Omaha Beach was the bulkhead of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.

The first company to land was Able company. About five-thousand yards from the beach the first mortar shells began to fire.

"At one thousand yards, Boat number 5 is hit dead on and floundered. Six men drown before help arrives." - These were the first casualties of the invasion.

The other six Higgins-class landing boats got within 100 yards, unscathed. 2 men were killed at this point, in boat #3. Shortly after, another dozen drown as the boat sinks. The other boats continue on.

A Lieutenant named Edward Tidwick cries out at this point, "My God, we're coming in at the right spot, but look at it! No shingle, no wall, no shell holes, no cover. Nothing!"

As the boats move in, at 6:36 AM, the first ramp drops on the Allied boats. Instantly, machine-gun fire sweeps the entire line of men struggling to reach the beach. Able company was going to attempt to swarm the beach in three lines. The first line makes an attempt:

"The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards." C.L. Sonnichsen. The chain of command in Able company collapses.

Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015, or boat SIX, dissapeared with 2 commanders. Even to this day, their cause of death remains unknown. It is assumed, of course, that the boat was hit by mortar fire.

Lieutenant Elijah Nance is the only remaining commander, who is badly wounded. Among all the chaos, Medic Thomas Breedin leads a rescue effort across the beach to bring wounded men ashore. He does this for an hour. By the end of the first half hour, almost 2/3's of Able company are passed. The only men to continue the fight for that day from Able company are two privates that joined the ranger group that landed. The rest lie exhausted on the beach, or dead.

Later, Baker company landed. Due to a handful of men, like Breedin, the Allies took the beach.


Captain Walker, on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) recalled just before the landing began.... "I took a look toward the shore and my heart took a dive. I couldn't believe how peaceful, how untouched, and how tranquil the scene was. The terrain was green. All the buildings and houses were intact. The church steeples were proudly and defiantly standing in place. 'Where', I yelled to no one in particular, 'is the damned Air Corps?'"

When Captain Raaen landed, "I saw a dismaying sight. Obstacles everywhere. Wounded and dead, lying in the sand. The crack of machine-gun fire passing us by. The puffs in the sand where bullets hit. Those awful 20mm antiaircraft cannon shells bursting overhead. And of course the artillery shells bursting around us."

Ernest Hemingway also landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Of the five D-Day landing beaches in Normandy (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword), the battle for Omaha beach would prove the bloodiest, with 3,000 US troops and 1,200 Germans killed, wounded or missing. The beach was crucial to link British troops on Gold with US troops on Utah to provide a long Normandy beachhead.

The operation met problems from the start. Poor visibility and navigation led to troops landing hundreds of metres away from their intended arrival points, making it difficult or impossible for them to carry out their assigned tasks. The expected naval and aerial bombardment of the beach and its defences had overshot their mark, fearful of hitting friendly forces, and the defences were thus left largely intact. Landing craft were met by a hail of machine-gun fire and mortars as soon as they started down the ramps. Engineers took heavy casualties as they tried to remove beach obstacles, leaving few channels for later waves to move up the beach. Landing craft dropped their men some distance from the beach, and many men drowned, laden by heavy equipment. Landing craft and amphibious DD tanks also sank in heavy seas. Small groups of survivors of the landings eventually grouped together and assaulted the bluffs and gun emplacements, resulting in two small footholds by the end of the day. The objectives originally intended for D-Day took two more days to achieve.

The Plan
The original plan for the first wave of the assault on Omaha envisaged frontal assaults by Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions (the 16th and 116th regiments respectively). These teams would comprise 3 battalions of infantry; each battalion to consist of 3 rifle companies of 240 men each, one support company of 190 men, and an HQ company of 180 men, giving a total of over 1000 men for each battalion. The infantry would be backed up by amphibious tank battalions landing five minutes before; these would consist of 2 companies of 16 tanks each "swimming" ashore, and one company landing direct from landing craft. A special engineering task force would also land at the same time to clear beach obstacles in preparation for the landings of vehicles and further forces in later waves. The whole assault would be preceded by naval and aerial bombardment intended to nullify German beach defences.

The assault
The operation was severely hampered by weather and navigational problems. The aerial assault was delayed by weather and feared bombing the assualt craft, so their bombs overshot the intended tarkets. Smoke from the bombardments combined with mist and strong currents, so that very few of the landing craft reached their intended sections of the beach. Since the plans for each company depended largely on different companies landing in different sections of the beach and completing assigned objectives. DD tanks floundered in rough seas, with few reaching the beach. As the troops landed, they were met by murderous machine gun and mortar fire, and many drowned in the rough seas and deep water, heavily laden. Many craft beached on sandbars some distance from the actual beach. Troops suffered from high attrition rates among officers, and struggled to reach their assigned beach objectives.

The lack of success of the first wave meant that following troops of the second wave were met with continuing heavy fire, and HQ units struggled to resume control. Landing craft also now hit the beach obstacles which had not been cleared by the first wave.

The original plan had called for attacks on several "draws" between the cliffs, with the hope that vehicles could move up these draws to attack the defending forces on the cliffs above. To this end, the troops were intended to attack up the draws. These proved heavily defended, however, and demoralised troops, lacking leadership, eventually regrouped on the shingle at the top of the beach under the cliffs or bluffs. It was attacks on these bluffs that eventually led to small beachheads by the end of D-day, due in no small part to inspired leadership of small groups of men.

The tenuous hold on the beach nevertheless proved enough to allow stores and equipment to be landed over the following two days, and links with Gold and Utah were established. It should not be forgotten that the Allied invasion could have been much more disastrous; General Dwight D. Eisenhower had prepared a speech taking the blame for failure and the withdrawal of troops. In the event, D-Day and the Normandy landings would lead eventually to victory for the Allies in the war.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Remembering D-Day, Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2004

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