Omaha Beach

Of the invasion beaches, Utah,Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the issue was in doubt only on Omaha Beach.  Bad Allied decisions could only do so much harm on other beaches, but they nearly resulted in a disastrous defeat on Omaha Beach.  Many lives were needlessly lost, and the whole invasion was threatened with failure by the difficulties there.  In "Omaha Beach - A Flawed Victory", Adrian Lewis convincingly shows this.  A synposis follows.

British amphibious doctrine was to use surprise and infiltration, preferably at night.  This was appropriate for the more scarce resources available and reflected the possibility that a portion of an attack could fail.  US Pacific doctrine was to use massive firepower followed by direct assault.  This was appropriate considering the massive resources available and the tradition of victory.  In the interests of iter-Allied unity, in December 1943 a compromise, hybrid doctrine was forged from the British and American doctrines by Montgomery and Bradley in which a landing would be made in the early daylight hours.  It was hoped that this would allow for time for an aerial and naval bombardment - and to make sure that the landing craft went ashore in the proper places.  This decision was made from the top, not from the advice and input from the commanders who would lead the assault.  It was based on faulty assumptions about what air power could do - that it could accurately hit strongpoints and clear enemy barbed wire.  The Army Air Corps leadership was perpetually optimistic about their abilities and too focused on the strategic bombardment of Germany to give much attention to the support of ground troops.  It was a mission that had never been done before, and it relied on a new radar system.  Nevertheless, there was no training.

Because it was an early morning landing, the naval bombardment was shorter than it could be.  Much of the naval bombardment focused on counter-battery fire by battleships.  Bombardment of the beach defenses would be conducted by cruisers and destroyers begining only 20 minutes before landing, with battleships lending help only after counter-battery fire was done.  Immediately upon landing, the bombardment would shift inland.  The planners did not want the naval or air bombardment to create so much destruction as to hamper buildup of the beach-head or to create water filled craters which might drown the assault force.  At any rate, only two battleships, four cruisers, and 12 destroyers would conduct the bombardment, completely inadequate as doctrine stated.  Landing craft equiped with rockets would also be used in the final seconds before landing; Their firepower was enormous, but it was not matched by their accuracy, which was sadly lacking.  The early morning landing also meant that the landing craft were loaded and approached the shore during darkness.  Many of them would land far off course.  In essence, the Allied plan featured all the problems of a night attack, without the benefits of one, and without the benifits of a daytime attack either.

The plan for clearance of beach obstacles was also flawed.  Bradley rejected advice from his corps commander, Gerow, and the navy, to give more time, pre-invasion, to clear beach obstacles.  As a result, the engineers landed with the assault infantry and had enormous difficulty due to enemy fire combined with a rising tide.  Tank support, which might have helped alleviate all the other issues that the assault faced, was lacking because many of the amphibious duplex drive tanks were launched too far from shore and quickly swamped.  Of the tanks available, none were the British 'funnies' specially designed for beach assault tasks like mine clearing or flame throwing into pillboxes.  The British offer of these vehicles had been declined.  

The composition of the assault was also an issue.  Instead of having men from a single division land on Omaha beach, two regiments from two different divisions were landed.  The purpose of this was to make the move inland and laterally from the beach-head easier, but it complicated the command of the assault itself.  When the beach was initially selected, it had few defenders.  Over time, though, more Germans arrived, but changing the assault to another beach was never seriously considered.  In addition, the Germans had placed a new unit on the beach defenses, the 352nd Division, but Allied intelligence, despite having broken the German codes, and despite help from the French Resistance, failed to detect the new position of the 352nd.  

Landing Craft and Beach Defenses

Normandy American Cemetery

Vierville Draw

Les Moulins and St. Laurent Draws

Colleville Draw

Cabourg Draw

These maps from the US Army are a handy reference for this confusing battle.


From left (west) to right (east), the draws are Vierville or D-1, Les Moulins or D-3, St. Laurent or E-1, Colleville or E-3, and Cauburg or F-1.

Copyright 2010 by John Hamill

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