Omaha beach is a stretch of beach roughly 5 miles or 8 km. long between Vierville-sur-Mer and Ste Honorine des Pertes on the coast of Normandy. It was one of the five designated landing areas for the biggest invasion ever during WWII in the summer of 1944.
Omaha was divided into ten sectors by the Allies; codenamed (from west to east): Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red.
On june 6, 1944 -D-Day – the initial assault on Omaha was to be made by two Regimental Combat Teams (RCT), supported by two tank battalions, with two battalions of Rangers also attached. The RCT’s were part of the veteran 1st Infantry division (“The Big Red One”) and the untested 29th div.(“Blue and Grey”) , a National Guard unit.
The plan was to make frontal assaults at the “draws” (valleys) in the bluffs which dominate the coast in Normandy. Codenamed west to east they were called D-1, D-3, E-1, E-3 and F-1 . These draws could then be used to move inland with reserves and vehicles.
The German defenders were not stupid; they knew the draws were vital and concentrated their limited resources in defending them. To this end and lead by the famous “Desert Fox” Field-Marshall Erwin Rommel they built “Widerstandsneste” with AT guns, mortars, MG’s in Tobruk’s, trenches and bunkers. These were manned by soldiers of the German 716th and 352nd Infantry Division, a large portion of whom were teenagers, though they were supplemented by veterans who had fought on the Eastern Front . All in all some 1100 German soldiers defended the entire Omaha beach sector.
Preliminary bombardments were almost totally ineffective and when the initial waves landed at low tide they met with fiece opposition of an enemy well dug in and prepared. Most of the floating tanks (Sherman DD type) never made it to the beach due to the rough seas or were taken out by AT guns. Their role to support the infantry following them was reduced to almost zero before the battle even begun.
Casualties were heaviest amongst the troops landing at either end of Omaha. At Fox Green and Easy Red scattered elements of three companies were reduced to half strength by the time they gained the relative safety of the shingle, many of them having crawled the app. 300 yards (270 m) of beach just ahead of the incoming tide. Casualties were especially heavy amongst the first waves of infantry. A special mention is deserved by the “gap assault teams”; these Combat Engineers at Omaha beach were tasked with blasting channels through the beach obstacles and did so at a heavy toll.
Situation at Dog Green and Easy Red and Fox Green by mid morning was so bad with nearly all the troops essentially pinned down on the beach gen. Eisenhower seriously considered to abandon the operation; in “First Wave at OMAHA Beach”, S.L.A. Marshall, chief U.S. Army combat historian, called it “an epic human tragedy which in the early hours bordered on total disaster.”
As the first waves of infantry, tanks and combat engineers landing directly opposite the “draws” were pinned down it was up to forces landing on the flanks of these strongpoints to penetrate the weaker German defences by climbing the bluffs. Doing this they had to overcome minefields and barbed wire as well as machinegun fire from German positions but they did and they were able to attack some key strongpoints from the side and the rear, taking them out by early afternoon.
This happened on several spots at Omaha and essentially saved the day: individual acts of initiative by lower ranked officers and courage like that of First Lieutenant Jimmy Monteith, who led a group of men to take one of the key German widerstandsneste and was killed in action, succeeded where a flawed plan failed. By the end of the day most of the German strongpoints had been taken and the battle was won – albeit at a terrible cost.
HZ, february 2017