To you who answered the call of your country and served in its armed forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation. As one of the nation’s finest, you undertook the most severe task one could be called upon to perform. Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task. We now look to you for leadership and example and further exalting our country in peace”. Harry Truman.
IN: I think that goes for all the people we talked to today. Thanks for coming and sharing
your memories with us.
HB: Thanks for asking me.
This incredible grouping named to Private George Thomas includes the following items:
- Ike Jacket size 38S with Army Amphibious shoulder sleeve insignia on left shoulder, his “seahorse” Engineers Amphibious Command patch on left breast pocket, 4 overseas stripes, Presidential Unit Citation ribbon, engineers collar devices, Belgian Fourragere shoulder cord, Expert Rifleman Badge, and medals ribbons that include: Purple Heart, Good Conduct, European-African Middle East Campaign with arrow head and four battle stars and French Croix de Guerre Medal Ribbon.
- Standard Army issue wool shirt with Army Amphibious shoulder sleeve insignia on left shoulder, his “seahorse” Engineers Amphibious Command patch on left breast pocket.
- Standard Army issue pants.
- Engineer's Overseas Garrison cap.
- Original Dog Tag.
- 9 x original wartime photos, many from Normandy, one of George in uniform
- Purple heart in box.
- Original end of war statement to soldiers, sailor, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force from Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- Various patches, medal ribbons, pins, etc.
- Various wartime passes and permits.
- Original French Croix de Guerre award certificate.
- Copies of Thomas's Honorable Discharge.
- Various wartime documents, one is hilarious a Indoctrination for return to the U.S. manual which is a tongue in cheek list of instructions in how solider should conduct themselves stateside. One section reads: In America there are a number of beautiful girls. The young ladies have not been liberated and many are gainfully employed as stenographers, sales girls and beauty operators or welders. Contrary to current practices they should not be approached with "How Much?". A proper greeting is "Isn't it a lovely day?" or "have you ever been to Chicago?" Then say "How Much?"
a complete transcript of the document can be found at this link.
A truly amazing collection from a Normandy Invasion veteran who landed on Utah Beach, fought in the entirety of the Battle of the Bulge and crossed the Rhine into Germany. Incredible!
Utah, commonly known as Utah Beach, was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), during World War II. The westernmost of the five code-named landing beaches in Normandy, Utah is on the Cotentin Peninsula, west of the mouths of the Douve and Vire rivers. Amphibious landings at Utah were undertaken by United States Army troops, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided by the United States Navy and Coast Guard as well as elements from the British, Dutch and other Allied navies.
The objective at Utah was to secure a beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula, the location of important port facilities at Cherbourg. The amphibious assault, primarily by the US 4th Infantry Division and 70th Tank Battalion, was supported by airborne landings of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division. The intention was to rapidly seal off the Cotentin Peninsula, prevent the Germans from reinforcing Cherbourg, and capture the port as quickly as possible. Utah, along with Sword on the eastern flank, was added to the invasion plan in December 1943. These changes doubled the frontage of the invasion and necessitated a month-long delay so that additional landing craft and personnel could be assembled in England. Allied forces attacking Utah faced two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, part of the 709th Static Infantry Division. While improvements to fortifications had been undertaken under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel beginning in October 1943, the troops assigned to defend the area were mostly poorly equipped non-German conscripts.
D-Day at Utah began at 01:30, when the first of the airborne units arrived, tasked with securing the key crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église and controlling the causeways through the flooded farmland behind Utah so the infantry could advance inland. While some airborne objectives were quickly met, many paratroopers landed far from their drop zones and were unable to fulfill their objectives on the first day. On the beach itself, infantry and tanks landed in four waves beginning at 06:30 and quickly secured the immediate area with minimal casualties. Meanwhile, engineers set to work clearing the area of obstacles and mines, and additional waves of reinforcements continued to arrive. At the close of D-Day, Allied forces had only captured about half of the planned area and contingents of German defenders remained, but the beachhead was secure.
The 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah at the cost of only 197 casualties. Airborne troops arriving by parachute and glider numbered an additional 14,000 men, with 2,500 casualties. Around 700 men were lost in engineering units, 70th Tank Battalion, and seaborne vessels sunk by the enemy. German losses are unknown. Cherbourg was captured on June 26, but by this time the Germans had destroyed the port facilities, which were not brought back into full operation until September.
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