How Many Were Killed on D-Day?

How Many Were Killed on D-Day?

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It was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 brave young soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in a bold strategy to push the Nazis out of Western Europe and turn the tide of the war for good.

In planning the D-Day attack, Allied military leaders knew that casualties might be staggeringly high, but it was a cost they were willing to pay in order to establish an infantry stronghold in France. Days before the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was told by a top strategist that paratrooper casualties alone could be as high as 75 percent. Nevertheless, he ordered the attack.

Because of bad weather and fierce German resistance, the D-Day beach landings were chaotic and bloody, with the first waves of landing forces suffering terrible losses, particularly the U.S. troops at Omaha beach and the Canadian divisions at Juno beach. But thanks to raw perseverance and grit, the Allies overcame those grave initial setbacks and took all five Normandy beaches by nightfall on June 6.

EXPLORE: D-Day: How Allied Forces Overcame Disastrous Landings to Rout the Nazis

The first Allied cemetery in Europe was dedicated just two days after the D-Day invasion on June 8, 1944. And since that day, military officials and memorial organizations have attempted to come up with a definitive count of Allied D-Day deaths in order to properly honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the free world.

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is one of those organizations. At its memorial site in Bedford, Virginia, there are 4,414 names enshrined in bronze plaques representing every Allied soldier, sailor, airman and coast guardsman who died on D-Day. That figure was the result of years of exhaustive research by librarian and genealogist Carol Tuckwiller on behalf of the Foundation, and remains the most accurate count of Allied fatalities within the 24-hour period known as D-Day.

John Long, director of education at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, says that when the memorial was first being planned in the late 1990s, there were wildly different estimates for Allied D-Day fatalities ranging from 5,000 to 12,000. German casualties on D-Day, meanwhile, have been estimated to be between 4,000 and 9,000 killed, wounded or missing. The Allies also captured some 200,000 German prisoners of war.

While military records clearly showed that thousands of troops perished during the initial phases of the months-long Normandy Campaign, it wasn’t nearly as clear when many of the troops were actually killed. In the chaos of the beach landings, for example, some soldiers ended up fighting, and ultimately dying, in different companies. Commanders did their best under difficult circumstances to accurately register the fallen, but death dates weren’t always definitive in the fog of war.

“Their mission was to win a World War against Hitler,” says Long, “not to keep records that would satisfy peacetime researchers 75 years later.”

Tuckwiller began with all of the grave markers at the Normandy American Cemetery inscribed with a June 6th death date. Then she combed through what’s left of WWII military records—many were lost in a fire in the 1970s—looking for “after action” reports from the invasion that included confirmed D-Day deaths.

READ MORE: D-Day: Facts on the Epic 1944 Invasion That Changed the Course of WWII

Something interesting Tuckwiller learned was that the US military would officially declare a soldier dead after he was missing for a full year. So many soldiers who went missing on D-Day—some bodies, for example, were swept out to sea or destroyed in violent plane crashes—had a death date on their military records of June 7, 1945, a year and a day later.

Of course, Tuckwiller couldn’t automatically include all military personnel who died on June 7, 1945 in her record of D-Day fatalities. She needed to confirm that each fallen soldier’s division would have been in Normandy on June 6th. For example, there were men still fighting in Europe and the Pacific in 1945, so those names had to be scrubbed.

Long knows that the Foundation’s list isn’t complete, but says that it’s the best figure that we have to date. Of the 4,414 Allied deaths on June 6th, 2,501 were Americans and 1,913 were Allies. If the figure sounds low, Long says, it’s probably because we’re used to seeing estimates of the total number of D-Day casualties, which includes fatalities, the wounded and the missing.

While casualty figures are notoriously difficult to verify—not all wounded soldiers are counted, for example—the accepted estimate is that the Allies suffered 10,000 total casualties on D-Day itself. The highest casualties occurred on Omaha beach, where 2,000 U.S. troops were killed, wounded or went missing; at Sword Beach and Gold Beach, where 2,000 British troops were killed, wounded or went missing; and at Juno beach, where 340 Canadian soldiers were killed and another 574 wounded.

READ MORE: D-Day: Full Coverage

The vast majority of the men who died perished in the very first waves of the attack. The first soldiers out of the landing craft were gunned down by German artillery. Once those pillboxes were destroyed and the machine guns silenced, the later waves of troops faced far better odds.

Among the stunning losses of those first-wave soldiers were 19 young men known as “the Bedford Boys.” The U.S. Congress chose Bedford, Virginia as the site of the National D-Day Memorial because it suffered the highest per capita D-Day losses of any community in the nation. The 19 Bedford Boys were mostly National Guardsman who were some of the first to land on Omaha beach.

“As a result, their losses were just staggeringly high,” says Long.

Video: Frank DeVita Describes Landing on Omaha Beach

Two decades after the National D-Day Memorial Foundation began its search for the D-Day fallen, another name was recently added to the bronze plaques. On Memorial Day 2019, the Foundation announced the addition of John Onken, a German-born soldier who was likely one of the first to die for his adoptive country during the seaborne phase of the D-Day invasion.

At 4 AM on June 6th, Onken and his fellow U.S. Cavalry troops were tasked with clearing two small islands off the Normandy coast of possible Nazi gun positions or enemy lookouts.

“They didn’t find any Germans, but they did run into mine fields,” says Long. “Two men were killed and one of them was John Onken.”

In addition to earning his rightful place on the National D-Day Memorial wall, Onken’s name is included in a new book commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day called We will Remember Them: An accounting of the D-Day Fallen, published by the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.

“We’re continuing the search for other names,” Long says. “We’ve never considered this a finished project.

How Many Were Killed on D-Day?

It was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 brave young soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in a bold strategy to push the Nazis out of Western Europe and turn the tide of the war for good.

In planning the D-Day attack, Allied military leaders knew that casualties might be staggeringly high, but it was a cost they were willing to pay in order to establish an infantry stronghold in France. Days before the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was told by a top strategist that paratrooper casualties alone could be as high as 75 percent. Nevertheless, he ordered the attack.

Because of bad weather and fierce German resistance, the D-Day beach landings were chaotic and bloody, with the first waves of landing forces suffering terrible losses, particularly the U.S. troops at Omaha beach and the Canadian divisions at Juno beach. But thanks to raw perseverance and grit, the Allies overcame those grave initial setbacks and took all five Normandy beaches by nightfall on June 6.

The first Allied cemetery in Europe was dedicated just two days after the D-Day invasion on June 8, 1944. And since that day, military officials and memorial organizations have attempted to come up with a definitive count of Allied D-Day deaths in order to properly honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the free world.

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is one of those organizations. At its memorial site in Bedford, Virginia, there are 4,414 names enshrined in bronze plaques representing every Allied soldier, sailor, airman and coast guardsman who died on D-Day. That figure was the result of years of exhaustive research by librarian and genealogist Carol Tuckwiller on behalf of the Foundation, and remains the most accurate count of Allied fatalities within the 24-hour period known as D-Day.

D-Day Data: We Know How Many People Were Lost or Injured During the Allied Invasion

The largest amphibious invasion in history began on the night of June 5-6, with the roar of C-47 engines preparing to take off , and climaxed on the beaches of Normandy.

But just how many paratroopers did it take to support the Normandy landings, how many soldiers braved machine gun fire and artillery to secure those crucial beachheads, and how many German soldiers were they up against?

History on the Net’s article on the D-Day invasion provides the astonishing raw figures.

Operation Overlord Statistics

The Normandy invasion consisted of the following:

5,333 Allied ships and landing craft embarking nearly 175,000 men.
The British and Canadians put 75,215 British and Canadian troops ashore.
Americans: 57,500
3,400 were killed or missing.
The foregoing figures exclude approximately 20,000 Allied airborne troopers.

D-Day Casualties:

The First U.S. Army, accounting for the first twenty-four hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded. The after-action report of U.S. VII Corps (ending 1 July) showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 prisoners, and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.

Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed.

Surprisingly, no British figures were published, but Cornelius Ryan cites estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing, including 650 from the Sixth Airborne Division.
German sources vary between four thousand and nine thousand D-Day casualties on 6 June—a range of 125 percent. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s report for all of June cited killed, wounded, and missing of some 250,000 men, including twenty-eight generals.

American Personnel in Britain:

1,931,885 land
659,554 air
285,000 naval
Total:2,876,439 officers and men housed in 1,108 bases and camps

Divisions of the Allied forces for Operation Overlord (the assault forces on 6 June involved two U.S., two British, and one Canadian division.)

23 infantry divisions (thirteen U.S., eight British, two Canadian)
12 armored divisions (five U.S., four British, one each Canadian, French, and Polish)
4 airborne (two each U.S. and British)
Total:23 American divisions, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 French and 1 Polish.

3,958 heavy bombers (3,455 operational)
1,234 medium and light bombers (989 operational)
4,709 fighters (3,824 operational)
Total: 9,901 (8,268 operational).

German troops:

850,000 German troops awaiting the invasion, many were Eastern European conscripts there were even some Koreans.
In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed 80,000 troops, but only one panzer division.
60 infantry divisions in France and ten panzer divisions, possessing 1,552 tanks,In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed eighty thousand troops, but only one panzer division.
Approximately fifteen thousand French civilians died in the Normandy campaign, partly from Allied bombing and partly from combat actions of Allied and German ground forces.

The total number of casualties that occurred during Operation Overlord, from June 6 (the date of D-Day) to August 30 (when German forces retreated across the Seine) was over 425,000 Allied and German troops.

This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties:

Nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces
16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces)
125,847 from the US ground forces.
But the numbers alone don’t tell the full story of the battle that raged in Normandy on June 6th, 1944. For a complete view of Operation Overlord, check out the full article at History on the Net, D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, as well as some others like D-Day Quotes: From Eisenhower to Hitler.

This article originally appeared in 2020 on the Warfare History Network.

Secret Revelaed: More U.S. Soldiers Were Killed In This Training Exercise Than In The D-Day Invasion

Here's What You Need To Remember: Soldiers who ventured out of line or formation ran a terrible risk under such close fire with live ammunition. It was only by adhering to clear timetables and strict discipline from unit leaders that a maneuver of this kind could be carried out successfully.

In the early 1970s, a former British Royal Air Force policeman–turned-hairdresser, Ken Small, visited South Devon on England’s Channel coast. While snow lies thick on the heights of Dartmoor in winter, one can walk about here on the coast in shirtsleeves it is that warm. And Ken Small from Britain’s rugged chilly north thought he might settle here and enjoy that warmth.

Things turned out vastly different for the bespectacled ex-policeman. For on his first visit to the Slapton Sands area of South Devon, where a quarter of a century before U.S. troops had practiced for the Normandy landings, he met a local fisherman and diver who set him off in a completely different direction which would dominate his life for the next 30 years. The fisherman told him that one of the American tanks used in these 1944 exercises had sunk when it had left its landing craft and now lay intact on the seabed a couple of hundred yards offshore. The hairdresser was intrigued immediately. Within 24 hours he had made his decision. Somehow he would raise that tank and set it up on the shore at Slapton Sands as a permanent memorial to all the U.S. servicemen who had lost their lives liberating Normandy just across the English Channel.

The Tank at the Bottom of the Sea

But who owned that tank at the bottom of the sea? It took a year to find out, and in the end Small bought the Sherman tank from a U.S. government agency for $50, which was about all he could afford.

Now came the next problem: how was he going to raise his tank? Nine years later he was still looking for help and money to retrieve a rusting Sherman he had never seen and which had lain at the bottom of the sea since March 1944. The U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, once known to England-based GIs as “Eisenhower-platz,” said it had no funds for such projects. Small turned to the ordinary folk of the area. Offers of money and help poured in from British people still grateful to the Yanks. Even the British army chipped in, offering soldiers and equipment from the elite 3rd Royal Tank Regiment.

Thus it was that after 10 years, with the TV cameras whirring and a large crowd waiting in tense expectation, that on Saturday, May 17, 1984, the salvage crews descended 65 feet below the surface of the sea to raise Small’s tank. Fortunately, everything went well, unlike most of these recovery jobs. For Small was racing against time. He wanted the Sherman in position on a hard stand at Slapton Sands ready for the 40th anniversary of D-Day. He made it just in time, and there the Sherman rests to this day, the muzzle of its cannon pointing out over Stuart Bay where it had all happened and the mystery had commenced.

Ken Small, proud of his achievement after a decade of wheeling and dealing, did not realize the recovery of that tank from the U.S. 70th Tank Battalion would reopen the debate about controversial events that would continue long after the ex-hairdresser was dead.

The recovery of the small tank had aroused worldwide publicity. With that publicity had come the reemergence of rumor and dark talk of a U.S. Army cover-up that dated back to the war itself. There was talk of mass graves, trainloads of dead GIs being shipped to other parts of the United Kingdom (U.K.) to be buried there secretly, a mass censorship ban, and strictest secrecy being imposed on all U.S. personnel who had been in the Slapton Sands area that fateful spring, including all nurses and doctors who had treated the survivors of some mysterious major incident that had taken place there.

That censorship ban, according to the rumor mongers, had never been lifted even 40 years after the war. Ostensibly, the reason was because the Pentagon did not want Joe Public in the States to learn that there had been a major foul-up in the training for the U.S. landing at Utah Beach, which had cost four times as many U.S. casualties than on D-day itself.

Small, now somewhat of a local celebrity, published his own version of what had actually happened in his book on Exercise Tiger, as this mysterious and controversial operation was called. Tiger involved 30,000 GIs from the 4th “Ivy League” Infantry Division, the 297th Combat Engineers, and the 70th Tank Battalion, who would practice a mass landing at Slapton Sands. Supposedly, the shoreline bore a close resemblance to Utah Beach in Normandy where in two months’ time the real assault landing would take place.

Unfortunately, according to Small and others who believed they were to reveal the great cover-up for the first time, the Germans had picked up the American radio traffic of the convoy in the English Channel and had launched an attack by E-boats from their home port of Cherbourg, France. This force attacked the U.S. and British ships with torpedoes and cannon fire, sinking two U.S. landing crafts, 507 and 530, and badly damaging another. That night of April 27, 1944, several hundred GIs were killed or drowned and a very worried General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, ordered all bodies to be recovered at all cost and the whole matter hushed up, presumably forever. But now, 40 years later, the matter was finally out in the open. Who in the Pentagon had continued to maintain the great cover-up?

But Had There Really Been a Cover-up in the First Place?

Immediately after the war, despite the rumors circulating in the Devon of the 1980s, there had been several books outlining the Slapton Sands tragedy (indeed the Stars & Stripes had already made reference to it during the war itself in July 1944). Captain Harry Butcher, Eisenhower’s personal assistant and naval aide, had given a fairly detailed account of the event in his My Three Years with Eisenhower (1946). It was also referred to in the U.S. Army’s official history, Cross Channel Attack (1951), and in Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s official U.S. Navy history, The Invasion of France and Germany (1957). So where was the cover-up?

Indeed, on the first official anniversary of D-day, when the U.S. authorities unveiled a monument at Slapton Sands honoring the locals for giving up their land and homes so that the Americans could use the area as a training ground, General Alfred Guenther gave a full account of the tragedy that had befallen Exercise Tiger.

Still, the ugly rumors persisted, not only in the U.K., but in the States too. In Washington D.C., WJLA-TV pursued the matter relentlessly. The station manager was told by the Army’s Public Affairs Office that there had been no cover-up. Exercise Tiger had been well documented years before. But Small’s book, The Forgotten Dead, continued to fuel the conspiracy theory, especially as Small maintained that if those GIs of Tiger had been killed out at sea, why was he continuing to find bits and pieces of U.S. Army equipment on the shore itself. Who had died on Slapton Sands then?

Had there then been not just one foul-up at Slapton but two—one out at sea and another on the land? Small was put in contact with Congresswoman Beverly Byron, who turned out to be no less a person than the daughter of Eisenhower aide, Captain Butcher. In her turn, she introduced Small to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army in Colorado, where the 4th Infantry Division was stationed.

In Colorado it was proposed that a small plaque would be erected at Slapton next to Ken’s tank. This was done on November 15, 1987. Once again the conspiracy theory was raised in the media. This time it was alleged that heavy casualties were inflicted on those GIs landing on the beach by their own comrades who defended it and fired live ammunition at the assault troops.

“Hundreds of Americans in a Mass Grave.”

Suddenly, eyewitnesses began to appear. Local resident Dorothy Seekings maintained that as a girl she had witnessed the burial of “hundreds of Americans in a mass grave.” BBC TV tackled that one. The BBC reporters queried the farmer on whose land the mass grave was supposed to be. The farmer maintained he had not seen a single bone there in years of plowing his fields.

How Many People Died on D-Day?

On D-Day, over 4,400 Allied soldiers died, as did between 4,000 and 9,000 German soldiers. This battle was the start of the larger campaign of the Battle of Normandy, which led to 425,000 killed, injured or missing soldiers.

The D-Day invasion provided a pathway to send Allied troops into the heart of Axis territory. Once the Allies gained control of Normandy, they used this foothold in Western Europe to begin their march against German forces. D-Day signaled a major turning point in the war, when the Allies reversed the gains made by Axis forces. The invasion at D-Day was planned for several years, as the Allied leaders strived to determine how to gain control of this area without excessive loss of life for Allied troops.

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The opening scene, which shows U.S. soldiers fighting on Omaha Beach, was so jarring and so true that many survivors of the actual battle reportedly couldn't take it and had to leave the screenings.

Some 3,600 GIs were killed or wounded on that blood-soaked strip of sand. And when President Obama came to Normandy in June 2009 to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day, he noted the "sheer improbability" of the Allied victory.

"It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide," he said.

One of the soldiers who landed in Normandy six weeks after D-Day was Obama's late grandfather, Stanley Dunham. He fought in General Patton's army and helped liberate part of the Nazi death camp Buchenwald in 1945.

D-Day Statistics: Normandy Invasion By the Numbers

The Normandy Invasion consisted of 5,333 Allied ships and landing craft embarking nearly 175,000 men. The British and Canadians put 75,215 troops ashore, and the Americans 57,500, for a total of 132,715, of whom about 3,400 were killed or missing, in contrast to some estimates of ten thousand.

The foregoing figures exclude approximately 20,000 Allied airborne troopers. Extensive planning was required to move all these troops.

The U.S. VII Corps sustained 22,119 casualties from 6 June to 1 July, including 2,811 killed, 13,564 wounded, 5,665 missing, and seventy-nine captured.

American personnel in Britain included 1,931,885 land, 659,554 air, and 285,000 naval—a total of 2,876,439 officers and men. While in Britain they were housed in 1,108 bases and camps.

The Allied forces for Operation Overlord comprised twenty-three infantry divisions (thirteen U.S., eight British, two Canadian) twelve armored (five U.S., four British, one each Canadian, French, and Polish) and four airborne (two each U.S. and British)—for a total of twenty American divisions, fourteen British, three Canadian, and one each French and Polish. However, the assault forces on 6 June involved two U.S., two British, and one Canadian division.

Air assets included 3,958 heavy bombers (3,455 operational), 1,234 medium and light bombers (989 operational), and 4,709 fighters (3,824 operational), for 9,901 total and 8,268 operational. Allowing for aircrews, 7,774 U.S. and British Commonwealth planes were available for operations on 6 June, but these figures do not include transports and gliders.

Of the 850,000 German troops awaiting the invasion, many were Eastern European conscripts there were even some Koreans. There were sixty infantry divisions in France and ten panzer divisions, possessing 1,552 tanks, but not all were combat ready. In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed eighty thousand troops, but only one panzer division.

Approximately fifteen thousand French civilians died in the Normandy campaign, partly from Allied bombing and partly from combat actions of Allied and German ground forces.


The coastline of Normandy was divided into sixteen sectors, which were assigned code names using a spelling alphabet—from Able, west of Omaha, to Roger on the east flank of Sword. The area of beach that would become Omaha was originally designated X-Ray, from the phonetic alphabet of the day the name was changed on 3 March 1944. The names of both Omaha and Utah were probably suggested by Omar Bradley, as two privates fitting out his London headquarters were from Omaha, Nebraska (Gayle Eyler) and Provo, Utah they were not named after the corps commanders, who were from Virginia (Gerow) and Louisiana (Collins). [2] Eight further sectors were added when the invasion was extended to include Utah on the Cotentin Peninsula. Sectors were further subdivided into beaches identified by the colors Green, Red, and White. [3]

Omaha was bounded at either end by large rocky cliffs. The crescent-shaped beach presented a gently sloping tidal area averaging 300 m (330 yd) between low and high-water marks. Above the tide line was a bank of shingle 2.5 m (8 ft) high and up to 15 m (49 ft) wide in places. At the western end, the shingle bank rested against a stone (further east becoming wood) sea wall which ranged from 1.5–4 m (5–13 ft) in height. For the remaining two thirds of the beach after the seawall ended, the shingle lay against a low sand embankment. Behind the sand embankment and sea wall was a level shelf of sand, narrow at either end and extending up to 200 m (220 yd) inland in the center, and behind that rose steep escarpments or bluffs 30–50 m (33–55 yd) high, which dominated the whole beach and were cut into by small wooded valleys or draws at five points along the beach, codenamed west to east D-1, D-3, E-1, E-3 and F-1. [4]

The German defensive preparations and the lack of any defense in depth indicated that their plan was to stop the invasion at the beaches. [5] Four lines of obstacles were constructed in the intertidal zone. The first, a non-contiguous line with a small gap in the middle of Dog White and a larger gap across the whole of Easy Red, was 250 m (270 yd) out from the highwater line and consisted of 200 Belgian Gates with mines lashed to the uprights. 30 meters (33 yd) behind these was a continuous line of logs driven into the sand pointing seaward, every third one capped with an anti-tank mine. Another 30 meters (33 yd) shoreward of this line was a continuous line of 450 ramps sloping towards the shore, also with mines attached and designed to force flat-bottomed landing craft to ride up and either flip or detonate the mine. The final line of obstacles was a continuous line of hedgehogs 150 meters (160 yd) from the shoreline. The area between the shingle bank and the bluffs was both wired and mined, and mines were also scattered on the bluff slopes. [6] [7]

Coastal troop deployments, comprising five companies of infantry, were concentrated mostly at 15 strongpoints called Widerstandsnester ("resistance nests"), numbered WN-60 in the east to WN-74 near Vierville in the west, located primarily around the entrances to the draws and protected by minefields and wire. [8] Positions within each strongpoint were interconnected by trenches and tunnels. As well as the basic weaponry of rifles and machine guns, more than 60 light artillery pieces were deployed at these strongpoints. The heaviest pieces were located in eight gun casemates and four open positions while the lighter guns were housed in 35 pillboxes. A further 18 anti-tank guns completed the disposition of artillery targeting the beach. Areas between the strongpoints were lightly manned with occasional trenches, rifle pits, and 85 machine-gun emplacements. No area of the beach was left uncovered, and the disposition of weapons meant that flanking fire could be brought to bear anywhere along the beach. [9] [10]

Allied intelligence had identified the coastal defenders as a reinforced battalion (800–1000 men) of the 716th Infantry Division. [11] This was a static defensive division estimated to consist up to 50% of non-German troops, mostly Russians and Poles, and German Volksdeutsche. The recently activated but capable 352nd Infantry Division was believed to be 30 kilometers (19 mi) inland at Saint-Lô and was regarded as the most likely force to be committed to a counter-attack. As part of Rommel's strategy to concentrate defenses at the water's edge, the 352nd had been ordered forward in March, [12] taking over responsibility for the defense of the portion of the Normandy coast in which Omaha was located. As part of this reorganization, the 352nd also took under its command two battalions of the 726th Grenadier Regiment (part of the 716th Static Infantry Division) as well as the 439th Ost-Battalion, which had been attached to the 726th. [13] Omaha fell mostly within 'Coast Defense Sector 2', which stretched westward from Colleville and allocated to the 916th Grenadier Regiment, with the third battalion 726th Grenadier Regiment attached. Two companies of the 726th manned strongpoints in the Vierville area while two companies of the 916th occupied the St. Laurent area strongpoints in the center of Omaha. These positions were supported by the artillery of the first and fourth battalions of the 352nd Artillery Regiment (twelve 105 mm and four 150 mm howitzers respectively). The two remaining companies of the 916th formed a reserve at Formigny, three kilometers (1.9 miles) inland. East of Colleville, 'Coast Defense Sector 3' was the responsibility of the remainder of the 726th Grenadier Regiment. Two companies were deployed at the coast, one in the most easterly series of strongpoints, with artillery support provided by the third battalion of the 352nd Artillery Regiment. The area reserve, comprising the two battalions of the 915th Grenadier Regiment and known as 'Kampfgruppe Meyer', was located south-east of Bayeux outside the immediate Omaha area. [14]

The failure to identify the reorganization of the defenses was a rare intelligence breakdown for the Allies. Post-action reports still documented the original estimate and assumed that the 352nd had been deployed to the coastal defenses by chance, a few days previously, as part of an anti-invasion exercise. [14] [15] The source of this inaccurate information came from German prisoners of war from the 352nd Infantry Division captured on D-Day as reported by the 16th Infantry S-3 D-Day Action Report. In fact, Allied intelligence had already become aware of the relocation of the 352nd Infantry Division on June 4. This information was passed on to V Infantry Corps and 1st Infantry Division HQ through 1st Army, but at that late stage in the operations, no plans were changed. [16]

When General Omar Bradley expressed concern about Omaha Beach in January, a Royal Engineers team of Captain Logan Scott-Bowden and Sergeant Bruce Ogden-Smith showed him a sample of sand from the beach. They had swam ashore in Normandy from midget submarines over thirty times, to obtain sand samples to see whether the beaches would support tanks. Scott-Bowden said to him "Sir, I hope you don't mind me saying it, but this beach is a very formidable proposition indeed and there are bound to be tremendous casualties." Bradley put his hand on Scott-Bowden's shoulder and replied, "I know, my boy. I know." [17]

Omaha was divided into ten sectors, codenamed (from west to east): Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy White, Easy Red, Fox Green, Fox White, and Fox Red. The initial assault was to be made by two Regimental Combat Teams (RCT), supported by two tank battalions, with two battalions of Rangers also attached. The infantry regiments were organized into three battalions each of around 1,000 men. Each battalion was organized as three rifle companies each of up to 240 men, and a support company of up to 190 men. [18] Infantry companies A through D belonged to the 1st battalion of a regiment, E through H to the 2nd, I through M to the 3rd the letter ‘J’ was not used. (Individual companies will be referred to in this article by company and regiment, e.g. Company A of the 116th RCT will be 'A/116'). In addition, each battalion had a headquarters company of up to 180 men. The tank battalions consisted of three companies, A through C, each of 16 tanks, while the Ranger battalions were organized into six companies, A through F, of around 65 men per company. V Corps' 56th Signal Battalion was responsible for communications on Omaha with the fleet offshore, especially routing requests for naval gunfire support to the destroyers and USS Arkansas.

The 116th RCT of the 29th Infantry Division was to land two battalions in the western four beaches, to be followed 30 minutes later by the third battalion. Their landings were to be supported by the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion two companies swimming ashore in amphibious DD tanks and the remaining company landing directly onto the beach from assault craft. To the left of the 116th RCT the 16th RCT of the 1st Infantry Division was also to land two battalions with the third following 30 minutes after, on Easy Red and Fox Green at the eastern end of Omaha. Their tank support was to be provided by the 741st Tank Battalion, again two companies swimming ashore and the third landed conventionally. Three companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion were to take a fortified battery at Pointe du Hoc, five kilometers (3.1 miles) to the west of Omaha. Meanwhile, C Company 2nd Rangers was to land on the right of the 116th RCT and take the positions at Pointe de la Percée. The remaining companies of 2nd Rangers and the 5th Ranger Battalion were to follow up at Pointe du Hoc if that action proved to be successful, otherwise they were to follow the 116th into Dog Green and proceed to Pointe du Hoc overland. [19]

The landings were scheduled to start at 06:30, "H-Hour", on a flooding tide, preceded by a 40-minute naval and 30-minute aerial bombardment of the beach defenses, with the DD tanks arriving five minutes before H-Hour. The infantry were organized into specially equipped assault sections, 32 men strong, one section to a landing craft, with each section assigned specific objectives in reducing the beach defenses. Immediately behind the first landings the Special Engineer Task Force was to land with the mission of clearing and marking lanes through the beach obstacles. This would allow the larger ships of the follow-up landings to get through safely at high tide. The landing of artillery support was scheduled to start at H+90 minutes while the main buildup of vehicles was to start at H+180 minutes. At H+195 minutes two further Regimental Combat Teams, the 115th RCT of the 29th Infantry Division and the 18th RCT of the 1st Infantry Division were to land, with the 26th RCT of the 1st Infantry Division to be landed on the orders of the V Corps commander. [20]

The objective was for the beach defenses to be cleared by H+2 hours, whereupon the assault sections were to reorganize, continuing the battle in battalion formations. The draws were to be opened to allow traffic to exit the beach by H+3 hours. By the end of the day, the forces at Omaha were to have established a bridgehead 8 kilometers (5.0 miles) deep, linked up with the British 50th Division landed at Gold to the east, and be in position to move on Isigny the next day, linking up with the American VII Corps at Utah to the west. [21]

Naval component Edit

Task Force O, commanded by Rear Admiral John L. Hall Jr., was the naval component responsible for transporting the troops across the channel and landing them on the beaches. The task force comprised four assault groups, a support group, a bombarding force, a minesweeper group, eight patrol craft, and three anti-submarine trawlers, numbering in total 1,028 vessels. [22]

Assault groups O1 to O3, tasked with landing the main body of the assault, were organised along similar lines, with each comprising three infantry transports and varying numbers of tank landing ships (LST), Landing Craft Control (LCC), Landing Craft Infantry (LCI(L)), Landing Craft Tank (LCT), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM). Assault Group O4, tasked with landing the Rangers and the Special Engineer Task Force at Pointe du Hoc and Dog Green, comprised only six smaller infantry transports. [22]

The infantry transports of assault groups O1 and O2 comprised two US Navy Attack Transport (APA or AP) ships and a Royal Navy Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI(L)). All three infantry transports of Assault Group O3 were US Navy AP ships. Each US transport typically carried 1,400 troops and 26 Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP, popularly known as Higgins Boats), while the British LSI(L) carried 900 to 1,400 troops and 18 Landing Craft Assault (LCA). The infantry transports of Assault Group O4 – all Royal Navy ships – comprised three LSI(S) and three LSI(H), both smaller variants of the LSI(L). Each of them carried 200 to 250 troops and eight LCA. [23]

The Support Group operated a mixture of gun, rocket, flak, tank, and smoke landing craft, totaling 67 vessels. The Minesweeper Group comprised four flotillas, the 4th comprising nine Royal Navy minesweepers the 31st comprising nine minesweepers of the Royal Canadian Navy the 104th comprising ten Royal Navy inshore minesweepers and the 167th comprising ten Royal Navy coastal minesweepers. [22] [24] Bombarding Force C comprised two battleships, three cruisers (two Free French and one Royal Navy), and 13 destroyers (three of which were provided by the Royal Navy). [25]

While reviewing Allied troops in England training for D-Day, General Omar Bradley promised that the Germans on the beach would be blasted with naval gunfire before the landing. "You men should consider yourself lucky. You are going to have ringside seats for the greatest show on earth," he said, referring to the naval bombardment. [26] However, Rear Admiral John L. Hall strongly disapproved of what he considered to be the small amount of air and naval bombardment used, saying "It's a crime to send me on the biggest amphibious attack in history with such inadequate naval gunfire support." [27]

Just after 05:00 the Germans at Port-en-Bessin reported ships off the coast, and at 05:30 opened artillery fire on the destroyer USS Emmons. The destroyer was joined in returning fire by the Free French cruiser Georges Leygues, and later by the battleship USS Arkansas. At 05:50 the planned naval bombardment began. Pointe-du-Hoc was targeted by the battleship USS Texas, and the destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont, the latter having first destroyed the radar station at Pointe et Raz de la Percée. [28]

The focus of the main naval bombardment was then switched to the beach defenses, and at 06:00, 36 M7 Priest howitzers and 34 tanks that were approaching the beach on LCTs began to supplement the naval guns. They were joined by fire from ten landing craft-mounted 4.7-inch guns and the rockets of nine Landing Craft Tank (Rocket), the latter planned to hit as the assault craft were just 300 meters (330 yd) from the beach. [29]

At 06:00, 448 B-24 Liberators of the United States Army Air Forces, having already completed one bombing mission over Omaha late the previous day, returned. However, with the skies overcast and under orders to avoid bombing the troops which were by then approaching the beach, the bombers overshot their targets and only three bombs fell near the beach area. [30]

Shortly after the bombardment began, the German 916th Grenadiers reported their positions to be under particularly heavy fire, with the position at WN-60 very badly hit. Although the Rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc were greatly assisted in their assault of the cliffs by the Satterlee and Talybont, elsewhere the air and naval bombardment was not so effective, and the German beach defenses and supporting artillery remained largely intact. [31]

Later analysis of naval support during the pre-landing phase concluded that the navy had provided inadequate bombardment, given the size and extent of the planned assault. [32] Kenneth P. Lord, a U.S. Army planner for the D-Day invasion, says that, upon hearing the naval gunfire support plan for Omaha, which limited support to one battleship, two cruisers and six destroyers, he and other planners were very upset, especially in light of the tremendous naval gunfire support given to landings in the Pacific. [33]

Historian Adrian R. Lewis postulates that American casualties would have been greatly reduced if a longer barrage had been implemented, [34] although the First Infantry Division Chief of Staff said that the Division would not have been able to move off the beach without effective naval gunfire. [35]

Despite these preparations, very little went according to plan. Ten landing craft were swamped by the rough seas before they reached the beach, and several others stayed afloat only because their passengers bailed water out with their helmets. Seasickness was prevalent among the troops waiting offshore. On the 16th RCT front, the landing boats passed struggling men in life preservers and on rafts, survivors of the DD tanks which had sunk in the rough sea. [36] Navigation of the landing vehicles was made difficult by the smoke and mist obscuring the landmarks they were to use in guiding themselves in, while a strong current pushed them continually eastward. [37]

As the boats approached to within a few hundred yards of the shore, they came under increasingly heavy fire from automatic weapons and artillery. The force only then discovered the ineffectiveness of the pre-landing bombardment. The bombers, facing overcast conditions, had been ordered to implement a pre-arranged plan to compensate for decreased accuracy. The center of targeting was displaced inland to assure the safety of the landing allied troops. As a result, there was little or no damage to the beach defenses. [38]

Tank landings Edit

Because sea conditions were so rough, the decision was made for the 116th LCT to carry the DD tanks of the 743rd tank battalion all the way to the beach, after 27 of the initial 29 DD tanks of the 741st tank battalion swamped while wading to shore. Coming in opposite the heavily defended Vierville draw, Company B of the 743rd Tank Battalion lost all but one of its officers and half of its DD tanks. The other two companies landed to the left of B/743 without initial loss. On the 16th RCT front, the two DD tanks from the 741st tank battalion that had survived the swim ashore were joined by three others that were landed directly onto the beach because of their LCT's damaged ramp. The remaining tank company managed to land 14 of its 16 tanks (although three of these were quickly knocked out). [39] [40]

Infantry landings Edit

Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion. [41]

Of the nine companies landing in the first wave, only Company A of the 116th RCT at Dog Green and the Rangers to their right landed where intended. E/116, aiming for Easy Green, ended up scattered across the two beaches of the 16th RCT area. [42] G/116, aiming for Dog White, opened up a 1,000-yard (900 m) gap between themselves and A/116 to their right when they landed at Easy Green instead. I/16 drifted so far east it did not land for another hour and a half. [43]

As infantry disembarked from the landing craft, they often found themselves on sandbars 50 to 100 yards (46 to 91 meters) out. To reach the beach they had to wade through water sometimes neck deep, and they still had 200 yards (180 m) or more to go when they did reach shore. Those that made it to the shingle did so at a walking pace because they were so heavily laden. Most sections had to brave the full weight of fire from small arms, mortars, artillery, and interlocking fields of heavy machine gun fire. [44] Where the naval bombardment set grass fires burning, as it had at Dog Red opposite the Les Moulins strongpoint, the smoke obscured the landing troops and prevented effective fire from being laid down by the defenders. [42] Some sections of G/116 and F/116 were able to reach the shingle bank relatively unscathed, though the latter became disorganized after the loss of their officers. G/116 was able to retain some cohesion, but this was soon lost as they made their way westwards under fire along the shingle in an attempt to reach their assigned objectives. [45] The scattering of the boats was most evident on the 16th RCT front, where parts of E/16, F/16 and E/116 had intermingled, making it difficult for sections to come together to improvise company assaults that might have reversed the situation caused by the mis-landings. Those scattered sections of E/116 landing at Easy Red were able to escape heavy casualties, although, having encountered a deep runnel after being landed on a sandbank, they were forced to discard most of their weapons to make the swim ashore. [46]

Casualties were heaviest among the troops landing at either end of Omaha. In the east at Fox Green and the adjacent stretch of 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 300 yards (270 m) of beach just ahead of the incoming tide. Within 15 minutes of landing at Dog Green on the western end of the beach, A/116 had been cut to pieces, the leaders among the 120 or so casualties, [45] [47] [48] [N 1] the survivors reduced to seeking cover at the water's edge or behind obstacles. The smaller Ranger company to their right had fared a little better, having made the shelter of the bluffs, but were also down to half strength.

L/16 eventually landed, 30 minutes late, to the left of Fox Green, taking casualties as the boats ran in and more as they crossed the 200 yards (180 m) of beach. The terrain at the very eastern end of Omaha gave them enough protection to allow the 125 survivors to organize and begin an assault of the bluffs. They were the only company in the first wave able to operate as a unit. [49] All the other companies were, at best, disorganized, mostly leaderless and pinned down behind the shingle with no hope of carrying out their assault missions. At worst, they had ceased to exist as fighting units. Nearly all had landed at least a few hundred yards off target, and in an intricately planned operation where each section on each boat had been assigned a specific task, this was enough to throw the whole plan off.

Engineer landings Edit

Like the infantry, the engineers had been pushed off their targets, and only five of the 16 teams arrived at their assigned locations. Three teams came in where there were no infantry or armor to cover them. Working under heavy fire, the engineers set about their task of clearing gaps through the beach obstacles—work made more difficult by loss of equipment, and by infantry passing through or taking cover behind the obstacles they were trying to blow. They also suffered heavy casualties as enemy fire set off the explosives they were working with. Eight men of one team were dragging their pre-loaded rubber boat off the LCM when artillery hit only one survived the resulting detonation of their supplies. Another team had just finished laying its explosives when the area was struck by mortar fire. The premature explosion of the charges killed or wounded 19 engineers, as well as some nearby infantry. Nevertheless, the engineers succeeded in clearing six gaps, one each at Dog White and Easy Green on the 116th RCT front, the other four at Easy Red on the 16th RCT front. They had suffered casualties of over 40%. [50] [51]

With the initial targets unaccomplished, the second and larger wave of assault landings brought in reinforcements, support weapons and headquarters elements at 07:00 to face nearly the same difficulties as had the first. The second wave was larger, and so the defenders' fire was less concentrated. The survivors of the first wave were unable to provide effective covering fire, and in places the fresh landing troops suffered casualty rates as high as those of the first wave. Failure to clear paths through the beach obstacles also added to the difficulties of the second wave. In addition, the incoming tide was beginning to hide the remaining obstacles, causing high attrition among the landing craft before they had reached the shore. As in the initial landings, difficult navigation caused disruptive mislandings, scattering the infantry and separating vital headquarters elements from their units. [52]

On the 116th RCT front, the remainder of the 1st Battalion, B/116, C/116 and D/116, were due to land in support of A/116 at Dog Green. Three boats, including their headquarters and beach-master groups, landed too far west, under the cliffs. Their exact casualties in getting across the beach are unknown, but the one-third to one-half that made it to shore spent the rest of the day pinned down by snipers. Not all sections of the badly scattered B/116 landed there, but those that did were quickly forced to join those survivors of A/116 fighting for survival at the water's edge. [53] Two companies of 2nd Rangers, coming in later on the edge of Dog Green, did manage to reach the seawall, but at the cost of half their strength. [54]

To the left of Dog Green sat Dog White, between the Vierville and Les Moulins strongpoints (defending draws D-1 and D-3) and here was a different story. As a result of earlier mis-landings, and now because of their own mis-landing, the troops of C/116 found themselves alone at Dog White, with a handful of tanks from the first wave in sight. The smoke from the grass fires covering their advance up the beach, they gained the seawall with few casualties, and were in better shape than any unit on the 116th RCT front so far. [55] Although the 1st Battalion was effectively disarmed of its heavy weapons when D/116 suffered a disastrous landing, the buildup at Dog White continued. C/116 was joined by the 5th Ranger Battalion almost in its entirety. The Ranger commander, recognizing the situation at Dog Green on the run-in, ordered the assault craft to divert into Dog White. Like the C/116, the smoke covered their advance, although the 2nd Rangers were caught out on the right flank of the Ranger's landing. This was where the 116th RCT regimental command group, including the 29th Division assistant commander Brig. Gen. Norman "Dutch" Cota, was able to land relatively unscathed. [54]

Further east, the strongpoint defenses were effective. On the Dog Red/Easy Green boundary, the defenses around the Les Moulins strongpoint took a heavy toll on the remaining 2nd Battalion, with H/116 and headquarters elements struggling ashore there. The survivors joined the remnants of F/116 behind the shingle, and here the battalion commander was able to organize 50 men for an improvised advance across the shingle. A further advance up the bluffs just east of Les Moulins was too weak to have any effect and was forced back down. [56] To their left, mainly between the draws on the Easy Green/Easy Red boundary, the 116th RCT's support battalion landed without too much loss, although they did become scattered, and were too disorganized to play any immediate part in an assault on the bluffs. [57]

On the 16th RCT front, at the eastern end of Easy Red, was another area between strongpoints. This allowed G/16 and the support battalion to escape complete destruction in their advance up the beach. Nevertheless, most of G/16's 63 casualties for the day came before they had reached the shingle. The other 2nd Battalion company landed in the second wave H/16 came in a few hundred yards to the left, opposite the E-3 draw, and suffered for it – they were put out of action for several hours. [58]

On the easternmost beach, Fox Green, elements of five different companies had become entangled, and the situation was little improved by the equally disorganized landings of the second wave. Two more companies of the 3rd Battalion joined the melee, and, having drifted east in the first wave, I/16 finally made their traumatic landing on Fox Green, at 08:00. Two of their six boats were swamped on their detour to the east, and as they came in under fire, three of the four remaining boats were damaged by artillery or mines, and the fourth was hung up on an obstacle. A captain from this company found himself senior officer, and in charge of the badly out of shape 3rd Battalion. [59]

American situation Edit

Along with the infantry landing in the second wave, supporting arms began to arrive, meeting the same chaos and destruction as had the rifle companies. Combat engineers, tasked with clearing the exits and marking beaches, landed off-target and without their equipment.

Many half-tracks, jeeps and trucks foundered in deep water those that made it ashore soon became jammed up on the narrowing beach, making easy targets for the German defenders. Most of the radios were lost, making the task of organizing the scattered and dispirited troops even more difficult, and those command groups that did make the shore found their effectiveness limited to their immediate vicinity. Except for a few surviving tanks and a heavy weapons squad here or there, the assault troops had only their personal weapons, which, having been dragged through surf and sand, invariably needed cleaning before they could be used. [60]

The survivors at the shingle, many facing combat for the first time, found themselves relatively well-protected from small arms fire, but still exposed to artillery and mortars. In front of them lay heavily mined flats exposed to active fire from the bluffs above. Morale naturally became a problem. [61] Many groups were leaderless and witnesses to the fate of neighboring troops and landings coming in around them. Wounded men on the beach were drowning in the incoming tide and incoming landing craft were being pounded and set ablaze.

German situation Edit

By 07:35, the third battalion of the 726th Grenadier Regiment, defending Draw F-1 on Fox Green beach, was reporting that 100–200 American troops had penetrated the front, with troops inside the wire at WN-62 and WN-61 attacking the Germans from the rear. [62] From the German vantage point at Pointe de la Percée, overlooking the whole beach from the western end, it seemed that the assault had been stopped at the beach. An officer there noted that troops were seeking cover behind obstacles, and counted ten tanks burning. [63] So, as late as 13:35 the 352nd division was reporting that the assault had been hurled back into the sea. [64] Heinrich Severloh, a machine-gunner of 352 at WN62 got the soubriquet "The beast of Omaha": he claimed to have fired that day 400 rounds from two rifles and a staggering 13,500 rounds from his MG 42 an ammunition weight of over 560 kg. An NCO ferried ammunition from a nearby underground bunker. Low on ammunition, he even fired phosphorescent tracer rounds, which revealed his position. [65]

Casualties among the defenders were mounting. While the 916th regiment, defending the center of the 352nd zone, was reporting that the landings had been frustrated, it was also requesting reinforcements. The request could not be met, because the situation elsewhere in Normandy was becoming more urgent for the defenders. The reserve force of the German 352nd division, the 915th regiment, which had earlier been deployed against the US airborne landings to the west of Omaha, was diverted to the Gold zone east of Omaha, where German defenses were crumbling. [66]

Unidentified lieutenant, Easy Red. [61]

The key geographical features that had influenced the landings also influenced the next phase of the battle: the draws, the natural exits off the beaches, were the main targets in the initial assault plan. The strongly concentrated defenses around these draws meant that the troops landing near them quickly became incapable of carrying out a further assault. In the areas between the draws, at the bluffs, units were able to land in greater strength. Defenses were also weaker away from the draws, thus most advances were made there. [67]

The other key aspect of the next few hours was leadership. The original plan was in tatters, with so many units mis-landed, disorganized and scattered. Most commanders had fallen or were absent, and there were few ways to communicate, other than shouted commands. In places, small groups of men, sometimes scratched together from different companies, in some cases from different divisions, were ". inspired, encouraged or bullied. " [61] out of the relative safety of the shingle, starting the dangerous task of reducing the defenses atop the bluffs.

Assaulting the bluffs Edit

Survivors of C company 2nd Rangers in the first wave landed on Dog Green around 06:45 by 07:30, they had scaled the cliffs near Dog Green and the Vierville draw. They were joined later by a mis-landed section from B/116, and this group spent the better part of the day tying up and eventually taking WN-73, which defended draw D-1 at Vierville. [68] [69]

At 07:50, Cota led the charge off of Dog Green, between WN-68 and WN-70, by forcing gaps in the wire with a Bangalore torpedo and wire cutters. Twenty minutes later, the 5th Rangers joined the advance, and blew more openings. The command party established themselves at the top of the bluff, and elements of G/116 and H/116 joined them, having earlier moved laterally along the beach, and now the narrow front had widened to the east. Before 09:00, small parties from F/116 and B/116 reached the crests just east of Dog White. [69] [70] The right flank of this penetration was covered by the survivors of the 2nd Rangers’ A and B companies, who had independently fought their way to the top between 08:00 and 08:30. They took WN-70 (already heavily damaged by naval shells), and joined the 5th Rangers for the move inland. By 09:00 more than 600 American troops, in groups ranging from company sized to just a few men, had reached the top of the bluff opposite Dog White and were advancing inland. [71] [72]

The 3rd battalion 116th RCT forced its way across the flats and up the bluff between WN-66 (which defended the D-3 draw at Les Moulins), and WN-65 (defending the E-1 draw). They advanced in small groups, supported by the heavy weapons of M/116, who were held at the base of the bluff. Progress was slowed by mines on the slopes of the bluff, but elements of all three rifle companies, as well as a stray section of G/116, had gained the top by 09:00, causing the defenders at WN-62 to mistakenly report that both WN-65 and WN-66 had been taken. [73] [74]

Between 07:30 and 08:30 elements of G/16, E/16, and E/116 came together and climbed the bluffs at Easy Red, between WN-64 (defending the E-1 draw) and WN-62 (the E-3 draw). At 09:05, German observers reported that WN-61 was lost, and that one machine gun was still firing from WN-62. 150 men, mostly from G/16, having reached the top hampered more by minefields than by enemy fire, continued south to attack the WN-63 command post on the edge of Colleville. Meanwhile, E/16, led by Second Lieutenant John M. Spalding and Captain Robert L. Sheppard V, turned westward along the top of the bluffs, engaging in a two-hour battle for WN-64. His small group of just four men had effectively neutralized this point by mid-morning, taking 21 prisoners—just in time to prevent them from attacking freshly landing troops. [75] On the beach below, the 16th RCT commander, Colonel George Taylor had landed at 08:15. With the words "Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die – now let's get the hell out of here!" [76] he organized groups of men regardless of their unit, putting them under the command of the nearest non-commissioned officer and sending them through the area opened up by G/16. By 09:30, the regimental command post was set up just below the bluff crest, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 16th RCT were being sent inland as they reached the crest. [77]

On Fox Green, at the eastern end of Omaha, four sections of L/16 had survived their landing intact and were now leading elements of I/16, K/16 and E/116 up the slopes. With supporting fire from the heavy weapons of M/16, tanks and destroyers, this force eliminated WN-60, which defended the draw at F-1 by 09:00, the 3rd battalion 16th RCT was moving inland. [69] [78]

Naval support Edit

The only artillery support for the troops making these tentative advances was from the navy. Finding targets difficult to spot, and in fear of hitting their own troops, the big guns of the battleships and cruisers concentrated fire on the flanks of the beaches. The destroyers were able to get in closer, and from 08:00 began engaging their own targets. At 09:50, two minutes after the McCook destroyed a 75 mm gun position in WN-74, the destroyers were ordered to get as close in as possible. Some approached within 1,000 yards (910 m) several times, scraping bottom and risking running aground. [62] An engineer who had landed in the first wave at Fox Red, watching the Frankford steaming in towards shore, thought she had been badly hit and was being beached. Instead, she turned parallel to the beach and cruised westwards, guns blazing at targets of opportunity. Thinking she would turn back out to sea, the engineer soon saw that she had instead begun backing up, guns still firing. At one point, gunners aboard the Frankford saw an immobilized tank at the water's edge, still firing. Watching the fall of its shot, they followed up with a salvo of their own. In this manner, the tank acted as the ship's fire control party for several minutes. [79]

German defenses inland Edit

While the coastal defenses had not turned back the invasion at the beach, they had broken up and weakened the assault formations struggling through them. The German emphasis on this Main Line of Resistance (MLR) meant that defenses further inland were significantly weaker, and based on small pockets of prepared positions smaller than company sized in strength. This tactic was enough to disrupt American advances inland, making it difficult even to reach the assembly areas, let alone achieve their D-Day objectives. [80] As an example of the effectiveness of German defenses despite weakness in numbers, the 5th Ranger battalion was halted in its advance inland by a single machine gun position hidden in a hedgerow. One platoon attempted to outflank the position, only to run into another machine gun position to the left of the first. A second platoon dispatched to take this new position ran into a third, and attempts to deal with this met with fire from a fourth position. The success of the MLR in blocking the movement of heavy weapons off the beach meant that, after four hours, the Rangers were forced to give up on attempts to move them any further inland. [81]

Despite penetrations inland, the key beach objectives had not been achieved. The draws necessary for the movement of vehicles off the beach had not been opened, and the strongpoints defending these were still putting up a spirited resistance. The failure to clear beach obstacles forced subsequent landings to concentrate on Easy Green and Easy Red. [82]

Where vehicles were landing, they found a narrow strip of beach with no shelter from enemy fire. Around 08:30, commanders suspended all such landings. This caused a jam of landing craft out to sea. The DUKWs had a particularly hard time of it in the rough conditions. Thirteen DUKWs carried the 111th Field Artillery Battalion of the 116th RCT five were swamped soon after disembarking from the LCT, four were lost as they circled in the rendezvous area while waiting to land, and one capsized as they turned for the beach. Two were destroyed by enemy fire as they approached the beach and the lone survivor managed to offload its howitzer to a passing craft before it also succumbed to the sea. This one gun eventually landed in the afternoon. [83]

The official record of Omaha reports that ". the tanks were leading a hard life. ". According to the commander of the 2nd battalion 116th RCT the tanks ". saved the day. They shot the hell out of the Germans, and got the hell shot out of them." [84] As the morning progressed the beach defenses were gradually being reduced, often by tanks. Scattered along the length of the beach, trapped between the sea and the impassable shingle embankment and with no operating radios amongst the commanders, tanks had to be controlled individually. This was perilous work. The commanding officer of the 111th Field Artillery, who had landed ahead of his unit, was killed as he tried to direct the fire of one tank. The command group of the 741st Tank Battalion lost three out of their group of five in their efforts. Additionally, the commander of the 743rd tank battalion became a casualty as he approached one of his tanks with orders. When naval gunfire was brought to bear against the strong-points defending the E-3 draw, a decision was made to try to force this exit with tanks. Colonel Taylor ordered all available tanks into action against this point at 11:00. Only three were able to reach the rallying point, and two were knocked out as they attempted to go up the draw, forcing the remaining tank to back off.

Reinforcement regiments were due to land by battalion, beginning with the 18th RCT at 09:30 on Easy Red. The first battalion to land, 2/18, arrived at the E-1 draw 30 minutes late after a difficult passage through the congestion off shore. Casualties were light, though. Despite the existence of a narrow channel through the beach obstacles, the ramps and mines there accounted for the loss 22 LCVPs, 2 LCI(L)s and 4 LCTs. Supported by tank and subsequent naval fire, the newly arrived troops took the surrender at 11:30 of the last strong-point defending the entrance to the E-1 draw. Although a usable exit was finally opened, congestion prevented an early exploitation inland. The three battalions of the 115th RCT, scheduled to land from 10:30 on Dog Red and Easy Green, came in together and on top of the 18th RCT landings at Easy Red. The confusion prevented the remaining two battalions of the 18th RCT from landing until 13:00, and delayed the move off the beach of all but 2/18, which had exited the beach further east before noon, until 14:00. Even then, this movement was hampered by mines and enemy positions still in action further up the draw. [85]

By early afternoon, the strong-point guarding the D-1 draw at Vierville was silenced by the navy. But without enough force on the ground to mop up the remaining defenders, the exit could not be opened. Traffic was eventually able to use this route by nightfall, and the surviving tanks of the 743rd tank battalion spent the night near Vierville. [86]

The advance of the 18th RCT cleared away the last remnants of the force defending the E-1 draw. When engineers cut a road up the western side of this draw, it became the main route inland off the beaches. With the congestion on the beaches thus relieved, they were re-opened for the landing of vehicles by 14:00. Further congestion on this route, caused by continued resistance just inland at St. Laurent, was bypassed with a new route, and at 17:00, the surviving tanks of the 741st tank battalion were ordered inland via the E-1 draw. [87]

The F-1 draw, initially considered too steep for use, was also eventually opened when engineers laid down a new road. In the absence of any real progress opening the D-3 and E-3 draws, landing schedules were revised to take advantage of this route, and a company of tanks from the 745th tank battalion were able to reach the high ground by 20:00. [88]

Approaches to the exits were also cleared, with minefields lifted and holes blown in the embankment to permit the passage of vehicles. As the tide receded, engineers were also able to resume their work of clearing the beach obstacles, and by the end of the evening, 13 gaps were opened and marked. [89]

German reactions Edit

Observing the build-up of shipping off the beach, and in an attempt to contain what were regarded as minor penetrations at Omaha, a battalion was detached from the 915th Regiment being deployed against the British to the east. Along with an anti-tank company, this force was attached to the 916th Regiment and committed to a counterattack in the Colleville area in the early afternoon. It was stopped by "firm American resistance" and reported heavy losses. [90] The strategic situation in Normandy precluded the reinforcement of the weakened 352nd Division. The main threat was felt by the Germans to be the British beachheads to the east of Omaha, and these received the most attention from the German mobile reserves in the immediate area of Normandy. [91] Preparations were made to bring up units stationed for the defense of Brittany, southwest of Normandy, but these would not arrive quickly and would be subject to losses inflicted in transit by overwhelming Allied air superiority. The last reserve of the 352nd Division, an engineer battalion, was attached to the 916th Regiment in the evening. It was deployed to defend against the expected attempt to break out of the Colleville-St. Laurent beachhead established on the 16th RCT front. At midnight General Dietrich Kraiss, commander of the 352nd Division, reporting the total loss of men and equipment in the coastal positions, advised that he had sufficient forces to contain the Americans on D+1 but that he would need reinforcements thereafter, to be told that there were no more reserves available. [92]

Following the penetrations inland, confused hard-fought individual actions pushed the foothold out two and a half kilometers (1.6 miles) deep in the Colleville area to the east, less than that west of St. Laurent, and an isolated penetration in the Vierville area. Pockets of enemy resistance still fought on behind the American front line, and the whole beachhead remained under artillery fire. At 21:00 the landing of the 26th RCT completed the planned landing of infantry, but losses in equipment were high, including 26 artillery pieces, over 50 tanks, about 50 landing craft and 10 larger vessels. [93]

Only 100 of the 2,400 tons of supplies scheduled to be landed on D-Day were landed. [94] An accurate figure for casualties incurred by V Corps at Omaha on 6 June is not known sources vary between 2,000 and over 5,000 killed, wounded, and missing, [95] [96] with the heaviest losses incurred by the infantry, tanks and engineers in the first landings. [93] Only five tanks of the 741st Tank Battalion were ready for action the next day. [97] The German 352nd division suffered 1,200 killed, wounded and missing about 20% of its strength. [92] Its deployment at the beach caused such problems that Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, at one stage considered evacuating Omaha, [98] while Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery considered the possibility of diverting V Corps forces through Gold. [99]

The foothold gained on D-Day at Omaha, itself two isolated pockets, was the most tenuous across all the D-Day beaches. With the original objective yet to be achieved, the priority for the Allies was to link up all the Normandy beachheads. [99] During the course of June 7, while still under sporadic shellfire, the beach was prepared as a supply area. Surplus cargo ships were deliberately sunk to form an artificial breakwater and, while still less than planned, 1,429 tons of stores were landed that day. [100]

With the beach assault phase completed the RCTs reorganized into infantry regiments and battalions and over the course of the next two days achieved the original D-Day objectives. On the 1st divisional front the 18th Infantry Regiment blocked an attempt by two companies from the 916th and 726th Grenadiers to break out of WN-63 and Colleville, both of which were subsequently taken by the 16th Infantry Regiment which also moved on Port-en-Bessin. The main advance was made by the 18th Infantry Regiment, with the 3rd battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment attached, south and south-eastwards. The heaviest opposition was encountered at Formigny where troops of the 2nd battalion 915th Grenadiers had reinforced the headquarters troops of 2nd battalion 916th Grenadiers. Attempts by 3/26 and B/18 with support from the tanks of B/745 were held off and the town did not fall until the morning of June 8. The threat of an armored counterattack kept the 18th Infantry Regiment on the defensive for the rest of June 8. The 26th Infantry Regiment's three battalions, having been attached to the 16th, 18th and 115th Regiments the previous day, spent June 8 reassembling before pushing eastwards, forcing the 1st battalion of the German 726th Grenadiers to spend the night extricating itself from the pocket thus forming between Bayeux and Port-en-Bessin. By the morning of June 9 the 1st Division had established contact with the British XXX Corps, thus linking Omaha with Gold. [101]

On the 29th divisional front two battalions of the 116th Infantry Regiment cleared the last defenders from the bluffs while the remaining 116th battalion joined the Rangers in their move west along the coast. This force relieved the 2nd Ranger companies who were holding Pointe du Hoc on June 8 and subsequently forced the German 914th Grenadiers and the 439th Ost-Battalion to withdraw from the Grandcamp area which lay further to the west. Early on June 7 WN-69 defending St. Laurent was abandoned and the 115th Infantry Regiment was therefore able to push inland to the south-west, reaching the Formigny area on June 7 and the original D-Day phase line the following day. The third regiment of 29th Division the 175th, started landing on June 7. By the morning of June 9 this regiment had taken Isigny and on the evening of the following day forward patrols established contact with the 101st Airborne Division, thus linking Omaha with Utah. [102]

In the meantime, the original defender at Omaha, the 352nd Division, was being steadily reduced. By the morning of June 9 the division was reported as having been ". reduced to 'small groups'. " while the 726th Grenadier Regiment had ". practically disappeared." [103] By June 11 the effectiveness of the 352nd was regarded as "very slight", [104] and by June 14 the German corps command was reporting the 352nd as completely used up and needing to be removed from the line. [105]

Once the beachhead had been secured, Omaha became the location of one of the two Mulberry harbors, prefabricated artificial harbors towed in pieces across the English Channel and assembled just off shore. Construction of 'Mulberry A' at Omaha began the day after D-Day with the scuttling of ships to form a breakwater. By D+10 the harbor became operational when the first pier was completed LST 342 docking and unloading 78 vehicles in 38 minutes. Three days later the worst storm to hit Normandy in 40 years began to blow, raging for three days and not abating until the night of June 22. The harbor was so badly damaged that the decision was taken not to repair it supplies being subsequently landed directly on the beach until fixed port facilities were captured. [106] In the few days that the harbor was operational, 11,000 troops, 2,000 vehicles and 9,000 tons of equipment and supplies were brought ashore. [107] Over the 100 days following D-Day more than 1,000,000 tons of supplies, 100,000 vehicles and 600,000 men were landed, and 93,000 casualties were evacuated, via Omaha. [108]

Today at Omaha jagged remains of the harbor can be seen at low tide. The shingle bank is no longer there, cleared by engineers in the days following D-Day to facilitate the landing of supplies. The beachfront is more built-up and the beach road extended, villages have grown and merged, but the geography of the beach remains as it was and the remains of the coastal defenses can still be visited. [109] At the top of the bluff overlooking Omaha near Colleville is the American cemetery. In 1988, particles of shrapnel, as well as glass and iron beads resulting from munitions explosions were found in the sand of the beach, and the study of them estimated that those particles would remain in the sand of the beach for one to two centuries. [110]

How Many Were Killed on D-Day? - HISTORY

By Joshua Shepherd

As their landing craft plunged through heavy surf on the morning of June 6, 1944, it was obvious to the men of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 29th Infantry Division that the coming hour would be the gravest test of their lives. Assigned to the first wave of assault troops landing on Omaha Beach’s Dog Green sector, the troops were the spearhead of a massive Allied invasion aimed at breaking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

As the landing craft approached the beach, the soldiers inside could hear the telltale sound of machine-gun rounds striking the raised ramps. Private George Roach recalled that he and his fellow soldiers were well aware that their assignment to the first wave would result in heavy casualties. “We figured the chances of our survival were very slim,” recalled Roach.

At 6:30 am the landing craft carrying Company A quickly closed the distance to the beach. When it was about 30 yards offshore, the flat-bottomed vessel struck a sandbar. As the ramps were lowered, the troops were fully exposed to the fury of the German machine guns. Many of the first men who exited the landing craft were slain by machine guns positioned to have interlocking fields of fire. Their lifeless bodies toppled into the water. Some men chose in their desperation to jump overboard instead of exiting the front of the craft. Once in the water where they were weighed down with their equipment, they faced a life-and-death struggle to keep their heads above water. They thrashed about while strapped to heavy loads. Those who could not get free of the loads drowned.

Struggling forward through a hail of machine-gun and shellfire, the survivors desperately sought cover behind tank obstacles placed by the Germans. Enemy positions were well concealed, and the hapless riflemen of Company A, unable to effectively fight back, fell in mangled heaps. Terrified and demoralized, the green troops of Company A had entered the worst killing zone on Omaha Beach. “They’re leaving us here to die like rats!” screamed Private Henry Witt above the steady roar of enemy fire.

Elements of the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions landed on the six-mile-long stretch of sand flats at Omaha Beach. Each assault company was assigned to one of eight sectors.

Since Germany’s declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941, an Allied assault against continental Europe was inevitable. Beginning with Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the Allies maintained their momentum against the Third Reich with landings in Sicily and Italy in 1943. In this way, Anglo-American forces battered away at the edges of an overextended Nazi empire.

But perhaps the greatest prize of the war remained occupied France. If the Allies could establish a beachhead, they would have an ideal path to the Ruhr industrial region of western Germany. In March 1943 the Allies selected British Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan to serve as chief of staff to the Supreme Allied Commander, or COSSAC. Morgan and his staff immediately set to work developing preliminary plans for an invasion of France.

Formulating a workable scheme for what promised to be the largest invasion in military history was a herculean logistical endeavor. Morgan’s staff performed the unheralded but vital task of number crunching that would be done on a monumental scale. Allied planners determined the number of troops, tanks, and aircraft needed for such an operation. They tabulated men and matériel in excruciating detail. Individual supplies numbering in the millions, ranging from ammunition, rations, medicine, tires, and boots, would enable a modern army to carry the war to occupied France.

Morgan further assessed the suitability of landing sites in the far reaches of Western Europe. Although an intuitive guess would place an Allied landing somewhere on the north coast of France, Allied planners explored the possibility of launching an invasion anywhere from Denmark to the Spanish border. From a practical standpoint, though, Allied planners focused on northern France, which possessed suitable beaches on the Pas-de-Calais and Normandy coasts.

The Pas-de-Calais region, situated a mere 20 miles from Britain, was a superficially inviting target. Any invasion there would promise a quick crossing of the English Channel, could be well supported by Allied air forces, and would find beaches suitable for an amphibious landing. Yet it became alarmingly clear from Allied reconnaissance flights that the enemy expected an attack on the Pas-de-Calais. Because of this the Germans had constructed superb fortifications in the region, making it the most heavily defended sector in occupied France.

Allied planners, therefore, chose the coast of Normandy for the landings. Although reaching Normandy would require a 100-mile crossing of the choppy and unpredictable English Channel, a series of beaches stretching west of Caen would afford ideal sites for initial landings. Furthermore, Allied planners believed that the port of Cherbourg, situated just west of the proposed landing sites, could be seized in short order and provide the Allies a deep-water port for the resupply of invasion forces. Just as important, the Normandy coast appeared to be lightly defended by second-rate German conscripts.

Morgan’s staff set in motion in late 1943 an epic and irreversible course of events for what became known as Operation Overlord. Although the massive buildup of men and supplies proved to be a frustratingly slow process, the Russians were loudly clamoring for the Allies to open a second front against Nazi Germany. The leaders of the three primary Allied powers—the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union—held a series of strategy meetings beginning November 28 in Teheran, Iran. At the meetings the three leaders hammered out a strategy to open a new front and assist the hard-pressed Russians.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was deeply suspicious of the intentions of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Germans had badly mauled Russian forces on the Eastern Front in the two years following the launch of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1942. In particular, Stalin was annoyed that the Allies had not yet named a supreme commander to oversee the planned Anglo-American invasion of France. To show good faith, Roosevelt announced in the wake of the conference that U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower would serve as the supreme commander for Operation Overlord.

While the Allies planned the Normandy landings the high command of the German Army, known as Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, put its talented military engineers to work hardening the coastal defenses of northern France. Legions of German and French laborers worked tirelessly with pick and shovel to construct one of the most imposing defensive lines in history.

Stretching from the tip of Jutland to the border of neutral Spain, the Germans erected a series of fortifications known collectively as the Atlantic Wall. They used millions of cubic yards of steel-reinforced concrete to build fortresses, bunkers, and pillboxes. Defended by nearly a million men, the Atlantic Wall by mid-1944 bristled with heavy artillery, mortars, and machine guns.

The Germans had great difficulty, however, finalizing their strategy for defending against Operation Overlord. While the Atlantic Wall was being built, a major disagreement arose between Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the supreme commander of German forces in Western Europe, and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the commanding officer of Army Group B overseeing the German forces in northern France.

Rundstedt favored a measured approach to confronting a possible invasion. The senior commander believed that the powerful guns on Allied warships would furnish a protective umbrella for the Allied units coming ashore. When the Allies had moved inland beyond the protective cover of the naval guns, the German panzer formations could maneuver in such a way that they would achieve a decisive victory over the Allies.

For his part, Rommel believed it was imperative to contain the Allies on the beaches. He believed that the Allies’ clear advantage in tactical air power would make it impossible for the German panzer formations to maneuver as set forth in Rundstedt’s strategy. If the Allies were allowed to establish a firm foothold on the beaches, Rommel feared they would win the war in France because of their overwhelming advantage in men and matériel. “The high-water line must be the main fighting line,” said Rommel.

The disagreement was compounded by meddling by German leader Adolf Hitler. He insisted on retaining direct control of Germany’s armored and mechanized reserves in France. This meant that Rommel would need Hitler’s authorization to commit the four armored divisions that constituted the Wehrmacht’s strategic reserve in France. The armored divisions were billeted hundreds of miles from the coast.

A photo taken from a German bunker shows a clear field of fire. Once ashore, the Americans inched forward across the beach to the seawall, which offered some protection from German machine guns.

Eisenhower did not have a strategic conflict similar to that the German generals faced because he had been given greater strategic authority than his German counterparts. He was well suited for the job at hand because of his tireless devotion to duty and his exemplary strategic and administrative skills.

Born in Texas, but raised in Kansas, Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915. Although he lacked combat experience in World War I, he was an accomplished staff officer who earned high praise from his superiors. Many of his contemporaries, including General Douglas MacArthur, considered Eisenhower to be the best officer in the U.S. Army at the time. “When the next war comes, he should go right to the top,” said MacArthur.

MacArthur was right. Eisenhower led Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After that, he commanded the subsequent Allied forces during the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy in 1943. Eisenhower was popular with U.S. officers and enlisted men and with his counterparts in the British Army. After being appointed supreme commander, he tackled Operation Overlord with an inspiring blend of confidence and eagerness.

The Allies steadily built up their forces in England in the months leading up to the invasion of France. The invasion was possible in large part because of the industrial might of the United States. Factories and shipyards churned out ships, tanks, and trucks, while logistics personnel stockpiled mountains of matériel and rations needed to sustain the troops. Fields and farm lanes throughout England were used as temporary storage sites. Security throughout England was tight, even though it was impossible to completely shield the preparations from German reconnaissance planes.

Allied technological innovation also was on full display. One of the most vital recent inventions was the Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel (LCVP). Built by Higgins Industries, the landing craft was more commonly known as the Higgins boat. The Higgins boat was a shallow-draft, plywood vessel designed for amphibious landings. Capable of carrying 30 assault troops and their gear, the Higgins boat played a crucial role in the Normandy landings.

Many of the landing craft carrying the American infantry were forced off target by the rough waves. As the men waded ashore, they ran a terrifying gauntlet of enemy fire.

The U.S. Army intended to use a curious apparatus to get its armor ashore. First developed for British forces, the duplex drive (DD) amphibious tank consisted of a collapsible canvas shroud that transformed a 33-ton M4 Sherman tank into an amphibious vehicle. By raising the canvas shroud and using the tank’s engine to power twin propellers, the DD system would give the infantrymen close armor support on the Normandy beaches. To ensure that it performed as intended, the Allies put the DD through rigorous amphibious exercises off the English coast. Although the DD system performed flawlessly in the tests, they were conducted in relatively calm waters. Whether they would perform as well in rough waters was unknown.

Final plans called for crushing firepower to be brought to bear directly on enemy positions before the landings. The U.S. Army Air Corps intended to conduct saturation bombing of German coastal positions in Normandy in the hope that the daunting fortifications of the Atlantic Wall might be softened up before the infantry hit the beaches. Once the bomber crews had done their job, Allied surface ships would swing into action, pounding coastal defenses into submission. Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) platforms would then contribute their firepower in the form of rocket salvos intended to keep the enemy hunkered down while the landing craft sped to shore. With any luck, the shell-shocked German defenders would be quickly overrun.

All told, the Allies would land simultaneously on five beaches, forever immortalized by their iconic code names. To the east, British and Canadian troops would strike three landing sites. From left to right, the British 3rd Division would attack Sword Beach, troops of the 3rd Canadian Division would assault Juno Beach, and the British 50th Division would seize Gold Beach.

In the American sector to the west, the 1st U.S. Army under the command of Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley was assigned two landings sites. On the Allied far right, the 4th Infantry Division would attack at Utah Beach, where it would be in a position to cut across the neck of the Cotentin Peninsula and isolate the vital port city of Cherbourg. To its left, elements of the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions would strike a six-mile-long stretch of sand flats known as Omaha Beach. Each assault company on Omaha Beach was assigned to one of eight sectors: Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green, and Fox Red.

Allied planners expected Omaha Beach would prove to be the most difficult landing of the Normandy invasion. Landing at low tide, assault troops would face a dizzying maze of German obstacles before they reached dry ground. The shallows bristled with wooden stakes tipped with mines and steel hedgehogs. The so-called Czech hedgehogs were antitank obstacles made of metal angle beams or I-beams designed to tear the bottom of boats at high tide. As the men moved forward, the only cover available would be a thin natural bank of stones called shingle. Washed ashore for millennia by the waves of the English Channel, the shingle embankment was no more than three feet high. Beyond the shingle lay a daunting no-man’s land of bleak sand, which was 300 to 400 yards deep with no protection. The Germans had 85 machine-gun positions to sweep Omaha Beach.

An incoming landing craft trails smoke caused by a German machine-gun round that struck a grenade carried by an American infantryman.

Once the sand flats were successfully negotiated, troops would encounter a five-foot seawall topped by a nearly impassable barrier of tangled barbed wire. Sheer bluffs rising 100 feet commanded the entire beach. The bluffs were sewn with mines and crowned by some of the most formidable concrete bunkers of the Atlantic Wall. Allied planners had instructed the infantry assaulting Omaha Beach to secure five “draws,” which were passages through the bluffs. The only way the armor could get off the beach was through the draws.

The troops were cautiously optimistic that they would face relatively weak resistance at Omaha. Allied intelligence indicated that the German 716th Division, an inexperienced second-rate unit composed of conscripts from occupied parts of Poland and Russia whose morale was believed to be poor, would put up only token resistance.

Allied planners assured the attacking troops that the enemy positions would be pulverized before they made their assault. “The battleships would blow everything off the map—pillboxes, artillery, mortars, and the barbed-wire entanglements,” Lieutenant William Dillon of the 26th Infantry said the troops had been told. “Everything would be blasted to smithereens—a pushover.”

Despite such optimism, the English Channel’s violently erratic weather patterns would complicate matters for the high command. Due to the need for suitable tides, the attack had to occur during the first week of June or be delayed a minimum of two weeks. The attack was initially scheduled to take place on June 5, but high winds and rough seas forced a postponement. Eisenhower and his senior officers met to discuss their options late in the evening on June 4. Given the unfortunate run of hideous weather, a number of the officers considered an immediate invasion too much of a gamble. But when intelligence officers announced a window of clear weather for June 6, Eisenhower decided to go forward with the invasion.

The Western Naval Task Force, which was composed of 931 vessels, supported the American infantry regiments that would assault Omaha and Utah Beaches. The bigger ships steamed out on June 3 and were joined by the rest of the task force over the succeeding days. For the assault on Omaha, the task force planned to use a wide range of surface vessels, including battleships. Although battleships were becoming increasingly obsolete by 1944, they were perfectly suited for coastal bombardment.

Three Allied paratroop divisions, the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne and the British 6th Airborne, conducted parachute drops on the night of June 5 behind German lines in Normandy. The paratroopers were tasked with seizing bridges, crossroads, and road hubs behind the landing sites. They suffered heavy casualties in their quest to deny the Germans the ability to reinforce their frontline troops defending the targeted beaches.

At first light on June 6, a massive air armada that included B-17 bombers roared over the Normandy coastline. The bombers pounded German positions on the bluffs overlooking the landing sites for two hours. German soldiers huddled in bunkers or trenches as deafening explosions shook the ground.

When the invasion fleet was within a dozen miles of the beaches, the ships began sending landing craft to shore. U.S. Army officers had hoped to get closer to shore before launching the craft, but the top brass chose to launch them well back from the shore in order to protect the fleet from German fire. This resulted in 10 landing craft swamping in the rough seas. Allied rescue craft did their best to retrieve the water-logged infantrymen. Meanwhile, the rest of the landing craft headed for shore.

The surface ships also opened fire at dawn. Targeting German positions along the bluffs that commanded Omaha Beach, the battleships Texasand Arkansas, supported by an escort of cruisers and destroyers, unleashed a deafening barrage that thundered across the surface of the English Channel.

The battleships possessed fearsome firepower in the form of 10 14-inch guns on the Texas and 12 12-inch guns on the Arkansas. As the big guns belched great clouds of smoke and flame, infantry in nearby landing craft were heartened by the show. Lobbing explosive shells that weighed as much as 1,400 pounds, the ships pounded the bluffs above Omaha Beach, which were soon wreathed in dense clouds of smoke and dust. As the landing craft approached the beach, the battleships ceased fire. At that point, the rocket ships unleashed an estimated 14,000 rockets in a matter of minutes.

When the Allied naval bombardment and aerial bombing stopped, dazed German troops emerged from deep within bunkers to man their fighting positions. Although the assault troops had been led to believe that they would face second-rate troops, Allied intelligence had discerned, albeit too late, that the beach was defended by the more resilient troops of the newly formed 352nd Division.

Troops from the 1st Infantry Division assault Omaha Beach under heavy fire from the bluffs beyond in a photo by U.S. Coast Guard chief photographer’s mate Robert F. Sargent.

The 352nd contained a core of veterans who had gained combat experience on the Eastern Front. After the formation of the division in the autumn of 1943, the troops expected to be sent to fight the Russians but soon learned that they would be sent to Normandy. They mistakenly believed it would be a relatively quiet assignment.

The men of the 352nd Division realized by early summer that the chance for an Allied invasion in Normandy was likely. High-ranking German officers grew anxious that the heights overlooking Omaha Beach were vulnerable to capture by the Allies. By the morning of June 6, the beach was defended by elements of Colonel Ernst Goth’s Grenadier Regiment 916, one of the toughest German units on the coast, as well as gunners from the 352nd Artillery Regiment.

When the smoke from the bombers and naval guns lifted, it revealed the complete failure of the Allies to soften up the German positions. The B-17s, which had been designed for high-level bombing of strategic targets, had largely missed the mark and dropped most of their ordnance behind the German positions. As for the naval artillery, it had failed to do serious damage to the well-engineered German fortifications. The bulk of the noisy rocket salvo fell harmlessly in the shallows in front of Omaha. Despite the unparalleled display of firepower, German defenses were largely unscathed. It was an unexpected and ominous development.

Outright bad luck did not help matters. When the DD tanks began launching, affairs quickly degenerated into a fiasco. Set afloat in violent breakers, the Shermans foundered in high waves and sank to the bottom of the sea. Lucky crew members climbed out of the tanks before they went under however, those who remained trapped inside the 33-ton behemoths perished. Only a relative handful of Sherman tanks, taken closer to shore by quick-thinking officers, succeeded in landing on the beach. For the grim task of assaulting Omaha, the infantry was largely on its own.

As the assault boats plunged through the surf, the men crammed aboard suffered immensely. The choppy seas ensured that the GIs were drenched to the bone and violently seasick. Many of the Higgins boats were leaking badly, and in an effort to stay afloat the troops frantically bailed seawater with their helmets.

Near the western end of the beach, Company A was right on target as it neared its assigned landing zone at Dog Green. But adjacent companies, whose landing craft were pushed off course by strong currents, were badly out of position. As the men of Company A prepared to go ashore, they did so without adequate flank support. Germans in the heavily defended Vierville draw concentrated their fire on the isolated company.

The entire operation began to unravel. Before the craft made landfall, they were taken under heavy fire. One unlucky landing craft inexplicably sank 1,000 yards offshore, while the troops onboard activated their life vests and tried desperately to stay afloat. Another ill-fated craft abruptly disappeared in a violent fireball, the apparent victim of an enemy shell.

U.S. infantrymen take cover behind a steel hedgehog in a photo by renowned war photographer Robert Capa. Only a handful of Sherman DD tanks, a few of which can be seen in the photo, succeeded in landing on the beach.

When the Higgins boats made landfall and dropped their ramps, the horrific realities of combat manifested in seconds. German machine-gun fire swept through the craft. Scores of men were killed and wounded in a matter of minutes. Those still on their feet struggled forward through the water as they did so, they endured a steady hail of machine-gun fire. Those who survived the enemy fire crouched behind German antitank obstacles. Pinned down in a deadly interlaced field of enemy machine-gun fire, Company A was out of action.

To its left, Companies G and F, which had been forced off target by the waves, came into the beach together, an inviting mass of targets for the German defenders of Les Moulins draw. As the companies waded ashore, they ran a terrifying gauntlet of enemy fire. Sergeant Henry Bare remembered the carnage as sickening. “My radio man had his head blown off three yards from me … the beach was covered with bodies, men with no legs, no arms,” said Bare. “God it was awful.”

The remnants of the two companies inched their way forward across the beach to the seawall, which offered a measure of cover from German machine-gun fire, but little protection from mortar and artillery fire. When they ran into a coiled mass of barbed wire, the men were helplessly stalled. In the chaos of the landings, they had lost their Bangalore torpedoes and were left with no means of forcing their way through the concertina.

Because getting off the beach quickly was a paramount tactical objective, the men had been instructed to simply keep moving and leave the wounded to the medics. Obeying those orders would leave deep scars for survivors. Badly wounded men “would just lay out there and scream until they died,” recalled Sergeant John Robert Slaughter of Company D. Army medics who braved enemy fire to tend the wounded were universally regarded by their fellow soldiers as heroic saints. But the Germans paid no attention to the red crosses emblazoned on the medics’ helmets. They fired at anyone moving on the beach.

A wounded soldier, possibly Pfc. Huston Riley, struggles to reach the beach in a photo by Capa.

The muddled landings played havoc with unit cohesion. Heavy currents nudged Company E off course, and it came in with elements of the 1st Division’s 16th Infantry. The beach was littered with dead and dying American soldiers. Those fortunate enough to make it to the shingle were trapped by a horrific maelstrom of enemy fire. Mortar rounds continued to fall on their position, and officers desperately tried to get the men out of the killing zone. Company E’s Captain Lawrence Madill, his left arm nearly torn off, stayed on his feet and shouted orders for the men to keep moving. As he sprinted across the beach to retrieve ammunition, Madill was shot down. Just before he succumbed to his wounds, his final thoughts were for the safety of his men. Madill gasped, “Senior noncom, take the men off the beach.”

Without further reinforcement and firepower, simply surviving the ordeal was unlikely. As subsequent waves approached the beach, it was obvious that the entire assault on Omaha had turned into a nightmare, and nearly no one arrived at their assigned sector. When Company B hit the beach, it was greeted with a scene of surreal horrors that survivors would never forget. Private Harold Baumgarten witnessed a fellow soldier with a ghastly wound in his forehead. “He was walking crazily in the water,” said Baumgarten. “Then I saw him get down on his knees and start praying with his rosary beads. At this moment, the Germans cut him in half with their deadly crossfire.”

When Company K came ashore, it was accompanied by Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, the second in command of the 29th Division, and Colonel Charles Canham, the commanding officer of the 116th Infantry. Canham was keen to kill Germans personally. When he charged ashore with his Browning Automatic Rifle, he received a nasty wound to his hand. Refusing medical treatment, he drew his sidearm and stormed ahead.

On the eastern half of Omaha Beach, which was assigned to the 16th Infantry, the landings had gone no better. Private H.W. Shroeder was horrified by what he saw as the ramp on his landing craft dropped. He and his fellow soldiers slowly worked their way across the beach, using the massive hedgehogs for cover. When they finally reached the seawall, there was little room for more panicked men. “There were GIs piled two deep,” recalled Shroeder.

Wounded Americans are treated under the protection of the cliffs in the Fox Green sector of Omaha Beach. Meanwhile, their fellow soldiers blow holes in the barbed wire above the seawall with Bangalore torpedoes in preparation for storming the German bunkers.

The disorganized companies of the 16th Infantry were badly mauled as they struggled forward. Crouching behind the seawall, the survivors of Company F had lost most of their weapons in their effort to get out of the water. As for Company I, one-third of its men had been killed. When Captain Joe Dawson of Company G came ashore, he was appalled by the sight. “As I landed, I found nothing but men and bodies lying on the shore,” he recalled.

The assault troops also experienced a traffic jam with their vehicles. Demolition teams, which also had been decimated by enemy fire, had been able to blow only a half-dozen paths through the beach obstacles. The tanks, trucks, and bulldozers that had come ashore were trapped on the beach, easy targets for the Germans. The beachmasters halted further vehicle landings at 8:30 am until more paths could be opened.

For the Germans situated on the heights, the beach below presented a target-rich mass of men. At the German bunker known as Widerstandsnest 62, Private Franz Gockel, whose machine gun had been destroyed by an artillery shell, grabbed a rifle and resumed firing on the Americans scrambling for cover on the beach below. When the GIs crowded behind the seawall, German mortar teams targeted them. “They had waited for this moment and began to lay deadly fire on preset coordinates along the sea wall,” said Gockel. As American landing craft began turning away from the beach, Gockel and his comrades thought the Americans were beginning to withdraw.

Despite the one-sided fight on the sand flats of Omaha Beach, German troops along the rest of the Normandy coast were hard pressed. General of Artillery Erich Marcks, who commanded the LXXXIV Corps, found himself overwhelmed by simultaneous landings on five beaches in his front. He had always regarded Omaha as the weakest sector in his line, and it was obvious that he could expect no immediate armor support. German air cover was virtually nonexistent. Marcks threw forward just a portion of his infantry reserves it seemed that the attack on Omaha was being handily repulsed.

The bodies of fallen American servicemen on Omaha Beach await identification and removal.

On the deck of the cruiser Augusta,Lt. Gen. Bradley, shocked by initial reports, was of much the same opinion. Although the American landings on Utah had gone miraculously well and the British and Canadian troops were making good headway in their sector, the assault on Omaha Beach seemed to have degenerated into a disastrous and bloody nightmare. Hardly any of the units had landed where they were supposed to land. What is more, the initial casualty estimates were appalling and it appeared doubtful if the disorganized survivors would be able to push inland.

Bradley was giving serious consideration at mid-morning to pulling the plug on the entire operation at Omaha Beach and transferring subsequent waves to the British landing zones. The tactical solution to the bloody impasse on Omaha Beach came not from the top brass, but from intrepid officers, non-commissioned officers, and grunts for example, when Colonel Canham arrived at the stalled line of GIs on the beach, he was a storm of energy. He shouted, cursed, and threatened the men to get them moving. Canham knew that if the assault troops remained paralyzed behind the seawall, they would make easy targets for enemy machine-gun and mortar teams, which had presighted every inch of Omaha Beach. Despite the high casualties that were sure to result if the attack was pressed forward, there was simply no other choice. “Get the hell off this damn beach and go kill some Germans!” he bellowed.

The captains of the U.S. destroyers stationed offshore were exasperated at the sight of the mauling experienced by the infantry. They took the initiative to move their vessels closer to shore to furnish badly needed fire support. About a dozen destroyers risked grounding on the sandbars and delivered a punishing fire to German positions on the bluff.

Brigadier General Cota was equally conspicuous, rallying the demoralized Americans for a final push up the bluffs. Cota personally directed the placement of Bangalore torpedoes that blew a hole in the barbed wire above the seawall. He was one of the first men who charged through the gap. Rushing forward through a storm of enemy mortar fire, Cota miraculously remained on his feet after five men fell beside him. Realizing that the beach draws were too heavily defended to take by frontal attack, Cota ordered his men to storm the steep bluffs.

Junior officers and non-coms had already reached the same conclusion and began leading small groups of men in a desperate bid to climb the heights above the beach. The momentum of the fight finally shifted when the troops, gripped with a powerful mix of fury, adrenaline, and the sheer will to survive, rushed forward in small groups and punched through the defenses behind the seawall.

The hillside was heavily mined, and advancing infantry would pay dearly for every inch of ground. The minefields would come to be littered with mangled GIs who had fallen victim to the hidden killers. But as the Americans began locating and marking safe passages, the German grip on the bluff began to weaken. GIs rousted Germans from pillboxes, bunkers, and trenches by wildly shooting at any defender brave enough to make a run for it. With a measure of vengeful irony, American troops turned captured machine guns on the backs of Germans who had made Omaha Beach a veritable slaughter pen.

Sergeant Warner Hamlett of the 116th and a squad of men from Company D hit the German positions with an assault that would be repeated all across the bluffs. The men inched their way between German pillboxes, attacked the connecting trenches, and then worked their way to the rear of the pillboxes. The troops tossed hand grenades through apertures and then rushed inside to kill the survivors. “The bravery and gallantry of the soldiers was beyond belief,” said Hamlett.

American soldiers loaded with gear move inland from Omaha Beach. The dearly bought landing site they left behind resembled a charnel house.

That morning and into the afternoon, average soldiers fought their way up the bluffs and pried the German defenders loose. “Troops formerly pinned down on beaches Easy Red, Easy Green, Fox Red advancing up heights behind beaches,” Maj. Gen. Leonard Gerow, the commander of the 29th Division, reported at 1 pm.

Considerable tough fighting remained, but Omaha had finally been secured. By mid-afternoon, troops from various units, including the 116th Infantry and elements of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, were driving German troops from the coastal villages south of Omaha Beach.

The dearly bought landing site resembled a frightful charnel house. Hundreds of lifeless corpses rocked in the incoming tide and carpeted the beach. Sergeant Hamlett, after being wounded on the bluffs, limped for the shoreline to find a medic. “As I painfully walked back to the beach, thousands of parts of bodies lined it,” he said. “There were floating heads, arms, legs.” Meanwhile, exhausted Navy surgeons on ships at sea worked feverishly to save the wounded, calm the shell shocked, and amputate shattered limbs.

The Americans suffered 4,700 casualties at Omaha Beach. The ill-fated Company A of the 116th, which was virtually destroyed in the assault, suffered 96 percent overall casualties. Of the total Allied losses on D-Day, one-third had been sustained on the flats and bluffs of Omaha Beach.

But such appalling personal sacrifice had secured a permanent lodgment into Nazi-occupied Europe. While American and Allied troops continued to press the attack into Normandy, landing craft ferried supplies from the fleet, eventually depositing a veritable mountain of matériel on the five landing beaches. In the week following Operation Overlord, the Allies had landed more than 300,000 men and 2,000 tanks in coastal France.

The epic struggle on Omaha Beach proved to be one of the costliest battles of World War II, but it helped set in motion an inexorable chain of events that would lead to the collapse of the Third Reich. Rommel had been correct when he said that the war would be won or lost on the beaches.

For the American citizen soldiers who stormed the Atlantic Wall, D-Day left scarred bodies and seared memories. Those who survived the ordeal then had to endure the 11-month drive from Normandy to the Elbe River that ended with Nazi Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945. Bob Slaughter, who had seen his fellow soldiers in Company D of the 116th Infantry killed wholesale on the fateful morning of June 6, gave credit for victory to the American infantrymen who paid the ultimate sacrifice on Omaha Beach. “They laid it all on the line, and they won the war,” he said.

FACT SHEET: Normandy Landings

The Normandy Landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, supported Operation Overlord and paved the way for the liberation of Europe. The Allies selected Normandy as the landing site for the invasion because it provided the best access to France&rsquos interior. Initially planned for May 1944, the invasion was delayed until June due to a lack of landing craft. Weather conditions almost caused another delay, but Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force General Dwight Eisenhower made the decision to proceed as planned.

Background on the Normandy Landings

The assault began shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, with an air bombardment consisting of more than 2,200 allied bombers attacking targets along the coast and inland. Clouds hindered the air strikes, however, and the coastal bombing at Omaha Beach was particularly ineffective. More than 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne assault troops and 1,200 aircraft followed the air bombardment. At 1:30 a.m. the 101st (U.S.) Airborne Division began landing behind Utah beach to secure the exits from the beach, and the 82d (U.S.) Airborne Division began landing at 2:30 a.m. to secure bridges on the right flank of the beachhead. Thick cloud cover also hindered the air insertion, and many of the units missed their landing zones, often by miles. On the coastline, the second phase began at 5:30 a.m. as forces when six Allied divisions and numerous small units began landing on five beaches. The Allies landed more than 160,000 troops at Normandy, of which 73,000 were American. There were also 83,115 British and Canadian forces who landed on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches.

By the end of the first day, none of the assault forces had secured their first-day objectives. Allied casualties on June 6 have been estimated at 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action: 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians. Over the following days the Allies gradually expanded their tenuous foothold. When a failed German counterattack on August 8 resulted in more than 50,000 German troops being encircled by Allied forces near the town of Falaise, the tide turned, and the Allies broke out of Normandy on August 15. Once out of Normandy, Allied forces advanced quickly and liberated Paris on August 25. German forces retreated across the Seine five days later, marking the end of Operation Overlord.

The cost of the Normandy campaign was high on both sides. From D-day through August 21, the Allies landed more than two million men in northern France and suffered more than 226,386 casualties: 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded. German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured. Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The Normandy American Cemetery is the resting place for 9,387 Americans, most of whom gave their lives during the landing operations and in the establishment of the beachhead. The names of 1,557 soldiers are inscribed on tablets in the cemetery&rsquos Garden of the Missing. They came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remains of approximately 14,000 others originally buried in this region were returned home at the request of their next of kin. A father and his son are buried here, side by side, and in 33 instances two brothers rest side by side. The headstones are of white Italian marble -- a Star of David for those of Jewish faith and a Latin Cross for all others. The permanent cemetery is located on land France granted to the United States in perpetuity, on the site of the temporary American cemetery established June 8, 1944. It is one of 14 permanent World War II military cemeteries constructed on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an independent U.S. federal agency that commemorates the service, sacrifice, and achievements of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The memorial consists of a semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end. On the platform immediately west of the colonnade is sculptor Donald De Lue&rsquos 22-foot bronze statue, &ldquoThe Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,&rdquo a tribute to those who gave their lives in these operations. Around its base is the inscription, &ldquoMine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord.&rdquo The floor of the memorial&rsquos open area is set with pebbles taken from the invasion beach below the cliff.

Watch the video: Vietnam War Movies Best Full Movie: The Survivor of The Laughing Forest. English Subtitles (May 2022).


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