Regular readers of Naval History have no doubt noticed there’s a cyclical tempo to the magazine. In a December issue, for example, you might see a Pearl Harbor article; in June, perhaps a Midway piece. That’s especially true when an issue coincides with a major naval anniversary. But we don’t simply regurgitate the same stories year after year. Instead, we seek out new perspectives on familiar, but highly significant, subjects. This issue, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of D-Day, offers good examples.
In the not-too-distant past, some of the D-Day topics we’ve covered are naval planning for the invasion of Normandy, naval actions on 6 June 1944, and the subsequent buildup of matériel and men—including the crucial role of tank landing ships.
In this issue, we examine the “Day of Days” in a broader perspective. In “D-Day, A Year Too Late?” Vince O’Hara recounts how U.S. General George Marshall pushed for a 1943 cross-Channel invasion only to run into British intransigence. That part of the story may be familiar to readers. But O’Hara crunches the numbers to see if a 1943 landing was a realistic possibility and reaches some eye-opening conclusions.
Half a world away from northern France in June 1944, U.S. forces conducted one of the Pacific war’s largest landings. O’Hara’s complementary article, “A Tale of Two Invasions,” contrasts Operation Neptune—the landings in Normandy—and Operation Forager—the invasion of the Marianas, which began with the landings on Saipan. That the United States was able to pull off two such massive operations in the same month is testament to its amphibious might.
“A Coast Guardsman’s Ground Combat Odyssey” focuses on a little-known chapter of Normandy-invasion history. Lieutenant Shannon Paul Reck, USCG, examines how Coast Guard Commander Quentin Walsh led a reconnaissance team of Seabees that helped liberate Cherbourg in late June 1944. As Walsh later wrote, “The name of the game . . . was to isolate, capture, and operate Cherbourg to provide logistic support for our combat forces in Normandy, which had landed over the beaches.”
The primary mission of Walsh’s team was to assess the condition of the city’s port facilities—which had been virtually destroyed by artillery fire, ship bombardments, Allied bombing, and German sabotage. This included the Naval Arsenal, a fortified complex of ship construction and repair facilities. The climax of Reck’s article is when Walsh and a Seabee officer, Lieutenant Frank Lauer, come face to face with the commanding officer of the arsenal’s Fort du Homet. After labored negotiations over the fort’s surrender, Walsh recalled that the German commander “brought out [a] bottle of cognac and poured a drink for each of his staff. Lieutenant Lauer and I refused to drink with them.”
Given this is a June issue, it includes an article about that 1942 Pacific battle. But this is no “Miracle at Midway” story. Jonathan Parshall, Seunghun Rhie, and Anthony Tully explore what was a very confusing night of 4–5 June, when U.S. commanders were unsure if Japanese forces were still advancing on Midway Atoll. The actions and inactions of a submarine skipper later drew a stiff rebuke from Admiral Chester Nimitz.
One of this issue’s engaging non–World War II features, “‘I Am a Sailor and a Seawolf,’” focuses on the men and machines of the Navy’s Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) 3, better known as HA(L)-3. Hill Goodspeed, historian at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, recounts how the unit, nicknamed the “Seawolves,” was the first of its kind in the Navy and forged a remarkable combat record in the skies over South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Goodspeed’s sidebar describes a documentary chronicling HA(L)-3 through veterans’ recollections—Scramble the Seawolves—whose genesis came via the filmmakers’ personal connection to the famous unit.
Richard G. Latture