American Attack On Omaha And Utah Beaches

During D Day Essay, Research Paper

It was 1944, and the United States had now been an active participant in the war against Nazi Germany for almost three and a half years, nearly six years for the British. During that period occurred a string of engagements fought with ferocious determination and intensity on both sides. There is however, one day which stands out in the minds of many American servicemen more often than others. June 6, 1944, D-Day, was a day in which thousands of young American boys, who poured onto the beaches of Utah and Omaha, became men faster than they would have ever imagined possible. Little did they know of the chaos and the hell which awaited them on their arrival. Over the course of a few hours, the visions of Omaha and Utah Beaches, and the death and destruction accompanied with them formed a permanent fixation in the minds of the American Invaders. The Allied invasion of Europe began on the 6th of June 1944, and the American assault on Utah and Omaha beaches on this day played a critical role in the overall success of the operation. (Astor 352)An extensive plan was established for the American attack on Utah and Omaha Beaches. The plan was so in-depth, and complex, its descriptions detailed the exact arrivals of troops, armor, and other equipment needed for the invasion, and where exactly on the beach they were to land. Before the landings were to begin, the coastal German defenses had to be adequately prepped, and softened by a combination of a massive battering by United States ships, and bombing by the United States Air Force. Between the hours of 0300 and 0500 hours on the morning of June 6, over 1,000 aircraft dropped more than 5,000 tons of bombs on the German coastal defenses. As soon as the preliminary bombing was over, the American and British naval guns opened fire on the Normandy coastline (D’ Este 112). A British naval officer described the incredible spectacle he witnessed that day: “Never has any coast suffered what a tortured strip of French coast suffered that morning; both the naval and air bombardments were unparalleled. Along the fifty-mile front the land was rocked by successive explosions as the shells of ships’ guns tore holes in fortifications and tons of bombs rained on them from the skies. Through billowing smoke and falling debris defenders crouching in this scene of devastations would soon discern faintly hundreds of ships and assault craft ominously closing the shore. If the sight dismayed them, the soldiers borne forward to attack were thrilled by the spectacle of Allied power that was displayed around them on every hand,” (D’ Este 112). The scene witnessed by the British officer off of the British sectors, was also witnessed by American commanders off of Utah and Omaha, however not to the same extent. Many American bombers missed their targets up to as much as five miles inland due to the thick cloud cover. Rockets which were fired from offshore destroyers landed short killing thousands of fish, but not any Germans. Artillery from US battleships slammed the tops of the bluffs of Omaha, and sailed into the adjacent towns, but not did not successfully accomplish their goals of destroying targets on the beachhead such as enemy pillboxes, artillery, and machine gun positions. (D’ Este 117)Contrary to Omaha, Utah Beach was much less fortified. Over looking the beachhead were two large concrete casemated positions to hold large guns. Due to neglect, and Rommel’s (who was in charge of fortifying the coast of France) deflected attention to other possible invasion sights, resulting in only one of the casemated positions to install a large gun. The Germans had also not been able to fully construct defensive barriers yet by the time of the invasion and also had not completely laid the number of land mines Rommel had in mind. Aiding to the success at Utah were the underwater demolition teams who were able to knock off many of the coastal defenses awaiting the Americans. As the American soldiers steamed toward Utah Beach in their transports, it was quite evident the pounding the beachhead fortifications had taken from US naval artillery and rockets. Pillboxes, concrete casemated gun houses, machine gun posts, and infantry positions were among many of the targets weakened, or destroyed. The artillery not only aided the soon to be arriving troops in that many coastal threats had been eliminated, but in that the hundreds of shell holes created provided excellent cover for the troops coming ashore. (Astor 222)The American assault on Utah was meticulously planned. Troop, armor, and equipment arrivals were timed to the minute. Landing first on the beach at 0630 hours, immediately following the naval barrage were thirty-two light assault tanks known as DD tanks to further soften fortified positions, provide cover for the oncoming troops, and to act as a rallying point for troops while attacking. The tanks came ashore in eight LCTs, a type of equipment transport used for the invasion. In the wake of the LCTs came the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry in twenty Higgens boats, another type of transport designed to hold a thirty-man assault team. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry arrived, bringing engineers and naval demolition teams at the same time as the second wave came ashore in thirty-two more Higgens boats. The third wave, containing bulldozers, and the light and mobile Sherman Tank arrived in the second, both fifteen minutes after the initial landing. Following, the third and fourth waves were the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions which arrived two minutes later to begin demolition. (Ambrose 275) Before the assaults began, the planners, including General Eisenhower, hoped everything would stick to the tight schedule. This however, proved a pipe dream as some craft landed late, others too early, and some off course as far as a kilometer south of the target. There were many factors which resulted in the aggravating of the time table. Tides, wind, waves, and a thick cover of smoke were all partially responsible for the trouble, while the biggest factor was the mines fixated just off of the coast. These mixups resulted in the tanks landing a kilometer south, as well as the initial ground assault of Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Division led by General Roosevelt. The American forces were in for a strike of luck however, as the German defensive fortifications at their new and accidental landing site, had been badly damaged from the naval artillery and air battering. The fortifications where the landing was supposed to take place were still strong, unscathed from the preceding bombardment.The engineers and naval demolition teams came ashore after the first wave. They consisted of five Navy Seabees, also known as combat demolition units, and two or three American engineers. The engineers, who were highly trained in explosives, made quick work of the outermost set of obstacles before the tide had a chance to cover them up. The engineers worked at a furious pace clearing the way for more landing craft who previously had to weave in and out of the obstacles. A foot soldier on the beach at Utah commented on the scene. “I hopped into a slit and watched what was happening offshore. It was all of a sudden like a beehive. Boats were coming through the obstacles, bulldozers were pushing sand up against the seawall, and half-tracks and tanks were able to go into the interior. It looked like an anthill.” (D-Day, Ambrose 281) Engineering teams continued to work hard as more and more forces began piling up on the now secured beach awaiting the chance to punch through the booby trapped, and mined interior defenses. The assault on Utah Beach proved to be fairly easy and simple compare to what was going on at Omaha. An anonymous Infantryman from the 4th division said, “You know, it sounds kind of dumb but it was just like a [training] exercise. Easier. We waded ashore like kids in crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.”(Lewis, 101)Omaha Beach in itself was a formidable and easily defendable position. If the Germans were going to try and stop an Allied Invasion, Omaha Beach was the place to attempt it. Omaha Beach stretched for approximately 10 kilometers, its sand was golden brown in color, it was firm and fine, and during low tide there was a stretch of 300 to 400 meters of firm beach sand. It was an obvious choice for an invasion if one was to occur. (D-Day, Ambrose 320) The physical makeup of Omaha Beach made it easy for the Germans to defend. The beach was adjacent to bluffs perpendicular to the beach spanning the entire 10 kilometers. On this basis, the German fortifications had an extreme advantage holding not only the safety of the bluffs, some 200 foot height advantage at some points. Omaha was the perfect place to hold a defensive stance against an invasion. It provided a narrow, enclosed battlefield with no chance of being flanked. Its bluffs provided the perfect place for fortifications, pill boxes, and machine guns, the sloping ground leading up to the bluffs allowed for a useful trench system, and the overall height advantage provided for a clear view of the entire killing field. (D-Day, Ambrose 321) Eisenhower did not like the idea of having to attack Omaha, but he knew it had to be done.Rommel took full advantage of what he learned from defending frontal infantry assaults during the First World War. He heavily mined the coastline, and the shore. He placed extensive amounts of barbed and razor wire leading up to the bluffs. He placed machine guns at angles to have better shots at all points of the beach. Rommel added all types of weapons to cover all possible weaknesses in the fortificatins. Ranges were even predetermined to make the killing all the quicker and easier. Rommel’s setup allowed for fire coming from three different directions which was to later prove extremely deadly. He added mortars and artillery pieces on top of the bluffs to bring fire from above. Adding to the defense were dozens of pillboxes containing machine guns, and obstacles to further hinder and slow down the force. (The Victors, Ambrose 135)There were four main factors which led the Americans to believe that an attack on such a difficult position would succeed. Intelligence reports gave the Americans the impression that the fortifications and trenches were being manned by the 716th Infantry Division, a supposed low quality force composed of Poles and Russians. This was untrue, as the positions were being held by the German 352nd Division, a division of well-trained troops. Second, intelligence reports gave the Americans the impression that only 800 troops were manning the defenses, when in actuality, a number three to four times that was more realistic. Third, B-17 bombers were to thoroughly prep the site by dropping thousands of tons of bombs, however, due to the intense cloud cover, bombers missed their targets by as much as 5 kilometers inland. Finally, the invasion was to consist of 40,000 men and 3,500 motorized vehicles. This idea later failed quickly as troops and vehicles quickly became backed up on the beach. Captain Walker on a landing craft headed toward the beach commented on the sight, “I took a look toward the shore and my heart took a dive. I couldn’t believe how peaceful it was, how untouched, and how tranquil the scene was. The terrain was green. All the buildings were intact. The church and steeple were still standing in place. Where are the d*#n Air Corps!” I yelled.”(D-Day, Ambrose 324)The first wave in was to consist of two battalions of the regiments landing in a column of companies. The plan was to have assault teams to cover every inch of beach. Weapons used to cover the successive landing crafts were to include M-1’s, .30 caliber machine guns, bazookas, 60mm mortars, and flame throwers. Just like the assault on Utah, DD tanks were to lead the invasion ashore while naval demolition teams worked to clear the area. Following the initial craft were to be reinforcements to bring up stronger firepower ranging from greater numbers of M-1’s to 105mm howitzers, in addition to more tanks, jeeps, medical units, head quarters and communication units. Two hours after the first wave, it was planned that vehicles would have already scaled the bluffs and begin to push farther inland. Nothing planned for the assault on Omaha went according to schedule. Only one company landed at their target (Company A). E Company was as much as two kilometers off course due to winds, waves, and the tides. This resulted in large gaps between the forces coming ashore and allowed the Germans to concentrate their firepower on the hapless Americans. The Germans poured the artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire down onto A Company. It was an absolute slaughter. Only a few dozen people of the 200 survived, and practically all of them were wounded. By 0640 hours, just ten minutes after the first wave, only one officer from A Company was alive, and he had been shot in the heel and the belly. On one boat, when the ramp was dropped, every single man of the thirty-man assault team was killed before they could get out of the boat. A short way down the beach, F and G Companies were experiencing problems of their own. Sgt. Harry Bare describes the experience as they disembarked, “I tried to get my men off the boat and make it somehow to the seawall. We waded to the sand and threw ourselves down and the men were frozen, we could not 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.”(D-Day, Ambrose 331) It was clearly evident as wave upon wave came ashore that everything was in sheer chaos. People were being cut down left and right by machine guns, and blown to pieces by artillery and mortar fire. “Sgt. Clarence ‘Pilgrim Robertson had a gaping wound in the upper right corner of his forehead. He was walking crazily in the water. Then I saw him get down on his knees and start playing the rosary beads. At that moment the Germans cut him in half with the deadly crossfire.”(D-Day, Ambrose 337) “When we were 200 yards from our landing point I could see heavy machine-gun-bullets cutting up the sand and making a noise like a huge swarm of bees. “My God, we are going to be slaughtered.”-Sgt. H.M. Kellar (Lewis 120)Omaha Beach on that day was in a state of pandemonium. There was no organization which was proven as the troops found themselves pinned with no leadership and no where to go, with additional equipment and troops coming ashore to only back things up worse. The Americans were pinned on the beach. Rommel had constructed the ultimate killing field, and for a few hours, it seemed like it was going to take a miracle to save the Americans now. It was becoming ever more evident to American commanders that if they remained on the beach, it would be suicide. After more than a few hours of fighting, the Americans had only a few yards of beach, and it was under intense enemy fire. Under these hell-like conditions, heros were sprung. Division Brigadier General Norman D. Cota deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire while walking up and down the beach, rallying his troops to get them moving. Colonel George A. Taylor performed a similar feat in leading an attack against a German machine-gun post while declaring, “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those about to die. Now lets get the hell out of here!”(D’ Este 114)As the hours wore on, a greater foothold on Omaha was established. The American Forces knew that it was absolutely imperative that they get off the beach. As more and more soldiers began to make their way froward, reinforcements continued to arrive bringing tanks, engineers, and more troops. Soldiers, lacking order and organizations began working together to establish routes up the bluffs. One by one, razor wire was blown clear, pillboxes were destroyed, and artillery batteries were eliminated. By the end of the day more than 2,500 Americans lay dead on Omaha. It was a bloodbath, compared to the 200 who were lost on Utah. D-Day, June 6, 1944 was the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire. It was one of the most important days in military history as Eisenhower’s cross channel attack, the largest in history, proved an overall success. The actions of the American soldiers on Utah and Omaha beaches that day aided greatly in the overall triumph of the operation as a whole. The victory at Omaha came at a very high cost, and the soldiers who took part certainly had no idea what they were about go through before the landing. They had no idea of the death and destruction which awaited their stepping foot onto those beaches. For a few hours on the morning of June 6, 1944, it appeared that Rommel had created the ultimate coastal fortification. His strategic placements of machine-guns, mortars, and artillery pieces took a tremendous toll on the American invaders. For a short time, it appeared that the Americans were not going to make it off the beach that day. If not for the courage of a few individuals leading the way, all could have been lost. Every American soldier who set foot on the beached of Omaha and Utah that day is forever a hero. Their actions played a critical role in the success of D-Day, and the death and destruction of the Nazi Empire. Even through all of the factors which went wrong that day, even with out the aid of computers, they made the invasion possible. The safety of the free world today can be directly related to the actions of the men who came ashore on Omaha and Utah that day, June 6, 1944. D-Day.


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