Normandy – Omaha Beach
We started our morning by heading right outside our little hotel and heading to Omaha Beach. Wikkipedia can do a better job at explaining than I can. Omaha Beach was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II. Omaha is located on the coast of Normandy, France, facing the English Channel, and is 5 miles (8 km) long. Landings here were necessary in order to link up the British landings to the east at Gold with the American landing to the west at Utah, thus providing a continuous lodgement on the Normandy coast of the Bay of the Seine. Taking Omaha was to be the responsibility of United States Army troops, with sea transport and naval artillery support provided by the U.S. Navy and elements of the British Royal Navy.
On D-Day, the untested 29th Infantry Division, along with nine companies of U.S. Army Rangers redirected from Pointe du Hoc, were to assault the western half of the beach. The battle-hardened 1st Infantry Division was given the eastern half. The initial assault waves, consisting of tanks, infantry, and combat engineer forces, were carefully planned to reduce the coastal defenses and allow the larger ships of the follow-up waves to land.
The primary objective at Omaha was to secure a beachhead of some five miles (eight kilometres) depth, between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, linking with the British landings at Gold to the east, and reaching the area of Isigny to the west to link up with VII Corps landing at Utah. Opposing the landings was the German 352nd Infantry Division, a large portion of whom were teenagers, though they were supplemented by veterans who had fought on the Eastern Front. The 352nd had never had any battalion or regimental training. Of the 12,020 men of the division, only 6,800 were experienced combat troops, detailed to defend a 33-mile-long (53-kilometre) front. The Germans were largely deployed in strongpoints along the coast—the German strategy was based on defeating any seaborne assault at the water line. Nevertheless, Allied calculations indicated that Omaha’s defenses were three times as strong as those they had encountered during the Battle of Kwajalein, and its defenders were four times as many.
Very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses were unexpectedly strong, and inflicted heavy casualties on landing US troops. Under heavy fire, the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles; later landings bunched up around the few channels that were cleared. Weakened by the casualties taken just in landing, the surviving assault troops could not clear the heavily defended exits off the beach. This caused further problems and consequent delays for later landings. Small penetrations were eventually achieved by groups of survivors making improvised assaults, scaling the bluffs between the most heavily defended points. By the end of the day, two small isolated footholds had been won, which were subsequently exploited against weaker defenses further inland, thus achieving the original D-Day objectives over the following days.
And thank heaven they did achieve those objectives. They did, but at a great cost 10,000 plus soldiers gave their lives on those beaches. Most of them 19 years old and had never seen combat. Many of them didn’t even get out of the boat, or out of the water. God bless their souls. I could really go on and on about all that went on, but I will put a link HERE if you would like to read more.
On this post you will also see photos of Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is a promontory with a 100 ft (30 m) cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France. During World War II it was the highest point between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. The German army fortified the area with concrete casements and gun pits. On D-Day (6 June 1944) the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs. When you see what they had to climb to capture this spot it will blow your mind. They scaled the cliffs as the Nazis continued to shoot them of rope ladders, but they kept coming. At the end of the two-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225+ was reduced to about 90 fighting men. Pointe du Hoc is amazing. The holes in the ground from the bombs, the bunkers, are all extremely interesting, but what is most amazing is looking at the cliffs those courageous Rangers climbed to secure this important position.
One of the last things we did in Normandy was to visit Normandy American Cemetery. The cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion) and the English Channel. It covers 172 acres, and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. It also contains the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located and/or identified are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden at the east side of the memorial.
Only some of the soldiers who died overseas are buried in the overseas American military cemeteries. When it came time for a permanent burial, the next of kin eligible to make decisions were asked if they wanted their loved ones repatriated for permanent burial in the U.S., or interred at the closest overseas cemetery.
Our last stop in Normandy was to the Omaha Museum to see the tanks, the planes, and other historical items taken from the beaches.
Normandy is a must do if you are in France and have time. It made me very proud to be an American, and as I ran my hand across the countless tops of crosses and stars with tears running down my cheeks, I thank thanked these young, young men for paying the greatest price of all for freedom. To hear America The Beautiful as I open my window in the morning at the hotel, to hear Taps as I looked at the graves by the ocean, their sacrifice is not forgotten. Not by any of us.
Look at the next photo and you will see what this was used for…
Plywood boats that our forces used to land on Omaha
Craters left by the bombs
View from a Nazi bunker
The cliffs the Rangers scaled
This is the same beach you see in picture 2 after we secured the beach