Remembering D-Day: GE’s Role in the Invasion That Changed History
June 5, 2014
On June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied soldiers boarded 5,000 ships and landing craft in Plymouth, Southampton and other English ports and embarked on the largest seaborne invasion in history. They headed across the English Channel toward 50 miles of beaches in northern France bristling with heavily armed German units. D-Day, as the June Tuesday became known, opened a new front in World War II and launched a military campaign that liberated large portions of occupied Europe stretching from France to former Czechoslovakia and helped defeat Hitler.
Some 9,000 soldiers died or were wounded during the invasion, including Pfc. Ralph T. Messervey, a brakeman at GE’s transportation plant in West Lynn, Mass. He was reported missing in action on June 9th, three days after the Allied attack started. He was the 49th Lynn worker killed in the war.
Pvt. Grant Crego was one of the thousands of GIs who made it past German trenches, forts and bunkers. He was 19 years old when he landed in Normandy in June 1944. Crego enlisted the year before and left behind a job at a GE plant in Schenectady, NY. When he arrived in Europe, he still carried with him a subscription to Schenectady Works News, a newspaper published by GE (and an ancestor of this publication).
Crego was “somewhere in Belgium” in Sept. 1944, when he shared his view of the invasion with Works News readers in a published letter. “The first bit of General Electric production that I saw on arrival at the beachhead was a huge portable generator and a four-wheeled searchlight, which I knew to be the type made in Bldg. 42,” he wrote. “It sure gave me a feeling of being ‘home’ after months in England.”
The two machines were not the only materiel that Crego recognized. “Since the eventful ‘D’ Day, I have seen thousands of miles of wire, cable, and other necessary materials used both in communication and electrical systems vitally needed over here,” he wrote. “To know that all of these are General Electric made makes me feel very proud to have worked in one of the many plants. To see the thousands of spools of wire answers the questions I used to have in mind as I saw the production going on in Bldg. 109, and wondered: Where could all this be going to?”
Before Normandy, some of the equipment was going to a beach in Maryland. GE workers manufactured and tested electrical systems that went inside D-Day landing craft like the large landing ships for tanks (LSTs) and the smaller landing craft for infantry (LCIs). The Navy even invited a GE team to a dress rehearsal for the invasion, which took place on the shores of Chesapeake Bay on America’s East Coast.
GE also made the turbo supercharger, ignition system and flying instruments for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes that provided air cover for Allied ships heading for France and battled the Luftwaffe above Normandy.
The company also developed a 12,000 horsepower turbo-electric engine for the Buckley-class naval destroyers. The U.S. launched 102 Buckleys between 1943 and 1944, and some took part in the invasion. One of them, USS Amesbury, arrived off the coast of France on D-Day. It attacked German planes with anti-aircraft guns and rescued the crew of a landing vessel that had hit a mine. In August, another Buckley, USS Donnell, dropped anchor outside the liberated port of Cherbourg in Normandy and the city used its engine as a floating power station.
The fighting that summer, fall and winter was brutal. But soldiers like Pvt. Anthony Masi were trying to find a positive side. Like Crego, he had been employed by GE in Schenectady before he enlisted. “It’s been a little rough going here for our doughboys, but the job is being done for you back there, to be technical,” Masi wrote from France. “We will expect victory now in a matter of time.”
Captions and credits from top to bottom:
Landing ships putting cargo ashore on one of the invasion beaches at low tide during the first days of the invasion.Credit: Archives Normandie
A page from River Works News. Courtesy of Chris Hunter, Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady.
Troops in a landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach on the northern coast of France. Credit: U.S. Army
A page from Works News. Courtesy of Chris Hunter, Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady.