History and photos of the beach (2/2)
Continued from page Omaha Beach (1/2):
|Sheltered behind the “Czech hedgehogs”, these American soldiers try to survive. Photo: Robert Capa
The beach is strewn with various materials and human bodies shredded by bullets and shrapnel. All these elements are gradually brought back by the rising tide and the wounded in the middle of the beach and unable to move are condemned to die by drowning if nobody helps them. The American soldiers are all mixed up and no one has really landed at the intended place. Indeed, the drivers of the assault boats believe that it is better to land men in a place where fire is less dense, rather than to have them respected the plan and to send them to a certain death. The German artillerymen regularly destroy landing craft even before they reach the shore.
|LCVP on fire in front of Omaha beach, hit by a German shell. Photo: US National Archives|
Survivors of the first five assault waves attempt to survive hell. German snipers shoot US officers and those who seem to want to take charge, machine guns spit from the bunkers and strongpoints a deluge of metal that is crossed by other machine guns. Mortar and gun shells explode vehicles that have managed to land… Any movement, any breakthrough seems impossible.
|This photo is from the film directed by the cameraman Wall, who will lose his leg at around 10:00 on Omaha. Photo: US National Archives|
The first breakthrough
Around 9:30 am, things are beginning to change in Omaha, mainly east of the beach, in the vicinity of sector Fox, where shooting is less dense than western Omaha. A group of Americans then moved east towards the town of Port-en-Bessin in order to make the junction with the British troops, distant of about 16 kilometers.
|Landing craft continue to land soldiers on the beach. Photo: Robert Capa
It’s 10 o’clock. It’s almost three and a half hours since US forces trampled on Omaha Beach: a few men from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 16th regiment of the 1st Infantry Division attempt to breakthrough. They regrouped and form a force of nearly 200 soldiers, which is a miracle. Taking advantage of a thick cloud of smoke emanating from the burning of the plateau caused by the allied bombing, soldiers progressed, sometimes equipped with their gas mask to protect themselves.
General Bradley, on the deck of the cruiser USS Augusta, watches with his binoculars the evolution of the battle. The reports of the Navy are catastrophic: the losses are extraordinarily high. Bradley even thinks, for a moment, interrupting the reinforcement ballet to Omaha and redirecting them to Utah, whose situation reports are much better. But he persuades himself that the only chance for the Allies to seize this beach is to send again and again many reinforcements: the Germans will have to bend at some time under the weight of the immense American war machine.
|Omar Bradley (glasses), commander of the American forces, observes the evolution of the fighting on Omaha. Photo: US National Archives|
The American Reaction
This reaction faces the possibility that the Germans will be reinforced in the hours that follow. If the opposing troops get men and additional ammunition, it is simply impossible to attempt a decisive breakthrough.
|On the beach, doctors are overwhelmed by the hundreds of wounded waiting for treatment. Photo: US National Archives|
But these German reinforcements do not come: the generals of the Third Reich are not well informed about the situation and do not consider it necessary to immediately send heavy means to the beaches.
|American soldiers killed on Omaha Beach in front of Vierville-sur-Mer. Photo: US National Archives|
On the beach, vehicles that are not yet destroyed by German guns can not progress in the midst of a terrible disorder: the dead and the wounded are littering the sand of Normandy, carcasses of vehicles burn, helmets, weapons, cartridge belts, clothes are abandoned and give the men who are fighting on Omaha a more than realistic glimpse of hell.
|Debris of all kinds and wrecks of landing craft on the beach. Photo: US National Archives|
High ranking officers of the American army are worried: the silhouette of defeat hovers over Omaha. Major General Clarence Huebner, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, asked the naval artillery to support the infantrymen as closely as possible. Some allied ships are approaching nearly 800 meters from the beach to shoot at close range at German fortified points that continue to vomit bullets and shells at the assailants who swarm on the beach.
|Rescue of American soldiers who have scarcely drowned in the Channel. Photo: US National Archives|
En route to inland
Around 11 o’clock, the breakthroughs to the plateau multiplied and hundreds of soldiers, numbed by noise and cold, rushed to assault the German positions dominating the beach and still active. While the landings of vehicles are interrupted, hundreds of infantrymen set foot on the beach. The 18th Infantry Regiment, freshly landed on “Easy” sector, wins the plateau and progresses towards the village of Colleville-sur-Mer in which the 16th regiment is already fighting.
|The reinforcements continue to land on the beach. Photo: US National Archives|
The German positions dominating the shore are taken one by one in reverse and in the early afternoon, the deafening racket ceases on Omaha. The vehicles are then again allowed to land, as the engineers have opened 5 other ways out, bringing to 6 their total number, out of the 16 previously planned.
Late in the afternoon, the beach is under control, but intermittently German snipers open fire on troops disembarking or on the wounded grouped and waiting for their evacuation to England. In the early evening, the coastal road linking Vierville-sur-Mer, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer is reached by various American groups. The bridgehead that was previously 5.9 kilometers long, this is to say the total length of Omaha Beach, is at that time a front line of 9 kilometers long and 3 kilometers wide.
|Reinforcements en route to inland to protect the fragile American bridgehead. Photo: US National Archives|
Omaha Beach Landing Report
On the evening of June 6, 1944, nearly 30,000 soldiers landed on Omaha Beach. 2,500 US soldiers lost their lives, were injured, missing or were taken prisoner in the early hours of the assault. On June 6 at 24 hours, there were nearly 3,000 Americans killed. The bridgehead is extremely fragile and the Allies are in a weak position in Omaha: the slightest massive and organized counter-attack on the part of the Germans could suddenly jeopardize the smooth running of operation Overlord. The next 24 hours are decisive in the south and on the flanks of Omaha.
This beach now bears the sad nickname of “Bloody Omaha”.
|At Omaha Beach , the landing craft unload the various equipment necessary for the soldiers. Photo: US National Archives|