Honeylit Cueco

Omaha Beach: The First Wave


Omaha Beach, for the Germans, was the most likely place to stop the Allied invasion. The beach was an obvious landing site and the cliffs on both ends of Omaha were perpendicular. A part-wood, part-masonry seawall marred the western side of the beach, extending inland to a paved beach road, then a two meter deep V-shaped antitank ditch, then a swamp area, and finally a steep 30 meter bluff that a man could climb without a vehicle. In front of the seawall was a shingle impassable to vehicles. Omaha's grass-covered slopes appeared flat at a distance but proved to be a significant feature of the battlefield as it included several folds and irregularities.

Though the Allied strategists loathed the idea of assault on Omaha, it had to be done. Rommel and Eisenhower both recognized that if the Allies invaded Normandy, Omaha would have to be included in the landing sites or the distance between Utah and the British beaches would be too wide a berth.

Omaha possessed an excellent defensive location. Its five small ravines sloped to the tableland above the beach; a paved road proved an exit to the beach at D-1 to Vierville; at Les Moulins (exit D-3) a dirt road led to St Laurent; exit E-1 had only one path leading to the tableland and the fourth ravine, E-3, possessed a dirt road to Colleville; and the last ravine had a dirt path at exit F-1. This provided a narrow, enclosed battleground with no possible way of outflanking it. Omaha harbored numerous natural obstacles for the Allies to overcome. Moreover, it provided for an ideal place to construct fixed fortifications and a trench system on the bluff's slope and on the high ground gazing down on a large and wide open killing field for any infantry attempting to cross no-man's-land.

The Germans also placed more man-made obstacles in Omaha than they did in Utah. The waters offshore, the beaches, the promenade, and the bluff were heavily mined. They had twelve strongpoints including 88s, 75s, and mortars. Furthermore, Tobruks and machine-gun pillboxes dotted the region and these supported a comprehensive trench system. Rommel planned out firing positions at angles to the beach to cover the tidal flat and beach self with crossing fire, plunging fire, and grazing fire from all types of weapons. Artillery positions dotted the cliffs at each side of the beach ready to deliver enfilade fire from 88s all across the beach. The trench system contained underground quarters and magazines connected by tunnels. The strongpoints were located near the entrances to the ravines (protected by roadblocks). On the whole, every inch of the beach was intended for grazing and plunging fire.

The Allies had four justifications for assault on this extremely fortified position:

1. Allied intelligence claimed that the trenches and fortifications were manned by a low-quality unit of Poles and Russians with little or no regard for victory(insert pop-up#5), and only one battalion of 800 men was available to man the defenses.
2. To the Allies, aerial bombardment would neutralize the bunkers and create craters on the beach that could be employed as foxholes for infantry.
3. The navy would then destroy anything left after the air bombardment.
4. Forty thousand men with 3,500 motorized vehicles were expected to land at Omaha on D-Day.

The Allied plan for Omaha was accurate and complex. It had the 116th regiment going in on the right (west). The C Company of the 2nd Ranger Battalion would support them. The 16th Regiment of the 1st Division would go in the left. This, in turn, would create a linear assault with the two regiments going in by companies abreast. There were eight sectors, from right to left named Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green, and Fox Red. The 116th's sectors included Charlie to Easy Green. The first waves would consist of two battalions from each of the regiments, landing in a column. Assault teams would cover the beach with fires from M-1s, .30 caliber machine guns, BARs, bazookas, 60mm mortars, and flame-throwers. The DD tanks, navy underwater demolition teams, and Army engineers would come ahead of them. Each assault team was all geared with specific tasks to open a particular exit. As the infantry suppressed German firepower, the demolition teams would blow the obstacles and mark the paths with flags so the coxswains would know where it was safe to go. The following waves of landing craft would then come with reinforcements geared to put firepower from M-1s to 105mm howitzers when needed. By H plus 120 minutes the vehicles would be driving up the opened ravines to the bluff and then move inland to Vierville, St Laurent, and Colleville.

None of these plans worked. The intelligence proved incorrect. A stronger division replaced the one manned by Poles and Russians. There were three German battalions to cover the beach, instead of the one anticipated. The cloud cover and late arrival caused the aerial bombardment to delay their release until they were so far inland that not a single bomb fell on the beach or bluff. The naval bombardment was too short and generally inaccurate, with most of the rockets killing thousands of fish instead of Germans.

In the Line of Fire

No unit landed where it was supposed to, except for Company A, 116th. Strong winds and rising tides moved the landing crafts off course. By H-Hour, all but one of the boats was out of position and the infantry were cramped, seasick, and miserable. To make matters worse, waves came crashing over gunwales and pumps in the boats could not carry the load so the soldiers had to bail water with their helmets. Ten of the 200 boats swamped. Many drowned. I general, the majority of the men of the first wave were exhausted and confused before the battle. Still, so miserable were they at sea that these men looked forward to landing on the beach. Thus, at H-Hour minus five minutes, the fire lifted.

The men had expected the aerial and naval bombardments to carry through that German fire was totally unexpected. German machine guns hurled fire at titanic proportions all across the beach. Due to the misplaced landings, GIs were bunched together, with large distances between groups, over 1 kilometer in length, allowing the Germans to concentrate their fire. As the Higgins boats and the LCIs approached the beach, the German artillery fired, resulting in the assault team being a kilometer off shore. Companies G and F, who were supposed to support Company A, drifted a kilometer further east before landing. This caused the Germans to concentrate all their fire on Company A. When the ramps on the Higgins boats dropped, the Germans hurled machine-gun, artillery and mortar fire on them. It was a slaughterhouse. Only a couple of dozen survived (almost all wounded) of the 200 plus men of the company.

By 0640 only one officer from Company A was alive. Every sergeant was either dead or wounded. On one boat, every man of the thirty-man assault team was killed before any of them could escape. No Germans were as yet killed. Company A was expected to move up to Vierville by 0730, but that instead were huddled weaponless against a seawall.

However, these casualties were not in vain. The men had been able to bring rifles, BARs, grenades, TNT charges, machine guns, mortars and mortar rounds, flame-throwers, rations, and other equipment now strewn all across Dog Green. These weapons would make a life and death difference in the incoming waves of infantry who had come in at a higher tide and had had to abandon their weapons as they made their way to shore.

Meanwhile, F Company, 116th, landed near its target, Dog Red, but G Company, supposed to be at the right of F at Dog white, drifted far left. These two companies came in together directly opposite the heavy fortifications at Les Moulins, resulting in a kilometer gap between each side of the intermixed companies. This allowed the German defenders to focus their fire. For the men of F and G companies, the 200 meters of more journey from the boat to the shingle was the most dangerous trip they had ever experienced. A sergeant with the companies later related, "The beach was covered with bodies, men with no legs, no arms - God it was awful (Ambrose 331)."

Though the shingle looked like the most desirable place to be for the GIs, they discovered it was covered by concertina wire when they reached it. Nothing short of blowing the wire would displace it. Furthermore, they were still exposed to mortar fire.

E Company, 116th, landed farthest from its target, landing on the boundary of Easy Red and Fox Green instead of Easy Green. They were intermixed with men from the 16th Regiment, 1st Division. Meanwhile, at 0730 the main command group of the 116th began to come in. What they saw humbled them more. Though several had progressed, most were huddled behind the seawall, pinned by enemy fire. The assistant general of the 29th division, General Cota, instantly threw away the prior plan. With his help and several men, he blew up the wire, and started troops up the high ground to bear fire on the enemy. All across Omaha, the men who reached the shingle hid behind it. Someone would cry, "Follow me!" and start climbing up the bluff.

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Collier, Richard. D-Day: 6 June 1944 the Normandy Landings. New York: The Abreville Publishing Group, 1992.

Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.