Reprinted with permission of the Delaware County Daily Times
Joseph Batory, Times Guest Columnist
In July of 2017, I made my fourth visit to the Omaha Beach invasion battleground in Normandy. As time has passed, what happened at Omaha Beach can easily be glossed over as just another World War II military victory. However, what really happened there on June 6, 1944, is a human drama of remarkable heroism and valor, perhaps unparalleled in American history. No matter how many times I walk through the American cemetery above the Omaha Beach battlefield, I am always overcome with emotion.
That’s because almost nothing in terms of U.S. military strategy and planning went well that day.
- Basically unknown to the Allies, the battle-tested Nazi 352nd infantry had replaced much weaker German units on the cliffs above Omaha Beach. Three veteran Nazi battalions occupied 13 heavily fortified the Winderstandsnester (“resistance nests”). The enemy was ready and well-prepared for the American attack. The waters and beaches below were barricaded and mined. The Germans had established a very effective “killing field.”
- The U.S. air bombardment in advance of the invasion was a total failure. The German fortifications and bunkers above Omaha Beach were completely missed and many bombs were dropped three miles inland far from the beach.
- Unlike invasions in the Pacific, there was only 30 minutes of ineffective U.S. naval bombardment on the Nazi positions above Omaha Beach. The German fortifications were basically untouched.
- Many landing craft filled with soldiers sunk in deep waters. Drownings and seasickness were prevalent. Some infantry were landed on sand bars and soldiers had to wade through 100 yards of neck-deep water to get to the beach. Of 29 DD Tanks of the 743rd battalion, 27 sank in the rough seas. So the initial infantry assaults were without the planned cover of tank support.
- Weather conditions were difficult. Strong sea currents flowing east to west scattered the American invasion forces. Of nine infantry companies in the first wave, only two landed where planned.
- Of 16 teams of engineers designated to clear the beach of obstacles, only five reached shore. Amazingly, six lanes were somehow cleared to allow soldiers to access the beach but these limited entries were now subject to heavy enemy fire.
As this invasion commenced, the American forces were scattered and pinned down. Bodies of American soldiers were strewn everywhere in the waters and on the beach. Destroyed landing craft and ruined military vehicles dotted the landscape of the beach and the sea. Six hours into the invasion, the German 352nd leaders overlooking Omaha Beach viewed the numerous American soldier bodies and destruction below and radioed to Hitler that the Americans had been pushed back into the sea.
At this point D-Day on Omaha Beach had the makings of a military disaster. But this never happened only because of the persistence and determination of thousands of young Americans, many now even operating without their battlefield leaders who had been killed. SO…it was the individual courage and bravery of U.S. soldiers who maintained the foothold on Omaha Beach and managed to push forward and literally saved this day. Eventually, huge number of reinforcements landed at Omaha and the Germans were thrown back.
But how that initial assault by U.S. troops did not fail will always remain as a stunning and remarkable “human achievement.” And the sacrifices made by many thousands of heroic American soldiers in this invasion to liberate France are of epic proportion and must never be forgotten.
Joseph Batory is the author of three books and hundreds of published articles.