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American Attack on Omaha and Utah Beaches during D Day
It was 1944, and the United States had now been an active participant in the war against Nazi Germany for almost three and a half years, nearly six years for the British. During that period occurred a string of engagements fought with ferocious determination and intensity on both sides. There is however, one day which stands out in the minds of many American servicemen more often than others. June 6, 1944, D-Day, was a day in which thousands of young American boys, who poured onto the beaches of Utah and Omaha, became men faster than they would have ever imagined possible. Little did they know of the chaos and the hell which awaited them on their arrival. Over the course of a few hours, the visions of Omaha and Utah Beaches, and the death and destruction accompanied with them formed a permanent fixation in the minds of the American Invaders. The Allied invasion of Europe began on the 6th of June 1944, and the American assault on Utah and Omaha beaches on this day played a critical role in the overall success of the operation. (Astor 352)
An extensive plan was established for the American attack on Utah and Omaha Beaches. The plan was so in-depth, and complex, its descriptions detailed the exact arrivals of troops, armor, and other equipment needed for the invasion, and where exactly on the beach they were to land.
Before the landings were to begin, the coastal German defenses had to be adequately prepped, and softened by a combination of a massive battering by United States ships, and bombing by the United States Air Force. Between the hours of 0300 and 0500 hours on the morning of June 6, over 1,000 aircraft dropped more than 5,000 tons of bombs on the German coastal defenses. As soon as the preliminary bombing was over, the American and British naval guns opened fire on the Normandy coastline (D' Este 112). A British naval officer described the incredible spectacle he witnessed that day: "Never has any coast suffered what a tortured strip of French coast suffered that morning; both the naval and air bombardments were unparalleled. Along the fifty-mile front the land was rocked by successive explosions as the shells of ships' guns tore holes in fortifications and tons of bombs rained on them from the skies. Through billowing smoke and falling debris defenders crouching in this scene of devastations would soon discern faintly hundreds of ships and assault craft ominously closing the shore. If the sight dismayed them, the soldiers borne forward to attack were thrilled by the spectacle of Allied power that was displayed around them on every hand," (D' Este 112). The scene witnessed by the British officer off of the British sectors, was also witnessed by American commanders off of Utah and Omaha, however not to the same extent. Many American bombers missed their targets up to as much as five miles inland due to the thick cloud cover. Rockets which were fired from offshore destroyers landed short killing thousands of fish, but not any Germans. Artillery from US battleships slammed the tops of the bluffs of Omaha, and sailed into the adjacent towns, but not did not successfully accomplish their goals of destroying targets on the beachhead such as enemy pillboxes, artillery, and machine gun positions. (D' Este 117)
Contrary to Omaha, Utah Beach was much less fortified. Over looking the beachhead were two large concrete casemated positions to hold large guns. Due to neglect, and Rommel's (who was in charge of fortifying the coast of France) deflected attention to other possible invasion sights, resulting in only one of the casemated positions to install a large gun. The Germans had also not been able to fully construct defensive barriers yet by the time of the invasion and also had not completely laid the number of land mines Rommel had in mind. Aiding to the success at Utah were the underwater demolition teams who were able to knock off many of the coastal defenses awaiting the Americans. As the American soldiers steamed toward Utah Beach in their transports, it was quite evident the pounding the beachhead fortifications had taken from US naval artillery and rockets. Pillboxes, concrete casemated gun houses, machine gun posts, and infantry positions were among many of the targets weakened, or destroyed. The artillery not only aided the soon to be arriving troops in that many coastal threats had been eliminated, but in that the hundreds of shell holes created provided excellent cover for the troops coming ashore. (Astor 222)
The American assault on Utah was meticulously planned. Troop, armor, and equipment arrivals were timed to the minute. Landing first on the beach at 0630 hours, immediately following the naval barrage were thirty-two light assault tanks known as DD tanks to further soften fortified positions, provide cover for the oncoming troops, and to act as a rallying point for troops while attacking. The tanks came ashore in eight LCTs, a type of equipment transport used for the invasion. In the wake of the LCTs came the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry in twenty Higgens boats, another type of transport designed to hold a thirty-man assault team. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry arrived, bringing engineers and naval demolition teams at the same time as the second wave came ashore in thirty-two more Higgens boats. The third wave, containing bulldozers, and the light and mobile Sherman Tank arrived in the second, both fifteen minutes after the initial landing. Following, the third and fourth waves were the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions which arrived two minutes later to begin demolition. (Ambrose 275) Before the assaults began, the planners, including General Eisenhower, hoped everything would stick to the tight schedule. This however, proved a pipe dream as some craft landed late, others too early, and some off course as far as a kilometer south of the target. There were many factors which resulted in the aggravating of the time table. Tides, wind, waves, and a thick cover of smoke were all partially responsible for the trouble, while the biggest factor was the mines fixated just off of the coast. These mixups resulted in the tanks landing a kilometer south, as well as the initial ground assault of Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Division led by General Roosevelt. The American forces were in for a strike of luck however, as the German defensive fortifications at their new and accidental landing site, had been badly damaged from the naval artillery and air battering. The fortifications where the landing was supposed to take place were still strong, unscathed from the preceding bombardment.
The engineers and naval demolition teams came ashore after the first wave. They consisted of five Navy Seabees, also known as combat demolition units, and two or three American engineers. The engineers, who were highly trained in explosives, made quick work of the outermost set of obstacles before the tide had a chance to cover them up. The engineers worked at a furious pace clearing the way for more landing craft who previously had to weave in and out of the obstacles. A foot soldier on the beach at Utah commented on the scene. "I hopped into a slit and watched what was happening offshore. It was all of a sudden like a beehive. Boats were coming through the obstacles, bulldozers were pushing sand up against the seawall, and half-tracks and tanks were able to go into the interior. It looked like an anthill." (D-Day, Ambrose 281) Engineering teams continued to work hard as more and more forces began piling up on the now secured beach awaiting the chance to punch through the booby trapped, and mined interior defenses. The assault on Utah Beach proved to be fairly easy and simple compare to what was going on at Omaha. An anonymous Infantryman from the 4th division said, "You know, it sounds kind of dumb but it was just like a [training] exercise. Easier. We waded ashore like kids in crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down."(Lewis, 101)
Omaha Beach in itself was a formidable and easily defendable position. If the Germans were going to try and stop an Allied Invasion, Omaha Beach was the place to attempt it. Omaha Beach stretched for approximately 10 kilometers, its sand was golden brown in color, it was firm and fine, and during low tide there was a stretch of 300 to 400 meters of firm beach sand. It was an obvious choice for an invasion if one was to occur. (D-Day, Ambrose 320)
The physical makeup of Omaha Beach made it easy for the Germans to defend. The beach was adjacent to bluffs perpendicular to the beach spanning the entire 10 kilometers. On this basis, the German fortifications had an extreme advantage holding not only the safety of the bluffs, some 200 foot height adv
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