Behind the camera: Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent of the United States Coast Guard (USCG)NAIL Control Number: NLR-PHOCO-A-7298
Where: Omaha Beach which was the military name for the a stretch of beach approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long, from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer.
Photo Summary: Assault landing. One of the first waves at Omaha Beach. The U.S. Coast Guard caption identifies the unit as Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. The ship is a LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase.
Picture Taken: Early morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day)
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a naval photographer

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade. … The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and progress of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

–Eisenhower’s message on the eve of D-day

D-day

Uncropped version click for full size

On June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history occurred when the Allies stormed ashore the beaches of Normandy. Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHOM), Robert F. Sargent, on one of the LCVPs snapped this photo while the American soldiers of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) waded onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach. Also known as “Into the jaws of death ” the picture is one of the most famous images of D-day, although it is often confused as one of the 11 famous Capa D-day pictures.

D-day

D-day or the Normandy Landings were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of occupied France. The operation started on June 6, 1944, and was the biggest amphibious invasion of all time, with over 175,000 troops landing on 6 June 1944. Time Cover Dday 1984The landings took place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The Americans were responsible for two of the landing beaches, Utah and Omaha.
The LCVP in the image was part of the landing group that was supported by the attack transport, USS Samuel Chase (APA-26). The Chase launched 15 waves of troops of the American 1st Division (The Big Red One) from its supported landing crafts. By 11 a.m. it unloaded the entire Division’s troops that it had aboard onto what was supposed to be the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach. While the landing craft brought troops to the beach it also returned the wounded who were cared for on the Chase by its U.S. Navy and Public Health Service doctors and corpsmen. Chase returned to Weymouth, England, on 7 June.
The American’s of 1st Division were faced off against the newly formed German 352nd division. Nothing went to plan as the landing crafts were swept off course by the rough seas. A high causality rate of officers left a lot of low ranked soldiers leaderless on the beaches. Eventually, small penetrations were achieved by groups of survivors making improvised assaults, scaling the bluffs between the most heavily defended points.
The men photographed by Robert F. Sargent were from Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. During the initial landing two-thirds of the Company were immediate casualties. Yet the survivors were instrumental through their, skill and sheer luck, in finding and exploiting the weaknesses of Omaha Beach. These breaches were expanded until a number footholds were secured that allowed easier access to German positions. Over the next few days, their D-day objectives would be taken.
Time Cover DDay 2004

Usage

The photo is actually a cropped version of a larger photo that has been cut for artistic reasons. Probably because as a product of the US government and as such is in the public domain this image gets a lot of use. TIME magazine has used it for their D-day anniversary issues. In the USCG and American archive it is titled, The Jaws of Death or Taxi to Hell – and Back with the caption, “Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat.” Many posters have been made including a popular one sold by Amazon that is entitled, “The Greatest Generation”.

Coast Guard Records

The photographer, Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent, was a veteran of the Allied invasions of Sicily and Salerno. The Coast Guard records department were able to track down a copy of the press release issued with the publication of Sargent’s photograph. The decades-old mimeograph paper was brittle but still readable. In addition to the original caption (below), there is a write up by Coast Guard Combat Correspondent Thomas Winship who quotes Sargent extensively.

Original caption: Into the Jaws of Death: Down the ramp of a Coast Guard landing barge Yankee soldiers storm toward the beach-sweeping fire of Nazi defenders in the D-Day invasion of the French coast. Troops ahead may be seen lying flat under the deadly machinegun resistance of the Germans. Soon the Nazis were driven back under the overwhelming invasion forces thrown in from Coast Guard and Navy amphibious craft.

The Coast Guard records also list the crew of the landing craft.

The coxswain of the boat was William E. Harville of Petersburg, Va. — it was his landing craft and he was at the helm. The boat engineer, the crewman who kept the boat’s engine running smoothly, was Seaman 1st Class Anthony J. Helwich of Pittsburgh, Pa. Seaman 1st Class Patsy J. Papandrea was the bowman — the crewman who operated the front bow ramp and is visible as the helmeted head in the right foreground of the photo. Sargent also mentions among their passengers was the “First Wave Commander Lieut. (j.g.) James V. Forrestal, USCGR,” of Beacon, N.Y.

Sargent mentions that the first waves got underway at 5:36 AM. and that the picture was taken around 7:40 AM.

Colorization by Brazilian digital artist Marina Amaral

Colorization by Brazilian digital artist Marina Amaral

Possible identification

Men running towards the beach

William H. Caruthers Jr. claims that this is him in the photo

Each LCVP that landed that day carried around 30 men. Five LCVPs landed 183 men of E Company at 6:30 AM, of those that landed 100 were killed. In this picture, the men are all facing forward toward the beaches so we can’t identify them or their unit, except for one man with his face turned so that the camera captured his left profile. Major William H. Caruthers Jr. claims to be that man.

Major William H. Caruthers Jr. was in the 56th Signal Battalion and records show that elements of the 56th Signal Battalion were sent in with the first wave to hit the beaches so that they could report back what was going on at the front line. Caruthers didn’t actually land with the Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division but waded ashore from another ship. Volume 23 the 1968 issue of Signal Magazine does show that two DUKW’s with 15 members of the 56th Signal Battalion were on the beach around that time and that their vehicles became stuck on a sandbar causing them to wade ashore. Major William H. Caruthers Jr. himself recounts that:

Our job was to get ashore and see what was going on, particularly to report back whether we could get a foothold there. Things were very touch and go for a while and it was far from certain we could get onto the beach. [when he saw a wounded man floating in the water] The sergeant had some highly classified papers on him and some of them were spilling into the water. I got hold of him and pulled him behind me, hoping to get him to shore.

The picture does to appear to show another landing craft to the right of this one and it is conceivable that the two units mixed while wading ashore and Caruthers does appear to be dragging a man through the water. All evidence points to the man in the picture being Major William H. Caruthers Jr. except for the time difference. As told in the gripping accounts of E company storming the beaches and clearing Exit 1 out of Omaha beach, they came ashore at 6:30. By Caruthers’ own statement he claims to have come ashore at “around 8:30.” So maybe Caruthers is confused about the time or the Coast Guard photographer was confused about what unit he dropped off but it is possible that the man with his face captured in one of the most famous pictures of World War II is Major William H. Caruthers Jr.

Not Easy Company

Although coast guard records say that Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent of the United States Coast Guard dropped off Easy Company in this photo records also show that Sargent’s boat was unloading men from USS Samuel Chase. This information seemingly rules out Easy Company as they unloaded from the USS Henrico. As such based on the time and the visual clues from the picture the men who are in the photo are probably from Company A.

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  1. larry ferrante says:

    You are correct. To the left of major carruthers is my father Lt. Constantine Ferrante radio officer 56th signal battalion. All through out my dads life he maintained that this picture was him on the left and Maj. Carruthers on the right. There were two dukws used by the 56th signal battalion to set up ship to shore communications between the dukws and the USS Ancon. This occured prior to any invasion…….they were the first ones in…the first dukw was hit by German artillery and all 15 men were killed the second was hit but grounded itself on a sandbar. All but 3 men jumped or were blown over the side including my father and carruthers. Carruthers saw one of the radio operators who was floating in the water with all the radio codes. He pulled this man to shore and recovered the codes. Both officers received the bronze star that day.My father also received the purple heart thst morning after getting a grazing bullet wound in the face…Larry Ferrante corvette04092@gmail.com

  2. Chuck Herrick says:

    Unfortunately, there is considerable confusion in this article. Sargent came across the Channel on the attack transport Chase, which carried the 1st Battalion of the 16th Regiment. By comparison, Co. E and the 2d Battalion crossed on the Henrico. Co. E landed at 0630 hours. Sargent, in the first wave from the Chase, landed at 0740 hours, as confirmed by Sargent, his wave commander, US Coast Guard and US Army official reports. Sargent could not possibly have carried in Co. E, nor does his own first hand account mention Co. E at all. Nor does the Coast Guard history say he went in with Co. E. His wave of boats actually carried in Cos. A and C, and based on tank dozer #9 in his photo, this places him where Co. A landed in the gap cleared by Gap Assault Team 9.

    I might also point out that the men in Sargent’s photo are exiting an LCVP, a landing barge. This undercuts Mt. Carruthers’ identification, as he landed in a DUWK, noticeably different, as that was an amphibious 2 1/2 ton truck. Than man in the picture is clearly not exiting a DUWK. Nor are DUWKs visible in any of Sargent’s photos as he approached the beach.

    There was one DUWK carrying in a detachment of the 56th Sig Bn scheduled for Easy Red at 0735. This was the worst period of the day on Easy Red. If Carruthers and Ferrante came in early on a DUWK, it was probably on this one. So they may very have landed at almost the same time as Sargent snapped his photos at 0740. They would not have exited an LCVP as the men in Sargent’s picture are doing.

    I apologize if this contradicts your fathers’ memories, but this happens frequently with distant memories of long ago major events.

    Regardless, I thank you for your fathers’ service at a bad place at a bad time. My father was an infantry lieutenant in the ETO, until his wounding. As with so many of his generation, he recently passed away as well.

    All the best.

    • Larry P Ferrante says:

      My father’s account along with Major Caruther’s memory is exactly correct…The U.S. Army’s own book (which I own) “Omaha Beach” written in 1948 does account for 2 DUKW’s to have been launched at 0600 hrs. All 3 accounts are coincide..They stated that elements of V Corps 56th Signal Battalion were to stay 300 meters patrolling up and down Omaha Beach transmitting opeations on the beach. The first DUKW was immediately hit by German artillery killing all occupants..The 2nd DUKW according to all 3 accounts was hit at 0630 hrs in the bow area of the DUKW killing all but my father, Major Carruthers and 1 radioman. Unable to maneuver the DUKW grounded on a sandbar to the right of an LCVP which was discharging men of the 1st Division. my father and the 2 others jumped off the DUKW with Major Caruthers dragging a body. The body was that of a radioman with all the radio codes that day….Major Caruthers later received the Silver Star for that action…The 3 men then headed to shore under heavy fire following the men of the 1st Div…this is why people ask “what are these men of the 56th Signal Battalion doing mixed in with the 1st Div?”. They werent…just beached their DUKW just out of photo site…..I have all the diaries, after action reports including the paragragh in the U.S. Army book of Omaha Beach, accounts from eye witnesses and supporting documentation from 56th Signal Battalion…took 3 years of seaching to find all this information..thank you..Larry Ferrante
      Corvette04092@gmail.com

      • Chuck Herrick says:

        Hmmm. DUKWs were released from their rendezvous points about 2 hours and 45 minutes prior to their planned beaching time (per the Landing Diagram, Annex E of the 1st Division Field Order), and would have been launched even earlier than that. That’s because their directed speed was just 4 knots. So the two DUKWs you said were launched at 0600 hours could not have approached the beach much before 0830 hours, or 50 minutes after Sargent’s picture was taken. At any rate, my copy of Omaha Beachhead (20 September 1945) doesn’t seem to contain the account you cited.

        I suggest once again your father was on the 56th Signal DUKW scheduled to arrive at 0735 hours (Division Troops’ Landing Table Index Number 4001, also listed as LTIN 2111 n the 16th RCT’s landing tables). That was the first DUKW carrying V Corps 56th Signal personnel.

        The nub of the matter, however, is that we have two different times for Major Caruthers and you father’s landing. Major Carruthers claimed 0830 hours. You claim 0630 hours. As it turns out, both of those claims rule out the possibility of either man being in Sargent’s photo. Despite some random accounts that confuse the issue, Sargent’s photo is indisputably tied to a landing time of 0740 hours. Not only is this fixed by the state of the tide in his photo (the tide was 250-300 yards from the shingle embankment at 0630 hours, but is in amongst the hedgehogs, about 100-125 yards from the shingle, in Sargent’s photo), it is also fixed by Coast Guard and 16th RCT accounts of the landing of Company A, 16th RCT, which beached in the gap cleared by Gap Assault Team 9, in front of WN 64 guarding Exit E-1. That gap and tank dozer 9 are centered in Sargent’s photo. No assault troops landed there from the 2d BLT’s waves which beached in the first 60 minutes of the invasion. In other words, if you father waded ashore at 0630 hours, he was 70 minutes too early to have been captured in Sargent’s photo at 0740 hours. If he waded ashore at 0830 hours, he was 50 minutes too late to have been captured in Sargent’s photo.

        Regardless of the time his DUKW arrived and was stranded, I must take issue with his identification in Sargent’s photo for the simple fact that the man in question is exiting an LCVP, not a DUKW. And just to the right of that LCVP is another LCVP discharging its troops – not a DUKW. Note that the Sargent photo featured in this post was NOT the only photo he took of the landing. The photo above is shown on page 44 of Omaha Beachhead, and another Sargent photo is shown on page 40. That second photo was taken 50-75 yards farther off shore, and there is not a single DUKW in sight. Nor are there any DUKWs visible in other Sargent photos of the landings. LCVPs had a directed speed of 10 knots during their run into the beach, whereas DUKWs were limited to 4 knots. So Sargent’s photos would have shown a DUKW ahead of his LCVP as he neared the shore. But they don’t show any such thing.

        Your father’s honor stems from his presence on that terrible beach. Whether he is or is not in that photo is of minor import by comparison.

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