D-Day Assault: Beach Landings (June 6, 1944)


Figure 1.--The first landing wave on Omaha was scheduled to begin at 6:30 am. Because of the resulting carnage, little film footage survuves of the first hours. This is a rare image of the beach assault, part of the larger second wave. Here we see the second wave of the American landings. The iconic photograph was taken from a landing craft at sector 'Easy Red' around 7:40 a.m. Notice the cliffs commanding the beach where the Germans built strong defensive emplacements. Here from the highground, the Germans had a free line of fire and swept the beach and the Americans coming ashore with deadly machine gun fire. And notice the virtual absence of any cover on the wide expanse of beach in front of them. To avoid Rommel's underwater obstacles, the Allies chose to land at low tide. This created the deadly expanse of open beach on Omaha as you can see here. The assault force had to cross it and it proved deadly. This landing craft with an experienced crew came very close to the beach. Others dropped the ramp further off shore meaning the men had to wade through deeper water to even get to the beach. Some landing craft were hit by machine gun fire at the moment the ramp dropped. These men were at least able to reach the beach. The iconic image symbolizes the beginning of the end of the NAZI tyranny -- the Americans opening the door to the destruction of Hitler and his obscene NAZI regime. Click on the image to see a NAZI response to a famed Jewish photographer at the very beginning of the NAZI regime. . Photographer: Coastguardsman Robert F. Sargent

The primary Allied assault came with dawn. The largest armada ever assembled brought the invasion force to the Normandy beaches. The invasion armada had 200 ships which pounded the German positions. The landing force was under the command of Montgomery and totaled 130,000 men. The British and Canadian forces were the British Second Army under Miles C. Demsey. The American forces were the U.S. First Army under Omar Bradley. After dawn at 6:30 am came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. The landing forcec faced Element C, ramps, and hedgehog obstacles. Fighting was intense, but the beacheads were quickly established, except at Utah Beach where the issue was in doubt until the afternoon. Many of the D-Day casualties occurred at Omaha Beach.The British struck on the left at Sword. Sword was the most difficult British beach. They encountered heavy German mortar and machinegun fire. The British, however, managed toi get their DD tanks shore which plyed a key role in supressing the beach defenses. The Canadians at Juno fought their way shore and quicky and succeded in landing tanks to move inland. The British at Gold were also able to quickly land tanks and move off the beach. As the Germans did not have their armour deployed close to the beach the American armour played a key role in the engagements establishing the beachhead. The Americans were on the right at Omaha and Utah. Omaha proved to be the most deadly. The beach fronted on 100 ft cliffs cut by four ravines. Hardened German positions and a sea wall provided cover for machine gun and motor fire that desimated the landing force. Most of the American tanks failed to make it to the beach and the first wave had little armour support against whithering fire from still in tact beach defenses. Here the issue was in doubt for several hours. The beach was littered with dead and wounded soldiers. Bradley for a time considered abandoning the beach. American destroyers came in close to provide covering fire and somehow small units made it up the cliff and overpowered the German defenders. The Americans at Utah landed at the wrong location. It proved to be lightly defended. Many of the deffending units were Ost Battalions, non-Germans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They readily surrendered or ran. The Americans on Utah quickly moved inland and the paratroopers dropped earlier made it impossible for the Germans to oppose the landings at Utah. The key to Overlord proved to be Allied airpower and the airboorne which made it impossible for the Germans to reinforce the beach defenses. The landings were a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this size. Part of the reason was the weather, another the German assessment that the invasion would come at the Pas de Calais.

Invasion Armada

The primary Allied assault came with dawn. The largest armada ever assembled brought the invasion force to the Normandy beaches. The invasion armada had 200 ships which pounded the German positions. The landing force was under the command of Montgomery and totaled 130,000 men.

Landing Force

The British and Canadian forces were the British Second Army under Miles C. Demsey. The American forces were the U.S. First Army under Omar Bradley. After dawn at 6:30 am came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches.

Allied Differences

There were differences between the Americns an British on the lnding tactics. The tw most important were 1) the landing barage and 2) the use of technology. First, The Americans decided to have only a brief landing barage to soften up the beach defenses. On Omaha and Utah beaches in additin to aerial bmbing, the big guns of the assault fleet fired for only a half hour. The British on their beaches had the fleet fire for about 2 hours. The Americans felt that time was important, to strike before the Germans could bring up reinforcements. They aso underestimated the strngth of the German beach defenss. In hindsight, there is general agreement that the British were right. But Hitler's failure tocommit vilble rmored divisions was also importsnt. Second, the British were more open to technological innovation. Thus on their beaches they used Hobart's funnies to solve a range of problems like beaches unsuitable for tanks, land mines, or clearing out pillboxes. The Americans chose not to use the funny looking British vehicles, mostly built around the American Sherman tank.

German Beach Defenses

The Germans were skilled and with Teutnic efficency threw all they had into constructing the Atlantic Wall. Tons of concrete and steel, slave labor and ruthlessly efficent military technology went into constructing te most elaborate defensive wall in human history. The landing forces faced Element C, ramps, and hedgehog obstacles. The Gemans did not know where theAllies would land, but the Pas de Calais and Nmandy were the two mst likely sites. But he knew the Allies would need a port, so especially strong defenses were placed around the ports. This had been the lesson learned by both the Germans and British at Dieppe. Only the British had a sollutio--Mulberry. If they could not seize a port from the Germans, they would bring a port with them. The Atlantic Wall had one fundamental weakness. Nerly 5 years of war had bled the Whermacht. The loses in the East were devestating and increasing. Hiter did not have the man ower needed to adequaely man the Atlantic Wall. He even had to rely on Ost Battalions, essetially the same people he was setting out to exterminate. The Germans in France had the strength to destroy the initial landing wave--if they picked the right beach or could move up the Panzers quick enough.

Fortitude

The most logical place for the Allied invasion was the Pas de Calis. It offered the shortest sea trip and broad sandy beaches. It was also the shortest, most direct route into Germany. The Allies deception campaign to protect the Normandy landings was to convince the Germans that what seemed to be logical cite of the landings was indeed where the Allies would strike. [Holt] General Patton was given the assignment of staging a diversion with the non-existent First U.S. Army Group in Kent. The Germans were convinced that Patton would lead the invasion. Radio traffic was generated and dummy tanks and trucks deployed. There were, however, many other diversions. Patton in Kent was just opposite the Pas de Calais, helping to confirm the German assessment that the invasion would come there. The fact that Patton was in Kent was a factor in convincing the Germans that this was where the main strike would come because the Germans assumed that Patton would command the found forces. Some historians have argued that this was a misuse of Patton. (Patton had been sidelined but no fired by Eisenhower after the slapping incident in Sicily.) Omar Bradley was a competent general. He was not a brilliant commander. The breakout in Normandy may have come earlier if Patton was in command. [Hanson] It seems incredible today given the size of the Overlord landing force that the Germans could have been deceived. It shows not only the Allies mastery of the skies prevented German areial surveilance, but that the Germans had no unturned agents in southern England.

Mine Clearings

The mine is a very inepensive weapon. Yes it is powerful to sink a hugly exesive vssel carryng thousands of men. Aboard a vessel th men are at their most vulnerable. Destroying them after they have landed and are on shore is a much more difficult proposition. The Germans heavily minned the waters off Normandy and the other French beaches. Before the Allied armada could approach the baeches, channels had to be cered to each of the five beaches. But this had to be done just before the landings abs mine claearn would give away the essential secret to the Germans--when and where.

Invasion Beaches

The Allies assaulted five landing beaches at Normandy. It was an event of epic proprtions which has powerfully affected world history to this day. The Americans were on the right at Omaha and Utah. The British struck on the left at Sword and Gold. The Canadians landed at Juno, between the two British beaches. Fighting was intense, but the beacheads were quickly established, except at Omaha Beach where the issue was in doubt until the afternoon. The Germans inflicted many of the D-Day casualties at Omaha Beach. The key to Overlord proved to be Allied airpower and the airborne drops which made it impossible for the Germans to reinforce the beach defenses to prevent at Allied lodgement even at Omaha. The landings were a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this size. Part of the reason was the weather, another the German assessment that the invasion would come at the Pas de Calais. Both OKW and Hitler was convinced of this. This not only affected German preparations, butincredably even days afterwards the response to the Normandy landings. While the Allies were building up their lodgements, the Germans held powerful forces in the Pa de Calais expecting the 'major' invasion. Given the dimensions of the Normandy invsion, it is difficult to understand how any compentent command could have believed that the Allies had the resources for an even larger assault. It speeks to the success of Fortutude as well as failure birdering on incompetence of the Abwehr and OKW.

Sword

Sword was the most easterly landing beach. It proved to be the most difficult British beach. The British objective was to move inland and seize Caen. Caen was important as it was key trabsportation center with a roiad leading directky to Paris. Another objective was to reach the British Airborne forces that staged a glider landing aand seized the Orne River bridge (late at` night June 5). The British 3rd Infantry Division encountered heavy German mortar and machinegun fire when they landed. They managed, however, to get their DD tanks shore which plyed a key role in supressing the beach defenses. The tanks landed helped the British move inland after defeating the shore-line defenses. Taking Caen was overly optimistic. The narrow roads delayed rapid movement. In addition the German 21st Panzer (Hitler Youth) Division was positioned north of the city. The British were probably lucky to get as far as they did. The Panzers were ready to go early in the morning, but did not get permission move until after the British had secured the beach. And by that time the Allied had bombed Caen forcing the Germans to move around the town. Allied fighters also imped their advance. Even so the 21st Panzer prevented the British from reaching Caen. In fact joined by 12th Panzer, the Germans held Caen for weeks. The 1st Special Service (Commando) brigade commanded by Lord Lovat managed to reach the glider force at Pegasus bridge. This effectively secured the left of the Normandy bridgehead.

Juno

The Canadians 3rd Infantry Division as part of the British Second Army landed at Juno, between the two British landing beaches. Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey commanded the assaulting force. The Canadian landing area included the area on both sides of the small fishing port of Courseulles-sur-Mer. There were two smaller villages (Bernières and Saint-Aubin) to the east of Courseulles. Smaller villages were situated in the sand dunes. The Allied planners divided Juno into two assault sectors: Nan Sector (Red, White, and Green sections) to the east and Mike Sector (Red and White sections) to the west. Juno lacked the dramatic heights faced by the americans at Omaha, but offshore reefs posed a major problem. As a result, the Canadians laned later than the other beach assaults. It was felt necessary to land at high tide to clear the reefs, some of which proved to be only seaweed. The later landing meant that the Germans had some time to prepre. The 8th Brigade landed at Bernières in Nan Sector and the 7th Brigade landed at Courseulles in Mike Sector. The first day objectives were to cut the Caen-Bayeux road, seize the Carpiquet airbase west of Caen, and form a link between the two British beachheads (Gold and Sword) flanking Juno. The defending German force was the 716th Infantry Division (mostly the 736th Regiment). They set up positions in the seafront houses which Allied bombers had avoided. The Germans had also fortified the dunes with casemates and dug out positions. The Canadian first wave suffered heavy casualties. They managed to fight their way shore and quicky succeded in landing tanks. By the end of the day they had secured the beachhead and tanks were spearheading the move inland.

Gold

Gold Beach was at the center of the five Allied D-Day landing beaches. Gold was 5 miles wide amd at western end was Arromanches –- the site chosen forr the Mulberry Harbor. The landings at Gold in sharp contrast to Omaha were highly successful. Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey commanded thelandings. The principal assault unit was the British 50th Infantry Division which was part of the British 2nd Army. The main units used in the initial attack were the Dorsetshire, Hampshire, East Yorkshire and Devonshire regiments. The 47th Royal Marine Commandos joned the attack and were attached to the 50th Division. Te British faced the German 716th Division as well as units of the 352nd Division. This was not an elite force, but units cmose in may cases middkeage men often used to man statc defenses. They were not mobil and like other such units, could not easily move once the nvasion began. There were not a lot of natural defenses the Germans could use. The Germans were thus in relatively exposed positions. And this meant that they were exposed to Allied naval and aerial gunfire. Behind the beaches, in Bayeaux was the a mechanised, the 352nd Division. There asignment was to move forward once the Allies landed and reinforce the bach defndrs. At Longues there was an observation post on the cliffs. They directedfire from four 155-mm guns, located half-a-mile inland. The British at Gold were also able to quickly land tanks and move off the beach. As the Germans did not have their armour deployed close to the beach the armour played a key role in the engagements establishing the beachhead.

Omaha

Omaha proved to be the most deadly landing beach and would go down in history as 'Bloody Omaha'. Omaha was mostly undeveloped beach. There were two small villages overlooking the beach. One had some 330 people--Vierville Sur-Mer. Another dated back to the Viking era, Colleville-sur-Mer. It is now the site of the American Cemetary. Suddenly these quiet vilages which time had past buy were at the center of perhaps the most monentous battle in history. And because the pre-invasion air bombardment was off target were not completely destroyed. Omaha beach fronted on a 100 ft cliffs cut by four ravines. Hardened German positions and a sea wall provided cover for machine gun and motor fire backed by artillery that desimated the landing force. Omaha was assaulted by the bttle-tested 1st Infantry Division (eastern half) and the inexperenced 29th Infantry Division and Ranger units (western half). The assault began to go wrong from the beginning. Most of the American tanks failed to make it to the beach and the first wave had little armour support against whithering fire from still in tact beach defenses. The pre-invasion air attacks had completely failed to destroy the German defenses and American commanders decided against a major pre-invasion bombardment with naval artillery. The issue on Omaha was in doubt for several hours. The beach was littered with dead and wounded soldiers. One uthor writes, "At the height of the fighting, when utter disaster at Omaha seemed a rel poosibiity to nerly everyone, Colonel George Taylor, the commander of the division's lead assault regiment on D-Day, strode the beach--risking death and dismemberment with every confident step--and uttered the day's most famous words, 'Only two kinds of people are going to be on this beach, the dead and thse who are going to die. Now get moving!' [Manus] A key aspect of the Omaha landing plan was seizing gun emplacements on Pointe du Hoc that has a line of fire covering all of Omaha Beach. This task was given to the Rangers. And somehow the 68 men of Companu D (Dog) made it up the sheer 90-foot cliffs, a virtually impossible accomplistment. One author writes, "THUD! Small armd fire had just hit the Ranger in front of him. Yelling down, Stein barked, 'Cole's been hit! Hit the dirt!' So the men climbing below him would stay low when they reached th top of the cliff. Throughout the carnage, they stayed focused on the missionand most of the mn in Force A made it to the top. When one man fll, another took his place. By 7:20 A.M., nearly all the twenty-two men in Lomell's boat successfully scalled the cliff. Sniper, machine gun, and 37 mm antiaircraft fire ripped through the air. Lomell thought to himself, 'God damn it, we made it this far; we will beat them! We're in their land. We're gonna regroup here.' As they had been trained to do, small gtoups of men now set out to complete their mission; find the guns of Poine du Hoc and destroy them." [O'Donnell] But this just meant that the Germans could nit destroy the landing force from Poinr du Hoc. The men landing on the Beach still had to crack open the still intact Beach defenses. Bradley for a time considered abandoning the beach and landing the second wave on the British beaches. There were two central turning points. First was vital naval gunfire. American destroyers came in close to provide covering fire. Second, the Germans manning the began defenses to run out of amunition--one more dividend of air power and rge Transportation Plan. Somehow small units began to make it up the cliff and overpowered the German defenders. The success of D-Day was settled on Omaha, arguably the most important battle of history. The 2nd Infantry Division came ashore on D-Day plus 1 in a rush to cram the expanding bridgehead so full of men and material that the Germans could not dislodge the Allies. The Americans did not move very far inland, that first day, but they did establish their beachead.

Utah

A minute by minute account at Utah reads, "6:25 am. Four hundred yards from Utah Bach, Captain George Mabry, just behind the first wave, is looking at the shore. None of it looks as it did in the reconnaissance photos. Where are the high Varreville dunes? Where is the windmill? Something is seriously wrong ... The US landing craft are now only about 100 yards from the shores of Omaha and Utah Beaches." [Mayo] And in fact, the Americans at Utah landed at the wrong location. It fortutiously proved to be lightly defended. The intended beach site was much more heavily defended. The commanding officer, Beig. Gem Thodore Roosevelt, Jr. was President Theodore Rooevelt's eldest on. On realizing that he had landed on the wrong beach. he famously said, "We’ll start the war from right here!" Most of the D-Day tanks made it ashore on Utah, helping to beak out of the beach head. Many of the deffending units at Utah were Ost Battalions that had been pounded by naval artillery. The Ost battalions were non-Germans, but recruited in Soviet POW camps (where they were starving) or drafted into the Wehrmacht. They readily surrendered or ran. Most of the casulties on Utah were from German artillery. The Americans on Utah quickly moved inland and the paratroopers dropped earlier made it impossible for the Germans to bring up reinforcemets to oppose the landings. The Americans on Utah were at the western flank of the landing beachs and were dangerously isolated. Thus a critical objective was to link up with the hard-won Omaha bidgehead.

German Response


Sources

Mannus, John C. The Dead and Thse About to Die: D-Day:The Big Red One at Omaha Beach (2014), 384p.

Myo, Jonathan. (2014), 288p.

O'Donnell, Patrick K. Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc--The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Missionand Led the Way Across Europe (2012), 288p.






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Created: 1:17 AM 6/7/2009
Last updated: 3:03 PM 10/13/2016