Stories from the past – Captain J.W Finke

Captain John G. W. Finke was the Commander of F Company, who were based in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944, when they left Castletown, Portland for Omaha beach on the Normandy coast.

We were sent this picture of Captain Finke by the 16th Infantry Regiment Association in the USA – and it was great to finally put a face to the name. Whilst still in England in the marshalling area in June 1944, Finke had badly sprained his left ankle, which on the day of the landings was heavily taped. Instead of a rifle, he was clutching a cane. Heading towards the Omaha beach, his landing craft (LCVP) had gone 1,100 yards off course. The plan was that all F Company’s six LCVPs would arrive at the same time, thus providing the enemy more targets than they could deal with, but each was up to 1,100 yards off target and strung out in both position and time. They were supposed to take advantage of dead spots in the German fields of fire, but instead three of the boats were right in the kill zone between German defence nests, WN-62 and WN-61.

When he finally left the landing craft, the water was nearly over Captain Finke’s head and he struggled with his injury to shore. Exhausted, seasick from a two-hour ride and with heavy enemy fire destroying any semblance of an organised assault, the troops were trying to take cover anywhere they could, often behind the defensive obstacles which had teller mines attached to them.

As heavy as the enemy fire was, and as vulnerable as men would be on the move, Finke realised it was worse for them to stay put as stationary targets in the shadow of those teller mines. He therefore walked around whacking people until they moved. John McManus reports in his excellent book, The Dead and Those Dying, “Several times he rapped prone forms to discover they were dead. Other times, he smacked men with is cane several times, got no reaction, and assumed they were dead, only to see their petrified faces, and understand they were too frightened to move.

“Come on, get up, go on!” he yelled, without wielding his cane – then each man could pretend he was talking to someone else. But if he hit a man personally with his cane, there could be no ambiguity – get moving or else – and he was right.”

In this way, he got many of them up and running the several hundred yards to the comparative safety of the shingle bank. By the time he made it there himself he had lost 25 per cent of his command.

In the course of that awful day, Captain Finke would be badly wounded; a compound fracture of the elbow and a broken left tibia. However, with little thought for his own safety, rifle-less and limping on his sprained ankle, he saved many of his men and would, ultimately, survive the war.

Our exhibition entitled, Warm Beer and Cabbages, remembers the time the American Servicemen lived among us in the run-up to D-Day and starts on Good Friday, 19th April to Sunday 23rd June. It commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

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