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Omaha Beach: Assaulting Hitler's Doorstep D-Day June 6 1944

BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History

Omaha Beach: Knocking on the Devils Door

Standing on the flagship Augusta, stationed off the coast of Normandy near Omaha Beach, Lieutenant General Omar Bradly plugged his ears with cotton as his command ship unleashed its massive guns toward the German troops on the beach. To execute the attack the assault force totaled over 40,000 men and 3,300 vehicles with naval support provided by 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 12 destroyers and 105 other ships. Just a few hours earlier more than 11,000 planes spearheaded the Allied invasion pounding German defenses all along the coast of Normandy, France.

Deeply concerned about the Allied attack on Omaha Beach, Bradly focused his binoculars on the landing craft as they sped toward the beach. It was estimated that the Nazis had planted 4 million landmines along Normandy's beaches to greet the Allied invasion. Operation Overlord, was the grand Allied plan to land more than 150,000 troops on five invasion beaches, codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. The invasion was preceded by an airborne attack involving three divisions, two American and one British. The airborne troops would arrive by glider or parachute to seize key objectives to help support the amphibious landings. Senior Allied commanders knew the entire invasion plan was incredibly risky. At worst, failure meant losing the war. At best, it meant it would take months, possibly years, to recover in order to try again. The Second World War had already been raging for over five bloody years, and the 122 million citizens of Europe dreamed of the day when they would be free of the Nazi reign of terror.

The airborne phase was particularly dangerous. General Dwight David Eisenhower, senior commander at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), shouldered the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of Operation Overlord. Eisenhower accepted his role and wrote a brief statement that, in the event of the unthinkable, was to be released to the media. It basically stated "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt is is mine alone." Senior British commander Leigh-Mallory urged in writing that the American airborne plan should be scrapped. Eisenhower weighed his options and decided it would proceed as planned. With the worst weather in the English Channel in 50 years years threatening to disrupt the attack, Eisenhower ordered a postponement of one day to June 6, 1944, for the invasion.

Peering through the black smoke covering Omaha Beach to his horror, Bradly watched the first wave of troops wading ashore under murderous rain of machine gun, rifle, mortar, and artillery fire. Up to a few hours before he had believed that an inferior and overextended German division, the 716th, was holding the coastal area around Omaha Beach. But just before he left England, Allied intelligence had received information that an additional German division had been moved to the invasion area. They arrived too late for Bradley to inform his commanders of the new situation. Now American troops of the 1st and 29th divisions were quickly heading toward Omaha Beach, oblivious, that the tough, battle-tested 352nd Division now waited for them to land on the beach.

The Allied problem was to land, penetrate the Atlantic Wall, and secure a bridgehead suitable for reinforcement and expansion. If the Germans knew where and when the attack was taking place they could surely concentrate enough men, tanks, and artillery at the point of attack to defeat the assault. Amphibious operations are inherently the most difficult to carry out in the art of war. Few amphibious, attacks have ever been successful. In World War II, the record got better. By the end of 1943 the Allies had launched three successful amphibious attacks, one in North Africa, and two in Italy, all under the command of General Dwight David Eisenhower. However, none of these coastlines had been fortified. These thoughts must have been bouncing about Bradley's head as he watched his troops approach the beaches on June 6,1944. It was estimated that the Nazis planted 4 million landmines along Normandy's beaches to stop the Allied invasion. Hitler was convinced that if the invaders could be successfully resisted in the early stages of an assault, even for a day, the attack would fail.

H Hour 0630 : Normandy France June 6 1944

Through the fog of war American troops of the 1st Infantry Division wade ashore onto the killing field known as "Omaha Beach" on D-Day June 6,1944.

Through the fog of war American troops of the 1st Infantry Division wade ashore onto the killing field known as "Omaha Beach" on D-Day June 6,1944.

Months before D-Day Eisenhower meets with his generals to plan out the invasion of Normandy, France. Eisenhower is seated in the middle of the front row.

Months before D-Day Eisenhower meets with his generals to plan out the invasion of Normandy, France. Eisenhower is seated in the middle of the front row.

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, in the early morning of June 6,1944.

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, in the early morning of June 6,1944.

A member of the American 82nd Airborne division meets with members of the French resistance on D-Day.

A member of the American 82nd Airborne division meets with members of the French resistance on D-Day.

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on June 6,1944, filled with American and British troops destined for the beaches of Normandy.

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on June 6,1944, filled with American and British troops destined for the beaches of Normandy.

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops the morning of the D-Day landings.

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops the morning of the D-Day landings.

Map of the beaches and first day advances of Allied troops on D-Day.

Map of the beaches and first day advances of Allied troops on D-Day.

Carrying their equipment, US assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background. Among them would be J.D. Salinger the author of "The Cather in the Rye."

Carrying their equipment, US assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background. Among them would be J.D. Salinger the author of "The Cather in the Rye."

Complete Map of Commanders and Beaches  of D-Day June 6,1944.

Complete Map of Commanders and Beaches of D-Day June 6,1944.

American Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc an important first day objective of D-Day.

American Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc an important first day objective of D-Day.

American assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. More than two-thirds of the first wave would die on the beach.

American assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. More than two-thirds of the first wave would die on the beach.

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach under light enemy fire.

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach under light enemy fire.

British troops under German artillery take cover after landing on Sword Beach.

British troops under German artillery take cover after landing on Sword Beach.

Operation Fortitude was created to confuse Hitler as to were the D-Day landings would take place. Using dummy tanks and landing craft Fortitude would create Allied ghost armies.

Operation Fortitude was created to confuse Hitler as to were the D-Day landings would take place. Using dummy tanks and landing craft Fortitude would create Allied ghost armies.

Operation Fortitude decoys used to confuse German air reconnaissance.

Operation Fortitude decoys used to confuse German air reconnaissance.

Dummy landing craft part of Operation Fortitude 1944.

Dummy landing craft part of Operation Fortitude 1944.

The Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery near the beaches of Normandy 70 years after the battle.

The Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery near the beaches of Normandy 70 years after the battle.

The La Cambe German war cemetery, near Bayeux also near the beaches of D-Day.

The La Cambe German war cemetery, near Bayeux also near the beaches of D-Day.

The Bayeux Commonwealth war cemetery the final resting place for the British soldiers who would die that day on the beaches of Normandy.

The Bayeux Commonwealth war cemetery the final resting place for the British soldiers who would die that day on the beaches of Normandy.

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, overlooking Omaha Beach the bloodiest sector of the D-Day landings.

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, overlooking Omaha Beach the bloodiest sector of the D-Day landings.

H-Hour Bloody Omaha Beach

Everything the Germans had learned in World War I on how to stop frontal assaults by infantry was put to work on Omaha Beach. They laid out the firing positions at angles to the beach to cover the tidal flat and beach shelf with crossing fire, plunging fire, grazing fire from all types of weapons. No area on the beach was left undefended, and the disposition of weapons meant that flanking fire could be targeted anywhere along the beach. Steep escarpments or bluffs dominated the whole beach trapping the attackers on the beach. The sand on Omaha Beach is golden in color, firm and fine, perfect for a weekend of sunbathing and picnicking, but overall it is a narrow beach. It gave the defender an enclosed battlefield and many obstacles for the attacker to overcome, an ideal place to build fixed fortifications, and a trench system on the slope of the bluff and on the high ground looking down on a wide, open killing field for any infantryman trying to cross no-man's-land. The water offshore is too cold for swimming an extended period of time without a wetsuit. Many Americans in the first wave who's landing craft were hit by German artillery over a mile from the beach would enter the water with full combat gear. They either drowned or died of hypothermia before the could swim to the beach. Their boots alone acted as concrete anchors pulling them to the bottom of the channel.

The German defensive preparations and the lack of any defense in depth indicated that their plan was to stop the invasion on the beaches. Three lines of obstacles were constructed in the water. The first line of defense consisted of Belgian Gates with mines attached to the uprights. The second line of defense were logs driven into the sand pointing seaward and also capped with mines, hedgehogs completed the obstacle belt 130 yards from the shoreline. The landing area along the beach was both mined and wired creating a killing ground for the German defenses along the bluffs that lined Omaha Beach concentrated at 12 strong points. They prepared artillery positions along the cliffs at either end of the beach, capable of delivering enfilade fire from deadly 88mm cannons all across Omaha Beach. Positions within each German strong point were interconnected trenches and tunnels, over 60 light artillery pieces were deployed at these strong points. No fewer than 35 pillboxes lined the beach creating a deadly crossfire that raked Omaha with a deadly hail of lead which caught anyone exposed on the beach. The strong points were further protected by large cement roadblocks. The larger artillery pieces were protected from the sea by concrete barriers. There wasn't one inch of the beach that had not been pre-sighted for both grazing and plunging fire.

The German troops defending Omaha were surprised by such an audacious attack as American landing craft approached the beach. Along the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach German soldiers watched with disbelief as the landing craft approached their positions, their fingers on the trigger of machine guns, rifles, artillery fuses, or holding mortar round. Although they held the advantage at that moment, they gazed anxiously toward the massive Allied armada which stretched endlessly beyond the horizon. They must have felt like the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, September 480 B.C., as the Americans hit the beach.

Bloody Omaha Beach

Diagrammatic cross section of the beach at Omaha June 6,1944.  American troops who arrived on Omaha Beach had nowhere to hide from the German machine guns and artillery positioned along the bluffs that overlooked the beach.

Diagrammatic cross section of the beach at Omaha June 6,1944. American troops who arrived on Omaha Beach had nowhere to hide from the German machine guns and artillery positioned along the bluffs that overlooked the beach.

Tank turret of a Mark IV mounted on a Tobruk at one of the strong points on Omaha Beach, June 1944.

Tank turret of a Mark IV mounted on a Tobruk at one of the strong points on Omaha Beach, June 1944.

Widerstandsnest 65 defending the E-1 draw at Omaha Beach today.

Widerstandsnest 65 defending the E-1 draw at Omaha Beach today.

The American Battleship Arkansas engaging German shore batteries off Omaha beach June 6,1944.

The American Battleship Arkansas engaging German shore batteries off Omaha beach June 6,1944.

Arkansas underway on April 11,1944 toward England.

Arkansas underway on April 11,1944 toward England.

Omaha on the afternoon of D-Day once the German resistance had been silenced.

Omaha on the afternoon of D-Day once the German resistance had been silenced.

 Troops 2nd Infantry Division and their equipment going up the bluff via the E-1 draw on D+1, June 7, 1944.

Troops 2nd Infantry Division and their equipment going up the bluff via the E-1 draw on D+1, June 7, 1944.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspects the Atlantic Wall in 1943. Rommel knew the only way to stop the Allied invasion was on the beaches.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspects the Atlantic Wall in 1943. Rommel knew the only way to stop the Allied invasion was on the beaches.

A British soldier poses next to the recently captured German 380 mm gun Todt Battery at Cap Gris Nez soon after D-Day landings.

A British soldier poses next to the recently captured German 380 mm gun Todt Battery at Cap Gris Nez soon after D-Day landings.

German troops building beach obstacles along the beach.

German troops building beach obstacles along the beach.

One of the casemates of the Longues-sur-Mer battery in Normandy, destroyed by naval gunfire during the Allied landings. Some Allied ships fired point blank at German defenses having a devastating effect on German soldiers.

One of the casemates of the Longues-sur-Mer battery in Normandy, destroyed by naval gunfire during the Allied landings. Some Allied ships fired point blank at German defenses having a devastating effect on German soldiers.

Germany's youngest field marshal, Ewin Rommel given the job of preparing the Atlantic Wall for the Allied Invasion. On D-Day he was on vacation in Germany leaving his troops on Normandy  without the proper leadership to repel the invaders.

Germany's youngest field marshal, Ewin Rommel given the job of preparing the Atlantic Wall for the Allied Invasion. On D-Day he was on vacation in Germany leaving his troops on Normandy without the proper leadership to repel the invaders.

What American troops had to deal with on D-Day. Logs driven into the sand pointing seaward and also capped with mines.

What American troops had to deal with on D-Day. Logs driven into the sand pointing seaward and also capped with mines.

Omaha's golden landscape 70 years after the Americans landed. Harbor remains and "Les Braves" monument can be seen on the sand beach top edge of the picture.

Omaha's golden landscape 70 years after the Americans landed. Harbor remains and "Les Braves" monument can be seen on the sand beach top edge of the picture.

The Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach 2012 paying tribute to the troops who paid the ultimate price to take Omaha Beach.

The Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach 2012 paying tribute to the troops who paid the ultimate price to take Omaha Beach.

Assaulting Hell's Doorstep

The Allied commanders disliked the idea of assaulting Omaha Beach, but it had to be done. Both Eisenhower and Rommel realized that if the Allied invaded Normandy, they had to include Omaha Beach among the landing sites. Because the gap between Utah and the British beaches would be too great for a solid bridgehead, so the die was cast for the bloody battle on Omaha Beach.

American generals planned to take the German defenses on Omaha Beach with the use of brute force. With 40,000 men and 3,500 motorized vehicles destined for the beach there would be no shortage of cannon fodder for the Germans manning the defenses on Omaha. There would be so many targets that the Germans defending the beach would run out of ammunition before they ran out of quarry to shoot. The first wave hitting the beach would consist of 2,000 men, followed soon afterward by another 1,000, most of them would die before they even had a chance for fire back at the enemy. Next would come wave after wave of landing craft, bringing reinforcements on a tight, strict schedule. The Allied attack was designed to overwhelm the enemy with firepower using M-1 rifles, BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) to 105mm howitzers, plus amphibious tanks. During the initial assault, nothing went according to plan. Rough seas swamped the amphibious tanks which were to support the initial attack sending them to the bottom of the channel with their crews. American B-17 bombers missed the German defenses that lined the bluffs above Omaha Beach by more than 2 miles due to cloud cover. The most intense fire came from those cliffs and high bluffs at either end of the crescent-shaped beach to the amazement of Bradley who watched the battle unfold aboard his command ship . From two miles out the landing craft in the second wave began to take fire from the artillery from the German strong points located on the beach. The troops riding inside the landing craft became witnesses to the nightmare that was taking place on the beach. The air was filled with desperate screams from the living, who bobbed up and down with the dead, in the ice cold water surrounding the assault boats as they approached the beach.

The intense fire from the beach forced many of the Allied landing craft to drop their ramps too soon in order to avoid destruction. When the Americans stepped out into the surf many sank three to six feet to the bottom of the surf. Less than on-third of the men hitting the beach in the first waves survived the bloody walk from the landing craft to the edge of the beach. The battle tested troops of the American 1st Infantry Division took over 2,000 casualties before they crossed the beach and reached the bottom of the bluffs overlooking Omaha. The beach was littered with dead and wounded reminiscent of a First World War battlefield. The beach became a no-mans-land where nothing living survived.

Images of Overlord

On the first day of the invasion the U.S 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah Beach with only 197 casualties.

On the first day of the invasion the U.S 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah Beach with only 197 casualties.

The colossal Allied armada off Normandy D+1 unloading even more reinforcements.

The colossal Allied armada off Normandy D+1 unloading even more reinforcements.

An American Medic on Omaha Beach.

An American Medic on Omaha Beach.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with First lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division  on June 5, 1944. The would be the first to drop onto Normandy.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with First lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division on June 5, 1944. The would be the first to drop onto Normandy.

No-Man's-Land on Omaha Beach

Small islands of wounded soldiers dotted the sand. Passing troops noticed that those who could sat bolt upright as though immune to any further injury as red hot shrapnel filled the air. They were seemingly oblivious to the sights and sounds surrounding them. An American medic in the middle of all this madness attempted to help the wounded, but he didn't know where to start or with whom. He suddenly ran upon a young soldier sitting in the sand with his leg split open from the knee to the pelvis as neatly as though a surgeon had done it with a scalpel. The wound was so deep, that the medic could clearly see the femoral artery pulsing. The soldier was obviously in a state of deep shock. Calmly he informed the medic he had taken his sulfa pills and shaken all my sulfa powder into the wound. The gravely wounded soldier looked at the medic and asked "I'll be all right, won't I?" The nineteen-year-old medic didn't quite know what to say. He gave the soldier a shot of morphine and gave him some assurance he would be alright. Then he folded the neatly sliced halves of the man's leg together, and carefully closed the wound with safety pins. This is the type of hell the men of the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions endured that day on June 6,1944.

Into the chaos, confusion and death on the beach poured the men of the third wave. The battle had been going on for three hours. Minutes later the four wave came in and was stopped cold. Men lay shoulder to shoulder on the surf. They hid behind obstacles and the bodies of the dead. Pinned down by enemy fire which they had expected to be neutralized, confused by their landings in the wrong sectors, dumbfounded by the absence of the shelter craters they had expected from the Air Force bombing, and overwhelmed by the devastation and death all around them the Americans still alive on the beach battled for just on more second of life.

Individual courage and leadership by the American infantryman kept hope alive on Omaha beach when it looked as if the beachhead would have to be written off. Bradley's ruthless determination to succeed turned the tide of war. Overcome by repeated attacks German pressure finally weakened in the face of the American onslaught. German soldiers manning the strong points on Omaha Beach were crying out for ammunition and reinforcements. But Allied aircraft prevented any reinforcement or re-supply for the Germans. Any attempt to drive an ammunition truck to the forward gun positions would have been an act of pure suicide. The combination of naval gunfire and the desperate courage of the isolated Americans led to the fall of the first strong points on Omaha. After three hours of violent combat, the German front began to waver even on bloody Omaha. Eisenhower's gamble on the weather had paid off. By the day's end the Western Allies had lost over 10,000 men, but had put 145,000 on shore and were threatening the thin German defense and burst into the interior of France. The Allied beachhead was established.

Mulberries of D-Day: The Allies Wonder Weapon

Put together like a vast jigsaw puzzle, an artificial harbor known as Mulberries, would provide the troops of Normandy with a means of re-supply just days after the invasion.

Put together like a vast jigsaw puzzle, an artificial harbor known as Mulberries, would provide the troops of Normandy with a means of re-supply just days after the invasion.

Once the Allies won the beaches the real battle for France would begin. The Mulberries would provide the means to bring in vast amounts of men and material to breakout of the bridgehead at Normandy. It would spell the end for the Third Reich.

Once the Allies won the beaches the real battle for France would begin. The Mulberries would provide the means to bring in vast amounts of men and material to breakout of the bridgehead at Normandy. It would spell the end for the Third Reich.

Remnants of the Mulberry Harbors over 70 years after D-Day.

Remnants of the Mulberry Harbors over 70 years after D-Day.

Mulberry in place at Arromanches, with anti-aircraft guns installed June 12, 1944.

Mulberry in place at Arromanches, with anti-aircraft guns installed June 12, 1944.

Mulberry harbors today in the surf off Normandy massive concrete monuments to the battle for Normandy D-D June 6, 1944.

Mulberry harbors today in the surf off Normandy massive concrete monuments to the battle for Normandy D-D June 6, 1944.

A Whale, a floating roadway, leading to a Spud pier at Mulberry A off Omaha Beach.

A Whale, a floating roadway, leading to a Spud pier at Mulberry A off Omaha Beach.

M1 Garand was a semi-automatic rifle most American troops carried on D-Day. Its 30-06 caliber bullets proved devastating to enemy soldiers.

M1 Garand was a semi-automatic rifle most American troops carried on D-Day. Its 30-06 caliber bullets proved devastating to enemy soldiers.

The bolt action Karabiner 98k remained the primary German service rifle until the end of the war in 1945. It had a much slower rate of fire than the M1 Garand.

The bolt action Karabiner 98k remained the primary German service rifle until the end of the war in 1945. It had a much slower rate of fire than the M1 Garand.

Sources

Ambrose, Stephen. June 6,1944: D-Day The Climatic Battle of World War II . Simon & Schuster , Rockefeller Center 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020. 1994.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. Penguin Books, 375 Hudson Street New York, NY USA 10014. 1989

Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris. Penguin Books, 40 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010, USA. 1983

Ray John. The Illustrated History of WWII. The Orion Publishing Group, Orion House 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane , London UK WC2H 9EA. 2003

© 2021 Mark Caruthers

Comments

Iqra from East County on April 30, 2021:

Hi Mark this is an informative article about the history of D-Day, Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of France. Thanks for sharing

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