Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when allied troops landed at Normandy on the French coast, the beginning of the end of World War II.
I remember a number of years ago visiting Normandy and looking down at Omaha beach from the remains of a German bunker that overlooked a tall bluff to the beach below. The landing crafts and the soldiers who somehow made it to the beach were sitting ducks and thousands of Americans died in those first waves of the attack. And yet, somehow, they kept coming and eventually climbed up the sheer cliff and took that bunker and the others like it.
The heroism shown by the American, British, Canadian, and other allied troops is nearly unimaginable. Each beach had its own story. Read about two of them and link to the rest after the jump.
Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc, a prominent headland situated between Utah and Omaha, was assigned to two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Their task was to scale the 30-metre (98 ft) cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. While under fire from above, the men scaled the cliff, only to discover that the guns had already been withdrawn. The Rangers located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them with explosives. Under attack, the men at the point became isolated, and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not arrive until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others arrived. By then, Rudder’s men had run out of ammunition and were using captured German weapons. Several men were killed as a result, because the German weapons made a distinctive noise, and the men were mistaken for the enemy.
Assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944
Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division. They faced the 352nd Infantry Division rather than the expected single regiment. Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed. For fear of hitting the landing craft, American bombers delayed releasing their loads and, as a result, most of the beach obstacles at Omaha remained undamaged when the men came ashore. Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50 to 100 yards (46 to 91 m) in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach. In spite of the rough seas, DD tanks of two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 m) from shore, and 27 of the 32 flooded and sank, with the loss of 33 crew. Some tanks, disabled on the beach, continued to provide covering fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swamped by the rising tide.
Casualties were around 2,000, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above. Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to provide fire support so landings could resume. Exit from the beach was possible only via five heavily defended gullies, and by late morning barely 600 men had reached the higher ground. By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the gullies of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives for Omaha were accomplished by D+3.