While most people have at heard of the “D-Day” invasion of Normandy in France on June 6, 1944, few are aware that the Allies also invaded the Mediterranean coast of France more than two months later on Aug. 15.

Carl Dollins, 83, of Richmond remembers them both because he was there.

As a crewman on a U.S. Navy landing craft, Dollins helped deliver tanks and troops to the beaches for both invasions.

Dollins’ craft, which the Navy called a “landing ship tank,” was one of the 6,000 vessels the Allies used to ferry men and equipment across the English Channel for the Normandy invasion.

Waiting its place in line, Dollins craft and its load of tanks did not hit the beach until June 7, “D-Day plus 1.” Even on the second day of the invasion, there were still pockets of German resistance, including artillery batteries on the French coast, he said.

To prepare the servicemen for the worst, “Our officers told us invasion casualties could run as high as 75 percent,” Dollins said.

In addition to the land-based artillery fire, a few enemy planes managed to strafe ships approaching the shore on D-Day plus 1, he said. Deadliest of all, however, were the mines that the Germans had left in the English Channel.

“We saw three ships sinking as we crossed the channel,” Dollins said. “They had delivered troops to the beaches and were carrying wounded men and prisoners back to England when they struck enemy mines.”

More distrubing than the sinking ships, however, were the bodies floating in the water around the ships, he said.

Dollins saw a small mine-sweeping ship, attempting to clear the channel of mines, fall victim to one itself. “The explosion blew the little mine sweeper out of the water and broke it in half,” he said. “It fell back into the water in two pieces.”

In all, Dollins’ LST made 12 trips to Normandy before being sent to the Mediterranean. Because of its size and slow speed, many sailors said that LST really stood for “large slow target.”

Dollins’ ship and crew prepared for the second invasion of France in the Italian port of Naples, which the Allies had taken earlier in the war.

Before Normandy, there had been other D-Days, the military code for an invasion date, in the western theaters of operation. Landings had been staged in North Africa, Sicily and Italy before the assaults on France.

At least 100,000 of the 450,000 troops who landed in the south of France were from the French colonies of Africa. “My ship carried members of the French Foreign Legion,” he said. “Most of them were African tribesmen.”

Dollins ship landed on the first day of that invasion and encountered much heavier resistance than at Normandy. “The landing craft next to mine was hit and destroyed by German artillery,” he said.

Aug. 15 stands out in Dollins’ memory for another reason. That’s when he received a cable from his wife telling him that they were their daughter had been born.

After the last landing in Europe was complete, Dollins’ ship was sent to Polarmo, Italy where it was painted in camouflage patterns. “Our next assignment was to be the invasion of Japan,” he said.

The flat-bottomed, 300-foot-long craft crossed the Atlantic a second time. It went through the Panama Canal and then up the west coast of the United States to Seattle, Wash., where it was to await the anticipated invasion of Japan.

In Seattle, Dollins was finally examined by a Navy doctor, who told him that some internal organs had been damaged by all the buffeting the ship had endured in battle as well as sailing through storms during its ocean crossings.

“I was taken off the ship put on limited duty and eventually discharged,” Dollins said.

He then returned to Kentucky for a much-awaited reunion with the wife he had married before being sent overseas and the daughter he had never seen.

“I didn’t have a job, but I heard that they were hiring at the Blue Grass Army Depot,” he said. “They needed people for security officers who were trained in the use of firearms, and they hired me on the spot.”

Dollins worked the rest of his career, 39 years, at the depot, also working for its fire department and then the engineering procedures department before retiring in 1984.

His wife, the former Virginia Robinson, died July 28 last year,” just five days short of our 62nd wedding anniversary,” Dollins said.

This Veterans Day, Dollins is celebrating life as a newlywed. He and the former Jewell Isaacs were married Oct. 17. “Virginia and Jewell had been best friends for most of their lives,” Dollins said. “My wife and I had told each other that whoever survived the other should remarry,” he said.

When the war started, Dollins was a teenager working on his family’s Garrard County farm.

Most young men were expecting to be drafted into the service soon after graduating from high school, Dollins recalls.

Because productive farms were vital to the war effort, Dollins’ father told him, “You know I could get you out of (the draft),” he said.

“I said all of my friends are going, and I’m no better than they are,” he told his father. “When my number came up, I went and did my duty.”

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669.

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