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My Coast Guard
Commentary | June 7, 2024

Into the Jaws of Death — Coast Guard landing craft at D-Day

By Scott T. Price, Chief Historian, U.S. Coast Guard

The Long Blue Line blog series has been publishing Coast Guard history essays for over 15 years. To access hundreds of these service stories, visit the Coast Guard Historian’s Office’s Long Blue Line online archives, located here: THE LONG BLUE LINE ( 

U.S. Army troops crouch behind the bulwarks of a landing craft as it nears Omaha Beach on D-Day. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Photographers Mate Robert F. Sargent.)

Among the many historical items kept by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office is a copy of one of the most reproduced photographs to come out of June 6, 1944 — D-Day. The photograph was captured by Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent and entitled Into the Jaws of Death. Sargent, a veteran of the invasions of Sicily and Salerno, took the photo from his landing craft at sector Easy Red of Omaha Beach around 7:40 a.m. local time. 

Operation Neptune, the naval assault phase of Operation Overlord, was the largest single combat operation the Coast Guard has ever taken part in. During those initial days of the liberation of Western Europe, the service demonstrated its expertise, versatility, and value as a maritime service in several ways: combat operations; ship and small boat handling; loading and discharging cargo at sea and ashore; directing vessel traffic; and search and rescue operations — in most cases under enemy fire. 

But the Coast Guard carried out another important mission — sending combat photographers and correspondents in with the troops. Thus, Sargent was at Normandy where he was able to capture the most famous invasion in modern history. 

The Historian’s Office recently acquired a copy of the press release issued with the publication of Sargent’s photograph. Printed on brittle mimeograph paper, it has browned with age but is still legible. It was written by Coast Guard Combat Correspondent Thomas Winship who quotes Sargent extensively. 

In it, Sargent details his experiences from that morning’s action and gives a firsthand glimpse through his eyes of what it was like to take troops into an enemy-held beach under fire. He also lists the crew of the landing craft transporting who took him and their Army passengers ashore safely at Omaha Beach. 

This was one of the first Allied photographs taken on D-Day approved by censors and sent out over the wires that same day. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Combat Photographer S. Scott Wigle.)

The coxswain of the boat was William E. Harville of Petersburg, Virginia — 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, Pennsylvania. 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 Lt. (j.g.) James V. Forrestal, USCGR, of Beacon, New York. 

The attack transport Samuel Chase, part of Task Group 124.3, arrived in the transport area ten miles off Normandy’s shore and anchored on the morning of June 6th, at 3:15 a.m. The ship began embarking troops at 5:30 a.m. The first waves got underway at 5:36 a.m. and the last wave launched a little after 6 a.m. 

The trip was rough, according to Sargent and others, with many of the amphibious tanks swamping well off the beaches. He noted the soldiers aboard were all quiet and everyone was “cold and soaked to the skin” with waves breaking over the small vessel’s “square bow.” As they approached Omaha Beach, they could see the tide was slowly coming in but most of the obstacles the Germans had placed to prevent exactly what the Allies were attempting to do were still visible and in place. 

Sargent goes on to describe seeing a disabled amphibious tank and another landing craft that broached along the beach just as they got ready to lower the bow ramp. German artillery bracketed their landing craft, but they managed to disembark all the troops in chest-deep water without taking any casualties and then deftly maneuvered back out to sea. Although they were unscathed, he described what happened in the landing craft close aboard their port side. The coxswain of that landing craft was Delba L. Nivens, a “sandy-haired, lanky sailor” from Amarillo, Texas. His crew consisted of boat engineer John Schell and bowman Leo Klebba.