- Sep 7, 2004
Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Brigham Young
As Your Fearless Scribe watched several thousand Mormons hump each other in glorious ecstasy after their two overtime victory over our beloved Vols, sending Tennessee to an 0-2 record and their worst start in THREE decades, he was reminded of comments made on another board a long time ago. During the time after the National Championship but before the 5-7 2008 season that led to Philip Fulmer's relief from command, there was much chatter that the Vols were stuck in “upper-level mediocrity” and demanding change. People should be more careful what they ask for because they tend to get it, good and hard.
Bye the bye, that previous horrific start was in 1988 when the Majors-led Volunteers lost their first six games. It is the difference between then and now that is most striking. During that whole nightmare, we Vol fans still believed, no, scratch that, we KNEW it would get better. And so it did. Tennessee won its last five games that year and THE VERY NEXT YEAR went 11-1, claimed an SEC title and beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Today, after a decade of ACTUAL mediocrity, we Vols are left staring over a precipice and into an abyss.
On the bright side, Tennessee basketball tips off on 30 October. Despite losing four starters to the NBA, it is a given that Coach Barnes will have his troops coached up and ready to play.
* * * * * * * * *
Sometime around the age of thirteen, I bought a novel named Hell has No Heroes by a guy named Wayne Robinson. It told the story of one tank and its crew from the D-Day landings to the final surrender of Germany. It was a searing narrative and had that certain indefinable “something” that told you “this is real.” Fast forward thirty years to where I find a non-fiction book called The View from the Turret by William Folkestadt telling the story of the 743rd Tank Battalion from D-Day though the end of the war. I flipped to the index and, Lo and Behold, Wayne Robinson was the 743rd Tank Battalion’s official historian!! Folkestad’s father had also served as a lieutenant in the 743rd.
The story of the 743rd tank battalion is but a small bit of the vast Gethsemani that was the 6th of June 1944 on OMAHA beach.
It was called a “DD.” These were M4 Shermans modified to allow the 32-ton monsters to float and swim their way in. It was designed as a typically eccentric British solution to one of the many problems that came to mind when contemplating an amphibious operation designed to shatter the outer shell of Hitler’s Festung Europa. The problem was getting tank support to beach for the infantry. At the time this was first being considered, no proper landing craft existed, so the British came up with the quaint notion of erecting a canvas screen completely around the tank using metal poles and inflatable tubes to hold it up, installing a pair of propellers at the rear of the vehicle and suitably modifying the Sherman’s transmission to drive them and then, by pulling a lever, switch power to the tracks and operate as a normal tank. That last mod gave the contraption its name as the “Duplex Drive.”
In good conditions with a calm sea, there would be twelve to eighteen inches of canvas above the water line.
Then some genius decided that it would be best to launch the DD tanks 4,000 yards from shore. For those keeping score, that’s over two MILES of open sea in a canvas boat supporting 32 tons of steel.
Most everyone knows what happened at OMAHA.
The rough seas scattered the engineers up and down the beach and only a few of the obstacles were taken out.
Worse yet, the Germans on the bluffs had plenty of time to climb out of their bunkers and man the machine gun and mortar strong points and pillboxes overlooking the beach.
Baker and Charlie Companies of the 741st Tank Battalion on the left with the 16th Infantry, were actually launched not 4,000 but 6,000 yards out. The flimsy canvas was no match for 5-foot swells and of the thirty-two tanks in those two companies THREE made it to the beach. They only made it because the ramp on their LCT was jammed and the skipper brought them all the way in. Either way half the D-Day tank force was at the bottom of the channel before H-Hour.
OMAHA beach was a killing ground. The Germans had been digging in on the bluffs overlooking the beach for nearly four years. Bunkers had pictures of visible landmarks by each gunport noting the range and elevation of that landmark. All a German machine gunner had to do was lay his gun on the right azimuth and the right elevation and open fire.
Fortunately for the men of the 743rd, SOMEBODY looked at the rolling swells and canceled the launch. The LCTs would bring the battalion all the way in. However, a strong west-to-east current was running and scattered the invasion boats.
The first phase of the assault was an absolute disaster. The 116th Infantry and the 16th Infantry simply ceased to exist as organized formations. Companies and platoons from both regiments were scattered up and down OMAHA and Item Company of the 16th Infantry landed over a mile east of OMAHA at the foot of a rocky cliff. Having every square inch of the beach zeroed in, the Germans found themselves looking down into a shooting gallery.
In the GI parlance of the day it was a gigantic Sugar Nan Able Fine Uncle.
Folkestadt writes, “The tanks crawling from their steel motorized boxes advanced through the shallow tidal waters preceded by twin brown water fans spewing from beneath the front fenders. The tankers were not alone on the beach for very long. Men and equipment arriving in 30-minute intervals added to the growing congestion both in and out of the cold waters. Crowded soldiers sought safety behind the same defensive works and beach obstacles the tankers and infantry were seeking to clear. All along the front, fire from the heights decimated incoming craft and soldiers, organization and plan quickly gave way to the pressures of survival and the need to escape the beachfront ...
The Germans’ heavy defensive fire was taking its toll on the invaders. Thirty minutes into H-Hour, four 743rd DD tanks on Easy Red were supporting what was later estimated to be fewer than 100 fighting men.”
Don Mason was a gunner on one of the tanks. “After weaving slowly through the mined obstacles that reminded Mason of gigantic children’s jacks, the tank stopped before the road-topped sea wall. All along the seaward side of the bank Mason saw prone, water-soaked soldiers. The tank commander, Sergeant Orlyn Folkestadt, ordered (the tank) to drive along the promenade and look for a slope free of men to use as a route to the road top. Unsuccessful in their search, Mason asked on the tank intercom, “Why won’t these guys move and let us pass?” “Because they’re all dead,” the tank commander replied.”
Sugar Nan Able Fine Uncle.
And so it went. All day long.
Eventually, the men on the beach came to realize that to stay there meant certain death and the beach was so crowded with wreckage that any evacuation attempt would get them all killed anyway. There was only one way out. Forward. Up the bluffs. Get up there and take out those go**amned machine guns.
And so they moved out, in twos and threes, a platoon of troops from both regiments and any number of companies, with a tank here and there providing fire support. Forward, into the fire storm.
Not very many of them made it. But enough did. By noon, some American platoons were 500 yards inland. OMAHA beach had been won, but not by a great plan or by strong leadership by Ike or any other generals or colonels. It had been won by privates and sergeants who took charge, accepted that they probably would not live out the day, and stormed into the teeth of Hell.
About half of the 743rd tanks that made it ashore survived. Once the exits were clear, they, too, made their way up to the top of the bluffs and continued working with the infantry. Once off the beachhead and moving inland, yet another SNAFU cropped up. The terrain behind the beaches featured small fields divided by ancient hedgerows. This hedgerow country would prove to be some of the finest defensive terrain on the planet. The Germans turned each field and every road in the area into a fortified zone. Many a soldier who had survived the hell of OMAHA fell in bitter fights over nameless Norman sheep pastures.
3,881 of the men who landed on OMAHA that day were killed, wounded, or missing.
So how did the team do compared to the Maxims?
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Just exactly how many brain cells does it take to keep a receiver in front of you in a prevent scheme?
2. Play for and make the breaks. When one comes your way … SCORE!
When Guarantano threw that pick during the first series of the second half, we just knew ...
3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don’t let up … PUT ON MORE STEAM!
Sugar Nan Able Fine Uncle
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ballgame.
The 2019 Vols need a Condredge Holloway, Tee Martin or Josh Dobbs. What they have is a 21st Century version of Jeff Olszewski, AKA “The Polish Cannon.”
5. Ball! Oskie! Cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle … THIS IS THE WINNING EDGE.
That last pass play in regulation violated this maxim in its essence.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
Once again, the kickers were a rare bright spot.
Carry the fight to BYU and keep it there for sixty minutes.
Richard Hooker penned a sequel to his hit MASH and it contained a minor character named Goofus MacDuff. MacDuff was described as “90% genius and 10% moron.” Fits our 2019 Vols to a tee.
Unlike, I fear, too many of my fellow Vols, I will be in attendance Saturday at the Chattanooga game. For me it closes a circle. Fifty years ago, at the tender age of 12, I attended my first game at Neyland Stadium. The opponent that September day? Chattanooga.
As Gus McCrae said, “Here's to the sunny slopes of long ago.”
© 2019 Keeping Your Stories Alive
William B. Folkstadt, The View from the Turret: The 743rd Tank Battalion During World War II.
Gordon A. Harrison, Cross Channel Attack: U.S. Army in World War II.
Wayne Robinson, Hell has No Heroes.
"Greater love hath no man ..." The Normandy American Cemetery today. (American Battle Monument Commission)