John Alzate

Voices of Omaha

Omaha Beach was the only viable beach to land between Utah and the British beaches. An isolated beach, it presented many natural and man-made obstacles (built by Germans).

Capt. Robert Walker:
“ The cliff –like ridge was covered with well-concealed foxholes and many semi-permanent bunkers. The bunkers were practically unnoticeable from the front. Their firing openings were toward the flank so that they could bring flanking crossfire to the beach as well as all the way up to the slope of the bluff. The bunkers had diagrams of fields of fire, and these were framed under glass and mounted on the walls beside the firing platforms.” Ambrose 322)

The assault on Omaha Beach was to be manned by the 1st Infantry Division on the left and the 29th Infantry Division on the right. The 116th Regiment had been chosen to land to the right of the beaches called Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, and Easy Green. Companies A, G, F, and E would comprise the first wave of attack.

Nothing happened as planned. High tides and strong waves swamped
several boats and fatigued the men. The aerial and naval assault failed to take out any Germans, and the beach was left open for German soldiers ready to fire on Allied infantry.

Bob Slaughter (Company D, mortars):
“As our teams were called, we assembled on the landing craft and were lowered into the water, and it was tremendously rough and the spray from the sea was cold, and it came over the sides of the landing craft and nearly everybody got soaked. We were taking rough sea over the bow, and were bailing to try to keep afloat. Some of the landing craft sank before they got in because of the rough sea. In fact, we picked up or would have liked to have picked, we left because we didn’t have room. We hoped somebody else would (Drez 200)”.

“ As we got in to one thousand yards offshore, we started taking some mortar shells and some artillery. They were just over our bow and exploding off to our side, and we could also hear the small arms as we got in a little closer – the small arms were firing at us (Drez 200).” Roy Stevens (Company A, Boat 5): “…We were about one thousand yards from shore and could see the beach pretty well, when I looked and saw a hole in the front of that boat and the water pouring in. There was a hole about five inches, and we started bailing. We thought we could dip it, but we couldn’t; it was too fast, and we went down. Out of thirty men on that boat, we lost one – he drowned. We were in the water about an hour, and boats came along and picked us up and got us back to the ship (Drez 201).”

Captain Walker was led to believe beforehand that the air force and navy would bomb the entire beach to destroy all the Germans around. He was expecting destruction, and smoke instead of tranquility.

Captain Walker (LCI): 
“ I took a look toward the shore and my heart took a dive. I couldn’t believe how peaceful, how untouched, and how tranquil the scene was. The terrain was green. All buildings and houses were intact. The church steeples were proudly and defiantly in place. ‘Where,’ I yelled to no one in particular, ‘is the damned Air Corps?’” (Ambrose 322)

Lt. Joe Smith:
“The Germans let us alone on the beach. We didn’t know why, we
could se the Germans up there looking down on us; it was a weird feeling.” (Ambrose 324)

Germans could not believe the Allied forces were exposing themselves. On command, they fired.

German Cpl. Hein Severloh (Widerstandsnesten 62):
“Landing craft on our left, off Vierville, making for the beach.” (Ambrose 322)

German Sergeant Krone:
“They must be crazy. Are they going to come ashore? Right under our muzzles?” (Ambrose 322)

German Lieutenant Ferking (bunker 62):
“ Target Dora, all guns, range four-eight-five-zero, basic direction 20 plus, impact fuse.” (Ambrose 322)

No Company landed where they were supposed to, save for Company A, 116th unit. Most of them died as the Germans concentrated their fire on them.

Thomas Valence (Company A):
“ I was the rifle sergeant and followed Lieutenant Anderson off the boat, and we did what we could rather than what we had practiced doing for so many months in England. There was a rather wide expanse of beach, and the Germans were not to be seen at all, but they were firing at us, rapidly, with a great deal of small-arm fire.” (Drez 202)

“ …I floundered in the water and had my hand up in the air, trying to get my balance, when I was first shot. I was shot through the left hand, which broke a knuckle, and then through the palm of the hand. I felt nothing but a little sting at the time, but I was aware that I was shot. Next to me in the water, Private Henry Witt was rolling over towards me. ‘Sergeant, they’re leaving us here to die like rats. Just to die like rats.’” (Drez 202)

The other companies, which was to be their support, were thrown off
course as much as 2 kilometers or more. Company A was left on their own. “…I made my way forward as best I could. My rifle jammed, so I picked up a carbine and got off a couple of rounds. We were shooting at something that seemed inconsequential. There was no way I was going to knock out a German concrete emplacement with a .30-caliber rifle. I was hit again, once in the left thigh, which broke my hip bone, and a couple of times in my pack, and them my chin strap on my helmet was severed by a bullet. I worked my way up onto the beach, and staggered up against a wall, and collapsed there. The bodies of the other guys washed ashore, and I was one live body amongst many of my friends who were dead, and in many cases, blown to pieces.” (Drez 202)

George Roach (Company A):
“...I finally joined up with what was left of A
Company. There were only eight of us left for duty.” (Drez 203)

Company A had thirty men in their regiment originally. Though the
Germans slaughtered them, Company A was able to get weaponry on the beaches – an act that proved a godsend for those following regiments who needed these weapons. Companies G, F, and E landed far away from their intended positions. Company G was two beaches away on Easy Green as well as Company F. For the men of these companies, their trek from their boats to a seawall for protection was the most hazardous of their lives.

Sgt. Harry Bare:
“ I tried to get my men off the boat and make it somehow under
the seawall. We waded into the sand and threw ourselves down and the men were frozen, unable to move. My radioman had his head blown off three yards from me. The beach was covered with bodies, men with no legs, no arms – God it was awful.” (Ambrose 331)

“I tried to get my men organized. There were only six out of my boat alive. I was soaking wet, shivering, but trying like hell to keep control. I could feel the cold fingers of fear grip me.” (Ambrose 331)

As the men attempted to get to the shingle, many were wounded and

Warner Hamlett (Sergeant, Company F):
”It took Gillingham’s chin off, including the bone, except for a small piece of flesh. He tried to hold his chin in place as he ran towards the seawall. He made it to the wall, where will Hawks and I gave him his morphine shot. He stayed with me for approximately thirty minutes until he died. The entire time, he remained conscious and aware that he was dying.”
(Drez 209)

However, the shingle still had its dangers. It was not protected from
mortar fire and the shingle was surrounded by concertina wire. Only a bomb could destroy the wire.

Warner Hamlett (Sergeant, Company F):
”We were supposed to wait at the seawall until wire cutters could curt the tremendous web of wire that the Germans had placed on top of it. During this time, Lieutenant Wise of F Company was directing his team behind the seawall, when a bullet hit him in the forehead. He continued to instruct his men until he sat down and held his head in the palm of his hand before falling over dead.” (Drez 209)

The main command group of the 116th began to come in at 0730 under the leadership of regimental commander Colonel Charles Canham and the assistant commander of the 29th division, Brig. Gen. Norman Cota.

Private Felix Branham:
“Colonel Canham had a BAR and a .45 and he was leading us in. There he was firing and he got his BAR shot out of his hand and he reached and used his .45. He was the bravest guy.”(Ambrose 339)

Lieutenant Shea:
“Exposing himself to the enemy fire, General Cota went over the seawall giving encouragement, directions, and orders to those about him, personally supervised the placing of a BAR, and brought fire to bear on some of the enemy positions of the bluff that faced them.”(Ambrose 339)

After Cota’s act of breaking the fortification of the seawall, men had to now pass through the shingle. It took a lot of guts and courage to go over the wall. Boys turned to men. These men would begin to start moving up the bluff amidst all the heavy enemy fire.

Works Cited

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

Drez, Ronald J. Voices of D-Day: The Stories of the Allied Invasion Told By Those Who Were There. Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press.