Omaha Beach was the most intensely fought after beach on D-Day on June 6th 1944. Omaha Beach was six miles wide – the largest of all the five beaches. The whole of the beach at Omaha was overlooked by cliffs which made attacking the area very difficult. The Americans were given the task of doing just this.
The Germans had built formidable defences around Omaha. Rommel had built many of his ‘dragon’s teeth’ on the beach which were designed to take out the base of landing craft – and for good measure, the ‘teeth’ were also mined. Heavily fortified ‘resistance nests’ had been built on top of the cliffs and most German positions were connected by a system of trenches to allow for better movement of personnel. Gun emplacements had been designed to cover the beach.
Facing the Germans were troops from the US 1st Army led by Omar Bradley. The attack on the beach was timed for 06.30. The plan was to land infantry troops alongside armoured vehicles – amphibious Sherman tanks. Such a potent armoured force on the beach would have given the Americans far greater fire power against the Germans. However, the Shermans (DD tanks) never made it. It is now known that the 29 tanks were released from their landing craft too far away from the beach. There was a much greater swell further out to sea than the Americans had bargained on and all but two of the DD’s were swamped with water very soon after leaving their landing craft. Once they started to sink, nothing could be done to help them or the crew. But it also meant that troops on the beach, expecting armoured cover, did not get it.
Another problem faced by the Americans was that many units were landed in the wrong place. Strong tides and winds carried many landing craft off line and when troops did land, confusion ensued as to which unit was where and what is was meant to do.
The landings at Omaha is most remembered for the casualties the Americans took there. the German gun emplacements had been well placed. German machine gun fire tore into the American troops. The seawall on the beach offered some salvation – but the sprint needed across the beach to the wall proved fatal for many.
The only way off the beach was to scale the cliffs. Led by US Rangers, this is how the Americans escaped from the beach. Small naval craft had got as close in as they could and attacked the German gun emplacements. Their impact was important as they took away the Germans desire to solely concentrate on the Americans on the beach. By midday, German resistance was considerably lessened. By nightfall, the Americans had gained a hold on the beach and its immediate hinterland. The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties at Omaha – and this is principally why the attack is remembered. It is easy to overlook the fact that despite the casualties, 34,000 troops had been landed by the end of the day on this blooded beach.