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
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
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
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
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.