What actually happened and how did it differ from its original plan?
"Real War is never like paper war, nor do accounts of it read
much the way it looks." -Ernest Hemingway
My approach to Omaha Beach will be somewhat different than other texts.
My goal is to explain Operation Overlord with emphasis on Omaha Beach
and retell how it was planned and what actually happened. Most importantly,
I am going to show how reality differed from a plan. My second point
of interest deals with the plans of Operation Fortitude, how they were
achieved and how it made an allied victory possible.
-When did Omaha Beach become a part of D-day?
-Why was Normandy picked for the site of Operation Overlord and not
the Pas-de-Calais region in northern France?
In a document prepared in the summer of 1943 under the supervision of
Frederick Morgan, chief of staff to the supreme allied commander, frequently
referred to as the "COSSAC plan," Morgan explains why Normandy
was picked over the Pas-de-Calais region.
region of northern France seemed like a logical choice because it was
the shortest route from England to France, which means less time at
sea, faster resupply, and easier support from airfields in England.
However, the Germans also realized this and they would concentrate their
heaviest defenses there, it would be their focal point. Secondly, the
Pas-de-Calais region had no major ports, so the Pas-de-Calais region
seemed less and less practical. After weighing several possibilities,
the allied planners eventually decided on the beaches of Normandy, 150
miles southwest of the Pas-de-Calais region. The Allied planners thought
Normandy's beaches would allow the allied troops to use the beaches
as a harbor until the major ports in the area were fixed up. Also, the
Normandy beaches were the most favorable because they are sheltered
from prevailing winds. Although Pas-de-Calais seemed most logical, Normandy
was an acceptable alternative. After troops arrived in Normandy they
were to take control of the port of Cherbourg and the ports of Britanny.
Until the ports were secured, allied troops constructed artificial harbors
and defended themselves from the enemy.
Problems at Omaha Beach
The main problems at Omaha Beach and the reasons for deviations from
original plans were due to the weather, loss of materials, and crowded
beachhead. This delay caused many to die and left Omaha with the name
of killing field.
The trip to Omaha was long and difficult. The storm and seas were the
worst they had been in twenty years. Due to the risky water conditions,
one of the two battalions of DD tanks was not launched offshore, as
had been planned. Of the twenty-nine tanks from the battalion that was
launched, some sank like stones and the others were swamped by water
pouring over their "skirts" (Kemp 70). Only two tanks reached
the beach intact.
The allied troops were at a disadvantage. While they were coming on
shore, the Germans were on top of the high cliffs, which overlooked
Omaha, and they were firing 88-mm guns from concrete emplacements. As
allied vessels approached the beachhead, they were greeted with shells,
mortar bombs, and machine-gun fire. Also, two of the first six crafts
on one beach sector were sunk, while others were offshore in sandbars,
forcing the men to tread through water up to their shoulders. Many soldiers
were shot, and many others drowned. Small units did manage to leave
the beach, but they abandoned everything.
Simultaneously, new waves of men and equipment poured onto the killing
field of Omaha Beach and they had no place to go. The beach was full
of vehicles, dead bodies, abandoned equipment, and debris and mines
placed by the Germans. Conditions were so bad that Bradley seriously
considered abandoning the landing and rerouting the remaining men through
one of the other beaches. However, this was only if conditions worsened.
Later in the afternoon, tanks landed directly onto the beach and men
made their way through the minefields in single file lines. But by nightfall
the US 1st Infantry Division had gained a foothold on the road that
ran inland behind the beaches and vehicles were starting to move through
the exits. In the end, the allies were successful, but they deviated
from their plans due to the horrible weather, loss of arms, and overcrowding
on the beach.
Through Omaha Beach it is seen that battles do not always follow their
plans, even they can be successful. In some cases soldiers run out of
ammunition, but in this case, it was the weather. Due to the poor weather
conditions, troops at Omaha fell behind schedule and a victory for the
allies needed to be questioned.
Operation Fortitude was the plan used to fool the Germans into believing
that Operation Overlord would take place anywhere but where it did.
The primary aim of this deception plan was to mask the arms buildup
on the western end of England's south coast and concentrate German minds
on the southeastern coast, opposite the Calais area.
In this plan, the engineers' corps built an illusionary army from rubber
and wood. Their plan was to create two army troops in the German mind:
a notional army and a real army. The real army would attack Normandy
and an unreal, move powerful army would invade the Pas-de-Calais region.
This plan was accomplished through a variety of methods-including giving
the Germans false information, deceiving them about the date of the
landing, and, above all, persuading them that the invasion would take
place in the Pas-de-Calais region (Kemp 136).
Another component of the deception plan was the creation of a false
headquarters knows as the US 1st Army Group, apparently commanded by
General George S. Patton, based in Kent and complete with fake radio
traffic (kemp33). The Germans knew of the American general's reputation
as a fighting commander but were unaware of his true role, which was
to take command of the US Third Army in Normandy during the breakout
phase of the campaign. This plan was so successful that the Germans
remained in ignorance of the true destination of Overlord until the
actual invasion began. Even then, they were planning on an invasion
at Pas-de-Calais, so they never mobilized to their maximum potential.
"Digest of Operation 'Overlord.'" [Online] Available http://normandy.eb.com/normandy/pri/Qoo293.html,
21 March 1999.
Kemp, Anthony. D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy. New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Keegan, John. "Britannica Online." [Online] Available http://normandy.eb.com/normandy/week1/buildup.html,
21 March 1999.
"Omaha Beachhead." [Online] Available http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/100-11.htm,
20 March 1999.