Captain Leonard Treherne “Max” Schroeder Jr looked out over the choppy water between the landing craft he was on and the shores of their destination…the beaches of Normandy, France. The beaches had been given code names, to protect the mission…Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword; the operation was code named Overlord. The beach ahead of Schroeder had been code named Utah. Along the hills behind the beach were many German bunkers, with armed German snipers hiding inside of them. Schroeder knew they were just waiting for them to step onto the beach before the snipers would open fire.
Schroeder was about to find out firsthand, just how bad this day was going to be. In fact, he was the first American soldier whose feet hit the sand on the beach at Normandy on D-Day…so, while his men were right behind him, he would experience this horrific battle at its inception. I have wondered just how they knew that he was first amid all that chaos, but it is a documented fact. Operation Overlord was pivotal in the United States’ overall success, but it was also extremely bloody, with great loss of life. While every life lost was horrific, the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day were willing to give their lives for a cause that they felt was essential…and I have so much respect for each and every one of them. Captain Schroeder led his team of men onto the beach…along with thousands of others…and managed to get them to their secured location. Nevertheless, during the mission, he was shot twice by German snipers. Once the mission was accomplished and his men were where they needed to be, Captain Schroeder passed out from his injuries.
Schroeder woke up at an aid station on the beach, with medics taking care of his wounds so he could be transported to an army hospital in England. While in England, he recovered and had a lot of time to read all about his role in the successful mission…in many papers. I don’t know if he realized that his had been such a pivotal role in the battle, but it had. At the time, I doubt if he thought he would ever see that beach again, but in 1994, Schroeder revisited the beach at Normandy as a guest of the French government. It was an amazing ceremony to pay homage to his heroic efforts that helped turn the tide for the Allies in World War II. It was an honor he had given no thought to as he looked out at that beach on that long ago June 6, 1944…but, an honor that he had earned along with all the other men who fought, and the many who had died. I’m sure those who gave all, were thankful that some made it home and managed to live a long life of liberty. Captain Leonard “Max” Schroeder, who was born on July 16, 1918, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, passed away from emphysema early on the morning of May 26, 2009, in Largo, Florida at the age of 90.
Most people from the Baby Boomer Generation know the significance of D-Day, but it occurs to me that many people in the younger generations may not really know what it was all about. Operation Overlord was the Allied invasion of northern France, commonly known as D-Day. The operation was under the direction of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The operation had a brief 3 day window in which to take place, and June 5th had been chosen to be the day, but the day dawned gloomy, so the operation had to be scrubbed for the day.
Then on June 6th, the orders came down that Operation Overlord was a go. By daybreak, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion, among them the B-17, Raggedy Ann, which was carrying my dad, Allen Spencer, who was a Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer. At 6:30 am, American troops came ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, as did the Americans at Utah. Omaha beach was a much different situation, however, where the US First Division battled high seas, mist, mines, burning vehicles, and German coastal batteries, including an elite infantry division, which spewed heavy fire. Many wounded Americans ultimately drowned in the high tide. British divisions, which landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and Canadian troops also met with heavy German fire.
The troops persevered, even though the loses were great, and in the end the operation was declared a victory. There were many reasons that D-Day was successful, even against all odds. The Allies had fooled the Germans, who thought the attack was going to occur farther along the coast at Calais because this was the shortest route by sea, even when the attack began on the beaches Hitler was still convinced the attack was going to occur at Calais. What a shock that must have been when he found out that the attack took place on the beaches of Normandy. False intelligence spread by the allies spread false information to the Germans, and they bought it.
There were many factors that all worked together to make the plan work. Wooden guns on the South Coast of England, wooden planes, dropped plastic dummies out of planes, they put mirrors up on their ships and the Germans were fooled as they saw themselves going the other way. New technology specifically designed for the landing enabled the Allies to gain an advantage over the Germans. Mulberries, the floating docks the Allies used to land, enabled the Allies to land safely and disembark while firing. Some of the beaches were practically empty, however, on Omaha beach the Allies suffered heavy losses numbering 2000 in total. Operation Overlord had been planned for many years and so they were ready. The Germans had to keep control of the other parts of their empires, so their troops were elsewhere. Hitler denied that his forces were losing in Normandy, and would not authorize the mobilization of forces stationed near Normandy.
As for the Allies, the troops involved were highly trained, equipped and motivated. Their battle plan was well prepared. All the necessary manpower and logistics were available to them. The air space was controlled by the Allies. The sea lanes were very short and the seas were in Allied hands. The deception plan was flawless. The Germans had no idea what was coming. The French Resistance was highly effective. The German troop who were there were poorly motivated. Hitler’s Defense Planning was completely flawed. But, the biggest victory is that the troops did their job.