D-Day: Bravery on Omaha Beach

A D-Day invasion map. The red and black flag is the German flag.
German gun emplacement that was part of the Atlantic Wall.
The view from inside a German gun emplacement, or bunker, overlooking Omaha Beach.
Allied troops on a landing craft approaching the French coast.
U.S. troops dangerously wading onto the French shore.
German flag flown during the Nazi era.
Adolf Hitler.
Landing ships putting cargo ashore on Omaha Beach in mid-June 1944.
Normandy American Cemetary at Omaha Beach, France, the resting place of thousands of American soldiers who died during World War 2.

As explained in the previous chapter, the Allies had both failed to take out key Nazi gun emplacements and failed to give their foot soldiers cover ahead of their D-Day offensive into France. As a consequence, the first seaborne Allied troops to approach the fortified French coast were unprotected and met by an onslaught of rapid German machine gun fire. The arriving soldiers were now entering a death trap — and they knew it.

Stepping off their landing crafts in waist-high water on Omaha Beach, the first wave of American soldiers were sprayed by German bullets and mowed down like bowling pins. More Americans poured off the boats, with some, covered by human bodies in front of them, reaching the beach only to injure themselves on land mines. Lying immobile and hurting, the injured soldiers then became sitting ducks for the German shots to pick off, and if any of the injured Americans ever thought that hell existed on earth, they must have believed that this was it.

Warship to the rescue

The inferno on Omaha Beach continued for hours, with bunker-positioned snipers above the beach shooting multiple rounds at every human body in sight. Eventually though, to the assailed infantry’s great relief, American destroyer USS McCook came to their rescue. Driving riskily close to shore, the gun boat started to pound the German bunkers and ultimately cracked the defenses. The sheer number and bravery of the invading infantry soldiers, to Allied joy, then overwhelmed what was left of the resistance. Still, in all, thousands of soldiers on both sides died on D-Day, although none of the other four landing areas proved as deadly and difficult for the Allies to conquer as Omaha Beach.

Hitler controlling tanks

Apart from the much talked about seaborne forces, paratroopers carrying out sabotage behind enemy lines were important for the Allies’ ability to establish beachheads on the French coast. Also working in the invading forces’ favor, although in a different way, was Hitler’s insistence on personally controlling German tank movements, since it slowed down German decision making on troop movements. Even so, the invasion would be hard-fought, but ultimately the Allies got the foothold in France that they wanted, and June 6 1944 — D-Day — would become the start of the re-capturing of Western Europe and the beginning of the fall of the Third Reich.