History of the Second World War, Volume 5

UTAH BEACH: 12 MEN KILLED At 0200 hours on June 6 the leading ships of Force U organised in 12 convoys comprising 865 vessels commanded by Rear-Admiral Moon USN moved into their assembly area 12 miles off the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula opposite the dunes of Varreville —Utah Beach. The assault upon Utah Beach on the extreme western flank was virtually an isolated operation. If all else failed it might have been reinforced to establish a bridgehead to cutoff the Cotentin Peninsula gaining Cherbourg as a major port from which to mount some subsequent effort. In that event Overlord would be more.no Field Order 1 states: '7th Corps assaults Utah Beach on D-Day at H-Hour and captures Cherbourg with minimum delay. Steadily in the hours before dawn the orders to 7th Corps reduced down to those few who would debouch into the shallows of the un­friendly sea. The 4th Infantry Division would establish the bridge­head the 8th Infantry Regiment leading —the 1st Battalion on the right 'Green beach the 2nd Battalion on the left 'Red beach two companies of each battalion forward 30 men to each landing craft five landing craft to each company 20 landing craft carrying 600 men in the van with two companies of the 70th Tank Battalion in the first wave (see map on pages 1806/07). Behind them wave upon wave of their fellows and the waves of the sea H + 5 H+15 H+17 H+30 on and on through all the day and night and beyond infantry armour, engineers into the shallows through the obstacles the mine-fields, over the beaches the seawall the causeways the floods inland to the villages and fields 27 miles across the neck of the peninsula, Carentan to Lessay north to Cherbourg. H-Hour on the western flank was 0630 hours but along the in­vasion beaches tidal-variations decreed four different H-Hours from right to left from Utah Beach to Sword Beach a span of one hour and 25 minutes. But the men on the right were in their own cocoons of loneliness. Now in the bitter morning they were being buffeted in the shallow draft vessels the dark sky above them wild with the roar of aircraft the crescendo rising the blasting roar of the main armament the scream of shells and all around a turbulence of men and craft. To the left for nearly 50 miles variations on the theme were un­folding over the waters Omaha Gold Juno Sword and over the dark shore-line from end to end the dust was rising blasted in towering columns by shells and bombs to hang an opaque and ominous curtain above the stage. Enemy shells air-bursting over the water the spasmodic ex­plosions of mines the shouts of men floundering arms flung out,weighed down by equipment created an uproar in the mind and senses in which the last cries of the lost the total personal tragedies, were moreno than the plaintive squeakings of mice in a cage of lions. The 60 men of Battery B 29th Field Artillery Battalion be­came a statistic on the debit side dark shadows threshing in the underwater the water part of the pattern at the bottom of the sea. But the pattern advanced untroubled by calamity the second wave the bulldozers on their craft the special engineer units all in position the heavy armament of the bombarding squadron blasting the grey dawn to crimson shreds 40 minutes togo. Some 276 aircraft of the US 9th Air Force roaring in over the beach defences delivering their bombs 4404 bombs each of 250 pounds upon seven targets, 'according to the book. Seventeen of the 33 supporting craft seemed to tear the crackling scalp off the universe in an unbearable rasping agony as their mat­tresses of rockets shuddered inshore. Other craft were machine- gunning perhaps in the hope of detonating mines perhaps simply to boost morale but all 'drenching the beaches with fire. About 700 yards togo and on time ten assault craft 300 men on the left ten assault craft 300 men on the right in their wakes 28 DD tanks swimming slopping the choppy water across their grey backs the long muzzles of their guns like snouts a seeming miracle thanks to the bold initiative and swift decision of their commander to launch inclose at 3000 yards 'not according to the book. The beach was almost invisible behind the sand pall blasted by gunfire and bombs joining it to the sky and in it under it the enemy —if there could bean enemy! Some 67 of the bombers had failed to release their bombs one- third of the remainder had fallen between high and low watermark, the bulk of the rest on the fortifications of La Madeleine. A swift painless landing Out of the leading wave of the assault craft smoke projectiles hurtled to the sky demanding silence from the gunners of the bombarding force. About 300 yards togo and the ramps down 300 men of the 2nd Battalion waist deep in water floundering finding their feet, wading in rifles held high to the dry sand and the sudden upsurge of spirit. Normandy the first men ashore and not a shot out of the haze of battle the grey shapes of the tanks crawling up out of the sea in their 'skirts striking terror to the few who still uplifted their heads in the defences and dared to afire few wavering shots, 'desultory fire. These few men and their comrades in the van landing within minutes on their right did not know that the south-easterly set of the tide had carried them more than a mile south of their target. It was a fortunate chance. Two hours later the leading troops were off the beach. The enemy strongpoints yielded to mopping-up opera­tions in company strength and the seawall did not demand assault. Six battalions of infantry had begun to move off the beach by 1000 hours and little more than an occasional air burst hampered the engineers at their toil or reminded them of their extreme vulner­ability as they placed their charges by hand. By noon the beach had been cleared at a cost of six men killed and 39 wounded out of the 400 involved in static roles all of them sitting ducks without cover, and without armour. Shortly after midday three battalions of the 22nd Infantry Regi­ment were moving north to open the northerly exit the 3rd Battalion along the coast road to anchor a flank on Hamel-de-Cruttes the 1st and 2nd Battalions wading diagonally and miserably waist deep, and often armpit and neck deep across the floods all the way to St Ger main-de-V arreville. The 12th Infantry Regiment found the going worse wading from the Grand Dune position immediately backing the beach and cross­ing the line of march as they reached dry land many of them soaked to the ears. In all that day the 8th and 22nd Infantry Regiments lost 12 men killed. Twenty times the number would have been counted fortu­nate 100 times the number a misfortune to be looked for. A single resolute man armed with a flintlock could have accounted for more than 12 men on the beach in the first half-an-hour including a brigadier-general and a colonel. The struggle of the 4th Infantry Division was mainly against the forces of nature which were con­siderable. Eastwards it was different. OMAHA BEACH: THE BLOODBATH The beach of Omaha lies between the outcropping rocks of Pointe lade Percee in the west and Port-en-Bessin in the east a shallow arc of sand enclosed inland by bluffs rising in a gentle slope 150 feet to a plateau of tiny hedge-enclosed fields deep lanes and scattered hamlets built solidly of stone. It is a thinly populated region the largest village Trevieres 3 or 4 miles inland on the south side of the Aure river counting not more than 800 inhabitants. Three coastal villages Vierville St Laurent and Colleville lie behind the beach at regular intervals a mile and a half apart and linked by a narrow lane from 500 to 1000 yards in from the shoreline. A stretch of paved promenade along the 'front and with a score or more of good houses between Vierville Stand Laurent backs a low seawall of masonry and wood. Gullies opening from the beach give access up narrow lanes to the villages. At low tide the sands slope gradually to the seawall and in places to a heavy shingle bank of stones 3 inches in diameter a barrier 8 to 10 feet high between the beach and the reedy grasses of the bluffs. 1800
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