Omaha Beach – Dog 1 Exit, Dog Green sector, Vierville-sur-Mer, Normandy.
WN or Widerstandsnest 72 is part of the Atlantic Wall. Together with WN 71 and WN 73 it guarded the Dog-1 exit towards Vierville-sur-mer. They were built in 1943-44 . These three German Widerstandsneste are situated in the Dog Green sector which saw some of the heaviest fighting in the morning of june 6, 1944. WN72 was the most formidable of the three; a H-667 type casemates (nowadays with the National Guard monument on top of it) housed a formidable 88 mm. PAK43 gun. (It’s still there) and dominated the beach . To it’s right is a second casemate which housed a 50mm. gun and a small Renault FT tank turret . Both casemates were guarded from fire from the sea and have gun positions enfilading the beach, their muzzle flashes not visible from the sea. In june 1944 these bunkers were protected by barbed wire, minefields and trenches. The hill behind also had several strongpoints of WN 71. An observation post was situated just below the bungalow halfway up the hill and nine MG positions , two mortar positions and a light fieldgun were on top of the bluffs over a stretch of some 200 metres. To top it off an anti-tank wall 2 metres high was erected between the (left) bunker and the road to block any vehicle. To the east WN73 dominated the bluffs overlooking both Charlie and Dog Green sectors, also with 50mm guns and MG and mortar positions.
The reason why this particular spot on Omaha Beach was so heavily defended is the famous Vierville Draw: a road through the bluffs leading directly to the town of Vierville-sur-Mer and then connecting to the Route Nationale. In other words: an ideal spot for a breakout after the landings. Of course the Germans realised this too, making the Dog-1 exit a deathtrap for anyone trying to take it.
When A-Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry of the 29th “Blue & Grey” division landed here (an old Virginia National Guard Unit with a long tradition harking back to Stonewall Jackson’s Brigade) it was “H-Hour” on D-Day: june 6, 1944: 06.30 hour. They were coming in exactly on the right spot opposite the draw (a lot of units in other sectors drifted away from their designated areas due to the strong current) in six Royal Navy LCA assault boats. The soldiers could clearly see the German bunkers in the distance and to their horror the beach seemed untouched by the preliminary bombardments which had boosted their morale in the previous hour . They had to cross a large stretch of beach -some 250 metres – towards the Vierville draw.
The Germans, untouched indeed by a rocket barrage and other preliminary bombings, waited until the landing craft were all empty and then opened up with their MG 38’s and 42’s, their mortars, and guns. It was carnage. A-Company was virtually wiped out within the first minutes of the landing; no one knows exactly what happened with the 30 men in LCA 1015 but all of them were killed, and most of their bodies were found on the beach, commanding officer captain Taylor Fellers among them. In fact all but one officers were killed within the first minutes, as were more then half of the soldiers and NCO’s.
Those who did survive the initial onslaught could do little more then stay in the water or press them self against the sand hanging on to their lifes. The shingle bank offered a little bit of protection to the happy few who made it that far, but most survivors had to stay in the water, creeping forward with the rising tide. Incredible acts of heroism were performed by men trying to help their wounded comrades out of the water only to see them cut down by enemy fire or get shot themselfes. A-Company was reduced from an assault company to what was essentially not more then a small rescue party within 15 minutes. Dazed and shellshocked some men who did survive the initial onslaught managed to find relative safety at the shingles bank.
The follow up troops of the second wave didn’t fare much better and subsequent waves landed more to the east of this WN where resistance was less heavy. Among the casualties in A-company were 19 men from Bedford, VA. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses.
Note: These events were the inspiration for the famous first scene of the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan”.