Phil Lockwood of Port Charlotte, Fla. was in the 175h Artillery Company attached to the 29th Infantry Division that stormed Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 spearheading the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II.
Hundreds of American soldiers were cut down by German machine guns and artillery before they set foot on the invasion beach. Hundreds more drowned or were slaughtered trying to reach the safety of shoreline cliffs. Omaha Beach was a blood bath for the soldiers of the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions that summer’s day in June 68 years ago.
“My artillery company went ashore on Omaha Beach the next day. There were hundreds of dead American soldiers everywhere. They were all over the beach and many others were washing up on shore,” Lockwood said. “It was hell.
“The first truck from our company carrying ammunition and pulling a 57-millimeter anti-tank gun rolled off the LST (Landing Ship Tank) onto the beach and exploded. it struck a German mine and disintegrated.
“We were next in line off the LST. All the cannoniers in our ‘duece-and-a-half’ climbed down and followed behind walking in the truck’s tread marks in the sand. The Germans had every inch of beach zeroed with their guns. We were taking incoming 88 artillery fire and mortar rounds as we came ashore,” the 87-year-old local man recalled.
By the time the 175th got ashore Allied forces had pushed the Germans back from the beach a mile or two. The Americans were hanging on by their fingernails in the face of stiff enemy resistance during the first couple of days of the invasion.
“Our artillery unit headed for the first French town, Vierville, that the 29th Infantry in front of us had just taken. We found an open field and set up. We slept in some deep dug German foxholes the enemy had abandoned,” he said.
“The first thing I remember hearing when we arrived was, ‘Lockwood, keep your head down. There are snipers,’ my platoon leader cautioned me. The Germans had pulled out of the town, but they left snipers. This was a habit of there’s we encountered all across Europe.
“The next day the first thing we did was clean the grease off our guns and get ready to engage German tanks,” he explained. “Our main objective was to protect our rifle companies from German tanks.
In Normandy, during the invasion we never saw a German tank. The Germans had a couple of Panzer divisions, but Hitler wouldn’t release them to engage the Allied advance. We had the Germans completely confused, they thought the main invasion would be at the Port of Calais and Normandy was only a diversionary attack,” he explained.
Lockwood’s company was lucky. If it had run into a German’s 68-ton King Tiger tank with 7 inches of steel armament up front topped off by an 88 millimeter gun they would have been between a rock and a hard spot. Their 57–millimeter gunned would hardly put a dent in such a beast.
He put it this way, “It would be like trying to kill an elephant with a .22.”
Most of the time his unit provided additional fire power for the ever-advancing 29th Infantry Division. They steered clear of enemy tanks.
“We’d be sitting on top of a hill and our company wanted to take the next town. We’d provided the 29th with the only artillery it had. We’d fire into a German town and the division would march in and take it,” he said.
Lockwood and the 175th were in the thick of the fighting when Allied forces broke out at St. Lo, France. From there they moved on to the Port of Breast which the 1st Army reduced to rubble and took away from the Germans after six weeks of fighting.
“After Breast we took trucks across France and caught up to the rest of the army near the Belgium border. The 29th Division and my artillery unit missed the Battle of the Bulge.”
It began in mid December 1944 and developed into the biggest battle on the Western Front during World War II with more than 1 million soldiers involved.
“Before we went into Germany we went to Holland. The people in Holland thought we were great. They had been severely mistreated during the German occupation of their country,” he said.
“We saw our first German tank at Aachen. We were sent out to knock off these big Tiger tanks. Our 57-millimeter gun didn’t have much effect on a Tiger tank. As far as I’m concerned our gun was a waste of time.
“By the time we cross the Rhine River and drove into Germany the Germans were pretty well whipped. Thousands of unarmed German soldiers were walking along roads going west hoping to reach American lines before the Russians caught up to them,” Lockwood said.
“We got within 25 miles of Berlin, but we stopped at the Elbe River and waited for the Russian Army to arrive from the East. We partied with the Russians at the Elbe,” he said. “They were a rag-tag group of soldiers. Their heavy equipment was pulled by horses.
“We were at the Elbe when the Germans signed the surrender agreement on May 8, 1945. In fact, a few weeks earlier we heard about Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 15 from German civilians. They told us, ‘Your president has died.””
For the next few months the 175th Artillery Company that Lockwood served with became part of the occupation forces. When he and some other soldiers sailed into New York Harbor six months after VJ-Day (Victory of Japan) there was no brass band to meet them at the dock.
“I got discharged from the service at Fort Monmouth, N.J. immediately and went to work. For the next 30 years I worked for the Royal Globe Insurance Company, an English firm, until I retired in the ’70s,” he said. Lockwood was married to Ruth for 44 years, until her death a few years ago. They have a daughter, Liz Hill, who lives in the Port Charlotte area.
Name: Philip Lockwood, Jr.
D.O.B: 2 May 1924
Hometown: West Medford, Mass.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 14 July 1943
Discharged: 31 Jan. 1946
Unit: 175th Infantry Anti-tank Company
Commendations: European-African-Middle Eastern Ribbon, Bronze Arrowhead, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Normandy (D-Day), Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on March 12, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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