Part 2, The Allies Return
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Landing crafts plowed through the waves. Apart from the noise of the engines driving the vessels, the rolling sounds of the sea and the distant droning of Allied aircraft in the clouds above, a deathly stillness had fallen over the men.
No one exchanged a word, their faces tense with anxiety of waiting and the probability of death. The salt spray splashed against their faces. Their helmets glistened like dull glass. In spite of it being a cold morning, a layer of sweat stood out on their foreheads, or maybe it was the spray. Each was sunk into his own world of memories and worries. Vomit intermingled with salt water sloshed around their feet and a permeating odor of stench hung in the air.
In the distance ahead, men could hear the detonations of bombs and the ack-ack of anti-aircraft fire. Behind them came the reassuring crump of the naval guns, followed by the whines of shells as they flew overhead, battleship to corvette anchored in phalanx behind the lines of tiny landing craft. Salvo after salvo left the guns to embed themselves in the Norman landscape.
As the crafts drew near, the men in landing crafts became galvanized. Months of drilling took over as if on reflex. Officers barked out orders, and the crews of the lead LCTs (landing Craft, Tanks) fired smoke signals. As abruptly as it had begun, the naval bombardment stopped, prompting an eerie silence broken only by the crashing of the waves on the beaches almost 300 m (320 yards) away. Then at 6.31 am British time, a minute behind schedule, the first ten craft off “Utah” beach lowered their ramps and first 300 invaders leapt into the cold channel waters and waded towards the low, undulating shoreline. As they hit the beach, gunfire came up to greet them. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Daylight dispelled German confusion about the goings-on the night before. As they caught sight of the Allied fleet in the distance, some of them instinctively knew that this was invasion.
Shortly before H-Hour, the appointed time for the landings to take place, allied bombers struck at the German command station in Caen, as fighter-bombers strafed military installations and barracks in the city. Then, right before the landings, the navy took over. Flares and flashes lit up the coast as the pre-planned naval bombardment began at 5 am.
The spectacle of the invasion fleet, now belching fire and metal on the Germans, was astounding. The seascape between Vierville-sur-Mer in the west and Merville in the east was crammed with thousands of Allied vessels. All of the heavy fire emanated from the fleet’s heavyweights, the battleships and the cruisers. Only the fleet’s 75 destroyers remained silent as they followed orders not to fire until 40 minutes before the first wave of Allied troops head towards the beaches.
“The [ships] came, rank after relentless rank, ten lanes wide, twenty miles across, five thousand ships of every description,” wrote a journalist that morning. “Coast Guard cutters, buoy-layers and motor launches” and “a formidable array of 702 warships.”
Already, at 4.30 am, 132 troops of the 4th and 24th Cavalry Squadrons had assailed the island of St Marcouf, just off the Cotentin peninsula, two hours before the main landings along the coastline. Their mission was to clear enemy minefields and German observation points. They found the mines but no Germans.
Amid the naval barrage, an alarm blared. Three German torpedo boats had emerged from a smoke screen. A torpedo smashed into the Free Norwegian destroyer, Svenner which wallowed and went under. Seventy-four destroyers remained. The German boats vanished into the smoke towards Le Havre.
Meanwhile, overhead, hundreds of US Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses and other bombers streamed towards the coastline. For over half an hour before the assault forces reaching the beach, some 1,365 American bombers began dumping 2,796 tons of bombs on targets spread along the coast, adding to the destruction caused by British bombers the night before. When the bombardment lifted long minutes later, 4,000 barges and landing craft began separating themselves from the fleet and heading for the coastline. Within them, heavily armed but anxious Allied troops waited to reach the sable sand of France.
Graphic showing the in which order the leading American assault units landed at Utah" beach. ©Akhil Kadidal
Theodore Roosevelt Jr, deputy commander of the US 4th Infantry Division.
It 6 am when the first allied landing crafts carrying the US 4th Infantry Division left their parent ships and headed towards “Utah Beach.” On the way something went wrong – a patrol craft, PC1261, detailed to lead two LCCs (Landing Craft Control) to “Utah,” hit a mine and blew up.
A mine also badly dislodged the American plan to send a force of 32 Sherman "swimming" tanks from the 70th Tank Battalion ahead of the infantry. The leading landing craft LCT539 with four Shermans hit a mine and blew up. Confusion set in within the other LCTs. The Shermans were finally launched at a range of between 1,500 and 3,000 yards out to sea. One floundered on the way in, and by the time the rest came in ashore, they were 20 minutes late and the infantry force was ahead of them.
Meantime, as the infantry-carrying landing craft reached to within 300 and 700 yards from the beach, 17 Landing Craft (Rockets), positioned 3,000 yards away fired off a barrage of 1,064 five-inch rockets. The rockets came screaming in on the German positions along the beach.
In the midst of this maelstrom, the assault force unwittingly drifted in an offshore current and landed two kilometers (1¼ miles) further south. It was a blessing in disguise. The beach that they had landed on was the most lightly defended sector in the whole of Normandy. The assistant commander of the division, the 57-year old arthritis-afflicted Brig-General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. – son of the former American president Teddy Roosevelt, and cousin of the current president – who had pleaded to go ashore with his men, realized what a gift this was.
“We will start the war from right here,” he announced.
The first wave of infantry, split into twenty 32-man assault teams from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 8th Infantry Regiment, was already on the beach as of 6.30 am, trading fire with German forces across the breach.
One GI, Private Harper Coleman of H Company, 2nd Battalion remembered: “Before we reached the shore something came through the side of our craft and tore out a hole in one side and out the other, tore a good piece out of my backpack. The history books say we landed some distance to the left than we were supposed and that this was one of the easier landings. I don’t know of this was good or bad. It did not seem good at the time. We went into the water somewhat more than waist deep and a good distance from dry land. When we came on shore, we had a greeter, how he got there I do not know other than he was in one of the first landing craft. But Brigadier-General Theodore Roosevelt was standing waving his cane and giving out instructions as only he could. If we were afraid of the enemy, we more afraid of him and could not stop on the beach had we wanted to.”
Another GI on the beach was Sergeant Jerome D Salinger (later famous as J D) who had come in with the Divisional Intelligence Corps Detachment in the second wave at 6.45 am. Salinger and the others in his unit found themselves under the comparative higher fire that the initial troops at had faced.
As he had waded through the water, Salinger spared a thought for pages of a story he had written stuffed into his rucksack. These pages would later go into his magnum opus, The Catcher in the Rye.
Probably no exaggeration to say that the name "Holden Caulfield" is somewhere in that notebook.
Sergeant J D Salinger writes on a table in France.
Soon, the 70th Tank Battalion came ashore, joined by 37 self-propelled M7 priests. Together, they began pummeling the German positions. German artillery fire began tearing into the beachhead. A shore battery began focusing its fire on the US destroyer Corry. Soon, Corry was keeling over, smashed by 8-inch shells. She went down in 30-foot shallows.
At WN5, a German strongpoint, the 3rd Company of the 919th Grenadier Regiment was in a state of shock after the Allied bombardment. Their commander, Lt Arthur Jahnke, sent to a runner asking for the 122mm battery of the 1261st Artillery Regiment at St. Martin-de-Varreville to hit the Americans. But no bombardment came. Little did Jahnke know that the battery had been overrun by "Iron Mike's" paratroopers.
US troops and wading Shermans of 'C' Company, 70th Tank Battalion come ashore as part of the third wave. PA Archive
He watched in horror as Americans closed to the distance to his forward positions. Just then, a partly buried French Renault tank manned by Germans opened fire. The incoming GIs scattered for cover. Most of the Americans of the first wave were already under the cover the beach wall, but the fire hurtled into the second wave coming ashore. Attempts to get a single 88mm gun which had been damaged by bombs were less than successful. After fire one shell which hit and disabled a Sherman DD, the gun refused work. In any case, more American naval fire landed on the defenders. Those that were not killed outright were too dazed to fight.
The rest of the assault was remarkable simple. For the loss of 197 men killed (including 60 at sea), the Americans poured inland. Jahnke and the survivors of his company were taken prisoner. Sporadic German artillery fire from inland batteries would continue for the next few hours.
Roosevelt Jr. would return to the beachhead repeatedly over the course of the new few hours to lead men through the seawall without regard for his own safety. Six days later, he was dead of a heart attack. He was buried at Ste-Mère-Église.
Washington saw his actions as a primary example of courage and clear thinking in a time of crisis. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.
A captured ethnic Georgian from the German 795th Ost Battalion is questioned by a US Army captain at “Utah” Beach. At the time, American troops believed the man was a Japanese solider in German uniform. After the war, a myth grew that his name was “Yang Kyoungjong,” a Korean national inducted into the Russian Red Army, and in turn, captured by the German Army in 1942. US Office of Public and International Affairs
German commanders began to rush back to the front. At Picauville, members of the headquarters company of the 3rd Battalion, 505th PIR, approached a farmhouse to ask a Frenchman to show them where they were. At that a moment, a German Mercedes Phaeton staff car hove into view on the road to Ste-Mère-Église. A paratrooper, First Lt Malcolm Brannen, stepped into the middle of the road to stop the vehicle. However, the driver accelerated. Brannen dove out of the way.
As the car dashed past, his troops, who had been taking cover behind a stone wall, stood up and opened fire. The car went careening into a wall. The driver went flying out. He was miraculously unhurt. Another man, an officer, had been similarly ejected during the crash. Badly hurt, he crawled towards his Luger pistol which had fallen a few feet away.
The German locked eyes with Brannen. He “looked at me as I stood… fifteen feet to his right and as he inched closer and closer to his weapon, he pleaded to me in German and also in English, ‘Don’t kill, don’t kill.’ I thought, ‘I’m not a cold-hearted killer, I’m human—but if he gets that Luger, it is either him or me or one or more of my men.’ So, I shot.”
The German, Major Joachim Bartuzat, was hit in the forehead and died instantly. “The blood spurted from his forehead about six feet high and, like water in a fountain when it is shut off, it gradually subsided,” Brannen later said.
One of the paratroopers who nosed inside the vehicle saw a third man slumped over the passenger seat, dead. It was Lt-General Wilhelm Falley, commander of the German 91st Airlanding Division, who was rushing back from the war games at Rennes.
Another German commander, Lt-General Karl von Schleiben of the 709th Division was luckier. He would reach his headquarters at Valognes on the afternoon of June 6.
TOP The first German general to die in Normandy, Lt-General Wilhelm Falley.
ABOVE Lt Brannen of the 505th PIR.
A contemporary watercolor by US Navy combat artist Dwight Shepler, showing USS Emmons (DD-457) bombarding Fox Green on "Omaha" beach on 6 June 1944. US Navy Art Collection, Washington, D C
Meanwhile, the Allied air support swept overhead the D-Day beaches – 171 British and USAAF combat squadrons. Fifteen squadrons provided shipping cover, 54 provided beach cover, 33 undertook bomber escort and offensive fighter sweeps, another 33 struck at targets inland from the landing area, and 36 provided direct air support to invading forces. Despite the massed air attacks, the seaborne forces discovered that the German defenses were largely intact when they came ashore.
This was particularly true at “Omaha” Beach. When it came to assault areas, the “Omaha” sector was the longest stretch of beach in Normandy, running for over 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the coastal town Port-en-Bessin to the mouth of the Vire River.
This part of the coast was dominated by ragged, rocky ledges and outcrops, coupled with towering bluffs dominated the seawall. At the villages of Colleville-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer, bluffs towered as much as 100 meters high. A third of the area also backed by fearsome three meter-high (10 ft) sea walls. The Germans had also constructed formidable defensive posts all along the embankments and cliffs. The beach was heavily mined and there were 12 strongpoints or wiederstandsnest (resistance nests) as the German called them.
The waters were beautiful but treacherous. Here the Bay of the Seine is exposed to northly and easterly winds, and the moderately strong offshore currents are further complicated by eddies and rip tides that have the formation of sandbars and runnels running parallel to the beach, all of which are exposed at low tide. This would create complications for landing craft.
The beach itself had a gradient of 1:8 before it ended at a wave-torn beach wall beyond which was a marshy shelf occupying the ground between the beach and the base of the towering escarpments. There were also five wooded ravines (or draws) which could potentially give troops cover to travel up the escarpment on tracks cut through, but these were covered by German guns, manned by troops of two German infantry divisions, the 352nd and the 716th, part of General Erich Marck’s LXXXIV Corps.
A composite of oblique air recon photos taken in 1943 of the "Omaha" beach sector. Click the image or use the button to download the 25mb high-resolution file. US National Archives
US Army Air Force aerial image of the "Omaha" beach sector, taken sometime after June 13. Click the image or use the button to download the 19mb high-resolution image. US National Archives
The defending troops consisted of three battalions from the 352nd Infantry Division whose weapons were positioned to give enfilading fire. Over 60 artillery guns would support them on D-Day. In response, the American ground assault forces was a mix of veterans and rookies. Of the 11 US army divisions in Britain, only four had any combat experience. Of them, the 1st Infantry Division, otherwise known as the “Big Red One” had the most. It had fought in Tunisia and Sicily. If any unit could crack the daunting landscape of Omaha, it would be the Big Red One, Bradley decided.
Aiding the Allies was that fact that the Atlantic Wall at "Omaha" was incomplete. But where strongpoints existed, the Germans had brought in a preponderance of force, ranging from at least 85 machineguns to at least two 88mm guns. Six fixed tank turrets also dotted the sector. At WN60, automatic flamethrowers were installed.
“Had a less experienced division than the 1st Division stumbled into this crack resistance, it might have easily been thrown back into the channel,” Bradley would say later.
The second assault force, the 29th Infantry Division, an old National Guard unit which traditionally recruited from Maryland and Virginia, had not seen battle but had trained heavily. Calling itself the “Blue and Gray Division” the unit was under Maj-General Charles Gerhardt, whom the troops knew as “Uncle Charlie.” When it came to the actual landing, the division’s 116th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) would be led in by Brigadier General Norman “Dutch” Cota, the assistant divisional commander.
The assault was scheduled for 6.30 am. But from the beginning, things began to go wrong. At 6 am, 480 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers had plastered the area beyond the beachhead with 1,285 tons of bombs. The idea was to hit 13 targets. However, much of the bombers’ deadly cargo fell three miles inland. Even an Allied secret weapon, the swimming Sherman tank, failed in the 1st Division’s sector of Omaha.
The Anzio landings had shown that if a tank is present near an infantry position, no matter how little or how great damage it does to enemy forces, its greatest value is that it prompts even green troops to hold their ground. Consequently, the British had tinkered with the idea of an amphibious tank since 1941. The first examples, heavy, slow Churchill tanks modified for seaborne operations had seen action during the ill-fated Dieppe Raid of 1942. But as much as the British had toiled towards a sailable tank, it was the Hungarian refugee inventor Nicholas Straussler who ultimately perfected the idea.
His breakthrough innovation was a nine-foot-high, airtight but collapsible canvas shroud, which was inflated with compressed air and propped up by 36 supporting pillars. The basic physics was sound. It is possible to float any sized vehicle, no matter what the tonnage, as long as the shroud wrapping is high enough. However, the higher the shroud, the more unstable the vessel is at sea.
Panel showing how the Sherman DD tank operated. These images were taken in 1945 on the Rhine river. US Army
When the shroud plus other modification such as a prow, deck and propellers were added to a run-off-the mill Sherman tank, the offshoot was the Sherman "DD (Duplex Drive)” tank.
Two 18-inch propellers gave the tank a maximum speed of five to four knots at sea. Each tank had a directional compass, a periscope which allowed the commander to see over the shroud and a bilge pump that could eject 15 gallons of water per minute. Each of the five crewmen had one Davis Lung, a submarine escape device, which nevertheless did little to assuage the crews from a morbid terror of sinking.
It took the tank 28 minutes to traverse 4,000 yards of calm sea. Since the shroud was high, the tank commander had to stand on a makeshift deck erected at the back of the tank, which would allow him to use the periscope to peek over the shroud, while relaying instructions to the driver. Once ashore, the driver fired an electrical charge which discarded the canvas screen and floating apparatus, making the tank fit for terrestrial combat.
To an unknowing enemy, DDs with their shrouds up looked like harmless canvas boats. A landed Sherman DD therefore had significant shock value. Said Lt-Colonel J S Upham of the 743rd Tank Battalion which was to go in with the 29th Division at “Omaha”: “The DD tank when afloat looks very much like a canvas duck boat… It was realized that if their existence could be kept secret, the Germans would be surprised when confronted with blazing tanks instead of innocent canvas boats.”
The tank employment plan for the Dog and Easy Green beaches were for the 743rd’s B and C Companies to be landed 1,000 yards from the shoreline, which would allow the tanks to come ashore at 6.25 am. They were to then blast German pillboxes and other defensive points. The last company, “A” which had Shermans outfitted with long funnels to allow them to wade up to shore was to blast the shore while still on ship. They were to land at 6.30 am.
This is not what happened to the tanks of the 741st Tank Battalion which was to support the 16th Infantry Regiment on the eastern half of “Omaha.” As the LCTs carrying the American tank chugged towards the coast, a fierce argument erupted between two senior tank commanders and the US Naval officers who commanded the LCTs. The tank officers wanted to launch their tanks from 5,000 yards of the shoreline, while the naval men argued that it was better to get in closer because of rough seas.
During pre-invasion trials, British, Canadian and American tankers had conducted extensive trials with the Sherman DDs in lakes within Britain. The trials had shown the tanks could reach the shore even if they were launched from 7,000 yards out. Officially, some 30,000 DD launchings had been made before D-Day, during which just one man had apparently died. But one tanker, Lt Stuart Hills of the British Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry noted that “on April 4 six tanks of the 4th/7th RDG ‘drowned’ with the loss of six men in a very heavy swell off Poole.” Hills, the commander of another Sherman DD in the British sector that morning, had also noted that the going was rough for Sherman DDs if the waters were rough. And the sea was frothing now.
Overruling the concerns of the naval officer whom they outranked, the tank commanders of the 741st pushed their unit into the sea. One infantry officer in a nearby LCA, Captain Bill Friedman of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment saw what happened next. The Shermans sank like stones. “It was terrible to watch,” he said.
Some of the tankers escaped their doomed vessels and could be seen clinging to small dinghies but there was no time to pick them up. Only five of the 32 Shermans launched made it to the beach. When two Shermans from the neighboring 743rd Battalion suffered the same fate, the naval lieutenant commanding the landing ships ordered his LCTs to deposit the tanks right onto the beach.
The infantry meantime, would arrive at “Omaha” at 6.30. Among them was the war photographer Robert Capa, who had decided the accompany the troops into the fray. While some men worried about being killed, Capa’s biggest quandary the day before been which unit to go with: either Lt-Colonel Robert Taylor’s Regimental Headquarters or the one of the 2nd Battalion's assault companies.
“On the one hand, the objectives of Company B looked interesting and to go along with them seemed to be a pretty safe bet. Then again, I used to know Company E very well and the story I had got with them in Sicily was one of the best during the war. I was about choose between Companies B and E when Colonel Taylor…tipped me off that regimental HQ would follow close the behind the first waves of infantry. If I went with him, I wouldn’t miss the action and I’d be a little safer.” While Capa would say after the war that he had decided to gamble and go in with the first wave – with E Company, post-war evidence suggests he went in with Colonel Taylor.
Aboard the troopship USS Henrico, Capa had taken dozens of photos as the hours counted down to H-Hour: GIs playing cards, writing letters, planners poring over their maps. One of the troops was a 32-year-old Corporal from Brooklyn named Sam Fuller who had been a journalist, a screenwriter and a pulp novelist before the war interrupted his life. Now, he was lying on a large box of ammunition, contemplating events to come, dread written all over his face.
By dawn, Capa was aboard the USS Samuel Chase, another troopship where the men had erupted into activity. Fuller unearthed a condom and put it over the muzzle of his Garand rifle to prevent sea water from seeping
Daybreak was an experience few had expected: The dim vision of the Norman coast on the near horizon and the noise, from the assault boats gunning their engines, to the throbbing roars of bomber engines in the sky and the shouting of the men. Then the bullhorns blaring “keep in line, keep in line! Don’t forget the Big Red One is leading the way.”
LCVPs from the USS Samuel Chase with troops from the 16th Infantry Regiment head towards towards the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach on D-Day. The area in the background is the stretch of bluff between WN64 and WN62. After the war, the Normandy American Cemetery would be established on top of the plateau seen here. US National Archives
Photo by Robert Capa showing the men aboard the US Coast Guard vessel, USS Samuel Chase as it lay at Weymouth before D-Day, referring to a model of the section of the Normandy coast that had been codenamed Omaha Beach. International Center of Photography & Magnum Photos
There is no denying that Robert Capa was a brave man. He had spent an inordinate amount of time in hostile situations, but on D-Day, his penchant for invention appears to have overtaken any sense of objectivity. In his memoires, Slightly Out of Focus, he wrote: "I am a gambler. I decided to go in with Company E in the first wave [on D-Day]." In reality he likely went in with the 10th wave. He also appears not to have taken many photos during the assault because he did not spend much time on the beach - notwithstanding claims that many of his photographs were destroyed by an inept darkroom assistant.
Fuller commanded respect in Hollywood as a director, but I find his films pulpy, including his magnum opus, "The Big Red One" But his 1982 film "White Dog" was outstanding as was his cameo in Wim Wenders' '97 film "The End of Violence."
Robert Capa's photograph of Sam Fuller (in foreground). Capa could not have possibly dreamed that this young corporal from Brooklyn would amass a titanic reputation as a director in Hollywood and Europe after the war.
Onboard the Samuel Chase, men jammed along the side rails, waiting to climb down into the assault craft which would take them to shore. The men were physically ill, cold and sick with fright, confronted with the evidence of their own mortality.
The first wave of 48 landing craft was organized in boat sections of six LCVPs or LCAs. Each section had a company of assault troops with the headquarters coming in with the second wave. Each boat had 31 men, made up of one NCO and five riflemen, a four-man wire-cutting team, two BAR teams, two bazooka teams, a four-man 60mm mortar team, a flamethrower team, a demolition team with prepared TNT charges, a coxswain and a medical section. But there were deficiencies. Unlike US operations in the Pacific, the assault forces lacked LVTs or Amtracs - amphibious, tracked vehicles that could drive right up off the beach onto land.
When US Major-General Charles H Corlett, a Pacific veteran was brought in to help with D-Day planning, he was appalled that the officers were planning to send in infantry in landing craft, which meant exposing the troops to heavy fire as they crossed the beach. As the commander of the US Army's 7th Division during the assault on Kwajalein atoll, Corlett knew send in troops on amtracs improved the chances of troop survivability. When Corlett voiced his opinions, a British officer told him: "If we want an island to be taken, you should do it." Corlett later wrote that he was made to feel like the Pacific war was a "bush league" campaign
Some LVTs were used in the Normandy landings, but their numbers were limited as US Army doctrine in Europe viewed the Sherman DD as the answer to assaults on heavily defended beaches. Some LVT-2s were used to help unload supplies after the landings on "Utah Beach" from the cargo ships off the coast to the beach and through the nearby marshes.
The Americans would also later come into for criticism for not including enough special combat teams in their assault forces. True, there was one special engineering brigade attached to each divisional assault force at Omaha, but unlike their Anglo-Canadian brethren, the US forces lacked all manner of special vehicles.
They did not have flail tanks with rotating chains to beat a path through minefields or bobbin tanks that could lay down ramps or bridging tanks or flame-throwing vehicles or close infantry support tanks. These could have made all the difference in the assault zone.
Instead, the British and the Canadians had a monopoly on these vehicles for they were the brainchild of the British General Percy Hobart, commander of the 79th Armored Division. In contrast, American gap assault teams had nothing more special than wading Shermans with bulldozer teeth attached to their front.
For many assaulters, it was the longest six miles they had ever experienced in their lives. For many, it was also the last.
“People were throwing up all over the boat, trying to avoid each other. Some just stood there in silence,” said one man, Lt James Carroll of the 116th Infantry’s A Company. During the approach, the entire coast was suspiciously quiet, “so quiet it was suspicious,” added a naval officer.
Heady tides made shambles of the landing. The armada of landing craft became badly scattered and nearly every company lost sight of their objectives and began approaching wrong sectors of the beach. Only one company, A/116th Infantry, stayed true to its course. As the beachfront neared, the Germans of the 916th Regiment opened up. The men in the various landing craft could hear bullets beating against the metallic sides of their landing craft. As the ramps dropped, machine-gun fire ripped into the Americans, felling droves.
The survivors were in a state of shock. Sgt Ted Lombarski of F Company, 16th Infantry, was astounded by the crisscrossing defilading file which made it look impossible to cross the beach. “Being in the first wave was like committing suicide. Yes, some of us did cross…and reach the shale. Here, we had protection from small-arms fire. In front of the shale were mines, barbed wire and the Germans raining bullets all over,” He said.
By 6.41 am, a 1st Division officer was noting that the “entire first wave” was “foundering.” The troops were shattered that the pre-landing bombardment had not knocked out the German strongpoints. Private John “Hal” Baumgarten of the B Company, 116th Infantry wrote that “A tragic fact became apparent immediately. The three enemy strongpoints in this vicinity which were supposed to have been destroyed, or neutralized by Air Force bombardment and naval guns and rockets, were still in action… The fact that coastal batteries had not been silenced by the terrific pre-landing bombardment had a demoralizing effect on the surviving troops.”
In the 29th Division sector, the 743rd’s tanks were ashore but leaderless – their battalion commander’s LCT had been sunk during the run-in, and those tanks which landed opposite the Vierville draw from Company were being picked off by a powerful German 88mm gun and other anti-tank guns and artillery. Tanks in Dog White and Dog Red sector fared a little better.
Troops swarm the beach, followed by assault vehicles at "Omaha" on D-Day. National Archives and Records Administration
Meantime, the 29th Division’s infantry were hard-up. Two of the six boat company boats bringing in the 116th’s A Company sank. When the remaining crunched up the sand of France, the men within suffered the same fate as the others in the 1st Division. Machinegun bullets plunged in crowds of men shattering bone, shredding skin and muscle. Many were dead before they even what had happened to them. In LCA1015, all 32 men died, including the Company Commander, Captain Taylor Fellers.
“As of this had been signal which the enemy awaited, the ramps were instantly enveloped in a crossing of automatic fire which was accurate and in great volume. It came at the boats from both ends of the beach,” said Private Howard Gresser, a survivor.
The company tried to move out in three files as had been planned but began to take more fire. “It seemed to the men that the only way ashore with a chance of safety was to dive head first into the water,” Gresser said.
Some of the wounded dragged themselves to shore and tried to lie still. The fast, strong tide carried some back out to sea and drowned them. Within minutes many of the company officers were dead. One surviving lieutenant, Edward Tidrick in a newly arrived landing craft tried to jump from the ramp. He was hit in the throat. He looked at a nearby private and gurgled the words: “Advance with wire-cutters,” when machineguns bullets cut him nearly in half from head to pelvis. In 20 minutes, A Company had lost sixty percent of its men. This was its reward for landing at the correct location.
A man looks on as his buddy is given a transfusion on "Omaha" beach. Getty
The men of the Special Engineer Task Force which had the critical job of blasting open 50-meter-wide gaps in the beach obstacles, fared no better. Within the first half-hour, 41 percent were casualties, according to the US Army’s official account of the battle. Most of their equipment lay in ruins, including their bulldozers which had been knocked out, barring three. Consequently, only two small gaps had been blown in the 29th Divisional sector.
Amid this carnage, B Company of the 116th arrived at 7 am and went straight into the slaughter. As the ramps dropped, the company commander Captain Ettore Zappacosta, ran out. Ten yards from the ramp, he cried out “I’m hit,” before falling into the water and disappearing. D Company, which came 10 minutes later, fared little better. Its commander, Captain Walter Schilling, was killed when his landing craft hit a mine and blew up.
Meantime, west of the Vierville draw, C Company of the 2nd Rangers Battalion had landed at Charlie Beach. Their mission was to make it to the top of the escarpment and knock out a German strongpoint at Pointe de la Percee which could fire directly onto Omaha Beach. Within minutes, the Rangers were taking the same heavy fire which had smashed the A Company of the 116th Infantry. Soon half of the Rangers were dead or wounded.
Ten yards from the ramp, he cried out “I’m hit,” before falling into the water and disappearing.
Just east, however, troops of F/116 and G/116 who had drifted further right into Dog Red and Easy Green were landing in numbers around the village of les Moulins. The naval bombardment had prompted the grass on the cliff-top to catch fire and smoke had blinded the Germans. The landing troops scrambled across 350 meters of open beach with scant casualties. Officers, realizing they were in the wrong sector, dollishly tried to move the landed troops 1,000 yards to the right, which would take them troops back into enemy fire. Belching fire was a tank turret at WN68, which overlooked Moulins. Men began to die.
The heavy losses in the 29th Division had disproportionately hit rural communities back home from where the men had been recruited.
LCI(L) -85 flounders after striking a mine while heading towards the beach at 8.30 am. Fifteen men died and 30 people were injured. The rest battled a fire which broke out on the ship. Finally, at 12 pm, the USS Samuel Chase started to take off the wounded and survivors from vessel. The evacuation was completed at 1.30, and at 2:30 the boat sank. US National Archives
Within the 29th’s grievously bled 116th Regimental Combat Team, men from Bedford, Lynchburg and Roanoke, who comprised the A, B and D Companies. died in droves. Bedford, a small town of 3,000 souls in the 1940s would soon hold funerals for 23 men killed on D-Day. Among the dead were three sets of brothers. Among them were two Holbacks, two Parkers and two twins, Roy and Raymond Stevens.
Sergeant John Slaughter of D Company later said: “Raymond was wounded and lay on the beach. When the tide came in, he was washed put to sea and drowned. They never found his body. He was carrying a bible and that washed up on the sand. The day after D-Day, a GI found it. It had Raymond’s name and address in Bedford inside and the soldier mailed it to the family. On Saturday (D-Day was on a Tuesday), their family got a telegram that Bedford was killed and then on Sunday they ago another telegram that Raymond was too.”
Meantime, E Company, 116th Infantry was also badly scattered, and most of the squads ended up in Easy Red or Fox Green. In one landing craft 23 men out of 30 were mowed down. The company commander, Captain Lawrence Madill, a Floridian, stood in the open encouraging his men forward to the seawall, even though he had been badly hit, his left arm almost blown off. In the 300-meter dash to the seawall, most of the men made it, but some did not.
Madhill had been assigned to take command of the company just six days ago and he did not inspire much confidence in his men at first. According to Private First Class Parley, a flamethrower operator, Madhill had appeared in a room on June 1 in which the men had told to sit on the floor. He introduced himself and informed the men that their company would be in the first wave in the invasion. “30 percent casualties are expected and we are them,” Madhill had said.
A fixed tank PzIVE turret at WN68 in the Fox Green sector of Omaha beach.
In the end, Madhill's prediction was not off the mark. He himself died when he was cut down as he ran back to the surf in an attempt to salvage mortar ammunition floating about. Eight-one other company men also perished.
Meantime, inshore currents had also driven the Henrico and the British SS Empire Javelin, ferrying the 16th Infantry Regiment, further east. Only two out of 16 landing craft would land correctly. The most inaccurate landing was made by 16th Infantry’s E Company. A strong tide, smoke obscuring the landscape and general confusion saw the company land at Fox Green, over a mile east of their intended landing site at Les Moulins. Enemy fire raced at them from well-sited trenches and fortifications. About 120 company men became casualties on Fox Green.
POINTE DU HOC
On Omaha’s right meantime, was the formidable promontory of Pointe du Hoc, a 40-meter-high (130 ft) clifftop outpost supposedly consisting of several 155 mm guns. Pointe du Hoc was seven kilometers (four miles) east of Omaha and was to be taken by men of the American 2nd Ranger Battalion. Aerial reconnaissance had identified several large caliber gun emplacements from where the guns could imperil the landings at Omaha.
There was skepticism, however, that the Rangers assault could succeed. During the preparatory phase, the assessment from headquarters of Admiral James Hall, the commander of Task Force 124, the “Omaha” Beach Assault Force was blunt: “It can’t be done. Three old women with brooms could keep the Rangers from climbing that cliff.”
US Army Air Force aerial image of the "Pointe du Hoc to western Omaha" sector, taken sometime after June 13. Click the image or use the button to download the 16 mb high-resolution image. US National Archives
Two US Army Rangers strike a somewhat purposeful pose while on the way to Normandy on D-Day. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The commandos arrived in three ships, the channel steamer HMS Amsterdam, the passenger ferry HMS Ben-My-Chree and USS LCT46. Soon, 11 landing craft plus four DUKWs packed with Rangers had detached from these mother ships and were heading for the coast 12 miles way. It was dark and the sea rough. Two British LCS and a Royal Navy Fairmile motor launch led the way.
It was not easy transit. The rough sea hurled water into the landing craft, forcing the Rangers to bail with their helmets. Then, LCA914, which was carrying a vital cache of reserve ammunition and supplies, sank. Just one man survived. Then, LCA860 sank. The 20 men and the commander of D Company who were onboard were rescued. Equally badly, the Royal Navy launch guide boat ML304 being disoriented and led the force along a wrong bearing.
“By when daylight dawned it was apparent to Colonel Rudder that we were off course and heading directly towards Point de la Percee some three miles east of Pointe du Hoc,” said Lt James Eikner, Rudder’s communications chief.
Rudder, in the leading boat, flanked west. Believing that Rudder was aborting the mission, the British officer of ML304 tried to ram Rudder’s landing craft. But then sense dawned upon the British officer and he realized he was in error. By when the force was properly turned towards Pointe du Hoc, 38 valuable minutes had been lost. Soon, the force was running a four-kilometer gauntlet from the guns atop the coastline as it chugged towards the clifftop base. German 20mm gunfire struck a DUKW, and then and a landing craft (LCS91) which was holed below the waterline and sank.
The Rangers watched in horror. Sgt. Antonio Ruggiero remembered: “As we came in closer and closer to the shore, that’s when we start seeing these 88s or what the hell they were, flying over the top of us. You could see ‘em, you know. Well by that time, I had thrown up through my vomit bag. They gave us a bag, you know. And my job was to hook the grappling hook on the rockets to fire the rope up the cliff. When they told us to load up, you know the last thing I said to myself? And I didn’t say it to myself; I said it to the guy upstairs. I said, “Dear God, don’t let me drown. I want to get in and do what I’m supposed to do.”
Back aboard the 1st Division’s command ship, the former ocean liner-now-turned-command ship USS Ancon, the G3 operations officer noted that a “brilliant white flare seen near Pointe du Hoc.” The German garrison was on full-alert. It was 7.08 am when the first landing craft hit the strip of beach at the base of the cliff. Onboard the destroyer USS Saterlee, sailors were aghast to see the Germans atop the cliff, preparing to fire down on the Rangers. Before the Saterlee could do anything about it, it was under fire from a German gun.
The destroyer went into attack mode, blasting the gun emplacement which had the effect of diverting some of the German fire from the Rangers.
This may be the area where Rangers who landed from LCA-888 managed to climb to the top using an extension ladder placed on a mound of debris knocked out of the cliff top. This photo was taken on June 8 when the route was being used for supplies. US National Archives
An aerial image of Pointe du Hoc taken by a photojournalist. LIFE/Scherschel
It was not a pretty sight that narrow stretch of shingle at the base of the cliff.
One arriving Ranger, Captain John Raaen Jr was aghast to see dead men already lying on the beach. “There are a whole pile — and I actually literally mean a pile of terrified men leaning up against the seawall — one on top of another, not beside each other, but on top of one another trying to get into the cover there. You see puffs of dust as machine gun bullets and rifle bullets are hitting in your area. You hear the smack of bullets as they hit into the breakwaters. And you can hear ‘em and hear ‘em go wayyyyyyyy off as they ricochet, but you can also hear that thump as they hit a rock and scatter fragments of rocks all over the place. You would hear the artillery exploding behind you as they hit the boats on the waterline, the shoreline. And the rifle fire and the machine gun fire was just incessant as it cracked over your heads, as it hit into the breakwaters, as it chewed up the turf, as it banged into the road next to us. And it was one horrible noise after another with a lot of little nasty noises in between. And of course, when the artillery would hit near you, the whole ground would shake. You’d have dust and fragments and things like that come and litter around you. No, it was a scene from hell.”
Another Ranger, First Sgt. Leonard Lomell was shot as he exited his landing craft, the bullet going through the side above his right hip and out through the muscle. Lommel kept on. By now, Lt. Eikner had arrived. He was last one out of his boat and as he exited, he could see bullets whizzing by. Some of the first commandos had already firing rocket grapples up to the cliff-side and were scaling the cliff wall.
Eikner grabbed the rope and started hauling himself up. Half-way up, a wall of mud, dirt and rock came hurtling down. Eikner fell and was knocked out. The next thing he knew was that he buried up to his waist. He looked up and saw a German staring down at him, but the man did not fire. Eikner saw his Tommy gun lying some feet away. He squirmed and caught a hold of it. Eikner aimed the gun at the German and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The gun was full of dirt and had jammed.
“Aint this a hell of a note, here I am in the damnedest war in history and I don’t have a gun,” Eikner said to no one in particular.
Meantime, Lomell had also reached the ropes. As he and his radioman, Sgt. Robert “Bob” Fruhling, reached near the top, the man began to struggle. “Len. Len, can you help me?” Fruhling called out.
“What’s wrong?” Lomell asked.
“I don’t have an ounce of strength left. I can’t make it!” Fruhling yelled. It was no idle statement. In addition to his own body weight and regular kit, Fruhling was further burdened by a 6-pound SCR-536 radio. Lomell saw it was only about a foot or two to the top of the cliff. “Bob, now that you mention it, I don’t think I have an ounce of strength left either to make it. But you gotta hold on,” he said.
At that moment, he saw another Ranger, Sgt. Leonard Rubin already atop and yelled to him: “Rube! Rube! Get over here.”
Lomell gestured over to the ailing Fruhling. Rubin, a veritable giant of a man, threw his Thompson aside, reached over and jerked Fruhling over the top.
While Rudder remained at the base of a shallow cliff which housed his command post, the rest of the Rangers went up. Fifteen minutes elapsed before they reached the summit. Heavy fire greeted them. Craters made by a bombing raid and the naval fire had turned the place into a moonscape. In one shell-hole, Captain Gilbert Baugh, the commander of E Company was in shock. A Colt .45 pistol was in his hands. A bullet had punched into his hand as he had held the gun and had gone into the grip of the handgun. Blood was pouring out. Some of the Rangers gave him morphine and told him to sit tight while they went after the guns.
At 7.45 am, Eikner was transmitting on his SCR-300 radio: “Praise the Lord,” meaning the men were in the summit. By now Ruder had moved his command post up the cliff, to a culvert made between the collapsed cliff edge and a destroyed anti-aircraft gun.
Moving on in the face of intense fire, the Rangers fought their way to the casemates only to discover that the guns had never been installed. Dismayed, about 36 Rangers from D and E Companies pushed on towards the coast road only to take heavy fire. Soon, more men from F Company had followed. By when Lomell and a group of 22 men reached the road, only 12 or 13 men were still on their feet. The Rangers were stunned to discover six of the 155 mm guns abandoned in transit in an orchard, half a kilometer (550 yds) down the road, guarded by a 100-strong German detachment. It was about 8 am.
Staff Sergeant Leonard Lomell of New Jersey in 1942, before he joined the Rangers. He became an officer in 1944.
Most of the Germans were in a state of repose as though there was not a war on. The first to die were those closest to the Rangers. The survivors fled. The Americans blew open the guns’ elevating and traversing mechanism using thermite grenades, rendering them immobile and smashed the sights on five of the guns (the sixth did not have any sights). The commandos then returned to Pointe du Hoc to consolidate their positions, backed by the guns of the Satterlee and other ships behind them.
Germans from the 916th Infantry Regiment of the 352nd Division soon materialized. An hour after the landings, the divisional headquarters had pressed for a counterattack, signaling that “weak enemy units have penetrated Pointe du Hoc.” The 9th Company of the 726th Grenadier Regiment was dispatched to counterattack the Rangers, and when the Germans realized that there was more than one company at the Pointe, they brought in a reserve company from the 3rd Battalion.
On paper, these troops looked strong enough to push the Rangers back to the cliffside, but the 726th Grenadiers, a coastal defense unit long used to lethargy and quietude, were not known for their fighting prowess. The regiment belonged to the weak 716th Division and minus one battalion, it had been folded into the 352nd Division in the days before D-Day. Lt-Colonel Fritz Ziegelmann, the 352nd’s Chief of Staff said of the regiment: “We were surprised that the reinforced 726th Grenadier Regiment was very backward in its training because of the continuous supply of troops to new formations, and a lack of initiative in the officers and NCOs in training the remainder. In addition, the corps of NCOs was composed of elements which hoped to survive the war without having been under fire.”
But soon the Grenadiers were heaping fire on Rangers. The Rangers held fast, but no sooner had this been done when a German artillery strike materialized upon on the beleaguered American positions. Two German gun positions which held out for most of the morning kept the Rangers pinned. A bullet from this position smashed into Rudder’s left leg at his command post a hundred meters away. The naval guns helped when they could but the Rangers desperately awaited the reinforcements from the “Omaha,” where the invaders were badly held up.
A US Ranger uses his helmet to tease out German fire near Pointe du Hoc. Beside him is a smashed and abandoned German MG42, missing its butt.
Demoralized troops of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry gather by chalk cliffs near Colleville-Sur-Mer in the "East Red" sector on D-Day. Several wounded were gathered here. But not one man standing is carrying his weapon. US National Archives
By 7.30 am, Bradley and brass on the ships had learned that “Omaha” was a shamble, that the 116th RCT and the C Company, 2nd Rangers had been cut to pieces, as had the engineers, while the rest of the landing companies were badly scattered. At about the same time, “Dutch” Cota and Colonel Charles Canham, commander of the 116th Infantry arrived ashore at Dog White in LCVP71.
Concealed by smoke from the burning grass, they were not subject to the brutality of fire which had decimated the regiment. Behind them came landing craft bearing the 5th Ranger Battalion. Moment later, German artillery fire began ranging over the area and hitting the sea. A shell smashed into the 116th Regimental backup HQ aboard LCI(L)91 which exploded. Five minutes later, LCI(L)92 trigged an underwater mine and blew up.
Captain Friedman was landing with the 16th Infantry’s L Company at "Fox Red" at 8.10 am, when he had his breath taken away by the sight of approaching enemy-held beachline, with its towering coastline, smoke and fire. “My god, it looks like Tarawa,” he told his neighbor and had a premonition of death, just like the dead marines at Tarawa he had seen in the newsreels.
The landing craft he was on crushed up on a sandbar and the ramp dropped. He and the other men inside stepped out an fell straight into a deep pool. Somehow, Friedman and the others made to the beach and lay down flat in the shingle as German fire raked the beach. Friedman looked back at the sea and saw the water red with blood in which bodies and military gear lolled.
Men who tried to advance off the shingle were hit but Friedman felt himself strangely comforted by being shoulder to shoulder with other men. “There was something reassuring about having warm familiar human bodies next to you even if they were dead…you were not alone,” he said. One man next to Friedman did die. This was a major from his unit. Friedman was screaming in his ear to be heard about the din of battle when a bullet plowed into the Major's head.
Minutes later, at 8.15 am, the regimental commander, Colonel Taylor landed with members of the headquarters group. However, Capa was not with them. It was landing further west on "Easy Red." Several troops and tanks had already landed by when Capa had left his landing craft more than 100 yards offshore and made for the nearest iron hedgehog obstacle (as evinced by his first photographs of the day).
In fact, one of Capa’s photos shows two Sherman DD tanks from the first wave (B Company, 741st Tank Battalion), which had landed at hour ago, still on the beach (these were two out of five earmarked for Fox Green and Easy Red), which are joined being joined by several “wading” Sherman tanks from the 13th wave.
Among them was a special engineering group called Assault Group 10 which had orders to clear a path through the German obstacles and up the escarpment. The unit had already landed via LCT2425 minutes before the second wave. Capa’s photograph shows a Sherman bulldozer with a big number “10” on its wading funnel moving to shore. This was a vehicle assigned to Assault Group 10 whose landing was followed by lone boat section with a single platoon of men from E Company, 16th Infantry, which arrived in front of a group of demolished beach houses known as the “Roman ruins.”
This boat had become separated from the rest of E Company and when they came ashore, their commander, Lt John Spalding, knew they were on the wrong beach. He and an NCO, Tech Sergeant Phillip Streczyk, began mobilizing the platoon to get to the landward side of the beach.
Pushing along the “ruins” and spanning 250 yards of tidal flats towards the escarpment, they helped blow a path up the mined bluffs. The company was then able to take the German bunkers from the rear. A solitary machine set up on the side of the bluffs dropped three men but the gunner soon surrendered when the Americans came within striking distance. He turned out to be a Polish “volunteer.”
Streczyk, a first generation Polish-American from New Jersey, spoke the language fluently. The Pole told him about 16 trenches packed with Germans atop the bluff. Spalding and Streczyk tried to collect reinforcements for the push up top. To their good fortune, Captain Joseph Dawson’s G Company, 16th Infantry with 227 men arrived in front of the “ruins” at 7 am. One landing craft had capsized, and several men had drowned. But at 7.10, G Company following the same tracks taken by Spalding and his group towards the base of the cliff. They were joined by three squads of lost men from E Company, 116th RCT.
The so-called "Spalding's Draw," a path running up the bluffs between WN64 and WN62, which was used by Lt Spalding and Tech Sgt Streczyk to get their men up top. This helped to achieve a breakthrough at "Omaha." US Army
Most of the men started to work up the escarpment without serious opposition. Dawson’s and Lt Spalding’s group breached the wire and managed to get up to the top of the bluffs where they found 16 empty trenches. The Germans had quit. The first American breakthrough point had established at “Omaha” beach. Both Spaulding and Streczyk would later be decorated with Distinguished Service Crosses. But the horror of D-Day and battle wounds would drive Streczyk to suicide in 1958.
Montgomery decorates Tech Sergeant Streczyk of the 16th Regimental Combat Team with the British Military Medal. Streczyk later saw action in the Hurtgen battle.
Capa's arrival on Easy Red with the 13th wave, happened when the bluffs had not yet been secured. German fire was ongoing but at the same diminished in their volume compared to other sectors of the beach. Capa started taking pictures of the GIs floundering in the deep water and hiding behind similar obstacles. When the volume of German artillery and small-arms fire began to increase, Capa made his way to a more secure position behind Assault Group 10 bulldozer-Sherman which had stopped fifty yards ahead of him. He took more pictures of GIs struggling in the surf. Twenty minutes later, Capa dashed the last 25 yards onto the landward edge of beach.
Back on Fox Red, Taylor was appalled at the general scenes of chaos he found. At about 8.25 am, a soldier came running through the hail of fire and threw himself down on the sand next to him. The colonel recognized him. It was Fuller. During the “Big Red One’s” assault on Sicily, Taylor had come to learn of Fuller’s mutual affections for cigars. Fuller would write later that he had spotted the Colonel’s position after coming across a discarded cigar butt.
“Even in the eye of that tornado of bullets and explosions, there was no mistaking a Havana. Taylor smoked them. He had to be somewhere nearby,” Fuller wrote later, a retrospective that smacks a little of the pulp writing he used to do before the war.
E Company is getting off the beach at Fox Green, Fuller told Taylor, as he had been instructed to do by his lieutenant.
“Who blew [the way out]?” Taylor apparently asked.
“Streczyk,” Fuller apparently said.
A smile spread over Taylor’s face. “All right,” he said reached over into his bad and unearthed a box of cigars. He stuffed into Fuller’s hands. “Enjoy ‘em, Sammy. You earned ‘em, running over here,” he said.
The next moment, Taylor was standing erect, roaring at the top of his voice, ordering his men to get off the beach.
“Only two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die,” he told them. “Let’s get the hell out off this beach and at least die inland.”
As he went through the long line of huddled men, shouting a variation of that sentence over and over again, it appeared to infuse an unexpected new strength into the troops. Among them was Captain Friedman. “I was in that mass of living and dead when I saw Colonel Taylor move back from the main line of men and stand up. He started walking up and down the line shouting at men 'move up' and 'move out.' This had a great effect on me. I remember getting and starting to shout and several, trying to get the men moving.”
The men were trying to move up the bluffs. But not everyone. When Friedmen spotted three GIs still lying flat on the ground, he yelled at them to move. The men stared at him. Friedman had a vision of what he must look like to them: a distraught captain waving nothing more dangerous than a pistol, when the Germans were laying on the thick stuff.
“Captain, are you out of your fucking mind?” one yelled back.
The news from the beachhead was so bad that Bradley, on the cruiser USS Augusta 11 miles offshore, considered abandoning the beach and shuttling his remaining forces to the British sector. “Our forces have suffered an irreversible catastrophe,” he told his officers. Even the Germans believed they had won. Kraiss transferred two battalions from his divisional reserve to reinforce German forces battling landing Britons from the 50th Division at neighboring "Gold Beach."
Criticism would mount that the casualties were a result of American skimping on special teams and tactics. Said one British veteran years later: “Sadly, the Americans never had those special Assault teams, and they paid a terrible price for lack of preparation ... It was a failure, and an expensive failure paid in men’s lives.”
Meantime, at least one person was withdrawing from the beachhead. By 8.45, Capa gathered his cameras and pulled out of "Easy Red." A landing craft had come in (LCI(L)-94) with 89 men of Able Company (1st Medical Battalion), along with 100 other support and command personnel. As some 20 medics exited the ramp onto the beach, Capa made a mad dash for the vessel while under enemy fire. Someone pulled him aboard just as a German shell plunged into water nearby. LCI(L)-94 backed off. Within the hour, Capa was back aboard the USS Samuel Chase from which he started out for the beach earlier that day. By all estimation, Capa had spent 30 minutes on the beach. He would return to “Omaha” on June 8.
The US Navy was in an uproar over the thought that the landings had failed. Captain Harry Sanders, commander of US Destroyer Squadron 18, ordered his ships closer to coastline to blast the bunkers. At 9.50, Rear Admiral Carleton F Bryant on the USS Texas sent a signal in the clear: “Get on them, men, get on them. We must knock out those guns. They are raising hell with the men on the beach…we must stop it.”
Gerow would later signal Bradley: “Thank God for the US Navy.”
An overcome Carlton Barrett looks at the case which held his Medal of Honor.
At 10 am, US reinforcements arrived to bolster the beleaguered troops on the beach. The 18th Regimental Combat Team landed at Easy Red after having lost 28 landing craft to underwater obstacles.
One soldier, Private Carlton Barrett repeatedly braved the tidal waters to help out men stranded in the water. Ashore, he refused to be pinned down by German fire and for the next few hours, he carried out his assigned mission as a guide, carrying dispatches and helping the wounded. The men were astounded by his sense of calm, perhaps even deliberate indifference to the maelstrom being hurled by the Germans all around him. But that is not to say he was unscathed. Shrapnel had hit him in both hips and both legs. It was only when a fourth piece of shrapnel shattered the bones in his foot that he would be evacuated. Barrett would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct on D-Day.
For some men, the battle was over. Private Nicholas A Fina (12006788), 22 years old, of 'I' Company and Brooklyn, looks at the camera. He is at the same stretch of chalk cliffs near Colleville-Sur-Mer as the other men in a preceding photograph up top. He and the others were handed cigarettes and food by the 6th Naval Beach Battalion’s medical aid station which was set up nearby along the cliffs. US National Archives
There is something comforting about the strong New York connection with D-Day. The 1st Infantry was replete with northeasterners like Fina above.. There is also a true story about a fatally wounded GI at Omaha beach, who as he lay dying, took out his copy of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and read from the pages until he was gone. That he sought comfort from something that meant much to him, even words, is moving. I love that book myself.
By 11.30 am, Bradley sent his aide, Major Chester Hansen, closer to the coastline to determine what progress, if any, was being made. Hansen was soon reporting that he and his team could not detect any movement on the bluffs. Unknown to the offshore officers, however, one by one, groups of pinned Americans were rallying and fighting their way off the beach.
At about the time Hansen was signaling Bradley, the 116th Infantry was using a Bangalore torpedo to blow a hole in the wire at les Moulins. The first man who tried to run through was cut down by German fire and sobbed “mama” before he died.
Cota was the next man through and incredibly, he was not hit. Astounded, his men rushed though the gap and joined him and together they traversed through a hundred yards of tall grass and reeds to the base of the cliff. A minefield claimed some of the men, but the rest kept going. Soon, they were on top of the cliffs and moving west towards Vierville.
By 12 pm, several exits out of the beach were secured. True glory had been earned by the rookies of the 29th Division but the morning’s fight had seen three Congressional Medal of Honors go to men of the 1st Infantry Division – two of them posthumously.
Back at the Pointe, the Rangers casualties were mounting. A message sent to V Corps in the afternoon request urgent reinforcement. “Mission accomplished. Need ammunition and reinforcement. Many casualties.” A message eventually came from Heubner via the Saterlee: “No reinforcements available.”
By nightfall, one-third of the Rangers were either dead or wounded. Their only reinforcements were 23 men from A Company, 5th Rangers who had come from Omaha. The Rangers would not be relieved until mid-day on June 8.
This photograph of Lt-Col. James Rudder’s command post at Pointe du Hoc’s eastern edge. The man with his head bandaged at the bottom right is Lt-Col. Tom Trevor, a British commando who accompanied the Ranger assault force as an observer. The man to the left of the radio antennae loading a magazine for his M1 Carbine is Lt. Elmer H. "Dutch” Vermeer, 2nd Ranger Battalion Engineer Officer. US National Archives