Commentary: The largest opposed amphibious landing in history would be launched here in Normandy on June 6th 1944. Several thousand ships rendezvoused during the night in the English Channel and waited for H-Hour, the moment to mount the invasion. It was an operation fraught with risk and the culmination of years of planning.
Professor Robert Citino: What was found when the staff studies were done was this was a far more complicated project than previously thought. If it failed you didn’t retreat, you were destroyed. And then you’d have to assemble another amphibious armada, and that might take years. In other words, it was essentially going to be a one shot deal, and had to be done correctly.
Commentary: As the warships pounded the Normandy coast more that 130,000 Allied troops waited to board landing craft to take them to the beaches. With the sea perfectly calm, conditions for the attack seemed almost ideal.
Antony Beevor: I think one must recognise with D-Day that the Allies were incredibly lucky. We were extremely lucky with the weather, and that break in the weather which, of course, the Germans had not been able to foretell. It’s impossible, really, to estimate what would have been the result if they had been fully aware of what was coming.
Commentary: As part of the coordinated D-Day offensive, the Allied airforce launched a devastating attack on the invasion coast.
Professor William Hitchcock: On June 5, June 6, that terrible night, the heaviest bombing of the Second World War up to that point occurred in Normandy. So the beaches and the towns just beyond the beaches were absolutely flattened by heavy saturation RAF and American bombing the night before the landings. And then the day of June 6th itself is a moment of intense terror for the residents because their towns, their villages, their schools are all going up in smoke. I think there’s an intellectual understanding that this is the beginnings of what might become liberation. But they don’t know yet what’s around the corner. All they know is that their homes and their towns have been shattered by intensive bombing.
Commentary: In the wake of this almost overwhelming air attack, the Allies landed on five beaches on the morning of the 6th June. Code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. On most of the beaches the Allied assault went more or less to plan. But there was one exception. Here at Omaha Beach the American 1st Infantry division faced stiff resistance from German units dug in securely on the high ground above them.
Words of Joseph Argenzio (US soldier, Omaha Beach): As we approached the beach we started taking heavy fire, there was machine gun and rifle fire pinging off the front of the boat and artillery fire landing all around us. And I saw one boat on our left take a direct hit and it disintegrated. And I started running. Men dying all around you and getting blown up, it was horrible. I saw a lot of chaos. It was devastating.1
Words of Franz Gockel (German soldier, Omaha Beach): In the first wave of them most of them fell. We said, ‘Boy, they keep coming even though they can see how many have already been killed.’2
Words of Joseph Argenzio (US soldier, Omaha Beach): I had bullets all around me, oh, they were snapping over my head and they were snapping around my feet. All I could hear was echoing right from the water’s edge, it was staying on my mind, I heard men yelling, ‘I’m hit. Oh, god! Medic,’ and as they were dying, ‘Mamma.’ Then Colonel Taylor, our Regimental Commander, came in and started yelling, ‘There’s only two kinds of men on this beach, those who are dead and those who are gonna die, so let’s get the hell out of here.’
Words of Sidney Salomon (US Ranger, Omaha Beach): There were thirty-seven men in my landing craft. When I got up on top of the cliff there were nine men left.3
Commentary: The Americans suffered 2,000 casualties at Omaha on D-Day. Part of a total of more than 10,000 Allied casualties on that one day. But the bridgehead into France had been secured - overall at a smaller cost in lives than the Allied commanders had feared. And within six weeks of D-Day the Allies would land over two million soldiers and enormous quantities of heavy equipment.
Antony Beevor: The planning of the invasion itself was incredible. Every eventuality had been looked into and all the rest of it. Okay, they got some things wrong or whatever, but overall it was an astonishing piece of staff work to say the least, and of organisation. But the problem was that nobody had really thought through stage two.
Commentary: Stage two - the battle for Normandy - would most definitely not go to plan. In fact, the war fought here, across this perfect defensive landscape, would prove to be one of the bloodiest of the whole conflict.
1 From an interview given exclusively to WW2History.com
2 Andrew Williams, D-Day to Berlin, Hodder & Stoughton, 2004, p. 43-46
3 D-Day to Berlin, Episode 1, ‘The Struggle to Break Out’, Andrew Williams (producer), Laurence Rees (executive producer), BBC, 2005
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