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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
1: Corporal, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
At H-Hour of D-Day, 6 June 1944, elements of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions were the first units to land on Omaha beach, supported by engineer troops and men from the Ranger force. Expecting heavy losses, most D-Day units were 10 per cent overstrength when they embarked. The assaulting regiments of the 29th Division lost about 60 per cent of their men on 6 June.
This corporal wears the 'M1941' Parsons field jacket with OD wool shirt and trousers treated with anti-gas impregnation. On his right shoulder would be worn the gas detection brassard illustrated on B2 - this would change colour when exposed to chemical agents. The US Navy floatation belt he wears was also attached to important equipment so that if lost it would float ashore. If inflated by a heavily-loaded man who was out of his depth it was often lethal, tipping him upside down to drown. Besides his normal web equipment and the M1928 pack he carries the M5 assault gasmask in its black waterproof chest bag, and a general purpose ammunition bag. An Airborne-style aid pouch, including bandages, sulfa tablets, and two morphine syrettes ('one for pain, two for eternity'), is taped to his left shoulder brace - again, see B2; and he carries his M1 Garand in a clear Pliofilm cover. The helmet he is staring at reminds us that Rangers from the 2nd and 5th Bns landed on Dog Green and Dog White sectors of Omaha soon after the first waves of the 29th.
2: 1st Lieutenant, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
The 29th was a National Guard division originating from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the blue and grey 'yin and yang' divisional sign symbolised unity created from the opposing Civil War histories of these states. It was among the first formations deployed to Britain, and stayed so long that it was nicknamed 'England's Own'; no doubt the division's personnel contributed honourably to the British stereotype of the GI as being 'over-sexed, over-paid and over here'.
The 29th landed on Omaha beach wearing fully painted helmets and with their chinstraps down. The men of both the 1st and 29th Divisions had their shoulder patch designs painted onto the fronts of their helmets for D-Day; 4th Division GIs commonly had them painted on their helmet liners. The divisional markings on helmets soon faded, and it became unusual to see them after the Normandy campaign.
This carbine-armed first lieutenant is uniformed essentially like his men, his rank marked by the bar painted on his helmet below the divisional sign, and metal insignia pinned to his epaulettes. Over the Parsons jacket he wears the assault vest, issued in quantity to D-Day units and not only to Rangers as is sometimes assumed. It was a rational approach to reform of the load-carrying web equipment, but was not much liked in practice - most were dumped soon after the landings, though not as swiftly as the M1926 US Navy lifebelts.
3: T/5, Engineers, 2nd Infantry Division
Combat engineers played a key role in clearing water and beach obstacles on D-Day. Several types of joint Army/Navy engineer units were created for the invasion, and a number of volunteer engineers from the 2nd Division served with these. (The bulk of the 'Indianhead' division began to come ashore on D+1.) They wore anti-gas impregnated HBT fatigues over their woollen uniforms; some officers and many of the beach clearing personnel wore specially authorised paratroop boots. This engineer from the 2nd Division carries a purple smoke grenade - in case he has to signal landing troops to keep clear of an area rigged for demolition - and a demolition bag filled with half-pound or one-pound blocks of TNT. He sports a British-made aid pouch on his belt and would also be carrying an Airborne pouch. He is armed with a carbine, but like many GIs he may pick up the more powerful M1 Garand on the beach. The 2nd Division's most important action during the war was its stand holding the north shoulder of the 'Bulge' during the Ardennes fighting of December 1944. (Inset) 2nd Infantry Division patch.