This was the US assault beach in ‘Overlord’ for Major General Leonard T. Gerow’s V Corps of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s 1st Army in General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group (6 June 1944).
The V Corps’ initial assault formation was Major General C. Ralph Huebner’s 1st Division, and this was designated to come ashore on 'Omaha' Beach, between Ste Honorine in the east and Pointe de la Percée in the west, with Colonel George A. Taylor’s 16th Infantry on the left and Colonel Charles D. W. Canham’s 116th Infantry (allocated from Major General Charles H. Gerhardt’s 29th Division) on the right, these two regimental combat teams being followed respectively by Colonel George A. Smith’s 18th Infantry and Colonel John F. R. Seitz’s 26th Infantry, with Colonel Eugene N. Slappey’s 115th Infantry, of the 29th Division, to follow at Gerow’s command.
Farther to the west Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder’s 2nd Ranger Battalion was to land at the Pointe du Hoc and take the German battery on top of the cliffs, and the 1st Division was then to push inland to the corps line along the road linking Bayeux and Carentan, allowing the 2nd and 29th Divisions to start coming ashore for an advance westward to Isigny at the mouth of the Vire and Aure rivers, and eastward to Bayeux.
The German opposition was found by the 916th Grenadierregiment of Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss’s 352nd Division of General Erich Marcks’s LXXXIV Corps of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army within Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’.
Supported by the fire of two battleships, three cruisers and 12 destroyers, and otherwise by another 105 ships, the assault on 'Omaha' Beach was the single most sanguinary element of the D-Day landings as severe physical obstacles combined with one of the best trained German divisions in the area to create a formidable defence. Allied intelligence had believed that the area of the planned beach-head was defended by just two battalions of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter’s less well trained 716th Division under the temporary command of Generalmajor Ludwig Krug, but at Rommel’s instruction this division had been replaced by the superior 352nd Division only a few days before the launch of ‘Overlord’. The German defences in the 'Omaha' Beach area took the form of eight artillery bunkers, 35 pillboxes, four pieces of artillery, 18 pieces of anti-tank artillery, six mortar positions, 45 rocket-launcher positions, 85 machine gun positions and six emplaced tank turrets.
A large proportion of the 352nd Division's strength comprised teenagers, though these were supplemented by veterans who had fought on the Eastern Front. The 352nd Division had received neither battalion nor regimental training of any type, but was of notably high morale. Of the 12,020 men of the division, only 6,800 were experienced combat troops, and these held a front of 33 miles (53.1 km).
The US troops were therefore expecting an easy fight but in fact encountered much stiffer opposition and, as a result, the battle was hectic, and the Americans had an extremely hard time in taking and holding their beach-head.
'Omaha' was the most heavily fortified beach, and the pre-landing air and naval bombardment of its bunkers had proved to be ineffective. In the eastern sector, 27 of the 32 Sherman DD amphibious tanks deployed did not even reach the beach and, in the western sector, while the Sherman DD tanks did land directly onto the beach they then suffered heavy losses to the German 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-purpose anti-aircraft/anti-tank guns defending the beach. The official record stated that ‘within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, the leading company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action (mostly every officer and NCO had been killed or wounded…)’. It had become a ‘struggle for survival and rescue’. There were about 1,000 killed (within an overall figure of more than 3,000 casualties), most of them in the first few hours. Commanders even considered the abandonment of the beach-head, but small units, often constituting ad hoc groups, eventually took the beach and pressed inland.
Farther to the west, the massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at the Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. It had been appreciated from the start of planning for ‘Overlord’ that coastal artillery batteries could, in the right circumstances, be decisive in the German efforts to defeat the landings, and the most menacing of all on the US beaches was the battery at the Pointe du Hoc, to the west of 'Omaha' Beach. Allied intelligence indicated that this battery had six 155-mm (6.1-in) guns with a range estimated at 25,150 yards (23000 m), which would make it possible for them to fire at transport vessels anchored and vulnerable in the transport zones off both 'Omaha' and 'Utah' Beaches. In addition to receiving a considerable pre-invasion bombardment from the air, the Pointe du Hoc battery was to receive the special attention of Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder’s Provisional Ranger Force (2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions) attached to Gerow’s V Corps.
The planners worked on the assumption that neither the air nor the naval bombardment would knock out the guns. Accordingly, they assigned the task of destroying the guns to the Ranger battalions, which were temporarily attached to Taylor’s 116th Infantry, the unit which would land closest to the Pointe du Hoc cliffs. These rise sheer to a height of between 85 and 100 ft (26 and 30 m) above a narrow strip of beach devoid of cover.
The Germans regarded the battery as unassailable from the sea and had concentrated the defences (mines, wire, and mutually supporting infantry firing positions) to defeat an attack from the landward side. Protecting the Pointe du Hoc’s flanks were two smaller positions, in which were located automatic weapons sited to deliver enfilade fire under the cliffs and to fire against any attackers coming from the landward side. Garrisoning the battery were some 125 infantry and 85 gunners, and the nearest support for the battery was about 1 mile (1.6 km) away.
The 225 men of Companies D, E and F of the 2nd Ranger Battalion were to land directly at the foot of the cliff at H-Hour, scale the heights by means of rocket-launched rope ladders, and take the German positions. The rest of the Ranger force would remain offshore and await the signal that the three companies had succeeded before landing at the Pointe du Hoc or, in the absence of such a signal, on 'Omaha' Beach. Ten British LCA assault landing craft were to deliver the three Ranger companies from the transport vessels to the beach. After considerable experimentation with all types of equipment to scale the cliffs, the Rangers decided to rely mainly on ropes to be carried up and over the cliff tops by rockets. Each LCA had three pairs of rocket mounts (bow, midships and stern) wired so they could fire in series of pairs. As a back-up, the Rangers were equipped with tubular-steel extension ladders that could be fitted together to reach the heights. If all else failed, four DUKW amphibious trucks, each carrying a 100-ft (30.5-m) extension ladder, would come close to the cliffs.
The Rangers intended to use surprise and speed to capture the battery. In addition to rations, each Ranger carried two hand grenades and a personal weapon (usually the M1 rifle), though the few men who would go up the ropes first carried pistols or carbines. Heavy weapon support was scanty, and comprised just four Browning automatic rifles (BARs) and two light mortars per company. Two supply LCAs would arrive with extra rations, ammunition, demolition charges, and two 3.2-in (81-mm) mortars.
The assault plan called for Company D to scale the cliff on the west and Companies E and F to assault from the east. On reaching the top, each boat team had a specific objective beginning with the 155-mm (6.1-in) gun emplacements. Once the Pointe du Hoc had been secured, the Rangers were to press inland to reach the coastal highway that provided the Germans with lateral communications between Grandcamp to the west and Vierville sur Mer to the east. The planners expected that elements of the 116th Infantry would reach Pointe du Hoc from 'Omaha' Beach by 12.00. Long before then, the eight other Ranger companies should have arrived at the objective.
Poor early morning visibility and rough seas seriously interfered with the landing. Some 8 miles (13 km) from shore, LCA-860 swamped, thereby subtracting 21 men from the assault, and 10 minutes later one of the supply craft sank. Soon the other supply craft was also in trouble, and its crew were compelled to jettison supplies to keep the craft afloat. A mistake by the guide craft misdirected the Rangers, causing them to land at H+38 and forcing all three companies to disembark on the cliff’s eastern side. This was eight minutes after the main Ranger force had expected to see the success signal and, accordingly, it proceeded with the alternative plan. Finally, the delay meant that the Rangers reached their objective only after the naval fire support had ended.
As some 200 Rangers landed, a few grenades rolled down the cliff face, and scattered small arms fire came from the cliff edge. Combined with enfilade fire from the left flank, this caused about 15 Ranger casualties during the advance over the 30 yards (9 m) of beach. As the LCAs grounded, crew members fired the rockets designed to loft the climbing ropes into position, but because the choppy seas had soaked the ropes and thereby made them heavier, some failed to rise sufficiently. Some Rangers carried hand-fired rockets onto the beach to launch the ropes. Private Harry W. Roberts grabbed a hand line, braced his feet against the 80° slope and started climbing. Either the rope slipped or the Germans severed it, and after climbing only 25 ft (7.5 m) Roberts slithered back down to the beach. He grabbed a second rope and began anew. This time he managed to reach the top in about 40 seconds. The Germans cut the rope again, but Roberts managed to tie it to a stake and a second Ranger began climbing. His weight pulled the rope free leaving Roberts marooned. Rangers managed to throw a rope up to Roberts, who tied it and thus permitted his comrades to climb to the top. Then the seven Rangers headed for their objective, the fortified German observation post.
LCA-888, carrying Rudder and 21 other Rangers, received German fire from the top of the cliff as it landed. A sergeant shot one defender off the edge with his BAR. This team’s rockets failed, so two Rangers attempted a free climb of the cliff but were defeated by the slippery surface, worsened by the effects of the naval bombardment, which had loosened large sections of rock and earth. Even so, using a combination of ladders and ropes, the Rangers managed to work their way up the cliff.
So it was for the other seven boat teams, and although little was working according to plan, the Rangers improvised and managed to scale the cliff. Using prearranged tactics, as the first few men reached the top they moved against their objective without waiting for the rest of the Rangers to arrive. Showing great individual initiative they systematically assaulted the observation post and gun emplacements. At first the Rangers encountered little opposition. One team after another reached their objective, and only at this point discovered that the gun emplacements were in fact empty. Leaving some men to hold the Pointe du Hoc, the Rangers moved inland toward their assembly points, in the process encountering scattered artillery and machine gun fire. They took the German trenches designed to defend the battery from a landward attack, and after eliminating German opposition, continued inland to interdict the coastal highway. As they moved forward against only light opposition, a patrol from Company D found five of the missing 155-mm (6.1-in) guns hidden underneath camouflage nets in an orchard: the pieces were positioned to fire on 'Utah' Beach and had ready-use ammunition with them. The gunners had fled, however, and one of the Rangers set off thermite grenades in the recoil mechanisms of two of the guns before the arrival of more Rangers to disable the four other weapons.
With this blow the Rangers had accomplished their mission. No one had assumed that the Rangers would have to fight a prolonged battle and the Rangers therefore lacked the numbers, weapons and ammunition for such an engagement. Even so, the Rangers now had to fight unaided through the night. The ensuing battles amounted to a virtual two-day siege. This involved a renewal of German opposition at Pointe du Hoc in the form of a counterattack by the 1/914th Grenadierregiment, and also a counterattack on the Rangers blocking the coastal road. By now Rudder’s force had lost about one-third of its strength.
During the afternoon there were two counterattacks against the Rangers at the Pointe du Hoc. Lacking ammunition for their supporting weapons, the Rangers managed nonetheless to drive off the first counterattack with rifle fire. The more serious second counterattack, at about 16.00, struck the right flank of Company F’s lightly held position. The attackers worked their way forward from shell crater to shell crater and approached to close range. The Rangers’ mortar opened fire at 60-yard (55-m) range, dropping bombs directly onto the advancing Germans. When the attackers tried to set up machine guns, the mortar chased them from crater to crater. With the Germans forced into the open, rifles and BARs could deliver punishing fire. These efforts repulsed the German thrust.
During the afternoon the inland force continued with aggressive patrolling. At about 21.00, two hours before dark, some 23 men from Company A of 5th Ranger Battalion appeared. At about 08.15 they had become separated from their battalion during the initial penetration of the German defences between Vierville sur Mer and St Laurent sur Mer, and under the leadership of Lieutenant Charles H. Parker, continued to their inland assembly point. Finding no other Americans present, Parker assumed that his unit had pressed on to the Pointe du Hoc. After fighting two intense skirmishes and capturing some 20 Germans, Parker’s men joined Rudder’s inland force to give a total of 85 defenders in an L-shaped line of foxholes near the coast road. At about 23.30 a series of whistles and shouts announced the start of a German attack. The hedgerow country had allowed the attackers to establish machine guns a mere 25 yards (23 m) from the outpost manned by Sergeant Branley and Pfc Carty. While the main line provided covering fire, Branley and Carty tried to withdraw, but a grenade killed Carty and a bullet struck Branley in the shoulder. So poor was visibility that the Germans had virtually overrun the entire Ranger outpost line before the Americans realised that they were under attack. As the first German attack bore in against the angle, an explosion occurred near the position of the abandoned artillery pieces and put an end to the first German probe.
At about 01.00 a stronger attack came in from the south and south-west. Once again the attackers had infiltrated through the hedgerows to draw very close to their targets. The Germans opened a heavy fire with machine guns and sub-machine guns, then German grenades exploded around the position of the BAR gunner. After a short lull, the BAR resumed fire only to be finally silenced by another barrage of grenades. Although the Germans occupied this critical position, they failed to press their advantage. During this second attack, the Rangers had run dangerously short of ammunition, and at this point started to use captured German grenades and automatic weapons.
A third attack at about 03.00 began much like the earlier efforts. The attackers fired a great deal, but this was mostly indirect fire and wildly aimed. Suddenly they delivered a determined infantry charge against the foxholes defended by two BARs and Lieutenant Leagans. Supported by attackers working down the hedgerow from the angle, the attackers overran the western half of Company E’s position, killing Leagans and capturing some 20 other Rangers. The German fire enfiladed the Ranger foxhole line. In confused, pointblank fighting the Rangers began to withdraw toward the coastal highway, though men around the command post, who had not been heavily engaged, retained some order. However, not everyone got the word and handfuls of defenders continued to man their positions. By the time they realised what had happened the Germans had surrounded them. Some 12 Rangers hid in a deep drainage ditch hoping to be overlooked. About 50 Rangers managed to return safely to the Pointe du Hoc.
As 7 June dawned there was no sign of relief for Rudder’s force, which now amounted to only some 90 men. At the Pointe du Hoc counterattacks overran the Ranger outpost line and pinned the survivors to a strip of headland only about 200 yards (185 m) deep. Short of ammunition, the Rangers were reliant on naval fire support to survive.
Meanwhile, on the morning of 7 June, the Rangers who had landed on 'Omaha' Beach under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Max F. Schneider, together with Canham’s 116th Infantry, resumed their attack toward the Pointe du Hoc. German opposition had much weakened by this time, and the Americans made good progress. Ten M4 Sherman medium tanks spearheaded the drive along the coastal road, and the fire of the tanks’ main guns neutralised most of the German positions. By 12.00 on 7 June the Rangers had approached to within 1,000 yards (915 m) of their objective, but uncertainties about the extent of German opposition then brought them to a halt. Although the overland drive could not make significant further progress on 7 June, it had managed to relieve some of the pressure on Rudder’s force. During the afternoon of this day, two small craft managed to land water, food, ammunition and about 30 reinforcements at the Pointe du Hoc. Combined with the approach of the relief force, this made it possible for the Rangers to hang on.
Finally, in the morning of 8 June, almost 48 hours behind schedule, the relief force arrived. During their epic fight, Rudder’s Rangers had eliminated a battery that could have inflicted serious losses on the US assault forces.
The balance of the Ranger force, commanded by Schneider, commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and composed of eight 65-man companies of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, had remained off shore during the morning of 6 June to await a signal that the direct assault against Pointe du Hoc had succeeded and that therefore it was time for the planned landing at the Pointe du Hoc. Schneider’s relief force had been instructed that if it had not received the success signal by H+30, it was to land on the western end of 'Omaha' Beach in the Vierville sur Mer sector behind the 116th Infantry. It would then avoid all unnecessary combat and march directly toward the Pointe du Hoc. Once the two forces joined, they would advance inland to cut the coast road connecting Vierville sur Mer and Grandcamp, and wait for the arrival of the 116th Infantry before pushing west.
Company C of the 2nd Rangers had a separate mission: it was to land with the 116th Infantry’s first assault wave and attack a German strongpoint near the Pointe de la Percée. From this position German machine gunners could deliver flanking fire against the landing areas of 'Omaha' Beach. Company C landed on schedule in front of the small valley leading inland to Vierville sur Mer. Heavy fire killed or wounded half the company’s men before the survivors managed to gain the relative safety of the sea wall.
Meanwhile, Schneider’s Ranger support force floated in the waters off the Pointe du Hoc for 10 minutes after the designated time: then, not having seen the signal indicating that Rudder’s Ranger force had succeeded in taking the battery and therefor concluding that the 5th Ranger Battalion’s escalade of Pointe du Hoc had failed, Schneider ordered his men to adopt the alternative plan and head for the Vierville sur Mer beach. The eastward tide pushed most of them onto the beach where Company C of the 116th Infantry had landed. This was one of the handful of weakly defended sectors on 'Omaha' Beach. However, two companies of the 2nd Rangers landed as planned and were immediately confronted by heavy German fire. Something in the order of one-third to one-half of these two companies survived to take shelter at the head of the beach.
Schneider’s Ranger force attacked on each side of the little valley leading inland to Les Moulins. After some of the blew a gap in the concertina wire along the beach road, the Rangers were able to cross the 150 yards (135 m) of beach to the base of the bluff. Although German machine gun fire killed some of them, once the Rangers had gained the bluff they were shielded by smoke and the small folds in the ground. At about 11.00 they pressed inland and then west for several hundred yards before confronting a German strongpoint based on Vierville sur Mer. The effort to bypass this strongpoint ran into intense machine gun fire from positions concealed in the hedgerows bordering the village. Over a period of some four hours the Rangers tried to fight their way through this position before, early in the afternoon, giving up and seeking an alternative route. The Rangers entered Vierville sur Mer, which had already been secured by the 116th Infantry, and then attacked to the west in the direction of the Pointe du Hoc. Lacking heavy weapons, however, they were unable to advance and so brought to an end to their day’s attack.
The 116th Infantry’s introduction to combat started some 400 yards (365 m) off 'Omaha' Beach, when their landing craft began to come under artillery fire. Unlike most of the units which landed on 'Omaha' Beach, Company A on the regiment’s flank came ashore as scheduled in front of the Vierville sur Mer valley on Dog Green beech. Side-by-side with a Ranger company, Company A waded ashore through severe German fire, and many men had to discard their helmets and weapons to keep from drowning. Within 10 minutes all the officers had been hit, and more than two-thirds of the company fell before reaching the sea wall or the cliff base. The assault group was reduced to rescuing the wounded.
As the result of a strong eastward inshore current, there was a 1,000-yard (915-m) gap between the men on Dog Green beach and those who landed on Dog White beach. Company E, scheduled to touch down on Easy Green beach, drifted 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east before landing on the beaches assigned to Taylor’s 16th Infantry. Only two of the 2/116th Infantry’s three companies landed where intended. Because a grass fire obscured German visibility from the strongpoint guarding the beach exit at Les Moulins, these companies suffered less than Company A. Even so, one company lost one-quarter of its men during the 45 minutes it took to advance to the beach shingle. Two tank companies did arrive to support them, however, but the artillery was not as fortunate: only one 105-mm (4.13-in) howitzer of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion made it to shore as the DUKW amphibious trucks carrying the others were swamped in the rough seas.
The debilitating losses experienced by the regiment’s first wave prevented it from neutralising the German beach defences and thereby threw the entire schedule into chaos. The second assault wave was supposed to begin landing at 07.00 with three companies of the 1/116th Infantry behind Company A on the right flank. On the left, plans called for landing the 2/116th Infantry’s heavy weapons company and the whole of the 3/116th Infantry. This plan presumed that the beaches had been sufficiently cleared to permit the men to land and march inland to their assembly areas. In the event only scattered elements actually landed in Company A’s sector and many of the men succumbed to the same fire that had nearly destroyed Company A. The battalion’s headquarters company landed at the base of the cliff and remained pinned by heavy fire for most of the day. The 1/116th Infantry’s heavy weapons company took severe punishment and it was two hours before it had managed to assemble survivors.
Farther to the left, in the 2/116th Infantry’s sector, Company H had such heavy losses it could not support the heavy weapons company as intended. The battalion commander tried to organise an assault against the German position in the valley leading to Les Moulins, but only a handful of men could support him and the effort therefore failed.
Meanwhile, the 3/116th Infantry landed and found itself intermixed along the regimental boundary just to the east of Les Moulins. Fortunately, Canham and Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, the assistant divisional commander, landed shortly after 07.30 just to the west of Les Moulins, where a thick smoke masked German fire, and these two officers helped to organise small groups which headed up the bluff against little resistance and moved to the south-west toward St Laurent sur Mer and their assembly areas. Elements of the 1/116th and 2/116th Infantry also started to move inland, and by 11.00 had cleared Vierville sur Mer. Canham tried to push the attack toward the Pointe du Hoc to link with the Rangers, but his men encountered German machine guns hidden in the hedgerows, and the push was halted. To the east of the valley leading up to Les Moulins, the 3/116th Infantry fought inland toward St Laurent. Confused and difficult fighting followed, and by the fall of darkness the 116th Infantry had been stopped short of St Laurent.
Farther still to the east, Taylor’s 16th Infantry was one of the two first-wave assault units to land on 'Omaha' Beach. As such it encountered the worst the defenders had to offer. Plans called for the regiment to land adjacent to the 116th Infantry on Easy Red and Fox Green beaches. Here it would have to cross a shingle embankment impassable to vehicles. After traversing the tidal flats and the beach it would encounter a scrub-covered bluff on which lay the German’s main line of defence. The regiment was to attack on a two battalion-front with the initial mission of clearing the beach defences on the exit road leading to the small village of St Laurent sur Mer.
Unknown to the attackers, however, on 'Omaha' Beach the Germans had enough good soldiers to try to execute Rommel’s directive to defeat the invasion at the waterline. Choppy waters offshore hampered the US efforts to adhere to schedule. When the 16th Infantry’s first four assault companies reached the beach they had already suffered enough losses to render them incapable of performing their primary mission. The 2/16th Infantry was supposed to land on Easy Red beach, but its assault craft drifted too far to the east, and only one section of Company E landed on Easy Red beach. The men who stormed ashore on Fox Green beach were mostly of units assigned to more westerly beaches. Most of the 16th Infantry’s first wave landed directly in front of the German strongpoint at Colleville sur Mer, where they faced every imaginable handicap.
Because most of the supporting Sherman DD amphibious tanks had swamped and German fire had destroyed five of the company of medium tanks disgorged directly from tank landing craft, the 16th Infantry had only a third of its intended armoured support. Machine gun crossfire caught most of the landing craft as they beached, and soldiers struggled through fire-swept surf and through the tidal zone before collapsing on the sand. Company E lost most of its 105 D-Day casualties during the time it waded ashore. Thus German fire had shattered the first assault wave. Few men had advanced beyond the shingle, and neither the handful of surviving tanks nor scattered infantry pockets were effectively in seeking to neutralise the German defences on the bluff.
The engineers and naval units of the beach obstacle teams worked under harrowing circumstances. Typical of these was Team 12 on Easy Red beach: as it rigged explosive charges to blow a gap, a mortar shell struck the primacord causing a premature detonation which killed six engineers and four naval demolition men, and wounded nine other; even so, the survivors managed to cut a 30-yard (27.5-m) gap in the obstacles.
At 07.00, therefore, the second assault wave’s landing faced a situation entirely different from that for which it had prepared. There were only a few gaps cut in the obstacles instead of the precisely marked lanes the men expected. Forced to converge at these gaps, the second wave suffered much the same fate as the first. Mortar bombs rained down on the small craft as they approached the beach and continued to track the assault wave as it moved through the surf. The living piled up by the hundreds just above the advancing tide, and the dead floated just offshore. Machine gunners and mortar crews set up their weapons only a few feet from the water.
By about 08.00 the 916th Grenadierregiment of the 352nd Division holding the area of 'Omaha' Beach probably believed that it had succeeded in checking the invasion at the water’s edge.
The 16th Infantry’s command group landed in two sections: the first, coming in at 07.20, lost 35 men and the executive officer during the scramble over the tidal flats and, landing with the second section at 08.15, Taylor saw his regiment both disorganised and scattered, suffering heavily from the attentions of the German mortar and artillery fire. Taylor therefore started to organise his men into small groups without regard to unit organisation and placed them under the command of the nearest non-commissioned officer, and despatched these extemporised teams to move inland.
Although the attackers did not realise it, along the 4-mile (6.4-km) beach front they had achieved three or four significant penetrations of the shallow defensive crust. Two companies of the 2/16th Infantry had penetrated between the St Laurent sur Mer and Colleville sur Mer exits. After blowing gaps through the wire near the shingle embankment, men of Companies G and E crossed the flats to the foot of the bluff. Threading their way through minefields, supported by their light machine guns and 2.36-in (60-mm) mortars, the men reached the top against light opposition and pushed inland.
Here the two units diverged. A group of 23 men of Company E, led by 2nd Lieutenant John M. Spalding, turned to the west and attacked the defences of the St Laurent sur Mer exit from the rear. This position, a typical fortification featuring pillboxes and a maze of communication trenches, was too extensive for the men to capture, but nonetheless it was the first move toward clearing a vehicle exit from the 16th Infantry’s beach sector. Company G continued inland. Meanwhile, responding to Taylor’s orders, men of the 1/16th and 2/16th Infantry followed Company G’s route up the bluff. Shortly after 08.00, the 3/16th Infantry’s opened its own breach at the valley leading up to Colleville sur Mer. Here covering fire from tanks and naval guns helped overcome a German strongpoint commanding the valley. Because of its fire support, the battalion lost only one killed and five wounded and managed to capture 31 Germans.
In sum, by 09.00, the 16th Infantry had displayed courage and improvisation just when it appeared the invasion had failed. However, it still lacked heavy weapons and artillery, had not yet secured the vehicle exits off the beach, the beach itself remained under German fire, gaps had not yet been completely cut through the obstacles, and the flooding tide was covering the obstacles thus making it difficult for succeeding waves to land.
During the remainder of the day, the regiment fought a series of confused actions to clear the exit roads. Supported by the 18th Infantry, the 2/16th Infantry managed to reach the outskirts of Colleville sur Mer by dusk, when it dug in to resist any counterattacks that the Germans might make. About 100 men of the 3/16th Infantry occupied Le Grand Hameau where, supported by 17 tanks which had worked their way inland, they too went on the defensive. The 1/16th Infantry had been split in two by the disordered landing. One element fought through a German strongpoint on the bluff only to encounter another just over the top of the bluff at Cabourg, and the other managed to secure the right flank of the 2/16th Infantry.
Scheduled to begin landing at 09.30, Smith’s 18th Infantry encountered difficulty in maintaining formation and steering toward shore as soon as it passed the line of departure. The offshore waters were very congested. Underwater obstacles caused 22 large infantry landing craft carrying the regiment to be wrecked on the beach after they had struck log ramps, iron stakes or mines. In advance of the 18th Infantry’s landing, the engineers had suffered severe losses and they tried to open the way for the infantry. German gunners picked out the engineers’ tankdozers, forcing them to use demolition charges to accomplish their task after the armoured vehicles’ crews had been compelled to use threats to get the infantry to move out of the way. Even so, the demolitions sent metal fragments flying in every direction. The engineers found that their equipment was deficient in many respects: their mine detectors were useless since the Germans had buried no mines along the tidal flat, yet German snipers targeted anyone who carried a mine detector; and the rubber boats carrying demolition charges were another focus for German fire, yet the heavy Bangalore torpedoes they carried were hardly needed as barbed wire had not been strung between the obstacles.
Overburdened and dressed in heavy impregnated coveralls, the engineers found their movement impeded and that wounded or weakened men drowned under their weight of their equipment. In spite of heavy losses, though, two demolition teams managed to open two lanes, one 50 yards (46 m) wide and the other 100 yards (91 m) wide. During the assault, the 146th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions, the units that provided the gapping teams, suffered between 30% and 40% losses.
As a result of the engineers' efforts, a little after 10.00 the 18th Infantry was able to begin landing in column of battalions through these gaps in the obstacles onto Easy Red beach in the 16th Infantry’s sector. To the newly arriving soldiers, it seemed that little progress had been made. The Germans still controlled the bluff overlooking the beach, most of the US troops seemed to be pinned down behind the shingle embankment, and everywhere there was wrecked equipment. On Easy Red beach, the key to the 18th Infantry’s ability to cross the beach with relatively light losses was the performance of two small landing craft, LCT-30 and LCI(L)-544: these smashed at maximum speed through the obstacles while firing their weapons at the defenders of the valley leading up to Colleville sur Mer, and thus demonstrated that the obstacles could be breached by ramming.
As the 18th Infantry landed, Brigadier General Willard G. Wyman, the assistant divisional commander and the senior officer ashore, diverted all three battalions to take over the missions of the decimated 16th Infantry. Shortly after their landing, units of the 115th Infantry which had drifted to the east of their assigned sector piled on top of the 18th Infantry, and the confusion which followed delayed the advance inland from the beach. However, the 2/18th Infantry helped the 2/16th Infantry at Colleville sur Mer.
Guarding the valley leading up to St Laurent sur Mer was a German pillbox. Tank fire supported the battalion’s first assault against the pillbox, which failed. A naval observer then contacted the destroyers offshore, and one of these closed to within 1,000 yards (915 m) and opened fire. The shells’ flat trajectories skimmed over the heads of the infantry, and the fourth round hit the pillbox and its occupants surrendered. The pillbox later became ‘Danger Forward’, the forward command post for the 1st Division: by 19.00 Huebner himself had landed and moved to establish his field headquarters in this pillbox.
Aided by naval fire support, the 2/18th Infantry forced the last defenders of the St Laurent sur Mer valley to surrender at about 11.30. Shortly after this, the men of the V Corps’ Special Engineer Task Force were using bulldozers to clear the beach exit. Thus, within one hour of the commitment of the 18th Infantry, the infantrymen’s fortunes on Easy Red beach had improved dramatically. The beach exit in front of Colleville sur Mer became the main route of egress off 'Omaha' Beach on D-Day.
For the remainder of D-Day the 18th Infantry moved inland. The 2/18th Infantry advanced to Colleville sur Mer, and at the fall of night took position just to the south and south-east of the village. The 3/18th Infantry attempted to take Formigny and Surrain but could make little progress in the face of intense small arms fire. It moved on toward the high ground to the south of the coastal road to link with the 16th Infantry on the left and the 115th Infantry on the right. The 1/18th Infantry also tried to attack Surrain, and at the fall of night occupied a position to the north of the road linking St Laurent sur Mer and Colleville sur Mer.
The battle on 'Omaha' Beach had nearly been a disaster, in part because the US planning staffs had been unimaginative in opting to land the leading assault waves directly in front of the obvious beach exits for which, of course, the Germans had developed potent defences. Because of the difficulties experienced by the initial assault forces, the commitment of reserves thus had a telling effect such as when Gerhardt persuade his corps commander, Gerow, to permit the immediate release of the corps’ floating reserve, Slappey’s 115th Infantry of Gerhardt’s own 29th Division, in support of the hard-pressed 116th Infantry. The 115th Infantry was scheduled to begin landing at H+4. Like its predecessors, the 115th Infantry landed far to the east of its intended landing sector, arriving in about the centre of Easy Red beach in the left-hand sector of the 116th Infantry’s area and almost on top of the 18th Infantry. By now German small arms fire had been eliminated and only light mortar fire was falling on the beach. Even so, there was confusion on the crowded beach, three-quarters of the 116th Infantry’s radios had been destroyed, and an intermingling of units, all of which combined to delay the start of the regiment’s advance inland.
By the early afternoon the 115th Infantry had begun to move through the E-1 exit to secure the high ground in the area of Longueville and prepare an attack on Isigny. It was here that a destroyer had earlier shelled a German pillbox in a commanding position and so provided the opportunity for men men of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade (37th Engineer Combat Battalion) and Special Engineer Task Force (146th Engineer Combat Battalion) to advance toward the bluff and use a bulldozer to clear a gap through the dunes, pull apart roadblocks, and fill the anti-tank ditch even though German gunners concentrated their fire on the bulldozer. The infantry had then advanced and taken the pillbox, so opening the exit for the reserve units. Through this gateway passed the 115th Infantry as it headed to the south-west in the direction of St Laurent sur Mer.
The area was liberally strewn with signs warning of mines, the threat of minefields then slowing the advance. The British had developed special armoured vehicles to flail a path through the minefields, but the US planners had rejected such equipment, and this meant that the men of the 115th Infantry were forced to proceed with great caution, often in single file and therefore very slowly. As it neared St Laurent sur Mer, the 2/115th Infantry started to come under fire from concealed German positions.
After the engineers had opened the beach exit to St Laurent sur Mer soon after 12.00, the reconnaissance, liaison and forward observers of the 110th Field Artillery Battalion, which had landed with the 115th Infantry, could move inland and begin their work. The problem was that the artillery pieces themselves remained offshore aboard the landing craft tank. But early in the afternoon Captain Thomas F. Cadwalader, a liaison officer with the 2/115th Infantry, found four M7 ‘Priest’ self-propelled 105-mm (4.13-in) howitzers of the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion which had managed to move off the beach. In the absence of any other guns, Cadwalader decided to serve with this battery which, as a result of previous losses, lacked everything it needed to provide fire support. Cadwalader improvised a command and control structure and announced that the battery was ready, and the self-propelled howitzers then began to respond to the 2/115th Infantry’s demands for fire support by shooting at map references that corresponded with crossroads or other likely targets inland. As the howitzers were firing ‘blind’, great care had to be exercised until they could start to move inland and provide direct, point-blank fire to support the 2/115th Infantry’s assault on St Laurent sur Mer, which was an extremely important tactical feature as it commanded two of the four major beach exits.
Thus US seizure of St Laurent sur Mer was essential for V Corps’ to establish a secure beach-head. The 2/115th Infantry tried unsuccessfully through the afternoon to capture St Laurent sur Mer. Then, at about dusk, misdirected naval gunfire struck the unit and caused some losses, and the battalion withdrew to ground to the south of the village, where it linked with the 1/115th Infantry in a defensive position. On their left flank were two battalions of the 26th Infantry, and their right flank lay in the no man’s land of the contested village. Some 1,500 yards (1370 m) directly to the east of St Laurent sur Mer, the 3/115th Infantry also occupied a defensive line. In echelon, ahead of the 3/115th Infantry, were two battalions of the 1st Division’s 26th Infantry. Not until the next day would the 3/115th Infantry take St Laurent sur Mer.
Because the Germans had moved the 352nd Division to strengthen the beach defences, the V Corps encountered twice as many defenders as it had been warmed to expect. The eight battalions of the 352nd Division meant the Germans occupied a defensive position of greater depth than those of other beaches, and this compounded the US planners’ lack of imagination in directing their infantry to land in front of the obvious exits from 'Omaha' Beach. From west to east, these exits were the valleys in front of Vierville sur Mer, Les Moulins, St Laurent sur Mer and Colleville sur Mer, and the smaller ravine to the east of Colleville sur Mer. All were commanded by high-grade German troops, and were also unimproved roads connecting with the Route Nationale 814, a road running parallel with the beach. Even after the exits had been cleared, these were still dominated by three stout stone villages perfectly suited for defence. From west to east, these village were Vierville sur Mer, St Laurent sur Mer and Colleville sur Mer. Well concealed German artillery, carefully sited to sweep the beaches with crossfire, had stalled the 'Omaha' Beach assault force all morning.
Bradley now had to consider whether or not to evacuate the beach. However, the veteran infantry in the first waves displayed more ingenuity than had the planners. Thwarted directly in front of the beach exits, they took advantage of the ground’s irregularities to work their way up the bluffs between the exits to take the defenders in flank and rear. Still, the forces on 'Omaha' Beach were far behind schedule. Everything needed to support the inland advance was lacking, for there were acute shortages of ammunition, artillery, armour and other vehicles. This made decisions about when and where to commit the reserves especially important.
Seitz’s 26th Infantry arrived in the transport area off 'Omaha' Beach at 13.00, and was then ordered to land at 18.00 on Fox Green beach near Exit E-3. The 1/26th Infantry arrived first and was diverted by Wyman, the assistant divisional commander, to the left flank of the 16th Infantry to help that battered unit defend its position. The battalion advanced a short distance inland and took up position in front of the German strongpoint at Cabourg, but in general failed to operate with any real aggression. By 21.00 the rest of the 26th Infantry had landed. By now units from its sister regiment, the 16th Infantry, had secured a lodgement between Colleville sur Mer and St Laurent sur Mer. The 3/26th Infantry linked with this position by moving inland just past the road, just to the south, lining St Laurent sur Mer and Formigny. On its left flank was the 3/18th Infantry, and on its right flank elements of the 1 and 2/115th Infantry. The 2/26th Infantry closed up behind the 3/26th Infantry in an offensive posture ready to attack at first light on 7 June.
The situation at the fall of night on D-Day was not one that had been anticipated by invasion planners. Stubborn German resistance had limited the beach-head to a depth of about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in the area of Colleville sur Mer, and the beach-head was much shallower still in the area round St Laurent sur Mer. Fighting continued in the villages, and the Germans in this area believed that if they could mass forces for a counterattack during the night, they could still destroy the US beach-head. In the event, though senior German commanders decided to commit their armoured reserves against the Canadian and British beach-heads farther to the east behind the 'Juno' and 'Sword' Beaches in the vicinity of Caen. Even though the forces of 'Omaha' Beach were spared major German counterattacks, the shallow lodgement they had secured by midnight on D-Day was well inside the area the US planners had designated as the beach-head maintenance area. Only a few of the support troops and only about 100 of the planned 2,400 tons of supplies which were to occupy the maintenance area had been landed. The ammunition shortage was critical. Nests of German infantry still held strongpoints along the coast. Only about one-third of the beach obstacles had been cleared. German artillery fire continued to land on the beaches. Inland penetrations from 'Omaha' Beach had been made by relatively weak assault groups who lacked the strength to reach their assigned objectives.
Moreover, the delays in reducing German strongpoints at the beach exits both slowed the arrival of reinforcements and prevented tanks and other supporting arms from moving off the beaches to assist those forces which had succeeded in advancing inland.
In sum, the 'Omaha' Beach assault had succeeded, but had been much more difficult and less successful than had been expected. The V Corps’ losses were about 2,000 men: the 1st Division lost 1,190 men, and the corps troops suffered 441 casualties. The difficult fighting on 'Omaha' Beach also meant that the V Corps was considerably behind schedule. The failure to seize D-Day objectives, the inability of the V Corps to link with Major General J. Lawton Collins’s US VII Corps at 'Utah' Beach off to the west, and the unexpectedly slow rate of supply deliveries all alarmed Bradley. The commander of the 1st Army therefore revised his plans, and for 7 June would give the 1st Division the mission of continuing to expand its beach-head to the east in the direction of the British forces' 'Gold' Beach. The effects of D-Day would be felt on D+1 when the lack of tank and artillery support would interfere with the 26th Infantry’s efforts to capture the D-Day objectives along the high ground to the north of Trevières and the Mandeville and Mosles area to the south of the Aure river.
The fighting on 'Omaha' Beach had not been one-sided, however, for the Germans had also suffered serious losses and been thoroughly disorganised, and many units, in particular the non-German elements, had become demoralised. Even so, much difficult fighting still lay ahead.