In the early morning hours on June 6th more than 156,115 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of the Normandy coast. The assault included 6,939 ships and landing vessels, 2,395 aircraft, and 867 gliders that delivered airborne troops. Across the six mile length of Omaha Beach, approximately 1,028 vessels bobbed in the rough seas of the English Channel off the coast of Omaha Beach, hidden by the early morning fog, awaiting the signal to attack.
As we followed the footpath and crested the rise to our viewing point of Omaha Beach we instantly understood the exposure the Allied troops faced as they swam from their boats, peppered with destructive minefields. Depending upon the tide, the beach is extremely deep and flat with its cliffs ranging from 10 to 100 feet in height. It was a perfect killing zone for the German’s perched above and within their concrete bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer Battery.
The night before the invasion, paratroopers in gliders silently sailed above the German’s heads and into the Normandy countryside with the goal of approaching the German rear flank to attack in order to improve the odds of success on the beach. Unfortunately, many of the gliders sailed off course, depositing the troops in unexpected and unknown places, resulting in the paratroopers losing precious time to improve the odds of success in the beach invasion.
We witnessed one such example in the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise where a paratrooper’s (i.e., John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry) parachute caught on the spire of the church. John hung limply in his harness while watching members of his troop bravely fight the Germans in the village below. He was ultimately taken prisoner by the Germans whereupon he later escaped and rejoined his division. This incident is portrayed in the movie The Longest Day.
In total, 2,000 US servicemen died attempting to penetrate the German line to secure Omaha Beach as a landing zone for the Allied forces to enter France to begin defeating Hitler and his successful invasion of Europe. After several key tactics failed, and with some ingenuity, the US Army was ultimately able to secure a small stronghold of the beach which became critical to the Allies’ ultimate success.
The American Cemetery of Colleville is located on the spot in which the first US casualties were buried. In gratitude for the assistance provided to rid France of Hitler, the French gave the US the 172.5 acres for the graves of 9,385 who lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. The cemetery lies alongside and overlooks Omaha Beach serving as a poignant reminder of the horrors of the D-Day landings. As you walk around the semi-circular garden entrance, the Walls of the Missing list the names of the individuals who have yet to be found. It is a profoundly moving memorial. The pristine white grave markers align in military precision, row upon row, in contrast to the brilliant green grass.
Our time in Normandy during our 21-day Paris, Normandy, Champagne, Loire trip with our guide from the Overlord tour company helped us appreciate the magnitude of what was undertaken by Eisenhower and our Allies as well as the sacrifices that were made to rid the world of the evils of the Nazi regime.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.