OMAHA BEACH : American Troops



 
 
 
 

 


1st Infantry Division
" Big red one "

29th Infantry Division
" Blue and gray "

The stretch of coast coded Omaha is a sandy beach located between Vierville sur Mer to the west and Colleville sur Mer to the east. This 6 km-long beach is flanked on each extremities by cliffs up to 60 meters high and plunging directly into the sea. The beach itself is dominated by a 40 meters high, steep-sloped grassy ridge.

Bracketed between high cliffs, the beach only has five draws of varying suitability. 5 kilometers to the west is the Pointe du Hoc, a 30 meters-high rocky cliff.

The 352.ID and 716.ID are in charge of the defense of this coastal sector. The main line of resistance is made of a serie of WNs bordering the beach and interdicting the access to the draws; no concrete work has been built inland. Backing the beach defenders are several artillery battalions of the 352.ID in position a few miles behind, between La Cambe and Formigny, and equiped with twenty-four 105mm and 150mm howitzers that are able to fire on all of the 6 kilometers of coast.

Omaha Beach sector ( 64Ko )
Omaha Beach Sector

The passive defence is made of several antitank ditches and walls along the beach and numerous beach obstacles: stakes, tetrahedrons, "C" elements and Begian Gates.

The Objectives :

The goal of the landings in this sector is to establish a beachhead between Port en Bessin and the Vire river and then push south towards Caumont and Saint-Lô alongside the Second British Army. Once the beaches have been cleared, the troops will head inland and reach a line going from Isigny to Tour en Bessin and link up with the Rangers at the Pointe du Hoc to the west and the british 47th Royal Marine Commando at Port en Bessin to the east.

The invasion :

The bad weather, the strong tide currents and low visibility will completely disorganize the landing schedules of the first waves assault companies . The preliminary bombardement by the Air Force miss the WNs due to zero visibility, the bombers dropping their loads too far inland. Those are intact defenses that the eight companies of the first wave will face.

The tanks scheduled to support the first assault troops are also missing. The DDs of the 741st Tank Battalion launched off shore nearly all sank due to the strong sea, only two tanks out of 29 of B and C Companies will hit the beach.

At 0630 hrs the first LCAs and LCVPs are approaching the beach and the german open fire furiously, all hell breaking loose the moment the ramps are being lowered. The GIs find a completely flat beach with no cover and raked by german machineguns, AT guns and mortars. On top of that, most of the landing crafts have drifted to the east because of the strong tide currents and men are not landing on their assigned sector and find themselves intermingled with other squads and companies.

Elements of the 1/16th Infantry Regiment
Elements of the 1/16 Inf Rgt
( Robert F. Sargent - USASC )


Company A/116 loses almost all it's officers in the first 15 minutes, the men being pinned down at water's edge, or hiding behind the beach obstacles and refusing to advance, paralysed with fear. Except for a few sectors, it's the same situation all over the beach: men pinned down behind the shingle, behind destroyed vehicles, beach obstacles or lying down at water's edge and advancing only with the rising tide.

The second wave of reinforcements begin to land at 0700 hrs and meet the same fate and men and materiel losses are mounting by the minute.

Nonetheless, begining around 0800, some officers start to organize small groups of men and lead them to assault the first strong points. Despite high casualties, equipment losses and disorganisation, a large portion of the assault troops did not remain pinned down, encouraged and inspired by a handfull of valorous officers and non-comissioned officers who take their lead. These early penetration were to influence the rest of the day's action on Omaha Beach.
The most important condition to improve the situation on the beach was to push the vehicles inland. This was made possible after the destroyers and the 18th Infantry Regiment had reduced the german resistance at the E-1 draw.

LCI 553 land troops on Fox Green ( 42 Ko )
LCI 553 land troop on Fox Green
( USA Signal Corps )

By early afternoon, vehicles were able to advance through the Ruquet valley. For the other draws, the efforts to open them to traffic only succeeded late in the afternoon.

The End of the Day :

The assault on Omaha had succeeded but had been much more harder than what was envisioned. Generally speaking, clearing and organizing the beach had just begun by nightfall. The penetrations made in the morning by relatively small groups lacked the power to thrust deep inland and a fierce german resistance had confined the advance to a narrow beachhead no larger than one and a half mile in the Colleville area. Behind the US lines, german pockets still refused to cease fighting.
Needless to say, none of the D-Day objectives assigned to the 1st Infantry Division had been reached, neither the penetration towards route 13 nor the junction with the british at Port en bessin or the Rangers at the Pointe du Hoc.

As the end of the day a first assesment can be made: it was close call and a disaster had been narrowly avoided. Only 100 tons of materiel had be landed out of the 2,400 planned but more than that, the human losses have been staggering, on the 34,000 men landed, the americans had lost around 4,720 killed, wounded or missing on the beach which would be forever known as 'Bloody Omaha'.