Normandy France Campaign Staff Ride
From 17-24 March 2012, a combined group of selected cadets of Princeton Army ROTC’s Tiger Battalion and students from Princeton University’s Department of History executed a seven-day military staff ride of the Normandy Campaign in France. Led by Princeton Army ROTC’s Director of Army Education and Commissioning, Lieutenant Colonel Peter G. Knight, PhD the combined group covered the entire campaign from the D-Day landings on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches to the Allied breakout from the hedgerows and coastline in Operation Cobra to the essential destruction of the German 7th Army in the Falaise Gap to the liberation of Paris, which formally marked the end of Operation Overlord. All cadets read historian Antony Beevor’s widely acclaimed book D-Day: The Battle for Normandy and did considerable research in primary and secondary sources in preparation for their trip and their associated battle analysis presentations.
The cadets and other history students had several unique experiences during the staff ride. The most notable experience was the visit to the Norman city of Caen, home of William the Conqueror but also a heavily bombed and embattled city in the 1944 Normandy Campaign. In Caen the group met Mr. Andre Heintz, who, on June 6th 1944, was a 20 year old member of the French Resistance, who aided his fellow citizens at a makeshift hospital in the Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen. At age 92, Mr. Heintz still possessed a very sharp mind, and his presentation to the group and his personal interactions with the group literally made history come alive.
The group was entranced as Mr. Heintz recounted his experiences under Nazi occupation. He described a small radio he kept hidden in a spinach can in his basement by which he monitored Allied broadcasts from Great Britain. He recalled how he learned via a cryptic radio broadcast message on BBC on 5 June 1944 that the invasion was to begin that same night. Talking to Mr. Heintz in person and then seeing his actual radio and likeness on display at the Caen National Memorial Museum was truly amazing. Mr. Heintz is also featured in many other D-Day Museums throughout Normandy, which chronicle the many contributions that he and other members of the French Resistance made to ensure the success of Allied efforts, particularly in the collection of military intelligence and the art of sabotage.
The next day’s visit to Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville Sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach, deeply moved our cadets. There the cadets and students laid floral arrangements at the graves of three Princeton alumni: Army Sergeant Erling Charles Olsen. Princeton Class of 1937; Army First Lieutenant James Gerard Schaefer, Princeton Class of 1940; and Army Second Lieutenant Charles Hancock Wood, Princeton Class of 1942, all of whom died in the European Theater of Operations in 1944. They also found the name of Army Air Corps Sergeant Richard Atkinson Claybrook, Princeton Class of 1935, on the Wall of the Missing. The cadets and students also took part in the retreat and flag lowering ceremony at the cemetery and retired and folded the United States colors that flew over the hallowed ground.
The Cadets of Princeton Army ROTC also presented detailed analytical presentations on several campaign topics to include the German military posture at the time of the Normandy landings; the Battle for Caen in the British/Canadian Sector; the British and American Airborne Division Landings to capture Pegasus Bridge (British 6th Airborne Division), the Utah Beach causeways (101st Airborne Division), and the key crossroads at St. Mere Eglise and the infamous La Fiere Bridge (82nd Airborne Division). A final cadet presentation covered the culminating point of the Normandy Campaign at the Falaise Gap, where the German Seventh Army was almost entirely encircled and rendered combat ineffective by British Commonwealth and American forces in a classic, Army Group level pincer-maneuver.
The staff ride concluded in Paris where the group had the chance to reflect on all they had learned about the Normandy Campaign and the price that was paid by the Allies and the French populace to liberate France from Nazi tyranny. In the final integration phase of the staff ride, Lieutenant Colonel Knight observed that his ROTC cadets had indeed attained all of the desired learning objectives as they provided intelligent answers to the questions of why the Allies won the Normandy campaign and why the Germans lost it. They also accurately identified the “heroes and zeroes” of the campaign and defended their assessments of those key leaders. In the final analysis, this staff ride experience made huge strides in developing the critical thinking skills of our future Army leaders as they followed in the footsteps of history and reflected.
The Princeton Army ROTC program is exceedingly grateful to one of its own alumnus, Mr. John Hurley (Princeton Class of 1986), who was an ROTC cadet who commissioned into the Field Artillery branch of the U.S. Army, where he served on active-duty for 5 years. In the wake of his combat service in the Persian Gulf War, he left the Army and attended Stanford Business School. Since then he has been tremendously successful in the business world, and he generously funded the entire trip to France. Mr. Hurley and his teenage son Ted joined us for two days of the staff ride as we explored Omaha Beach, Normandy American Cemetery, Utah Beach, Brecourt Manor (where 1LT Dick Winters’ “Band of Brothers” of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division earned their initial accolades), St, Mere Eglise, and the La Fiere Bridge. We hope to see Mr. Hurley at Reunion weekend in May. Thanks to his generosity, and the unbridled enthusiasm of the cadets, students, and cadre, the 2012 Normandy Staff Ride was a resounding success! “Princeton- in the Nation’s Service, in the Service of All Nations!”
Princeton Army ROTC Cadets, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Knight, History Department Students, and trip benefactor, Mr. John Hurley with his son Ted, at Normandy American Cemetary.
Cadet Mykola Petrenko places flowers at the grave of Princeton Alumnus, Army 1LT James Gerard Schaefer, Princeton Class of 1940.
Cadet Marjorie Xie places flowers at the grave of Princeton Alumnus, Army SGT Erling Charles Olsen, Princeton Class of 1937.
Princeton Army ROTC Cadets, Lieutenant Colonel Knight, History Department Students, and trip benefactor, Mr. John Hurley and his son Ted, at the U.S. Army Ranger Memorial at Pointe Du Hoc.
Princeton Army ROTC Cadets, Lieutenant Colonel Knight and History Department Students at Hill 262, the key terrain overlooking the Falaise Gap.
Mr. Andre Heintz, age 92, former member for the French Resistance, recounts the Fall of France to the German Wehrmacht in May 1940.
Cadet Hannah Martins sits in silent reflection at Omaha Beach.
Cadet Marjorie Xie briefs the group on the Allied attempts to capture the city of Caen.
Cadet Mykola Petrenko briefs the group on the British 6th Airborne (Pegasus) Division mission, part of which was led by Major John Howard (see bust in center) to capture the Benouville Bridge (now forever known as the Pegasus Bridge). Cadet Petrenko is briefing at the precise spot where Major Howard's glider landed on the morning of 6 June 1944 some 250 meters shy of the bridge objective.
Atop the key terrain of Hill 262, Cadet Kelly Ivins-O'Keefe briefs the Allied plan to destroy the German 7th Army at the Falaise Gap.
Princeton Army ROTC Director, Lieutenant Colonel Peter G. Knight, PhD leads some final discussions with the staff ride group at the Falaise Gap.