“Bob, get your head together,” (Robert Watson) told himself and kept repeating, “I don’t want to die here, I don’t want to die here.”
Nothing went as planned. In the predawn darkness, the craft carrying the tanks took longer than expected to form up, and the assault infantry hit the beach without armor protection. The various waves of landing craft became mixed up in the confusion. “Every landing craft was taking on water like crazy,” said Watson. LCVPs began sinking. Those that stayed afloat took enemy fire. “Landing craft were exploding around me.” Watson succumbed to seasickness and threw up. He was not alone. -Kevin M.Hymel-
As you are reading this, Men were fighting and dying on the early morning the 6th of June 1944, The start of Operation Overlord.
Two weeks ago, we were on our way to the Netherlands. We made a small detour, to visit Normandy, and in specific the museum at Utah Beach, part of the American sector during Operation Overlord. I think it is very important to remember what was done, and is being done for our freedom. D-day is a very big part of that. Most people in Europe live their lives in comfort and tend to forget what happened and what was done to get to this point. “That will never happen again”, yeah well, I would not be to sure about that, evil was defeated at that point, but do you really think that was it? Look what is happening right now in Europe.. where are we going? What will happen? Will we be able to live normal lives in a few years, or will we be restricted to gated communities? That is why we should remember.
If you are ever in Europe, or if you are from Europe, make sure you visit this museum at Utah Beach, there are many small museums all over Normandy, but this one stands out, lots of really good preserved gear and a complete B26 bomber, only one of six remaining.
After visiting Utah beach and Pointe du Hoc, we went to the American cemetery close to Omaha beach.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,385 of military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
The memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations; at the center is the bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” An orientation table overlooking the beach depicts the landings in Normandy. Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France.
Timeline Operation Overlord
Caen Canal, Benouville, Normandy
The invasion begins when three gliders carrying British airborne troops land silently behind German lines to seize a key strategic bridge. The gliders come down inside a ring of barbed-wire defences and halt within 50 yards of the bridge. This near-perfect landing will later be described as ‘one of the most outstanding flying achievements of the Second World War’.
Troops of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry charge the bridge. A 17-year-old German sentry and British Lieutenant Dan Brotheridge, whose wife is eight months pregnant, are killed, the first combat fatalities of D-Day. Within 10 minutes, this bridge and another vital objective are in British hands and the code-words ‘Ham and Jam’ are radioed to signify success. In a magnificent feat, the first British objective of D-Day has been captured. The location will go down in British military legend as Pegasus Bridge.
The objective of the US paratroops of the 82nd Airborne Division is captured after most of the Germans flee. Ste-Mère-Eglise becomes the first town in occupied France to be liberated. But the night drop has not gone well for the tough, elite American troops. Heavy cloud and intense anti-aircraft fire have thrown many of the C-47 transport planes bringing in 13,000 paratroopers off course. Many men are forced to jump when the planes are flying too low and far too fast. Thousands land in the wrong place. A few drown in the flooded Merderet valley. It takes most of the night for small groups to assemble and find their way to their objectives.
Ste Marie-du-Mont, Normandy
The commander of the German 6th Parachute Regiment, Colonel Frederick von der Heydte, confused by reports of the paratroop landings over a wide and disparate area, climbs to the top of the church tower in the small village of Ste Marie-du-Mont at dawn. He is stunned by the sight of hundreds of landing craft approaching the beaches a few miles to the east.
Omaha and Utah beaches, Normandy
H-Hour on the two US beaches at the western end of the landing zone. The landings are timed for low tide when mines and beach defences are all visible. But this leaves the first waves of troops with about 400 yards of exposed beach to cross under the direct fire of German guns before reaching even the limited shelter of the sea wall.
The Germans were expecting landings at high tide but are ready. Although the landings on Utah beach are blown almost a mile off target by wind and tide, they proceed and are largely successful.
The story on Omaha beach is very different. The Germans are well prepared with machine gun nests positioned to rake the beach with fire. Unknown to the Allies, the crack German 352nd Infantry Division has recently arrived to defend this sector.
The first troops landing on Omaha beach face a massacre. In Company A, 116th Infantry of the 29th Division, 19 men from the small town of Bedford, Virginia, are hit by machine gun fire – almost all the young males from this rural community die in minutes. Many wounded men drown as the tide rises. Total American losses for the day on Omaha beach are about 2,500 dead, one of the worst days in US military history.
Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, Normandy
H-Hour on the British and Canadian beaches, as the low tide is one hour later further east. The British use their armour far more effectively than the Americans, with many floating tanks coming ashore to provide vital assistance to the infantry.
On Gold beach there is stiff resistance around the seaside town of Le Hamel, but this is overcome. British troops advance three miles inland by the end of the day to the edge of Bayeux, with its tapestry of the Norman invasion of England. On Sword beach flail tanks clear routes through minefields for the infantry. Lord Lovat and his commando brigade lands to the sound of bagpipes and capture Ouistreham, then march inland and, with the pipes still playing, link up with the tiny force at Pegasus Bridge.
On Juno beach the Canadians have a much tougher time with heavy German shelling of their landing craft – 20 out of 24 in the first wave are lost. It takes the Canadians three hours’ bitter fighting to capture the town of St-Aubin-sur-Mer and crush resistance.
The English channel
From his command HQ on the battleship USS Augusta, General Omar Bradley, commander of the US landing forces, contemplates abandoning the disaster of Omaha beach. Supporting waves of US troops were about to be ordered to land on other beaches, leaving a vast hole in the centre of the invasion.
However, as he is considering this radical step, US destroyers risk beaching themselves by going close inshore to fire their 5-inch guns directly on to the German gun positions.
And on the beach, Brigadier General Norman Cota rallies his men, who have got as far as the sea wall, and encourages them to begin the assault that at last overwhelms the German defences. Cota wins a Distinguished Service Cross for getting his men to advance.
The BBC makes the first announcement that landings are taking place in northern France. In Britain people are both exhilarated and overwhelmed. Many realise this must be the long-awaited opening of the Second Front and, they hope, the beginning of the end of the war that has lasted for nearly five years.
People hover around radios all day, desperate for news. Workers in war factories stop work and sing ‘God Save the King’. Churches are filled with people praying.
The BBC broadcasts a part of Allied commander General Dwight Eisenhower’s speech to his men of the night before, calling the events a ‘great crusade’. He said:’The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.’ He had also written a short speech in case the landings failed, taking full responsibility. Across southern Britain, strangers stop American soldiers on the street and shake their hands.
Berchtesgaden, southern Germany
Hitler wakes up. Staff at his mountain retreat had refused to rouse him when first reports of paratroop landings and a potential invasion came in through the night. When he finally does get up, he disregards the reports of an Allied invasion in Normandy.
He lunches with the new Hungarian Prime Minister, telling him: ‘The news could not be better … Now we have them [the Allied armies] where we can destroy them.’
Hitler’s behaviour during the day is critical: only he has authority to launch the Panzer divisions held in strategic reserve against the landing beaches.
A row between Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, commander of German forces in the west, about the location of the reserves, is resolved by Hitler with a fudge: he will control the Panzer reserves, and they can go into action only on his command. In the early, critical hours of D-Day, no command is sent to the 21st Panzer Division waiting around Caen with engines running.
Thank you for remembering these great Warriors