Riveting World War II History of the Big Red One

Article excerpt

Riveting World War II History of The Big Red One The Fighting First: The Untold Story of The Big Red One on D-Day. Flint Whitlock. Westvieiu Press (Perseus Group). 322 pages; photographs; maps; appendix; $30.

Along a 60-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline, from the base of the Cotentin Peninsula to the mouth of the River Orne, five Allied infantry divisions scrambled ashore in the gray dawn of Tuesday, june 6, 1944, to spearhead the historic, longawaited liberation of Europe.

It was the mightiest amphibious invasion ever mounted, and from dawn to dusk that stretch of beach was the deadliest place on earth. Along the eastern end of the beachhead, two British divisions and one Canadian division landed across Gold, Sword and juno Beaches, while at the far western end, Maj. Gen. Raymond O. (Tubby) Barton's 4th Infantry Division waded ashore at Utah Beach.

At a five-mile strip of sand and shingle in the center, Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner's veteran 1st Infantry ("Big Red One") Division, reinforced with two regiments of the unblooded 29th Infantry Division, struggled ashore at Omaha Beach and into a German firestorm. Army planners had blithely designated the assault areas Easy Red and Fox Green, and many soldiers feared that it would be less "Easy" and more "Red." They were right.

Pinned down, suffering mounting casualties, and disorganized and demoralized, the GIs were unable to move off the beach for several critical hours. Although the British and Canadians, and the French commandos at Ouistreham, faced stout opposition, the debacle at Omaha Beach was the worst crisis in the early hours of "the longest day."

The full story of the Big Red One's ordeal on D-Day-and its subsequent fighting march through France, Belgium and Germany-unfolds in this riveting and well-researched history by Flint Whitlock, a former U.S. Army officer and Vietnam War veteran. Drawing upon official records, interviews and unpublished memoirs, he has created a chronicle of courage and sacrifice under fire that is human and powerful.

Ironically, this is the first work to give full measure to the Big Red One's role in World War II, although the author does not touch on its service in North Africa and Sicily in 1942-43.

Whitlock's lean, vivid narrative takes the reader along in the landing craft on the morning of june 6, showing how the assault got off to a bad start. The infantry, combat engineers and artillery units were loaded into landing craft and DUKWs 10 miles offshore in choppy seas, and some of the supporting amphibious tanks were launched almost four miles out and were swamped. …