D-Day 2013 – Performing the Impossible

D-Day

In 1944, the Germans were expecting an invasion on the coast of France, probably somewhere near Dunquerque, the shortest point across the English Channel from England to France, near the Belgian border.  Belgium had already thrown in the towel.  Germany didn’t expect the Allies to throw in the towel.  They didn’t know when the invasion would come, nor exactly where, so they built a fortified wall from Norway to Spain.

The cliffs themselves were a formidable obstacle – at least 100 feet high, roughly the height of a ten-story building.  The Nazis weren’t taking any chances.  They mined the coastal waters, built barbed wire and iron obstacles to prevent vehicles from coming ashore.  They also built concrete bunkers with machine gun turrets to strafe any infantry that landed on the beach.  The weather was also bad that spring; the coldest spring in that area in at least 20 years.

Der Fuehrer and his generals scoffed at the idea of an invasion.  All the same, they didn’t take any chances.

Across the channel, American soldiers filled the British Isles from Southampton to Scotland (Ireland declared itself neutral in the war).  A campaign was already going on in southern Europe and across North Africa.  Troops had been trained in Scotland for mountain climbing through Italy.  The biggest gamble, though, was the liberation of France and the Low Countries, and then on to Berlin.

Thousands of men waited for the green light from Eisenhower.  The weather over the English Channel had been holding them back.  The invasion, code-named Operation Neptune (the assault phase of Operation Overlord), was a big risk.  The casualties were expected to be high, particularly for the Americans landing on Utah and Omaha beaches.

The operation, planned by a team under Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan, was the largest amphibious invasion in world history and was executed by land, sea and air elements under direct British-American command with over 160,000 soldiers landing on June 6, 1944: 73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians. Another 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were also involved. The invasion required the transport of soldiers and material from the United Kingdom by troop-laden aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel and naval fire-support. The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

Under the high-level plan Operation Bodyguard, the Allies had instituted a comprehensive and complex series of deceptions which led to the landings achieving strategic and tactical surprise. One of the key successes of these operations was Operation Fortitude South, which convinced Hitler that the Allies’ plan was for their main attack to be across the Straits of Dover by the fictitious First U.S. Army Group to be led by Gen. George S. Patton and that the Normandy landings were a diversionary tactic. The fiction was maintained after the Normandy landings to the effect that Hitler, still believing an attack was imminent across the straits, was unwilling, until it was too late, to reinforce his troops in Normandy with forces placed to defend the Pas de Calais.

Particularly relevant to the Normandy landings was the use of heavy bombers in Operations Glimmer and Taxable which flew in highly precise patterns over the Straits of Dover, to drop radar-reflecting aluminum strips (“window,” now known as chaff), to create a picture on German radar of an invasion fleet moving across the straits simultaneously with the arrival of the invasion fleet in Normandy.

The landing was timed for low tide in Normandy, which allowed the landing craft to better avoid obstacles in the water, but exposed the troops to a longer stretch of beach and increased the chance of higher casualties.

When the troops debarked from their landing craft, they fell into chest-deep water.  Heavily laden, many drowned immediately.  Others were exposed to heavy machine gun fire from the four German divisions overlooking the beaches.  The troops were pinned down for some time until one of the engineering corps blew a breach in the wall.  Farther down the beach, the soldiers had no choice but to scale the 150-foot cliffs in order to take out the machine gun placements before the rest of the divisions were murdered.

Omaha was the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery; the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective.  Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach, only two survived the landing. 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. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue.”

Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings. The heavily defended draws, the only vehicular routes off the beach, could not be taken and two hours after the first assault the beach was closed for all but infantry landings. Commanders (including Gen. Omar Bradley) considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units of infantry, often forming ad-hoc groups, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defenses by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day, two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.

The massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by James Earl Rudder.  The task was to scale the 150 ft. cliffs under the cover of night, approximately at 5:30, one hour prior to the landings with ropes and ladders, and then attack and destroy the German coastal defense guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. The infantry commanders not knowing that the guns had been moved prior to the attack, had to press farther inland to find them and eventually destroy them. However, the fortifications themselves were still vital targets as a single artillery forward observer based there could have called down accurate fire on the U.S. beaches. The Rangers were eventually successful, and captured the fortifications. They then had to fight for two days to hold the location, losing more than 60 percent of their men. They subsequently regrouped and continued northeast to the rally point one mile from the gun emplacements on Pointe Du Hoc.

Casualties on Utah Beach, the westernmost landing zone, were the lightest of any beach, with 197 out of the roughly 23,000 men that landed. The 4th Infantry Division troops landing at Utah Beach found themselves in the wrong positions because of a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast. Instead of landing at Tare Green and Uncle Red sectors, they came ashore at Victor sector, where relatively little German opposition was encountered. The 4th Infantry Division was able to press inland relatively easily over beach exits that had been seized from the inland side by the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. This was partially by accident, because their planned landing was further along the beach.  Brigadier Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the Assistant Commander of the 4th Division, upon discovering the landings were off course, famously said, “We will start the war from right here.”  By early afternoon, the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st. American casualties were light, the troops were able to press inward much faster than expected, making it a near-complete success.

Over 360,000 men put their lives on the line for Europe’s and Britain’s freedom.  5,000 Americans died in the first few hours on Omaha beach alone.  Many of the forward paratroopers were slaughtered when they missed their landing zone (according Wikipedia, it was actually a change in Allied plans when the Germans changed theirs).

Whenever I give a pep talk to Tea Partiers who feel we’ve been defeated, or that we can’t win against the massive alliance of Democrats, George Soros, drug cartels, women, minorities and assorted deviants, I remind them of the Normandy Invasion.  I remind them of the courage it took to scale those 100-foot walls, to run, exposed, onto those beaches with the enemy firing down upon them.

If you think it’s too much for you to run for office, to walk door to door for a candidate, to make telephone calls, to hand out flyers, or even just to take a chance on voting for a Tea Party candidate; if you think we’re out-numbered, out-moneyed, out-messaged, or out-of-date, just remember those soldiers who died for us on the beaches of Normandy.  Freedom was younger then (168 years old) than it is today (237), but even in 1944, the Revolutionary War was history and the war was in service of our then-allies.  Still, Americans fought and died for freedom.

Think of their courage in the face of almost-certain death, especially today – D-Day, and then tell me what you’re so afraid of, Tea Partiers.  Conservatives?  Republicans?  Americans?

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Published in: on June 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I like your websites. Fabulous material regarding this subject.
    Thanks a lot for posting.


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