The American Beaches

Omaha beach

Omaha Beach: from St Honorina-des-Pertes to the bay west of Pointe-du-Hoc: 1st Division Group

 

This beach is about 5 miles wide and lies forward of hills of about 200 feet with steep cliffs at each end. Preliminary bombing by the allies had done little damage to the Germans due to cloud over the targets and when the men came ashore under naval support fire they found that it too had done little damage. There was no armour leading the way and as the troops landed between Vierville-sur-mer and St Honorina-des-Pertes they came under heavy fire immediately. Weather and rough water caused delay, all artillery support was lost in the landings and rockets fell short, some of them fell amongst the assault craft. Boats hitting beach obstacles caused further collisions. Armour disembarked too far offshore and 36 tanks sank leaving the assault troops to cross open ground with no protection. Demolition teams suffered 40% casualties. Command channels broke down, inexperienced troops were immobilised and they huddled under the cliffs and seawall if they made it that far. The assault started badly with the potential for total disaster.

Looking west from centre of Omaha Beach

Looking east

Gradually the numbers arriving ashore built up and small gallant groups with firm leaders fought their way off the beach and up and over the cliffs. The defenders found they could not counter-attack to retake the ground the Americans took. By 1330 hours the surviving troops previously pinned down on Omaha were able to advance off the beach and up the high ground to the tarmac road and work westwards.

Typical strong point dominating the beach

Memorials on the bluffs at Omaha Beach

There is little doubt that the troops on this beach had the hardest fight to achieve their foothold on the continent. It was the best defended section of the entire invasion front. There were eight enemy battalions there instead of the expected four and they were also of a higher calibre than had been anticipated. The lack of specialist armour combined with the losses remain controversial issues but there is no doubting the bravery of the men who fought here. By dark the American Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) was about a mile inland.

 

2nd Ranger Battalion suffered 60% casualties but pressed on westwards to their objective which was a large gun emplacement at Pointe-du-Hoc. Under the leadership of Lt Col James Rudder, who steered his men from the front, they scaled the cliffs west of the beach, destroyed the emplacement and cleared the German positions successively.

Pointe-du-Hoc coastline showing cliffs scaled by the Rangers

The height of the cliffs can be judged by the size of the figures on the cliff top

Pointe-du-Hoc

Pointe-du-Hoc encouvement and casemate struck by an incoming naval shell

Memorial to 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe-du-Hoc

Memorial entitled Les Braves by the sculptor Anilore Banon at St-Laurent-sur-mer, Omaha Beach

Utah Beach: from the bay west of Pointe-du-Hoc to Quinéville: 4th Division Group

 

In addition to eschewing British offers of specialist armour the Americans decided not to use a marker submarine on the extreme west of their frontage. As it happened the strong tidal current up the channel from the Atlantic swept the vessels making for Utah beach 2,000 yards further east down the coast. Nevertheless, the landings went well with 28 of 32 Sherman DDs arriving ashore and the infantry arriving on schedule. The drift down the coast had taken them to what proved to be the lightest section of the beach defences and there was only light opposition. The Germans had expected landings to come at high tide and after being pounded by the air and naval bombardment they were surprised to see the vast force landing to their front. The defences were also thin as the Germans thought the widely flooded inland areas behind the line of dunes would be a strong deterrent to landings in this zone. An undefended exit from the beach was found and patrols arriving from 101st Airborne found four other exits at the western end. The single German regiment defending the beach mostly surrendered as the Americans engaged them. The tougher problems began as they moved on from the beach.

Dunes and defence ruins near La Madeleine, Utah beach

Dunes and defence ruins near La Madeleine, Utah beach

La Madeleine Battery

US Navy memorial

Free French memorial

Low lying land which was flooded behind the line of dunes at Utah Beach

Coast road at northern end of Utah Beach near Les Dunes-de-Varreville