What was the basic load for an infantryman landing at Normandy just after D-Day?
The first thing we had were fatigues that were impregnated against chemical attack. These fatigues were fixed up so that if the enemy used mustard gas it wouldn’t penetrate. Also, you couldn’t sweat through them. So, they were really awful hot and, God, after a few days, you could smell soldiers a mile away. Finally, they decided that there wouldn’t be a chemical attack, and we got out of the impregnated clothing — it was the greatest relief. It was almost the greatest relief in the war. They carried a blanket and a shelter half, which they didn’t need, ammunition, grenades and pyrotechnics, extra bazooka ammunition, and lots of extra machine gun ammunition. Every rifleman came in with a little extra which they dropped in the assembly area, plus mortar ammunition. When they got off the ships, they were loaded because they weren’t expected to go directly into an assault, and they didn’t. So, we brought a lot of stuff when we came in, which we dropped in the final assembly area. It became sort of the first reserve of ammunition. I might add that I think we still had some of that ammunition when the war was over because, as you know, the infantry in World War II didn’t shoot much small arms ammunition, except the machine guns. So, that was about it.
They had K-rations in those days, which looked like a brick, but not the C-rations. C-rations in those days were the next step up. The assault ration was a candy bar. It was a chocolate bar. The artillery ate B-rations. Most of us also carried an escape and evasion kit, and a little map, which everybody later wore as a scarf. They were marvelous silk scarves with a map of the Cotentin Peninsula on them. We also had some other survival equipment. I have forgotten everything the kit contained, but there were some halizone tablets, a small compass, a fishhook, and a couple of other things like that, which, of course, nobody used. So, that was what we went in with.
And gas masks. They kept them during the first month and then the assumption was made that there wouldn’t be a gas attack so they turned in the gas masks and the impregnated clothing. There were a few gas scares in Normandy. Sure, it was just smoke, white phosphorus or something like that, but there were several occasions when the troops thought that they were being gassed and yelled “gas,” and then ran away.
Yes, they had entrenching tools.