Omaha beach was a hell-hole where in just a few hours, over two thousand U.S soldiers were slaughtered. This event took place during World War Two in Operation Overlord, the start of the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
The invasion/liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny began on the June 6th, 1944, under the codename of Operation Overlord. It still remains the biggest operation of its kind in history.
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The invasion took place on the Normandy coastline in France. The United States, Canadian and British forces made up the allied invasion force and they each had their own specific landing zones on the Normandy beaches. They were split up into five designated areas.
The American sectors were chosen by General Dwight. D. Eisenhower. Omaha and Utah beach (U.S.A) Sword and Gold beach (British) and Juno beach (Canadian)
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower 1890 – 1969
It is the landings at Omaha beach that this page is attributed to, as it was the most notorious of all the landing zones and was responsible for the greatest lost of life. Omaha beach was assaulted by men of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division and 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division and two Battalions of the U.S Rangers.
Omaha was the largest assault area out of the five. It covered a stretch of over six miles from Port-en-Bessin on the East to the Vire river on the West. A third of the beach was defended by a ten foot high seawall and was over-looked by cliffs that were hundred seventy feet high in places.
Omaha beach was divided up into eight different sectors codenamed: Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red.
It was known that Calais was the most heavily defended area of France and was one of the reasons that the invasion took place in Normandy, but that is not to say that Normandy was not heavily defended, it was. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had organized Normandy's defences when he had been in charge of all the actual coastal defences on the behest of Hitler.
The seafront had a formidable line of defences and fortifications that included mines, traps and obstacles. Most of these defences it must be said were designed to be hidden under high tide. The landings actually took place at low tide hence most of the traps etc could be seen sitting on the surface of the beach as the landing craft closed in. A small mercy perhaps!
There were a total of twelve strong points along the Omaha sector, these were called Widerstandsnester or resistance nests. These were all placed strategically with foresight being applied to the possibility of an invasion in these areas, regardless of how remote that possibility was. Below is a diagram of the strong points.
The defences were strong to say the least, but either way, the marines still had to wade up those beaches. Thousands never got any further than the beach of course, as they were simply mown down by relentless German MG42 machine gun fire.
These strong points the marines had to attack were basically fortified fighting positions that covered large sections of beachhead and gave a good arc of fire over these areas. Indeed the much revered and highly accurate MG42 machine gun with its rate of fire of 1200 rounds per minute was installed into these points to spray the entire beach area from the cliff tops...which it did with great success.
Below is shown the fearsome MG42, it was such a terrifying weapon that the United States produced a training movie for soldiers who would face it.
The fearsome MG42 fired one thousand two hundred rounds of 7.92mm ammunition per minute and had a maximum range of over two thousand meters. Nicknamed Hitler's Buzzsaw by allied troops due to the sound it made when fired. Most machine guns have a rat-a-tat-a-tat sound, the MG42 just barked a continuous roar like a piece of card being torn. See more about the MG42 on my dedicated webpage by clicking the image below.
There were also eight huge reinforced concrete casements which contained guns up to 88mm surrounded with thirty-five MG42 machine gun pillboxes. Thankfully there were no coastal guns in place at Omaha.
Three German battalions of the Elite 352nd Infantry Division including the 5th Company of the 916th were manning these areas at the time of the landing.
They were battle hardened and well seasoned soldiers, many had seen action on the Eastern Front.
"...We had a bad break tactically because the German 352nd Infantry Division was on a counter-attack training exercise at Omaha Beach. So instead of a fortress battalion you know, with kind of second rate troops, we had a whole damned infantry division in front of us. We hit the sand behind the bodies of the amphibious engineers and tried to advance a bit, but there was a large German bunker in front of us, and its machine gun fire hit us every time we tried to move..."
"We didn’t have any communication with the American destroyer behind us because the naval officer had been killed, his driver too, and the radio set destroyed, so we planned an assault. But before we could get organized, there were huge demolitions around the bunker. Thank God we hadn’t moved out yet, an American destroyer had moved in and was firing direct with 4-inch guns into the bunker..."
Capt Edward McGregor, US 1st Infantry Division
RIVERS OF BLOOD
Omaha was to be a killing field of hideous proportions...The movie Saving Private Ryan accurately depicted the beach after the assault as seen in the image below.
There were indeed rivers of blood streaming down the beach and the sea was red with it. Mutilated bodies with arms, legs and heads blown off, bodies with their innards protruding, all littered the sea shore. It was truly as scene straight out of hell.
The actual transcript below was a battle report sent from the U.S 5th Corps on Omaha Beach, 08:30a.m. June 6th, 1944...
"...Assault units disintegrating. Very heavy losses. Enemy fire prevents crossing of the beach line. Landing units bunching up in a very confined area. Engineers unable to clear paths through minefields and cannot destroy beach obstacles. Elements of the 352nd Infantry Division identified. "
Below is a dramatic reconstruction of the Omaha beach landings as portrayed in the war movie Saving Private Ryan. The movie was quite accurate, as it depicted the slaughterhouse that the beach had become, men died in their droves.
The first wave of two hundred landing craft approached the beaches from twelve miles out at approx 06:30 hrs. It was soon realised that the naval pre-bombardment of the shore had not damaged the German defences as much as was hoped and they were relatively still intact.
The Germans expected the main invasion was to be at Calais but the defences at Normandy were still very strong.
The 16th Regiment landed on the eastern sectors of the beach Easy Red and Fox Green with the 116th Regiment on its right. The Rangers, were assigned to take the bluffs on the west end of the 116th's sector. Three companies of this Ranger force assaulted the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, three miles west of Omaha Beach. Their basic duty was to destroy the artillery guns atop the point. They met with heavy resistance.
Omaha was a disaster from the start, special DD - Duplex Drive - Sherman tanks nicknamed Donald Ducks by the Americans, were tanks that were fitted with big canvas floatation screens and propellers that allowed them to sail like a boat.
The propellers can be seen in the photo below on this DD with its flotation screen raised. It was an ingenious concept except that it needed calm seas to float properly.
They had a top speed of just four knots...but it was a tank after all! Twentynine of these DD Shermans were released out of their landing craft, but they didn't fair very well. The problem was that they were released into choppy seas and all apart from two of them sank minutes later as they tried to negotiate the heavy waves. The tanks just ended up getting swamped and it did not take much to sink these thirty ton craft.
Below is shown the DD Sherman tank with the flotation screen retracted and ready for combat.
Most of the tank crews managed to get out before they sank. The two surviving tanks that made it ashore were ineffectual and within a few minutes of making it to the beach were destroyed by accurate German artillery. On the Utah beach, it has to be said that these swimming tanks worked very well, with most, if not all of them getting ashore to support the infantry.
The 1st Infantry Division attempted to utilize amphibious self propelled DUKW's to carry men, arms, ammunition, sandbags, general supplies and 105mm howitzers for deployment on the beach head.
Twelve of the thirteen deployed DUKW's sank due to being overloaded, rough seas and other causes, overall eleven howitzer cannons being carried in DUKW's sank to the bottom of the channel. The DUKW was another great concept but it was perhaps used with too much enthusiasm and not enough buoyancy.
The condition of the initial assault was going so bad that Lt General Omar Bradley US 1st Commander aboard the USS Augusta contemplated cancelling it. The landing, he surmised, should be somewhere else along the coast where resistance may have been lighter. This reaction however was not taken up and the slaughter continued.
Lt General Omar Nelson Bradley ( 1893-1981 )
Out of a total of two hundred landing craft carrying the first wave of troops, ten were hit by direct German gunfire instantly killing most of the men aboard. None of the two hundred landing craft were actually sunk but all received damage under the heavy fire. Some came ashore ablaze, whilst others took hits in the engines and blew up as a result.
Above we see an actual photograph of a landing craft as she heads ashore with smoke billowing out of her after receiving a direct hit.
Strong winds and strong currents were responsible for throwing many landing craft off course and making progress difficult. Many of the troops became seasick. The landing craft were fired upon by the German positions as they closed in on the beach, the troops could hear the bullets smacking into the landing craft ramp doors and whizzing over their heads before they were opened.
The image below from the movie Saving Private Ryan depicts a German MG42 as it slaughters troops on Omaha beach. The unprotected guys on the beaches didn't stand a chance, it was the proverbial " turkey shoot " as far as the Germans were concerned.
One of these actual MG42 machine gunners who survived the war stated that he actually got through ten thousand rounds of ammunition whilst defending the beach head. He only left his position when he ran out of bullets, stating that he felt bad for the Americans he was killing, but continued to do his duty.
As the landing craft closed in and the doors eventually opened to allow the soldiers to disembark the German MG42 machineguns sprayed them with deadly accurate fire, sadly in many instances everyone aboard was cut down and killed. Like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel!
This sad fate befell many of the soldiers as they came ashore, as correctly depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks...well worth watching if you haven't do so already.
As earlier said and reiterated here, lest we forget...Omaha beach was a scene from Hell, the sea was red with the blood of the dead and dying.
Casualties in the first fifteen minutes of those who first hit the beach was very high at sixty six percent. Meaning that only thirty four percent survived, and many of those thirty four percent were unfortunately killed or incapacitated within another fifteen minutes! Many theologians who profess that hell is actually down here, on earth, may indeed be justified in their musings.
The wounded are helped ashore, many times they were still under heavy gunfire. There is not much sentiment in war and the wounded were still shot at. Many medics who were attending the wounded were also killed, killed as they were hard to distinguish from the combatants even with the red cross painted on their helmets.
Many soldiers left landing craft either through the ramp doors or throwing themselves over the side to find themselves in water about twenty foot deep, they sank straight away with the weight of their kit pulling them down. The majority drowned.
Soldiers took cover behind many of the beach obstacles and stayed there pinned down until they were finally shot by MG42 fire. Of course several groups of men did manage to get to the shingles at the end of the beach but were in a hapless condition. When they got there, many were wounded or without most of their kit. It was a terrible struggle to gain any ground, they had to keep moving from obstacle to obstacle dodging bullets and bombs.
Regardless of enemy opposition, the men just kept wading ashore all up the entire beach-head.
Many that managed to get out of the more fortunate landing craft and make some headway up the beach were picked off by snipers. Also various small arms fire and a constant barrage of hell made it almost impossible. The sea was red as was the beach, red with the shed blood of over two thousand four hundred men killed or seriously wounded.
Colonel George Taylor, 16th Regimental commander, saw men bunched up taking casualties from artillery and mortar fire. He told his troops:
"There are two kinds of people that are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now, let's get the hell out of here."
Slowly, small groups of troops began to move and force their way up the bluff. Company G, 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry, led the way off beach sector Easy Red, up a mine field to the bluffs beyond. And with Bangalore torpedo explosives they blasted a way through the barb wire defences and after this had been achieved they could invade the inner sanctuary of the German reinforcements.
THE LAST STAGES
The U.S Army kept advancing as best they could and as stated earlier with courage, valour and initiative, small groups of men managed to gain control over the heights and beach exits with close quarter fighting. The German defences were actually taken from the rear. The U.S Navy got their ships in very close to the shoreline practically scraping the bottom of their hulls in doing so to fire point blank at the German defences.
By mid-day the beachhead with God, guns, guts, getup n go as one U.S Army officer put it, was generally secured. The U.S actually ended up landing thirty four thousand troops. The Germans lost one thousand two hundred men dead or wounded which was about twenty percent of their total strength. They had no reserves coming in to replace them and dwindling ammunition supplies, hence the battle to maintain the beachhead was eventually lost.
The main reason for this was that Hitler was still convinced that Normandy was just a diversion and still had most of his forces concentrated around the Calais area. Below the photo depicts the secured beach head with heroic men of the 29th, 1st infantry and US Rangers coming ashore in their droves.
It was not the end of the beginning it was the beginning of the end of the evil Nazi regime, a regime that had strangled Europe for eleven years. In eleven months time, Hitler would be dead after committing suicide in his bunker as the Allies closed in, and the war in Europe would be over.
STATISTICS AND LOGISTICS
The Americans launched their landing craft too far out at twelve miles. They should have sent the armored forces in first from a shorter distance, like the British successfully did at Gold beach. The German defences should have been wiped out or at least decimated form off shore ships and heavy bombers before embarking.
The tragic waste of life could have been minimized had some or all of the above been taken into consideration. Maybe it was just a mixture of bad luck, bad timing and bad weather.
D-Day memorial on Omaha beach representing all nationalities and rightfully including the German dead. In death there are no sides, there are no enemies, just death.
On a personal note I would like to say a thank you to all of the brave men and women who fought with so much valor in Word War Two.
Page created June 11th 2002. Updated December 8th 2012