The objectives of Operation Overlord

This report was written for my English 12 class at Coatesville Area Senior High.
**UNFORTUNATELY ALL THE WORKS CITED PAGES WERE LOST OVER THE YEARS. WORKS I RECALL RESEARCHING FROM WERE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA ONLINE AND THE NATIONAL D-DAY MUSEUM.**

Picture yourself on a small boat, trudging along through the water towards a long beach. You feel sick to your stomach because the waves are rough and it is pushing the boat to and fro. You keep your head down, afraid to look up. All you can hear is the humming of the engines of the boats around you and the ocean pounding against the sides. You peek a glance up front. All others have their heads down as well. The beach is rapidly approaching. “Fifteen seconds!” the driver of the boat yells. These fifteen seconds seem like a lifetime. Your stomach begins to churn as the seconds tick away. You make one last prayer. You pray to see your family and friends one more time. The time clicks off in your head: 3…2…1… The front ramp of the boat drops down into the water. There’s the beach laid out in front of you. Big, metal objects that remind you of jacks from the game protrude out of the sand. Zing! Things begin whizzing by your head as you run off the ramp and into the water. It is only waist-deep, but you struggle to push through. All your equipment is weighing you down. Zing! Thwack! There’s a sound as if someone were just slapped. The man next to you falls forward into the water. As you look down at the water, you see the color has turned from a blue-green to crimson. Explosions begin to erupt all around you. Sand is blasted into the air. Smoke begins to encompass the beach. You run to the nearest jack-like object and crouch down behind it. You can’t even breathe, let alone think. All around you men are trying to find cover. Many fail, falling down to their deaths. You take a deep breath and run forward under the heavy fire. Welcome to Normandy.

White crosses as far as the eye can dot the landscape of Normandy. (Hellfire and Brainstorm)

White crosses as far as the eye can dot the landscape of Normandy. (Hellfire and Brainstorm)

Now, sixty-one years later, you walk down a path in Normandy. To one side, you see the legendary cemetery at Saint-Laurent. It contains the graves of 9,836 American dead. White crosses neatly stretch across the green grass as far as the eye can see. On the other side there is a beach. It resembles all other beaches around the world with waves crashing onto the neat, clean sand. You cannot picture the death and destruction that once used to surround this peaceful place. You wonder to yourself how anyone could have survived landing onto this beach. You wonder that with so much death and destruction, how could any of the objectives set forth have been accomplished. It is a question that many people have thought about, but the answer is not a well-known fact: Although many of the objectives of Operation Overlord failed, the Allies were able to improvise and the overall outcome of the invasion of Normandy was an Allied victory.

Without a direct intervention by Western Allies, Hitler could look forward to prolonging his military dominance for years to come. What was needed was an intervention that would center on the commitment of a large American army, which had yet to come. The original plan for Operation Overlord called for a landing in Normandy, between Caen and the Cotentin Peninsula. It was to have a strength of three divisions, with two brigades to be air-dropped and another eleven divisions to be landed within the first two weeks through two artificial harbors. Once the invasion was locked in, a force of one hundred divisions, the majority shipped directly from the United States, were to be assembled in France for a final assault on Germany.

After careful considerations and revisions, the final plan was conceived. “This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.” The final plan called for an invasion force consisting of five infantry divisions to land on assigned beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. On D-Day, two American and one British Airborne Divisions were to land behind enemy lines. The invasion was to be supported by more than 13,000 fighter, bomber, and transport aircrafts. The date for this invasion was set for Monday, June 5, 1944. In November of 1943, Hitler told his commanders on the eastern front that they would get no more reinforcements until after the invasion had been defeated. “Everything indicates that the enemy will launch an offensive against the western front of Europe, at the latest in the spring, perhaps even earlier…”

Between April 1 and June 5, 1944, British and American air forces deployed 11,000 aircraft to drop 195,000 tons of bombs on French rail systems, German airfields, radar installations, military bases, and coastal artillery batteries. They successfully destroyed seventy-four out of ninety-two radio stations, leaving the remaining eighteen unharmed for later use. The air campaign destroyed all the bridges across the Seine and Loire Rivers, which isolated the Normandy invasion era. Two-thirds of the bombs dropped were outside the invasion area to persuade the Germans the landings would be made at Pas-de-Calais. Using false radio transmissions, the Allies created a “Phantom Army” based in southeast England that would be commanded by the feared General George C. Patton.

The date for D-Day would have good conditions for the Allies. The late rising moon would cover the aircrafts, but then shine brightly on the drop zones for the Airborne Divisions. In the morning, there was to be low tide at dawn, perfect to expose the mines and other obstacles. 175,000 assault troops, 5,000 ships and smaller crafts, 50,000 vehicles, and 11,000 aircraft were to take part in the largest invasion force ever assembled in history. The weather turned unfavorable a few days before the 5th, so Eisenhower turned to his trusted weatherman and asked for his opinion. He informed Eisenhower that he believed Monday’s condition would be terrible, but Tuesday would bring a little break, perfect for landing conditions. Eisenhower postponed the invasion, leaving the men on a twenty-four hour stand-by. The date was now set for Tuesday, June 6, 1944. Due to the bad weather, German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel returned home to Germany for his fiftieth birthday, believing that no invasion could land in such bad conditions.

On the night of D-1, the night before D-Day, Eisenhower made a surprise visit to the 101st Airborne. He believed their mission was extremely vital, and it was predicted they would receive 70% casualties. Eisenhower saluted each plane as it took off, carrying the paratroopers. It was said he had a tear in his eye as he watched.

While the actual armada advanced through the waters of the English Channel, a diversion was planned to keep the German’s attention away. Bombers dropped strips of aluminum foil for the remaining, undamaged radio stations to pick up, and detect a great swarm of aircraft. Motorboats pulled large barrage balloons carrying electronic reflectors to simulate a large fleet. The Germans did not detect the actual armada nearing Normandy until 3:09 in the morning, but even then, German commanders suspected that it was a diversion and ordered the shore-based guns to hold fire until daybreak.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers from the 101st Airborne. (ibiblio.org)

General Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers from the 101st Airborne. (ibiblio.org)

Paratroopers from the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were night dropped into Normandy onto the right flank of the invasion area. The drop zones for the 101st Airborne were labeled “A,” “C,” and “D,” which were within the vicinity of the roads leading from Utah Beaches. Drop zone “A” was to the west of Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and “D” and “C” were west and southwest of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The drop zones for the 82nd Airborne were labeled “N,” “O,” and “T.” These were positioned north of the Douve River and on either side of the Merderet, which were all to the west of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The German forces on the Cotentin Peninsula were two regiments from the 91st Division, including one battalion of tanks, and the 6th Airborne Regiment. Their main defense was the flooding of the lowlands and marshes. Rommel ordered the locks near the mouth of the Douve River to be opened at high tide in order to flood the areas and closed at low tide to hold the waters in.

The objectives of the 101st Airborne, under the command of Major General Maxwell Taylor, was to seize the inland sides of four causeways leading from Utah Beach in order to allow the 4th Infantry Division to exit the beaches during the dawn invasion. They were also to destroy two highway bridges and a railroad bridge north of Carentan to stop the Germans from flanking the invasion area. Finally, they were to seize and hold the lock at La Barquette. The objectives of the 82nd Airborne, under the command of Major General Matthew Ridgeway and Brigadier General James Gavin, was to destroy two bridges on the Douve, capture the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and secure the west bank of the Merderet River and hold a bridgehead there. At 2215 hours on D-1, more than nine hundred C-47 aircraft transported 13,000 U.S. paratroopers towards France.

“We came from the sky. We hit and…any direction you went there would be enemy. You knew it. And uh, that was all part of what you expected.” With twenty minutes to go, red lights blinked on, signaling to get ready. Paratroopers staggered to their feet, stood facing the tail in single-file, snapped their parachute static lines to the anchor line, and checked their packs one last time. Many C-47’s encountered turbulence and heavy clouds over the peninsula so they moved out of their “V” formations to avoid any collisions. Flights emerged from the clouds too high, too low, or too fast. German searchlights lit up the formations and antiaircraft fire opened up. Violent evasive action knocked paratroopers off their feet. Some pilots barely gave the troops enough time to jump. The plan was to jump at an altitude of 500 feet. “I looked up and watched a C-47 go over, way too low. Out came the whole ‘stick’ – eighteen men. Plop! Plop! Plop! Some chutes did not have time to open.” Paratroopers landed everywhere in the darkness. Many fell right into the flooded lowlands and were pulled down by the weight of their packs and weapons. Some drowned in only a few feet of water. Instead of hitting their targets, the troops were scattered over an area fifteen miles wide by twenty-five miles long. Some even landed thirty miles from their targets. Confusion rapidly spread between both sides. To identify one another, the 82nd used the password “Flash!” which was to have a response of “Thunder,” and the 101st used dime-store crickets to identify each other. One “click-clack” was to be answered by a double “click-clack…click-clack.”

The first American gliders, carrying men and weapons, came in before dawn. Many gliders careened into trees or hedgerows at eighty miler per hour and were smashed to pieces. Others were ripped apart by poles set in the fields and connected by webs of wire.

With plans altered, the men of the 82nd and 101st had to initiate plans themselves. The 101st launched their attacks towards Utah Beach. Bands of paratroopers came up behind the Germans in their “Atlantic Wall” and cut the roads and fought for causeways leading in from the shoreline. By mid-morning, they held strategic villages across an eight-mile stretch.

Within minutes of freeing themselves from the parachutes, men of the 82nd were fighting for their lives. Caught in the beams of the searchlights, many paratroopers were shot dead before even reaching the ground. A dead-center drop placed many of the 82nd on, into, and around the village of Ste. Mere-Eglise, which opened up into a bitter fight. Through the pre-dawn hours, some four hundred other paratroopers closed in around the village, routing out pockets of enemy resistance. By about 0430 hours, they had an American flag run up, marking the liberation of the first town in France. All during the day, hundreds of Germans fought to dislodge the paratroopers, but they held their positions.

The assault from the sky became a textbook case of “whatever-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong.” By the end of the day, few objectives were seized. Four exits from Utah Beach were held by the 101st and there was a link-up with the 4th Division. The locks at La Barquette were in American hands, as was the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Roads and rail bridges over the Douve were still in German hands and the 82nd did not make contact with forces from the beach. The right flank of the invasion was anything but secure. Men of the 82nd and 101st Airborne experienced a quarter of all American casualties on D-Day. Each division suffered about 1,200 casualties. Some 350 men were killed, another 900 wounded, and more than 1,700 were missing. The operation, though, had proved a solid success. Despite heavy pressure from the Germans, the paratroopers held the line and set the stage for the landings at Utah Beach.

Gliders scattered across the fields of Normandy. (World War II Database)

Gliders scattered across the fields of Normandy. (World War II Database)

Paratroopers from the British 6th Airborne, under the command of Major General Richard Gale, landed at night onto the left flank, behind Sword Beach. The drop zones for the 6th Airborne were labeled “X,” “Y,” “N,” “K,” and “V.” Drop zones “X” and “Y” were glider landing zones for a coup-de-main operation to seize two bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal near the village of Benouville. Drop zone “V” was a glider landing zone for an attack on the Merville battery. Drop zones “N” and “K” were on the Ranville ridge, separating the Orne and Dives Rivers. The German forces consisted of elements of the 76th Infantry Division. The dominant defensive position was a battery at the town of Merville, with four guns of undetermined size fortified in hard casements.

The objectives of the 6th Airborne were to seize critical bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal, securing the vital exit routes for the forces at Sword Beach. They were also to destroy the bridges over the Dives River, denying the Germans a route to the invasion area from the east. Finally, they were to destroy the battery at Merville.

At 0016 hours, gliders containing Company D, the 2nd Oxfordshire and the Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, under the command of Major John Howard, touched down precisely on target at the bridges. Within only ten minutes, the attack placed both bridges in Allied hands at the cost of only two men. Howard’s company became the first attackers on French soil and the first unit to achieve its objectives. The 9th Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, had a bad drop. The attack on the Merville battery began with only 150 men out of the 750-man force. The attack captured the battery at the cost of half the attacking force. The rest of the Airborne continued to land throughout the night, but many were scattered also. Small parties were able to find each other and managed to destroy five bridges over the Dives.

By the morning, the left flank was secured. By 1300 hours, elements of the 1st Commando Brigade, under the command of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, connected with Howard’s glider troops at the bridges. By the end of the day, the Airborne was generally in place and achieved its objectives.

Just before the first waves of troops landed, Allied bombers and naval artillery launched a massive assault against the German positions along the coast. For thirty-five minutes, over 5,000 artillery rounds from sixty-eight destroyers, six battleships, and twenty cruisers, plus over 10,000 tons of bombs pounded the landing area.

British soldiers after their landing on Sword Beach. (dday-overlord.com)

British soldiers after their landing on Sword Beach. (dday-overlord.com)

“Sword” was the code name for the beach on the extreme left. It occupied a five-mile stretch of the coastline from Lion-sur-Mer on the west to the city of Ouistrenham, at the mouth of the Orne River, on the east. It was approximately nine miles north of Caen, which was a key city to the Allies and the Germans. The Germans fortified the area with relatively light defenses consisting of beach obstacles and fortified emplacements in sand dunes. For the most part, the defense of the beach was anchored on 75-millimeter guns of the Merville Battery, located some five miles to the east across the Orne River estuary, and bigger 155-millimeter guns located some twenty miles farther east at Le Havre. A few miles inland from the beach were 88-millimeter guns capable of supporting machine guns and mortars. There were also antitank ditches and mines as well as huge concrete walls blocking the streets of towns. Elements of the German 716th Division, in particular the 736th and 125th Regiments, along with the forces of the 21st Panzer Division were in the area. To the east, across the Dives River, was the 711th Division.

Sword Beach was assigned to the British 2nd Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey. Sword Beach was divided into four assault sectors: Oboe, Peter, Queen, and Roger. Sword was to be assaulted at 0725 hours by the British 3rd Division with the French and British commandos attached. Assigned to Peter were elements of the South Lancashire Regiment, assigned to Queen was the Suffolk Regiment, and assigned to Roger was the East Yorkshire Regiment.

The objective of the 3rd Division was to push across Sword Beach and pass through Ouistreham to capture Caen and the important Carpiquet airfield nearby. The attached commandos of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, had the mission of fighting their way off the beach and pushing through toward the bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal. They were to link up with the 6th Airborne Division.

During the landing, the soldiers were met by moderate fire, but they were able to put out suppressing fire. The landings went smoothly with most of the tanks and vehicles making it safely to shore. They quickly broke through the German coastal defenses. By 0800 hours, the fighting was mostly inland. By 1300 hours, commandos achieved the most important objective: linking up with Major John Howard’s airborne troops at the bridges over the Orne waterways. On the right flank, the British were unable to link up with the Canadian forces from Juno Beach. At 1600 hours, task forces and mechanized infantry men from the 21st Panzer Division launched a counterattack. The 192nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment reached the beach at 2000 hours, but ninety-eight tanks of the 21st Panzer was halted by antitank weapons, air strikes, and Allied tanks. The counterattack was stopped.

By the end of the day, the British had landed 29,000 men on the beach, taking 630 casualties. The German casualties were high, and many were taken prisoner. Commandos linked up with the airborne forces at the bridges. The objectives of Caen and Carpiquet aerodome were still three miles away.

Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach. (Imaginary Wars)

Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach. (Imaginary Wars)

“Juno” was the code name for the second beach from the left. It is approximately six miles wide and stretches on either side of the small fishing port of Courseulles-sur-Mer. Two smaller villages, Bernieres and Saint-Aubin, lay to the east of Coursulles. The first problem for the invaders was the natural offshore reefs and shoals, which forced the assault waves to land later in the morning. H-Hour was set for 0745 hours so that the landing crafts could clear the reefs on the rising tide. Elements of the German 716th Infantry Division, particularly the 736th Regiment, were responsible for the defense of the area. The homes along the shore were used as observation posts and firing positions.

Juno Beach was assigned to the British 2nd Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey. Juno Beach was divided into two assault sectors: Nan, comprised of Red, White, and Green, and Mike, comprised of Red and White. It was to be assaulted by the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, with the 7th Brigade landing at Courseulles in Mike and the 8th Brigade landing at Bernieres in Nan.

The objectives of the 3rd Division were to cut the Caen-Bayeux Road, seize the Carpiquet airport west of Caen, and form a link between the two British beaches of Gold and Sword on either side.

The first assault wave came ashore at 0755 hours, ten minutes past H-Hour and three hours after the optimum low tide. The sea was rough and there were strong tides. The beach obstacles were already partially submerged, and the engineers were now unable to clear any paths to the beach. The craft had to find their way in with mines taking a heavy toll. Roughly 30% of the landing crafts were destroyed or damaged by these mines. There was little fire in the beginning because the German gun positions did not aim out at the sea. The first wave took terrible casualties. The chance of becoming a casualty within the first hour was almost one in two.

By mid-morning, after fierce fighting, Berniere and Saint-Aubin was in Canadian hands. One troop of the 1st Hussar tank regiment was the only unit of the entire Allied invasion to reach the final objective on D-Day.

By the end of the day, the 3rd Division had linked up with the British 50th Division from Gold Beach to the west. To the east, the Canadians were unable to make any contact with the British 3rd Division from Sword. This left a two-mile gap into which the elements of the German 21st Panzer Division counterattacked. Overall, the Canadians suffered 1,200 casualties out of 21,400 troops. This was a casualty ratio of one out of eighteen.

Tanks driving up the roads after landing at Gold Beach. (cae2k.com)

Tanks driving up the roads after landing at Gold Beach. (cae2k.com)

“Gold” was the code name for the center beach. It is more than five miles wide and includes the towns of La Riviere and Le Hamel. The western end of the beach had the small port of Arromanches and farther west was the town of Longues-sur-Mer. The German forces consisted of elements of the 716th Division and at least part of the 1st Battalion of the 352nd Division at Le Hamel. The 352nd Division had a mechanized unit known as the Kampfgruppe Meyer, based at the nearby town of Bayeux. On top of a steep cliff on the outskirts of Longues was a formidable observation post that directed the fire of a battery of four 155-millimeter guns located half a mile inland. These were heavily protected with one-meter-thick concrete.

Gold Beach was assigned to the British 2nd Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey. Gold Beach was divided into three assault sectors: Item, Jig, comprised of Green and Red, and King, which was also comprised of Green and Red. The assault would be by the British 50th Infantry Division. This included the Devonshire, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, and East Yorkshire regiments. The 231st Brigade was assigned to Le Hamel in Jig, the 69th Brigade to La Riviere in King, and the 47th Royal Marine Commando, attached to the 50th Division for the landing, was assigned to Item.

The objective of the 50th Division were to cut the Caen-Bayeux highway, take the small port of Arromanches, link up with the Americans from Omaha Beach to the west at Port-en-Bessin, and link up with the Canadians from Juno Beach to the east. The 50th Division was also assigned to take the Longues battery from the rear.

H-Hour was set for 0725 hours, one hour after the American landings. The British landings had to be pushed back an hour due to the direction of the tide, from the wind moving west to east. On the morning of D-Day, however, the wind blew in directly from the northwest, piling the water up rapidly. The outer obstacles were now under water before the British demolition personnel could reach them. Along with this, they also came under fire from the beach. They failed to clear the obstacles. The 50th Division was aided by unusual vehicles designed by Major General Sir Percy Hobart. These were nicknamed “Hobart’s Funnies.” They included a tank outfitted with flame-throwers and one with a set of chains that flailed in front of it to destroy mines. The first landings were of the Landing Craft, Tank, or more commonly known as the LCT, carrying armored vehicles. Twenty of them struck mines, suffering moderate to severe damage. Fortunately, no armor was on the beach and the infantry resistance was ineffective. La Riviere held out until 1000 hours and Le Hamel was in British hands by mid-afternoon. The 47th Commando passed south of Arromanches and Longues and pushed west to within half a mile of Port-en-Bessin. By 1200 hours, the entire 50th Division was ashore.

At the end of the day, the 50th Division had landed 25,000 men, penetrated six miles inland, linked up with the Canadians on Juno Beach to the left, and reached the heights above Port-en-Bessin. They had also advanced to within two miles of Bayeux. They did not, however, cut the Caen-Bayeux highway or link up with the Americans from Omaha Beach. Overall, they suffered 400 casualties.

US Rangers along the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. (Olive-Drab)

US Rangers along the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. (Olive-Drab)

Pointe du Hoc is situated right between Omaha and Utah Beaches. It is an ominous piece of land, jutting out into the English Channel, four miles west of Omaha Beach and seven miles east of Utah. This land provided an elevated point from which Germans could fire upon both of the beaches. Photo-reconnaissance identified five 155-millimeter guns on Pointe du Hoc. The commanders determined that the silencing of those guns was a key to the outcome on Omaha and Utah. Defending Pointe du Hoc was elements of the German 352nd Infantry Division.

Pointe du Hoc was assigned to the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, who was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder.

The objective of the Rangers was to land Companies D, E, and F of the 2nd Battalion in a cliff-scaling attack, while Company C landed to the east to destroy any gun positions on the western end of Omaha. Companies A and B, and all of the 5th Battalion, were to mark the time off the beach and wait for a signal indicating that the cliff-scaling was a success. If the signal came, they were to follow and also scale the heights. If the signal did not come, they were to land at Omaha and attack the Pointe from the rear. The Rangers were to silence those guns atop the Pointe.

Companies D, E, and F landed at 0745 hours, forty minutes behind schedule, due to the heavy seas and winds that blew them off course. This allowed the Germans time to re-man the guns they abandoned during the air and sea bombardment. On the way in, one of their landing crafts sank. Once they landed, they were engaged in heavy firefight. The Rangers brought with them climbing aids. They had tubular steel ladders in four-foot sections, rocket-propelled ropes, and 100-foot-long extension ladders with machine guns fitted at the top. No ladders could be positioned close enough to reach the top because the beach sloped away sharply from the foot of the cliff. The Rangers were left to use the ropes. Some Germans cut the ropes; other fired rifles and machine pistols down on them, and the rest lobbed hand grenades. Within only minutes, the first man was up atop the Pointe. Most of the Rangers were on the summit in fifteen minutes. In small groups they fought to the casemates, only to find them empty. They decided to move forward and cut the road behind the Pointe. Later, a two-man patrol team found the 155-millimeter guns, 550 yards from the casemates. The guns were zeroed in on Utah, exactly as expected. Using thermite grenades, they melted and destroyed the guns’ elevating and traversing mechanisms, rendering the guns immovable.

Lieutenant Colonel Rudder gave the signal to bring in the backup force of five hundred Rangers, but they were thirty minutes late. The Rangers off shore saw no signal from the Pointe and had landed at Omaha as instructed. They were then unable to accomplish their mission of attacking the Pointe from behind because of their involvement in the immense fighting at Omaha. They were, however, a key to the success at Omaha Beach.

Early reports called the attack a wasted effort because no guns were located atop Pointe du Hoc, although the attack was still highly successful. By 0900 hours, the road behind the Pointe was cut and the guns were out of action. The Rangers were the first American unit to accomplish their mission on D-Day. They took heavy casualties. 70% were killed, wounded, or captured. At the end of the day, the Rangers held a small pocket on the heights of the Pointe. The Germans began counterattacking, but they held out for two days at the cost of half of their fighting force. After fighting off these counterattacks, they had barely fifty men available.

American soldiers wade ashore on Utah Beach. (skylighters.org)

American soldiers wade ashore on Utah Beach. (skylighters.org)

“Utah” was the code name for the farthest beach on the right. It is located on the eastern shore of the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. The landing area was approximately three miles wide and located northwest of the Carentan estuary. The defenses on Utah Beach were sparse because the low-lying areas immediately behind the landing area were flooded. Four causeways exited the beach through the flooded low-lands and severely restricted any movement inland. The defenses along the causeways consisted mostly of strong points equipped with automatic weapons. Two miles inland were some coastal and field artillery batteries. The defending forces consisted of elements of the German 709th, 243rd, and the 91st Infantry Divisions.

Utah Beach was divided into assault sectors: Tare Green, Uncle Red, and Victor. Utah was to be assaulted by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and H-Hour was set for 0630 hours.

The objective of the U.S. 4th Division was to cross the beach and seize control of the coast roads, link up with the airborne troops, and then be prepared to attack toward Cherbourg. The 8th Infantry Regiment was to attack first, supported by thirty-two special amphibious tanks in the first wave, and was to land opposite of Les-Dines-de-Varraville.

The landing went wrong from the beginning. Strong currents beset the landing crafts and the area was obscured by smoke from the preceding shore bombardment. The main problem was the loss of three out of four of the designated control craft to mines. The fourth control craft eventually rounded up the confused landing craft and used a bullhorn to bring them in. The force landed 2,000 yards east of the designated area, which ultimately ended up being a less defended area. The assistant division commander, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., ordered the division to advance from there. Three hours later, exits one, two, and three were secured. By 1200 hours, contact was made with the paratroopers from the 101st Airborne around the town of Poupeville.

At the end of the day, the U.S. 4th Division had pushed inland about four miles. Its westernmost units were within a mile of the 82nd Airborne’s perimeter near Sainte-Mere-Eglise. 20,000 troops and 1,700 motorized vehicles had landed at Utah with fewer than 300 casualties. The Germans could not counterattack the seaborne assault, owing to the success of the Allied airborne troops. The Germans were, however, in a position to counterattack in the Cotentin Peninsula at the end of D-Day.

Omaha Beach after all troops and vehicles were ashore. (Map and Counters)

Omaha Beach after all troops and vehicles were ashore. (Map and Counters)

“Omaha” was the code name for the second beach from the right. It was the largest assault area, stretching over six miles between Port-en-Bessin on the east and the mouth of the Vire River on the west. The western third of the beach was backed by a ten-foot-high seawall and the whole beach was overlooked by cliffs 100 feet high. There were five exits from the beach. The best one was a paved road in a ravine leading to the village of Vierville-sur-Mer. The others were two dirt paths, and two dirt roads to Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The Germans had built formidable defenses. The waters were heavily mined, there were twelve strong points called Widerstandsnester, and numerous other fighting positions dotted the area, supported by extensive trench systems. The defending forces consisted of three battalions of the 352nd Infantry Division. Their weapons were fixed to cover the beach with a grazing enfilade of fire as well as plunging fire from the cliffs. Omaha was a killing zone.

Omaha Beach was assigned to the U.S. 1st Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley. Omaha was divided into assault sectors: Charlie, Dog, comprised of Green, White, and Red, Easy, comprised of Green and Red, and Fox, which also consisted of Green and Red. Omaha was to be assaulted at 0630 hours with the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division attached for D-Day only. The 116th Regiment was to land at Dog, Green, White, and Red, and Easy Green. The 16th Regiment, 1st Division, was to land at Easy Red and Fox Green.

The objectives of the 1st Division was to capture the villages of Vierville, Saint-Laurent, and Colleville, to push through and cut the Bayeux-Isigny Road, and then it was to attack south toward Trevieres and west toward Pointe du Hoc. Elements of the 16th Regiment was to link up at Port-en-Bessin with the British units from Gold Beach to the east.

From the beginning, everything went wrong. Special “DD” tanks, which were amphibious Sherman tanks fitted with flotation screens, were supposed to support the 116th Regiment, but sank in the choppy waters of the Channel. Only two of the twenty-nine made it to the beach. With the exception of Company A, no unit of the 116th landed where it was planned. Strong winds and tidal currents carried the landing craft from right to left. Some men died before they even exited their boats. The 116th Regiment on the east landed with units badly intermingled. German gunners poured deadly fire into the ranks. Bodies lay on the beach or floated in the water. Men sought refuge behind the beach obstacles called hedgehogs. Destroyed crafts and vehicles littered the water’s edge and the beach. Follow-up waves piled up behind the first, creating a traffic jam of men and vehicles, making easy targets for the Germans. At 0830 hours, all the landings ceased. Slowly, troops scaled the cliffs. Navy destroyers steamed in, scraping their bottoms in the shallow water, blasting the German fortifications at point-blank range. Many firefights cleared out the trenches, then the men attacked the fortified artillery emplacements from the rear. By 1200 hours, the German fire decreased as the defensive positions were taken from the rear. One by one, exits were opened.

At the end of the day, the 1st and 29th Divisions held the positions around Vierville, Saint-Laurent, and Colleville. It was nowhere near the planned objectives, but they had a toe-hold. They were far short of the planned goals, but had pushed over a mile inland. They suffered 2,400 casualties, but landed 34,000 troops. One out of nineteen men who landed there were either dead or wounded. The German 352nd Division lost 20% of its strength with 1,200 casualties. No reserves were coming to continue the fight.

The casualties at Normandy were high and the exact number will never be known. Germany suffered 320,000 casualties: 30,000 killed, 80,000 wounded, and 210,000 missing. The United Stated suffered 135,000 casualties: 29,000 killed and 106,000 wounded and missing. The United Kingdom suffered 65,000 casualties: 11,000 killed and 54,000 wounded and missing. Canada suffered 18,000 casualties: 5,000 killed and 13,000 wounded and missing. Lastly, France suffered 12,000 civilian casualties. In all, 550,200 men and women were either killed, wounded, or missing in just one day.

Each beach and airborne drop had its own objectives. The Germans put up a strong fight along with their defenses that altered the plans of the Allied invasion force. Although most of the objectives had failed, the soldiers formed together and improvised a new plan of attack, which secured all five beachheads. The liberation of Europe has begun.

Picture yourself once more on top of a tall cliff overlooking a long beach down in front of you. It is a disheartening sight. Holes from artillery rounds dot the beach. Destroyed tanks and vehicles are scattered among the bodies strewn across the beach, covering almost every inch like a blanket. With each wave a fresh layer of blood is washed away to dye the water a deep red, but this does little against the crimson stained beach. You see medics running from one fallen soldier to another, checking for life left in any of them. Anyone still alive is put on a stretcher and carried away, but many are not taken. It sickens you to imagine the amount of letters that will be sent home to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and children of those lying before you. You have survived the day and pray once more to make it through D+1. The sacrifice has been great, and the horrors have been real. Up and down the lines there are rumors of success from the other beaches. Now you turn around and stand facing inland, looking upon the presentation of pain and horror on the faces of ordinary men who struggled and survived to fight another day. You have won the day and wonder how many more days are to come before Victory in Europe.

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Categories: History, Military, Research

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