Omaha Beach - Vierville Draw
The western half of Omaha Beach was assigned to the 116th RCT of
the 29th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit from Virginia and
Maryland with additional troops from other parts of the US.
Vierville Draw was the westernmost of the five beach exits necessary
to bring follow-on troops and equipment inland. With a good
hard-surface road, Vierville Draw was the best of the beach exits.
The invasion plan was to attack these exits directly, with the
hope of a quick and easy capture with minimal casualties. An air
attack from heavy bombers along with a naval bombardment was supposed
to leave any surviving German defenders dazed and confused. In
reality, the naval bombardment was short and largely ineffective
against German defenses which were well hidden and
often positioned to rake the beach with little exposure from
the sea side. The heavy bomber bombardment was even more
disappointing. With low visibility in the early morning, and with
the bombers approaching directly across the beach instead of along it,
the airmen released their bombs late for fear of killing the
men approaching the beach in landing craft. The bombs fell
farmland far inland, leaving the beach defenses untouched. The
landing craft had been loaded and launched ten miles out due to
concerns of German artillery. Low, early morning, visibility
hindered the men steering the landing craft ashore, which, combined
with rough seas and strong currents, meant that many units would go
ashore in the wrong places. Rough seas also played havoc with two
battalions of duplex drive tanks, tanks with canvas screens for
floatation and propellors for propulsion. With the duplex drive
tanks largely out of action, conventional Sherman tanks landed from
landing craft were left to carry the load. While the British
developed and used specialized tanks, 'funnies', for things like mine
clearing or flame throwing, the Americans refused a British offer
to loan some of the vehicles.
This is the view from a post-war pier off of Vierville Draw. High
tide is shown here, which is not hisorical. The date and time of
the invasion was set for the lowest
possible tide, so that German beach obstacle would all be above water
of little threat to the landing craft. At the time of the initial
landings, about 6:30am, the waterline was approximately 300 to 400
yards out. The invasion plan was for Company C of the 2nd Rangers
to land to the right of the draw in two LCAs. Company A of the
116th would land from six LCAs with three boats on either side of the
draw. To the left of Co A, it was intended that Companies G, F,
and E of the 116th would simulataneously land on the next mile of
beach and advance inland along with Co A and the 743rd Tank Bn.
In reality, poor visibility from brush fires (caused by the
bombardment) along with strong currents took Companies G, F, and E far
off course. Co E was a full mile off course and fought with the
1st Division. Companies F and G landed near Les Moulins
Draw, the next beach exit. This left Co A, 116th and Co. C,
Rangers to attack Vierville Draw alone. Bad luck continued as one
of the six boats transporting Co A sprung a leak and sank, resulting in
one man drowning and the rest of the men struggling to stay afloat
being rescued. The remaing five boats continued on and beached.
The bow ramps dropped, and the men began to exit single file and
advance through the surf to the beach. Although the men had been
told that the naval and air bombarments would make them witnesses to
'the greatest show on earth', there was no damage to speak of.
German defenses appeared untouched, and there were no shell
few Sherman tanks were to their left. In front was an assortment
of beach obstacle, then behind a wall 9 feet high and 125 feet long,
were two German pillboxes, strangley silent. Were they
manned? Bursts of machine gun fire from the pillboxes soon
answered the question. The Germans had waited until all the
Americans were off the boats and vulnerable. It was a slaughter.
Of the 155 men who landed with Co A, 116th, 91 were
killed that day, and most of the rest were wounded, all but 15. Nineteen of
the dead were from Bedford, Virginia, including two brothers, Raymond
and Bedford Hoback. Cpt Taylor Fellers of Bedford and every one
of the men who came ashore from his boat was killed. Co
A's survivors fell back to the surf, behind obstacles, or behind
Meanwhile, the 65 men of Co C, 2nd Rangers, in two boats, under Cpt
Ralph Goranson had had their own troubles. The original plan was
for the Rangers to shift left, or east, along the beach, then pass through
Vierville Draw which was to have been captured by the 116th Regiment. The Rangers would then capture a
German strongpoint at Point de la Percee from the landward side.
On the way in, the men were singing in the boats on account that June 6th
was one of the men's wedding anniversary. The singing
stopped, however, when the Germans opened fire with an 88mm gun,
hitting one of the LCAs and causing 12 casualties before the boats even
landed. Once beached, the Rangers hurried across the beach
through German fire to the foot of the cliffs. Only about 30 of
the original 65 Rangers made it to the cliffs. Seeing the
disaster that had befallen Co A, 116th, it was time for a new plan.
Shifting about 300 yards westward, or right, along the cliffs, they began to
climb, hoping to reach the top and take the German positions from the
rear. Goranson himself nearly became a casulty from a grenade
thrown from atop the cliff. Unlike the Rangers at Point du Hoc,
Goranson's men lacked climbing equipment, but they were able to ascend
the 100 foor cliffs with bayonets and toggle rope.
|| Wartime view down the beach toward where Goranson's men
went ashore and climbed the cliffs. The pillbox enfilading the
beach, still extant, is prominent.
|| At around 7:15, the second wave began to approach the
beach - Companies B and D in twelve LCAs and 1st Bn HQ and medics in
three LCAs. By the time they saw that the first wave was
shattered, it was too late to divert to another beach. In the
boat carrying Cpt. Zappacosta of Co. B, only one man survived the
landing. In another boat, an 88mm round came through, destroying
the ramp, destroying the doors while killing Cpt Schilling, the CO of
Company D and
blinding the platoon sergeant. Like the first wave, the second
wave took heavy casualties and were pinned down. Company D, 116th
had 5 of its 9 officers killed and 10 sergeants killed. One of
the survivoring sergeants of Co. D, Robert Slaughter of Bedford,
Virginia many decades later
would spearhead efforts to get the National D-Day Memorial built in
Bedford. He later write a book about his wartime experiences.
(Co. D is not shown on the map for some reason.) Three
LCAs with Co. B men successfully diverted 1,000 yards further
Cliffs to the West of Vierville Draw
By 7:15, about when the second wave was landing, Goranson himself
had climbed the cliffs. This may have been in the notch shown
here. (see wartime photo below) Goranson soon made the
decision to move east to capture the defenses around Vierville.
Lt. William Moody and six Rangers found the 'fortified
house' along the cliff unoccupied but heard Germans just beyond it in
WN 73. Moody was soon killed by sniper fire, but more Rangers
arrived, and they captured the German strongpoint. A boat team
from Co. B, 116th assisted the Rangers. The men here had done a
great deal to make Vierville Draw safe.
|Where Goranson's Company Scaled the cliff
View From Atop the German Pillboxes
The Eastern of the Two Beach Pillboxes
The pillbox was camoflauged to look like beach house from the front. Note all the wire in front of it.
||The pillbox is now a monument to the National Guard.
The pillbox at left was positioned to fire along the beach, making it especially dangerous to landing troops.
This is the view from a little further up the bluff. The pillbox is the flat area in the lower left-center of the photo.
Copyright 2010 by John Hamill