Operation Overlord…

Better known as D-Day, took place 75 years ago today.

Into the jaws of death- A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. American soldiers encountered the newly formed German 352nd Division when landing. During the initial landing two-thirds of Company E became casualties.                                    By Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent

I have talked to veterans who made that landing, and I cannot imagine, even after talking to them, how they managed to steel themselves to take those first steps off the landing craft, much less charge across that beach.

Originally scheduled for 5 June, Mother Nature reared her head, and it had to be postponed a day.

The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfactory on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach, while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open. Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing: high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.

It was not just Americans that put their lives on the line that day.

US zones

Commander, First Army (United States): Lieutenant General Omar Bradley. The First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.

Utah Beach
Omaha Beach

British and Canadian zones

Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey. Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British. The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons, and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships. The RAF supplied two-thirds of the aircraft involved in the invasion.

 

Gold Beach
Juno Beach
Sword Beach

79th armoured division badge.jpg 79th Armoured Division provided specialised armoured vehicles which supported the landings on all beaches in Second Army’s sector.

156,000+ men hit those beaches, supported by the invasion fleet, which was drawn from eight different navies, comprised 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.

The butcher’s bill was high. The First U.S. Army, accounting for the first twenty-four hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded. The after-action report of U.S. VII Corps (ending 1 July) showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 prisoners, and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.

  • Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed.
  • Surprisingly, no British figures were published, but Cornelius Ryan cites estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing, including 650 from the Sixth Airborne Division.
  • German sources vary between four thousand and nine thousand D-Day casualties on 6 June—a range of 125 percent. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s report for all of June cited killed, wounded, and missing of some 250,000 men, including twenty-eight generals.
  • French civilian casualties were around 15,000 for the month of June.

(Courtesy of Historyonline.net, HERE)

75 years on, few of the survivors are left, and even fewer will make that trip across the pond again. They truly were the greatest generation of American service men and women for what they did over the 4 years of the war, and especially on 6 June, 1944.

Hand Salute!

Ready, Two.

Comments

Operation Overlord… — 17 Comments

  1. My uncle was in a glider regiment of the 101st Airborne. Was in Normandy, Market-Garden, the Bulge, earned a bronze star, purple heart with oak leaf cluster…but my mom said he wouldn’t talk about any of it. The only story he told was about the Bulge. When the sky cleared the C-47’s flew low and dropped crates of potatos without parachutes. They smashed in to the ground making mashed potato-wood splinter mush. Sadly, he died of lung cancer when I was still very young.

  2. I had an uncle at the Bulge, and like Larry’s uncle, he didn’t talk about it.

  3. There was a lot of carnage, and if the dominoes had fallen another way, we might not have made it off the beaches and established a foothold on mainland Europe. But because of courage on an unimaginable scale, we prevailed. The greatest generation.

    sic transit gloria mundi

  4. I know it was in reference to Iwo, but Nimitz’s quote is also applicable to D-Day participants – “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” I can’t imagine the courage it took for those boys to get on the Higgins boats that morning, get off the boats onto the beach, and charge across the beach while their friends were being cut down all around them. May we always honor the service and remember the sacrifice of those who have made and preserved this nation’s freedom.

  5. Amen to the comments above.

    My father landed with the second wave coming onshore at Utah, after D-Day, then fought across France. AAA gunner on quad .50s (the light company in the battalion), which meant air defense and close fire support on several occasions. He received a Purple Heart at Battle of the Bulge, and was part of the unit grab-bag sent to exploit and hold Remagen Bridge: “shoot up or shoot down anything that’s not friendly!” Very late in life he hinted at the combat on the north flank with 9th Army, noting that when you put several AAA battalions in the line, it’s a wall of machine gun and medium cannon fire, and hard to get infantry through it. Also noted that 105mm howitzers made a great impression on tanks, when in direct fire over iron sights. It was a dire emergency and all the available firepower got moved into the line with orders to stop and hold. That Purple Heart was for what became life-long health complications.

    Bless him, and bless all the ones who never made it off or onto the beaches.

  6. Amen, truly “The Greatest Generation”

    Getting a little dusty here. My late father was in the first unit sent directly to France from the states, landed at Normandy on D+60. He often commented that he was damned glad he missed the “fun” of the invasion. Subsequently he was wounded in the “Battle of the Dykes” in Holland, was in a fixed defensive position on the Roer River holding the northern hinge of the Bulge. Purple Heart, and Bronze Star with cluster. Age has taken too many of our heroes.

  7. Let us use this D-Day to remember all the D-Days. Those leading up to this day and those after.

    In a lot of ways, the lessons learned at Makin and Tarawa were used effectively in Normandy. Get fire support NOW. Get vehicles landed NOW. Get an overage of supplies landed NOW.

    Normandy was a perfect storm of equipment, supplies, ships, planes, men, will and fortitude.

    (I used to re-read Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day” starting the night of June 5th. Haven’t done it in years. I feel the need to start that tradition again.)

  8. I do not know that I have ever spoken to/with a D-Day vet. I might have, I might not have. At a grandfather’s funeral in the early 1980’s a couple fellows were conversing about they were the coldest they ever were in France. This did not make immediate sense, until the time was asked. “1944” was all I needed to hear to comprehend. Beyond their talk of cold, there were no other details others heard.

    A fellow I know, who served in the Pacific theater, tells exactly ONE story of his time there – and that one is about a local fellow in an O-club in Australia who had drunk too much and couldn’t find the restroom/exit-to-privy… and so ‘watered the plants’… which got him (and the lot?) tossed out. Anything else? The closest is when he & Ma went to see some war movie and there was a scene of island landing and the carnage.. he leaned over and quietly remarked, “Yeah, it was like that.”

  9. All- Thanks for the comments, and here’s a snippet from the Navy’s view… Although the Germans fought ferociously at the other four Normandy beaches, those landings went relatively well. But at Omaha, the Germans were winning, when several U.S. destroyers, acting on their own initiative, closed to within 800-1,000 yards of the beach (one to 400 yards, close enough to be hit by rifle fire,) and found ways to innovate on the spot to provide fire support to troops without benefit of shore spotting (most of the troops’ radios had been lost in the surf.) By 0950, all the U.S. destroyers plus three British destroyers were ordered to close the beach, risking mines, shore battery fire and the likelihood of running aground in the shallows. As the fire from the destroyers finally began to take a serious toll on the German defenders, in one of the most extraordinary acts of mass courage in the history of the United States Army, with many of their leaders dead, the surviving soldiers fought their way up the 100-foot bluffs backing the beach. It was this epic bravery by the U.S. Army soldiers that carried the day at bloody Omaha Beach, and their extraordinary valor should never be forgotten. However, in the words of the Chief of Staff of the 1st Division, Colonel Stanhope Mason, “without that gunfire (from the destroyers,) we positively could not have crossed the beaches,” or perhaps in the words of the V Corps Commander, Major General Leonard Gerow, after he finally got ashore, “Thank God for the U.S. Navy.”
    There are no comprehensive figures for U.S. Navy casualties on D-day that I can find, although one footnote in a medical report gives a number of 363 dead and 2,020 wounded. During the dedication of the Navy Memorial at Normandy in 2008, the figure of 1,068 Navy dead was cited, but not from an authoritative source, and that number would certainly include losses in the weeks before and after D-Day. In almost every account of D-Day, Navy losses are just rolled into overall Allied losses, generally considered to be about 10,000 casualties, of which 2,500 died (although recent research suggests a significantly higher toll of about 4,500 dead, mostly on Omaha Beach.) Navy personnel climbed Pointe du Hoc with the Army Rangers, parachuted in with the airborne troops, manned the landing craft (along with many U.S. Coast Guard coxswains,) and served in numerous roles in the first waves of the landing, suffering high casualties; determining exactly how many of those men died is a challenge.
    The U.S. Navy did of course keep an accurate count of how many warships were lost, and in that regard, the week after D-Day was much more costly to the Navy than D-Day itself. The largest U.S. Navy ship lost on D-Day was the destroyer USS CORRY (DD-463) hit by German shore fire and then probably succumbing to a mine in the opening moments of the bombardment of Utah Beach, in addition to the Minesweeper OSPREY (AM-56,) and numerous amphibious craft, including nine LCI’s and 26 LCT’s. But in the days that followed, the destroyers GLENNON (DD-620) and MEREDITH (DD-726,) destroyer escort RICH (DE-695,) the minesweeper TIDE (AM-125,) five LST’s, and the troop transport SUSAN B. ANTHONY (AP-72) were sunk by the Germans, mostly by mines, as they protected the vital flow of more troops and supplies into the Normandy beachhead.

    • I worked with a man that was a coxswain at Normandy. Like everyone else, he wouldn’t talk about it.

  10. Hi Jim
    Your first pic of E/16 1st Inf div is very cool. I am proud to be a former member of C/2/16 1st Inf Div. they landed on Omaha as well, and followed the rangers up the cliff earning the nickname “rangers” on that day. The story I get is as they followed the rangers up, the Germans couldn’t tell when the Rangers stopped and the 2/16 started.
    Follow this link, then scroll down to the WWll section
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Infantry_Regiment_(United_States)

  11. I remember being in a small hotel in Bayeaux, Normandy in 1990 or ’91. Had a beer with a somewhat older German whose Uncle had been in that battle. Interesting experience.

  12. Some old guy put in a request to the gun club , about wanting a ride to the show. He could not drive anymore. So I started offering him a ride every month. And chatting up. “Must have been in the war, yeah?” “Paratrooper, F company,505th,82nd.” He fought through Sicily, Italy, and jumped as a pathfinder on D-Day.
    Went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam. Was a US observer with the French-Dien Bien Phu .Tough old guy!