|Vol. 1328||B a r t c o p . c o m||June 6, 2004|
ALLIES STORM ASHORE IN FRANCE
ORDER OF THE DAY JUNE 6, 1944
The Airborne Assault
As June 5 passed to the 6th, the soldiers of the US 82nd, 101st, and British 6th Airborne were in their planes and heading for France. These units were to secure important locations (towns, bridges, crossroads), interdict German reinforcements, and generally create chaos in the German rear areas. The American divisions were to land on the western flank near UTAH beach in the area around St. Mere-Eglise while the British hit the east flank in the area northeast of Caen astride the Orne River.
High winds, difficulty identifying drop zones and enemy flak made the landings very difficult. Most of the units were badly scattered. The 101st Division in particularly was scattered over a very wide area, some units missing their drop zones by dozens of miles.
In the pre-dawn confusion, many of the paratroops ended up fighting in very lonely groups of two or three men until they were able to collect more. Even in their greatly disrupted state, these detached fighters did manage to create great havoc in the German camp. In one of these battles, a trooper from the 101st Airborne was able to ambush and kill the commander of the 91st Air Landing Division, one of the best German units in Normandy.
The landings in the west were also greatly disrupted by flooded land. The area behind UTAH beach was very low, flat land and the Germans opened dikes and flooded this area. This measure lead to the deaths of many troopers, who burdened with their equipment, drown in the shallow waters.
Some groups were able to operate effectively after landing. One 82nd Division commander was able to assemble a company-sized force and stormed into St. Mere-Eglise, routing the Germans. The celebration over the victory was short lived as they soon discovered that a group of their comrades had come down in the town and were killed before they even reached the ground.
The British landings, although also widely scattered, were generally very successful. One group of glider troops was tasked with the destruction of a coastal artillery unit. The daring attack landed inside the defensive perimeter and after vicious hand-to-hand combat, the position was taken. In another instance, glider troops landed near two bridges, codenemaed "Pegasus Bridge", which were vital to the invasion. They too were captured in a daring coup.
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The Seaborne Attack
At 0630, the American landings started. On UTAH, things did not go quite according to plan. The preliminary bombardment had smashed the German defenses. However, the beach hit was over a mile south of the planned beach. Nonetheless, the troops of the US 4th Infantry Division went in. It turned out that this was a fortuitous move because the planned landing beach had heavier defenses and the naval fire had all but obliterated the German force on guard. Although the plan was of no use, the local commanders quickly made their reconnaissance and moved inland. Only 12 men were killed taking UTAH.
The landing at OMAHA was not to be as easy as UTAH. The planners knew that OMAHA was going to be tough. The terrain was particularly poor because the landing site was dominated by steep hills and in some places cliffs with narrow draws leading up to the high ground from the beach. Unknown to the planners, the Germans had moved in the battle hardened veterans of the 352nd Infantry Division to augment the defenses of the coastal division.
When the landing began, the US 1st and 29th Divisions met very heavy resistance. The supporting amphibious Sherman DD tanks were launched too far out to sea and of the 32 launched only 5 made it to the shore. Most of the artillery was also lost as the amphibious trucks (DUKW) were swamped in the heavy seas and sank. When the troops hit the beach, the surf, tide and the sailors inability to guide their landing craft through the mist, smoke and dust, they were badly mixed and confused. When the ramps finally dropped, the men were greeted to France with a hail of machinegun bullets and mortar shells. Many died before they could get out of the boats. The survivors crawled ashore and took cover behind the beach obstacles the Germans had place. Casualties were very heavy. The initial landing was pinned down and had failed to clear the beach.
Follow-up waves began to land. This simply increased the level of confusion on the beach. One critical operation that was hampered by this pile-up on the beach was the demolition of the beach obstacles. Lanes had to be cleared before the tide came up. Because of the congestion, the operation went poorly and few gaps were created.
At this critical point, with the situation on OMAHA beginning to completely break down, the invasion was saved. Individual privates, NCO, and officers began to organize the troops around them, rallying them and moving them, albeit at a crawl, forward, into the barbed wire and mine fields to close with the enemy.
Meanwhile, the British landings had started at 0730. The landings at GOLD beach went well. Here the British 50th Infantry Division, supported by the 8th Armored Brigade, the 47th Commandos and "funny" tank detachments from the 79th Armored Division. Resistance on the west half the beach was serious, but the east collapsed quickly as the British troops hit an 441st Ost Battalion (made up of former Russian POWs who chose to fight with the Germans rather than starve in the camps), which was all too happy to withdraw before combat began. Even so, the follow-up waves were delayed because of difficulties in clearing the obstacles. Even with these difficulties, the British were able to send armored columns forward and by the end of the day, were on the outskirts of Bayeux.
The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division supported by the Canadian 2nd Armored Brigade landed at JUNO. Nature provided a major difficulty at JUNO as a reef hampered navigation for the landing craft. German resistance was initially strong, but collapsed under the weight of the attack. The Canadians quickly moved inland, establishing contact with the British landing at GOLD beach, pushing a column to Evrecy, and meeting the counterattack of the 21st Panzer Division (see below for more on this).
The British 3rd Division supported by the 27th Armored Brigade and several Marine and Commando units landed at SWORD beach. This attack also met initially stiff resistance, but it was quickly overcome and the British pushed inland making contact with the paratroops on the Orne River and driving south to within 3 miles of Caen. At this point, they were met by elements of the 21st Panzer Division and the advance ground to a halt.
Back at OMAHA, by mid-morning, the situation was still grim, but units were moving forward. One of the first groups to move off the beach, were not actually at OMAHA but further to the west at Ponte du Hoe. Here, the 2nd Ranger Battalion was landed to suppress a suspected German heavy coastal artillery battery. The emplacements for the battery were located at the top of the 100 foot cliffs and from that position, the American beaches could be dominated. The rangers made the landing, scaled the cliffs, took heavy losses, and in the end found that the guns had not been emplaced. Nonetheless, they had gotten ashore and moved inland.
Other groups were also making there way up the narrow draws on OMAHA. The German fire was still heavy and machinegun fire tore into these groups. At this point, the naval commander decided to run his destroyers into shore so that they could use their 5" and 6" guns in direct self-observed fire on the German pillboxes. The dangerous move paid off and the fire support allowed the men in the draws to continue forward. By nightfall, the toehold at OMAHA was a mile deep. The cost was high. 3881 men were killed or seriously wounded here.
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The Other Side of the Beach
June 6th was a confusing and frustrating day for the Germans. For the most part, the German units in the 352nd, 711th and 716th Infantry Divisions stood there ground and fought the Allied advances, local reserves were sent to danger spots. The response of the 352nd Division was particularly good, but it was tactical in nature.
The failure of the German defense came because of greater faults. The seeds of their doom were planted long before the momentous day. Early on, there was a great controversy as to the deployment to meet the invasion. Rommel, the commander of the coastal defenses wanted a forward defense with a strong beach defense with tank reserves close at hand. He felt that the initial invasion had to be defeated in the first 24-hours, or it would not be defeated. His superiors had other ideas. They felt that the invasion should be met nominally and that strong panzer reserves should be held back for a strong counterattack weeks after the assault. In the end, neither side got what they wanted. Rommel was able to move a few divisions forward and the counterattack force was never as strong as the OKW commanders desired.
Because of this, only one armored division, the 21st Panzer Division, was in the area of the beaches on D-Day. The division was a true oddity in the German army. It had a hodge-podge of equipment, much of it based on captured French vehicles and modified locally. Although there equipment was odd, their commanders were seasoned veterans.
On D-Day, the Division was located east of Caen. After getting the initial reports of an airborne attack (the British 6th in this case), elements of the division were sent east to eliminate this threat. The scattered paratroops were easy targets for the tanks and mechanized infantry. However, as the seaborne attack moved inland, the crisis point shifted to the north.
By noon, the division had been ordered to attack the British beachheads. A battalion of infantry and the reconnaissance battalion were left to deal with the paratroops while the bulk of the division moved north of Caen between SWORD and JUNO beaches. A tank battle developed around Periers. Both sides took some losses. The British held their ground while the Germans moved off looking for a place to drive north again. These meeting engagements followed by redirection continued through the afternoon. By evening, elements of the division had reached the coast near Lion-sur-Mer, only to be met with a serious British attack. During the early evening and hours of darkness, the attackers withdrew from their salient between Caen and the coast.
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The Longest Day Comes to an End
At the end of the day, the Allies had won. Victory never comes cheap and the Allies took about 12,000 casualties. The Germans had lost about 7500 men. At no place did the Allies reach their over-optimistic planned D-Day objectives. However, at the end of this very long day, they had firmly established all of their beachheads. No one was going to expel them. The Allies had gambled, and they had won.
The price of Victory and Defeat
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