76 years ago on this day the allied powers began the liberation of occupied Europe by landing in Normandy, France. ‘D-day’ would forever be etched in the annals of history as the day brave men fought to free the world from Nazism.
The Allied armada which crossed the Channel on D-Day, 6th June 1944, was the largest and most powerfully equipped invasion fleet in the history of warfare. Yet on at least one of the Normandy landing beaches, Omaha, there was real danger of the assault troops being flung back by the German defenders.
Omaha was the second landing area of the five along the Normandy coast, working from west to east. It comprised a superb defensive position, tailormade for devastating crossfire, with ample scope on its enclosing bluffs and the gradual slope that rose behind it for strong-points, concrete gun emplacements and machine gun posts. This was the mantrap that awaited 34,000 men of the US V Corps who set out in some 200 assault boats with 3,300 vehicles 12 miles (19.3 km) out to sea at 0300 on 6th June.
The boats were still 880 yards (804.6 meters) from Omaha when they came under a withering bombardment which sunk several of them. Other craft, which survived to reach the surf, became impaled on uncleared underwater obstacles. The soaked, seasick survivors staggered ashore into a hellfire of shells and bullets hammering at them through the savage winds that whipped the shore.
However, the catastrophe that seemed imminent was averted by the sheer weight of the invading forces. Behind the first wave of assault troops, follow up troops swarmed in, and American destroyers came sweeping to within 1,000 yards (914.4 meters) off the shore to blast the German strong points with their guns. As the day wore on, the Allied pressure built up, and men of the 1st Division, part of the first wave, were able to move up from the sea wall where enemy crossfire had pinned them for several hours.
In the afternoon, 1st Division survivors were slowly pushing their way up the slope and off the beach. The fighting was of the bitter inch by bloody inch variety, but the defending Germans, though they resisted savagely, lacked reserves. By nightfall, the lst Division, or rather the remnants of it, held a beachhead 8 miles long by 1.5 miles deep (12.8 x 2.4 km).
The fighting at Omaha was the toughest in the entire Normandy campaign.