Like the rest of the Allied invasion forces the 1st and 29th Divisions set sail from their embarkation ports with the intent of landing on June 5th. General Bradley, commanding the First Army until the American Army Group would be activated accompanied the invasion force. The OMAHA landing was placed under General Gerow and his V Corps while VII Corps landed the 4th Infantry Division landed at Utah supported by airdrops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions inland. American command and control was exercised from sea although General Officers went ashore with each of the American divisions. A severe channel storm disrupted the plan to land on the 5th and Eisenhower delayed the invasion one day catching a break in the weather and electing to go on the 6th.[i] This delay while uncomfortable for the embarked troops caused the Germans to believe that no invasion would take place until the next favorable tide and moon cycle later in the month[ii] a break which caused a number of senior German leaders, including Rommel to be absent from the invasion front when the Allies landed.[iii]
The landing beaches at OMAHA stretched about 6500 meters from Colleville-Sur-Mer to Vierville-Sur-Mere in the west. A further objective to the west of Vierville; Pont du Hoc, was believed to house a 150mm battery sighted where it could enfilade OMAHA and was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion. Companies from this battalion made a heroic landing and scaled the cliffs to capture the strongpoint only to discover that the guns had not been emplaced and held their isolated beachhead until relieved by the 29th Division on the morning of June 8th.[iv]
H-Hour for OMAHA was 0630. Unfortunately the assault troops were transferred to their LCVPs 16-20 kilometers from the beach resulting in a long and dangerous ride in the small craft for the infantry. Most of the infantry were completely soaked in sea spay and seasick before going ashore carrying loads far above what they normally would carry into battle.[v] One battalion of DD tanks, the 741st Armored Battalion, supporting the 16th Infantry of 1st Infantry Division was launched too far out and nearly all of its tanks were swamped and lost before firing a shot in anger.[vi] Weigley notes that at OMAHA “at least 10 of the LCVPs sank” as did “the craft carrying almost all of the 105mm howitzers that were to be the first artillery ashore after the tanks.”[vii] The losses would cripple the assault on OMAHA and nearly cause its abandonment.
As the soldiers of the American divisions on OMAHA came ashore they faced German defenders of the 352nd, 716th and a regiment of the 709th Infantry Division, the latter under the tactical command of the 352nd. Without the bulk of their tanks artillery and lacking close air support the Americans struggled across the beaches and were cut down in large numbers before being pinned down behind the sea wall.[viii] As the Americans pinned down on the beach failed to advance the time tables for the reinforcing waves became snarled amid the German beach obstacles which had not been cleared due to 40% casualties among the Combat Engineers and the loss of all but five bulldozers.[ix] Naval officers were frustrated in their attempts to provide support by the lack of identifiable targets on the beaches but strongpoints were “knocked out by either by superbly directed vigorous gunfire from destroyers steaming as close as 800 yards offshore, or by determined action from Rangers or infantry.[x]
Soldiers ashore discovered the truth that they were not facing the static 716th Division but the 352nd Division as well.[xi] But for the leadership of Brigadier General Norman Cota, assistant division commander of 29th Infantry Division and Colonel Charles Canham of the 116th Infantry who were able to rally their troops and just enough leaders and small units from the 116th which had its linage back to the “Stonewall Brigade” as well as units of the 1st Divisions’ 16th and 18th Regiments who kept their heads and began to lead survivors through the dunes and up the bluffs to attack German defenders of the roads leading up from the beach from the flank and rear as well as a mid-day break in the weather which allowed some close tactical air support General Bradley may have ordered the evacuation of OMAHA.
At sea events were as confused as Bradley and his staff attempted to make sense of what was going on. Even later in the evening there was discussion of diverting all further reinforcements from OMAHA to the British beaches.[xii]At 1330 hours “Gerow signaled Bradley: “Troops formerly pinned down on beaches…advancing up heights behind beaches.”[xiii] By the end of the day Bradley’s aid Major Hansen noted Bradley’s comments to Collins: “They are digging in on Omaha beach with their fingernails. I hope they can push in and get some stuff ashore.” And Montgomery: “Someday I’ll tell Gen[eral] Eisenhower just how close it was for a few hours.”[xiv]
The landings at OMAHA did succeed at a cost of over 2000 casualties, critical to their success were the German inability to reinforce their defending troops on the beach and the weakness of the units available to mount the standard counterattack that was critical to German defensive plans on D-Day itself. The 352nd Division fought superbly under the full weight of V Corps and the British XXX Corps on its right suffering heavy casualties as they contested every inch of ground. The 716th Division units melted under the onslaught. Allied air supremacy played a key role as sorties by the 8th and 9th Air Forces helped keep German reinforcements from arriving and interdicted counter attacks inland. Weigley credits the Allied air superiority with the success of the landings and with limiting the cost of allied lives.[xv] Von Rundstedt and other German commanders in France were limited by the delay and refusal of Hitler and OKW to release Panzer reserves when needed most early on June 6th. By the close of D-Day allied forces had secured the five invasion beaches but not achieved their objectives of taking Caen and Bayuex and forces had not linked up leaving the beaches extremely vulnerable had the Germans been able to mount a rapid counterattack by Panzers and strong infantry formations.
[i] Ibid. p.74-75
[ii] Von Luck, Hans. “Panzer Commander“ Dell Publishing, New York, 1989 pp. 169-170. Von Luck a regiment commander in 21st Panzer noted that General Marcks of 84th Corps had predicted a 5 June invasion at a conference May 30th.
[iii] Almost every D-Day historian talks about the weather factor and its effect on the German high command’s reaction to the invasion. Rommel was visiting his wife for her birthday and planned to make a call on Hitler. Others including commanders of key divisions such as the 91st Airlanding Division were off to a war game in Rennes and the 21st Panzer Division to Paris.
[iv] Ibid. Weigley p. 96
[v] See Cornelius Ryan, “The Longest Day” Popular Library Edition, New York 1959. pp. 189-193 for a vivid description of the challenges faced by soldiers going from ship to landing craft and their ride in to the beaches.
[vi] Ibid. Weigley. p.78 Weigley talks about the order for the tanks to be carried ashore on their LCTs that did not get transmitted to the 741st.
[viii] Ibid. Weigley p. 87 The weather prevented the aerial bombardment from being effective. Because the bombers could not see their targets they dropped their bomb loads further inland, depriving the infantry of support that they were expecting. Naval gunfire support had some effect but had to be lifted as the troops hit the beach leaving much of that support to come from Destroyers and specially equipped landing craft which mounted rockets and guns.
[ix] Ibid. Hastings. pp. 90-91.
[x] Ibid. p.99
[xi] Ibid. Weigley p.80
[xii] Ibid. p.101 Also see Weigley p.80
[xiii] Ibid. p.99
[xiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.95
[xv] Ibid. p.94