I assume this beach scenario was typical on D-Day. (Graphic violence)
It shows a landing craft reaching the shore, where it lowers a hatch on the front of the craft, exposing the invading soldiers to a hail of bullets. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. The ones who survive seem to do so by hopping over the side of the boat into the water.
So why on Earth did the boats open at the front?
They still do it that way:
LCU Replacement in Preliminary Design, Anticipating 2022 Fleet Debut
If the beaches are heavily defended, the Navy is supposed to bombard them prior to the landing. Occasionally the military and naval planners have been known to make deadly mistakes.
As pointed out in the comments, the debouching troops and equipment hit the beach much more quickly when going out the front. If there is too much fire from that direction, they may leave the "door" shut, and may go over the protected side. But this slows down the process, and reduces the equipment load.
Amphibious warfare provides a list of amphibious operations for modern wars. My father came ashore this way at Anzio.
Image: Into the Jaws of Death: Troops from the U.S. 1st Division landing on Omaha beach as part of the Allied military campaign to free France from the stranglehold of Nazi Germany
The LCVP or Higgins boat was designed with one primary goal: to land a large number of troops quickly. Therefore it was important that:
- Troops can disembark as quickly as possible
- LCVPs can land right next to each other, maximising the total amount of troops disembarking
- After disembarkation, the craft can then reverse and return for more troops, evacuating the area for more LCVPs to land more troops
Given this, the solution, inspired by observations of Japan's Daihatsu-class, was to install a large bow ramp so the passengers (which could be jeeps) quickly disembarked from the front into shallow water, but the rest of the craft was still in deep enough water to be able to drive back out.
So why not use rear exits, especially since it's a common feature of modern IFVs like BMP, Merkava or Bradley? The difference is that the LCVP isn't amphibious; disembarking from its rear means troops could end up in deep water and potentially drown in full combat load which made them sink, while not giving them a great firing position and also blocking the LCVP's return trip. With amphibious landers like the BMP, the vehicle can drive onto dry land giving its disembarking passengers great cover.
It's debatable whether having rear exits and forcing troops to swim to the front is better than being able to land more troops simultaneously and overwhelm defenders, but what happened at Omaha beach is the result of multiple failures, and a situation where the LCVP's design simply wouldn't have made much difference either way.
Battle of Normandy
By the end of D-Day, 6 June 1944, over 160,000 Allied troops and 6,000 vehicles had crossed the Channel. The Allies had established a foothold on the beaches of Normandy. But they still had to break out, push the Germans back and liberate France.View this object
Troops wading ashore from landing craft, 6 June 1944
Troops wading ashore from landing craft, 6 June 1944
Normandy Landings: Canada on D-Day
On 6 June 1944, Canadian forces took part in the greatest amphibious operation in military history. Over 10,000 Canadian sailors in 110 warships, 15 RCAF squadrons and 14,000 soldiers took part in D-Day. Juno Beach, one of five assault beaches, was assigned to the Canadian Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade.
The invasion had been years in the planning. The Canadian disaster at Dieppe proved what an extreme challenge lay ahead. Finally, a target date was set, and the planners settled on the coast of Normandy. It would be risky. German forces in Normandy, led by the experienced General Erwin Rommel, had been strengthening the Atlantic Wall with millions of mines and obstacles.
Who were the Canadian soldiers? “You have to remember that we were young, irresponsible, and slowly growing up — but not normal growing up,” recalled Rolph Jackson of the Queen’s Own Rifles, “because we joined the army as kids and four years later we were at the beach.” Jackson was one of many veterans interviewed for Lance Goddard’s D-Day: Juno Beach, Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny (2004).
The flotilla of some 7,000 ships crossed the English Channel in churning seas and lashing winds. “Everybody was sick,” recalled Jack Martin of the Queen’s Own Rifles. “Our platoon commander…had to run to the side, and he puked and lost all his false teeth and everything there.”(L to R) Lieutenant E.M. Peto, Company Sergeant-Major Charlie Martin and Rifleman N.E. Lindenas, preparing to lay a minefield in Bretteville-Orgueilleuse, France, 20 June 1944. (Lieut. Frank L. Dubervill/Library and Archives Canada) | (Lieut. Frank L. Dubervill/Library and Archives Canada)
“Daylight. We had never felt so alone in our lives,” wrote Charlie Martin in Battle Diary: From D-Day and Normandy to the Zuider Zee and VE (1994), his memoir of the campaign. “There was mist and rain. Bernières-sur-Mer became visible. Fifteen hundred yards of beach stretched from the far left to the far right. Everything was dead quiet. It could have been a picture postcard of any one of a hundred tiny French beaches with a village behind — not the real thing.”
Despite the massive bombardment from the Allied battleships, the German bunkers and pillboxes, built of thick concrete reinforced with steel, proved resistant to anything but a direct hit. The soldiers would have to take them out one by one.
The first to reach the shore were the engineer units, which were tasked with clearing mines and obstacles from the beaches. The Germans responded with intense fire against both men and landing craft. At 0745 hours the tanks of the 1st Hussars, a regiment from London, Ontario, landed on the beach facing Courseulles-sur-Mer, followed by the Royal Regina Rifles. A few minutes later, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed west of Courseulles. Unlike the Regina unit, they landed before any tanks. Many died before they even reached the shore.
“You couldn’t stand still,” recalled Francis Godon of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, “because if you stand right there the machine guns are going to be after you. So long as you were moving — they were guessing.”
Francis Godon at training camp in North Bay, Ontario, 1942.
(courtesy Francis Godon/The Memory Project)
By 0800 hours the Canadians had secured their first beachhead at Courseulles-sur-Mer. The Royal Regina Rifles seized most of the German strong points. They had trained for house-to-house combat and now put that training to use, battling the Germans street by street.
Further west, the Canadian Scottish landed and quickly captured a German emplacement. They pressed inland towards Graye-sur-Mer, where they joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. The North Shore (NB) Regiment came under intense fire at St. Aubin-sur-Mer, where they faced a high seawall lined with German fortifications. It took most of the morning to move along the wall and outflank the defences.
“I was scared to death, there’s no doubt about that,” recalled Frank Ryan of the North Shore Regiment, “Anybody that says they weren’t scared, they’re lying.”
At 0812 the Queen’s Own Rifles landed at Bernières-sur-Mer. Many of the landing craft could not get all the way to shore because of sandbars and other obstacles and the men were forced to disembark in deep water. They waded in and raced across an open beach while under fire. The regiment lost 65 casualties in the first few minutes. Once they had secured the beach, they worked inland, crossing minefields while under attack from German defenders armed with machine guns and mortars.
As the tide rose, the beach became narrower, causing congestion of men and materials. Royal Engineers worked feverishly to open gaps or exits from the beaches, including the construction of ramps over the seawall. At the same time, Canadian soldiers moved inland, picking their way through the nests of snipers.
By 1000 hours the Canadians had succeeded in capturing all their preliminary objectives along the coast of Juno Beach, from St. Aubin to Courseulles. By noon every unit of the 3rd Canadian Division was on shore and the Royal Regina Rifles were engaged in a ferocious battle with the last great obstacle, a German fortification at Courseulles.
Although the invasion was a success, the planners had been overly ambitious. Only one Allied unit — Canada’s 1st Hussars — achieved all of its overall objectives that day, capturing the Caen-Bayeux highway intersection late in the afternoon.
As the adrenaline wore off, the men began to feel hungry. Many had not eaten for 24 hours. They did not exactly enjoy a feast. “Most of the time it was just eating these biscuits and sardines,” recalled Ernie Jeans of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. “Got sort of sick of eating biscuits and sardines.”
As the light faded, many Canadian units began digging in for the night. Some slept while others kept watch, prepared for a German counter-attack. Around the same time, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers fought their way into Villons les Buissons and Anisy. As darkness fell on Normandy, a wide stretch of land, 10 to 16 km deep, was controlled by Canadian forces. Operation Overlord was a success. The Atlantic Wall had been breached.
Canadians figured prominently in the victory and had paid a dear price as 359 soldiers had been killed, 584 wounded and 131 taken prisoner.Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière resting behind a Universal Carrier in a low ground position along the Normandy beachhead in June 1944. (courtesy Lieut. Ken Bell/Canadian Department of National Defense/Library and Archives Canada/PA-140849)
“It was awful,” recalled Captain Darius Albert, medical officer of Le Régiment de la Chaudière. “’I’d never seen so many wounded men. In the first two hours, I must have attended at least 200 of them. They didn’t scream or swear or shout. They just moaned.”
“Time has been as remorseless an enemy as the Hitlerjugend snipers in the hedgerows of Normandy, and far more enduring,” write Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton in Bloody Victory: Canadians And The D-Day Campaign 1944 (2002). Remembering those who fought in that distant battle is the least of the obligations we owe them.
Jack Hilton in the cockpit of the Hurricane Aircraft, part of 438 Fighter Squadron. Photo taken at AUX Airfield at Wellingore, England, 1942.
2. The D-Day invasion took years of planning.
Allied leaders Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill knew from the start of the war thatਊ massive invasion of mainland Europe would be critical to relieve pressure from the Soviet army fighting the Nazis in the east. Initially, a plan called “Operation Sledgehammer” called for an Allied invasion of ports in northwest France as early as 1943, but Roosevelt and Churchill decided to invade Northern Africa first and attack Europe’s “soft underbelly” through Italy.
Normandy: Why did the landing craft open on the front? - History
CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2
NORMANDY LANDINGS, Operation "OVERLORD"
Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries
(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)
Arcadia Conference - In late December and early January, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met in Washington DC. They agreed to the setting up of a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and to the defeat of Germany as the first priority.
Anglo-US Talks - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for another series of meetings with President Roosevelt. Agreement did not come easily on the question of where to open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the British considered this impossible at present and proposed the invasion of French North Africa.
19th - Raid on Dieppe: Operation 'Jubilee' - Un able to open a Second Front in Europe, the Western Allies decided to mount a large-scale raid on the French coast to take some of the pressure off the Russians. Dieppe proved an expensive but important lesson in the problems of landing in occupied Europe at a defended port.
Anglo-US Conference - Winston Churchill travelled to the Trident Conference for his third major meeting in Washington DC. The invasion of Sicily had now been agreed and he pressed for follow-up landings in Italy. The cross-Channel invasion of Europe continued to be a major topic of discussion and D-day was set for May 1944.
Normandy Invasion - In late December the commanders for the invasion of Europe were announced. US General Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander with Air Marshal Tedder as deputy. In charge of all naval operations under the code name 'Neptune' was Adm Sir Bertram Ramsey.
Air War - The Allied air forces concentrated their considerable energies against targets mainly in France, in preparation for the D-day landings.
6th - Normandy Invasion: Operation 'Overlord'
Following approval of the outline plans for the Allied landings in France at the August 1943 Quebec Conference, detailed preparation was put in hand for putting ashore three divisions on the Normandy coast between the Rivers Vire and Orne. Supplies were to be carried in initially through two 'Mulberry' artificial harbours. When Eisenhower and Montgomery arrived on the scene they insisted on a five-division assault, including one on the Cotentin Peninsula to speed up the capture of Cherbourg. The extra shipping and landing craft needed meant pushing the date from May to 5th June. Unseasonably bad weather postponed the actual landings to the 6th. After gaining bridgeheads in Normandy, Eisenhower's aims were to build up enough strength for a decisive battle in the area, before breaking out to take the Channel ports and reach the German border on a broad front. Meanwhile, the right flank would link up with Allied forces coming up from southern France. A further increase in strength would be used to destroy the German forces west of the Rhine before crossing this major barrier and encircling the important Ruhr industrial centre. The final advance through Germany could then follow. Vital to all these steps was the opening of enough ports to bring in the reinforcements and vast amount of supplies needed.
Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force - US Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower
Deputy Commander - Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder
Allied Naval Expeditionary Force
Adm Sir B Ramsey
21st Army Group
Gen Sir B Montgomery
Allied Expeditionary Air Force
Air Chief Marshall Sir T Leigh-Mallory
Gen Montgomery remained in command of ground forces until September 1944 when Gen Eisenhower assumed direct control. For the purposes of 'Overlord', RAF Bomber Command and the Eighth US Air Force were placed under the operational direction of the Supreme Commander to add to the aircraft of the Allied Tactical Air Forces.
From his headquarters outside Portsmouth on 1st June, Adm Ramsey took command of the immense armada of ships collected together for Operation 'Neptune', the naval part of 'Overlord'.
|Landing Areas:||Normandy coast on the SE edge of the Cotentin Peninsular ("Utah"), |
and between Rivers Vire and Orne ("Omaha", "Gold", "Juno", "Sword")
21st Army Group - Gen Montgomery
|Forces landing and areas of departure:||US Beaches |
US First Army - US Gen Bradley
"Utah" Beach - US 7th Corps from Dartmouth area
"Omaha" Beach - US 5th Corps from Portland area
"Omaha" Beach follow-up: one US infantry division from Plymouth area
|British & Canadian Beaches |
British Second Army - Gen Dempsey
"Gold" Beach - British 30th Corps from Southampton area
"Juno" Beach - Canadian forces of British 1st Corps from Portsmouth area
"Sword" Beach - British 1st Corps from Newhaven area
follow-up: British armoured division from Thames area
|Naval Task Forces and Commanders ( RN refers to both Royal and Dominion Navy vessels)||Western |
Rear-Adm A G Kirk USN
Rear-Adm Sir P Vian
|Battleships||3 US||3 RN|
|Cruisers||10 (5 RN, 3 US, 2 French)||13 (12 RN, 1 Allied)|
|Destroyers & escorts||51 (11 RN, 36 US, 4 French)||84 (74 RN, 3 French, 7 Allied)|
|Other warships, incl. minesweepers & coastal forces||260 (135 RN, 124 US, 1 Allied)||248 (217 RN, 30 US, 1 Allied)|
|Total Warships||324 (151 RN, 166 US, 6 French, |
|348 (306 RN, 30 US, 3 French, |
|Major Amphibious Forces||Landing & Ferry Vessels||Landing & Ferry Vessels|
|LSIs, landing ships & craft||644 (147 RN, 497 US)||955 (893 RN, 62 US)|
|Ferry service vessels & landing craft||220 (RN & US)||316 (RN & US)|
|Totals incl. Warships||1,188||1,619|
|Plus minor landing craft||836||1,155|
1 battleship (RN)
118 destroyers and escorts (108 RN, 4 US, 1 French, 5 Allied)
364 other warships including coastal forces (340 RN, 8 French, 16 Allied).
(2) Western Channel Approaches A/S Escort Groups and reserves:
3 escort carriers (RN),
55 destroyers and escort vessels (RN).
(3) Merchant ships in their hundreds - mainly British liners, tankers, tugs, etc to supply and support the invasion and naval forces.
(4) British 'Mulberry' harbour project of two artificial harbours and five 'Gooseberry' breakwaters including:
400 'Mulberry' units totalling 1.5 million tons and including up to 6,000-ton 'Phoenix' concrete breakwaters
59 old merchantmen and warships to be sunk as blockships for the 'Gooseberries'. All were in place by the 10th June.
(5) Specially equipped British vessels for laying PLUTO - Pipeline Under The Ocean - across the Channel from the Isle of Wight to carry petroleum fuel.
The assault forces sailed from their ports of departure on the 5th to a position off the Isle of Wight, and headed south through swept channels down 'The Spout' towards Normandy. Two midget submarines were already on station off the British sector, ready to guide in the landing craft. Partly because of elaborate deception plans, partly because of poor weather, both strategic and tactical surprise was achieved. The invasion was not expected in such weather conditions and certainly not in Normandy. The Germans expected the Pas-de-Calais with its much shorter sea-crossing to be the target although realised that diversionary landings might be made in Normandy.
Soon after midnight on the morning of the 6th, the invasion got underway with the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions dropping behind 'Utah' beach and the British 6th Airborne between 'Sword' beach and Caen. At dawn, after heavy preliminary air and sea bombardments, and with complete Allied air supremacy, the landings went ahead. Royal Marine Commandos Nos 47, 48 and 41 took part in the assaults on the British and Canadian beaches. Against varying degrees of resistance, the toughest on 'Omaha', all five beachheads were established by the end of the day and 150,000 Allied troops were on French soil. 'Omaha' linked up with the British and Canadian beaches by the 8th, and two days later - the 10th - 'Utah' made contact with 'Omaha'. On the 12th, 330,000 men and 50,000 vehicles were ashore.
As US Seventh Corps fought its way across the Cotentin, the rest of US First Army thrust forward around St Lo. Further east the British and Canadian Corps of British Second Army battled their way around Caen against fierce German counter-attacks. By the 18th the Americans had reached the western side of Cotentin and Seventh Corps headed north for the port of Cherbourg.
Between the 19th and 22nd, violent Channel gales wrecked the US 'Mulberry' harbour off 'Omaha' and seriously damaged the British one off 'Gold' beach. Many landing craft and DUKWS were lost and a total of 800 driven ashore. Only the British harbour was repaired and the need for Cherbourg became even more important. By the 27th, with strong gunfire support from Allied warships, the port was in US hands. Although the installations were wrecked and the waters heavily mined, the first supply ships were discharging their cargoes by mid-July.
As Cherbourg fell, British troops of Second Army started a major attack to the west of Caen (Operation 'Epsom') but were soon held by the Germans.
By the end of June nearly 660,000 men had landed in France. Although the Allies were well established on the coast and possessed all the Cotentin Peninsular, the Americans had still not taken St Lo, nor the British and Canadians the town of Caen, originally a target for D-day. German resistance, particularly around Caen was ferocious, but the end result was similar to the Tunisian campaign. More and more well-trained German troops were thrown into the battle, so that when the Allies did break out of Normandy the defenders lost heavily and lacked the men to stop the Allied forces from almost reaching the borders of Germany.
Normandy Beaches - In spite of the vast number of warships lying off the Normandy beaches and escorting the follow-up convoys, losses were comparatively few, although mines, especially of the pressure-operated variety were troublesome:
6th - Destroyer "WRESTLER" escorting a Canadian assault group to 'Juno', was badly damaged by a mine and not repaired.
8th - Frigate "LAWFORD" on patrol in Seine Bay, also after escorting an assault group to 'Juno', was bombed and sunk.
9th - Old light cruiser "DURBAN" was expended off Ouistreham as one of the 'Gooseberry' breakwaters. Sister ship, the Polish-manned "DRAGON" was damaged in early July and joined her in this final but important role.
12th - By now the battleship "Warspite", the ship that ended the war with the greatest number of Royal Navy battle honours, had left her gunfire support duties off the Normandy beaches to be fitted with replacement gun barrels. On passage to Rosyth, Scotland she was damaged by a mine of Harwich and out of action until August. Then she returned in the support role bombarding Brest.
13th - Escorting a follow-up convoy to the beaches, destroyer "BOADICEA" was sunk in the English Channel off Portland Bill by torpedo bombers.
18th - Battleship "Nelson" was slightly damaged by a mine as she fired her guns off the beaches.
21st - Destroyer "FURY" was mined and driven ashore in the gales that played havoc with the Mulberry harbours. She was refloated but not repaired.
23rd - Adm Vian's flagship, the AA cruiser "Scylla", was also mined in Seine Bay. Seriously damaged, she was out of action until after the war and then never fully re-commissioned.
24th - Mines claimed another victim. Destroyer "SWIFT's" back was broken and she went down five miles off the British beaches.
25th - As cruiser "Glasgow" in company with US warships bombarded Cherbourg, she received several hits from shore batteries and was out of action for the rest of the war. Nine days after carrying King George VI on a visit to Normandy, cruiser "Arethusa" was slightly damaged by a mine or bomb while anchored off the beaches.
Three US destroyers and a destroyer escort were also lost off Normandy in June.
Channel Patrols - Attempts by German light forces to interfere with invasion shipping had little effect and they suffered heavy losses. However, on D-day, torpedo boats sank the Norwegian destroyer "SVENNER". Then on the night of the 8th/9th another force of destroyers and torpedo boats tried to break through from Brest but was intercepted by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of 'Tribals' off Ushant. Destroyer "ZH-1" (ex-Dutch) was damaged by "Tartar" and torpedoed and sunk by "Ashanti", and "Z-32" driven ashore by the Canadian "Haida" and "Huron" and later blown up.
Western Channel Approaches - Aircraft of Coastal Command and Escort Groups of the RN and RCN on patrol at the west end of the English Channel and its approaches were ready for any attempt by U-boats to reach the 'Neptune' ships. Only schnorkel-equipped boats dared try, and the few that did had little success. In June they lost 12 of their number: off the Channel, aircraft sank five including "U-629" and "U-373" in one day, the 8th, to one RAF Liberator of No 224 Squadron (Flg Off K. Moore). Two more went down in the Bay of Biscay as they returned from Atlantic patrol. Warships accounted for the remaining five, but two frigates were sunk and other escorts severely damaged:
15th - Frigate "BLACKWOOD" was torpedoed off Brittany by "U-764" and sank in tow off Portland Bill.
15th - Frigate "MOURNE" was sunk by "U-767" off Land's End.
18th - Three days after sinking "Mourne", "U-767" was caught off the Channel Islands by destroyers "Fame", "Havelock" and "Inconstant" of 14th EG and sent to the bottom.
24th - Destroyers "Eskimo" and Canadian "Haida" of 10th Flotilla, together with a Czech Wellington of No 311 Squadron, sank "U-971" off Ushant.
25th - Two U-boats were lost off Start Point in the English Channel - "U-1191" to frigates "Affleck" and "Balfour" of the 1st EG, and "U-269" to "Bickerton" (Capt Macintyre) of the 5th EG.
27th/29th - Two days after badly damaging corvette "PINK" (constructive total loss) on the 27th and sinking two merchantmen, "U-988" was caught and sank off the Channel Islands by frigates "Cooke", "Domett", "Duckworth" and "Essington" of 3rd EG and a RAF Liberator of No 224 Squadron.
Normandy to Berlin is continued in Western Front June 1944-May 1945
4. Naval bombardment was too short
To ensure surprise and make it more difficult for the Germans to rush in reinforcements it was decided that no extended pre-invasion bombardment, like those in the Pacific, would take place. The Navy needed daylight to be able to hit their targets the assault was to take place at low tide as early in the day as possible and the airborne forces needed a full moon for their part of the invasion.
These three constraints made it a compromise inevitable the Naval bombardment would start at first light and would fire on the beaches for only 30 minutes. Specially equipped landing craft would fire rockets which would be launched to cover the last stage of the assault crafts moving toward the beach however, these rockets mostly fell short.
The short bombardment did not enough damage, coupled with the failure of the air force the infantry now had to face virtually intact defenses.
Total Hell: The Story of Omaha Beach on D-Day
Here's What You Need to Know: For the American citizen soldiers who stormed the Atlantic Wall, D-Day left scarred bodies and seared memories.
As their landing craft plunged through heavy surf on the morning of June 6, 1944, it was obvious to the men of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 29th Infantry Division that the coming hour would be the gravest test of their lives. Assigned to the first wave of assault troops to land on Omaha Beach’s Dog Green sector, the troops were the spearhead of a massive Allied invasion aimed at breaking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
As the landing craft approached the beach, the soldiers inside could hear the telltale sound of machine-gun rounds striking the raised ramps. Private George Roach recalled that he and his fellow soldiers were well aware that their assignment to the first wave would result in heavy casualties. “We figured the chances of our survival were very slim,” recalled Roach.
At 6:30 am the landing craft carrying Company A quickly closed the distance to the beach. When it was about 30 yards offshore, the flat-bottomed vessel struck a sandbar. As the ramps were lowered, the troops were fully exposed to the fury of the German machine guns. Many of the first men who exited the landing craft were slain by machine guns positioned to have interlocking fields of fire. Their lifeless bodies toppled into the water. Some men chose in their desperation to jump overboard instead of exiting the front of the craft. Once in the water where they were weighed down with their equipment, they faced a life-and-death struggle to keep their heads above water. They thrashed about while strapped to heavy loads. Those who could not get free of the loads drowned.
The Pas-de-Calais region, situated a mere 20 miles from Britain, was a superficially inviting target. Any invasion there would promise a quick crossing of the English Channel, could be well supported by Allied air forces, and would find beaches suitable for an amphibious landing. Yet it became alarmingly clear from Allied reconnaissance flights that the enemy expected an attack on the Pas-de-Calais. Because of this the Germans had constructed superb fortifications in the region, making it the most heavily defended sector in occupied France.
Allied planners, therefore, chose the coast of Normandy for the landings. Although reaching Normandy would require a 100-mile crossing of the choppy and unpredictable English Channel, a series of beaches stretching west of Caen would afford ideal sites for initial landings. Furthermore, Allied planners believed that the port of Cherbourg, situated just west of the proposed landing sites, could be seized in short order and provide the Allies a deep-water port for the resupply of invasion forces. Just as important, the Normandy coast appeared to be lightly defended by second-rate German conscripts.
Morgan’s staff set in motion in late 1943 an epic and irreversible course of events for what became known as Operation Overlord. Although the massive buildup of men and supplies proved to be a frustratingly slow process, the Russians were loudly clamoring for the Allies to open a second front against Nazi Germany. The leaders of the three primary Allied powers—the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union—held a series of strategy meetings beginning November 28 in Teheran, Iran. At the meetings the three leaders hammered out a strategy to open a new front and assist the hard-pressed Russians.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was deeply suspicious of the intentions of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Germans had badly mauled Russian forces on the Eastern Front in the two years following the launch of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1942. In particular, Stalin was annoyed that the Allies had not yet named a supreme commander to oversee the planned Anglo-American invasion of France. To show good faith, Roosevelt announced in the wake of the conference that U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower would serve as the supreme commander for Operation Overlord.
While the Allies planned the Normandy landings the high command of the German Army, known as Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, put its talented military engineers to work hardening the coastal defenses of northern France. Legions of German and French laborers worked tirelessly with pick and shovel to construct one of the most imposing defensive lines in history.
Stretching from the tip of Jutland to the border of neutral Spain, the Germans erected a series of fortifications known collectively as the Atlantic Wall. They used millions of cubic yards of steel-reinforced concrete to build fortresses, bunkers, and pillboxes. Defended by nearly a million men, the Atlantic Wall by mid-1944 bristled with heavy artillery, mortars, and machine guns.
The Germans had great difficulty, however, finalizing their strategy for defending against Operation Overlord. While the Atlantic Wall was being built, a major disagreement arose between Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the supreme commander of German forces in Western Europe, and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the commanding officer of Army Group B overseeing the German forces in northern France.
Rundstedt favored a measured approach to confronting a possible invasion. The senior commander believed that the powerful guns on Allied warships would furnish a protective umbrella for the Allied units coming ashore. When the Allies had moved inland beyond the protective cover of the naval guns, the German panzer formations could maneuver in such a way that they would achieve a decisive victory over the Allies.For his part, Rommel believed it was imperative to contain the Allies on the beaches. He believed that the Allies’ clear advantage in tactical air power would make it impossible for the German panzer formations to maneuver as set forth in Rundstedt’s strategy. If the Allies were allowed to establish a firm foothold on the beaches, Rommel feared they would win the war in France because of their overwhelming advantage in men and matériel. “The high-water line must be the main fighting line,” said Rommel.
The disagreement was compounded by meddling by German leader Adolf Hitler. He insisted on retaining direct control of Germany’s armored and mechanized reserves in France. This meant that Rommel would need Hitler’s authorization to commit the four armored divisions that constituted the Wehrmacht’s strategic reserve in France. The armored divisions were billeted hundreds of miles from the coast.
Eisenhower did not have a strategic conflict similar to that the German generals faced because he had been given greater strategic authority than his German counterparts. He was well suited for the job at hand because of his tireless devotion to duty and his exemplary strategic and administrative skills.
Born in Texas, but raised in Kansas, Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915. Although he lacked combat experience in World War I, he was an accomplished staff officer who earned high praise from his superiors. Many of his contemporaries, including General Douglas MacArthur, considered Eisenhower to be the best officer in the U.S. Army at the time. “When the next war comes, he should go right to the top,” said MacArthur.
MacArthur was right. Eisenhower led Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After that, he commanded the subsequent Allied forces during the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy in 1943. Eisenhower was popular with U.S. officers and enlisted men and with his counterparts in the British Army. After being appointed supreme commander, he tackled Operation Overlord with an inspiring blend of confidence and eagerness.
The Allies steadily built up their forces in England in the months leading up to the invasion of France. The invasion was possible in large part because of the industrial might of the United States. Factories and shipyards churned out ships, tanks, and trucks, while logistics personnel stockpiled mountains of matériel and rations needed to sustain the troops. Fields and farm lanes throughout England were used as temporary storage sites. Security throughout England was tight, even though it was impossible to completely shield the preparations from German reconnaissance planes.
Allied technological innovation also was on full display. One of the most vital recent inventions was the Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel (LCVP). Built by Higgins Industries, the landing craft was more commonly known as the Higgins boat. The Higgins boat was a shallow-draft, plywood vessel designed for amphibious landings. Capable of carrying 30 assault troops and their gear, the Higgins boat played a crucial role in the Normandy landings.
SCOTT DREYER: Remember D-Day: June 6, 1944
June 6, 2021 is the 77th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day in Normandy, France that began the liberation of Europe from evil Nazi rule.
Whenever I try to teach or write about the enormity of D-day, yet aware of my inadequacy for the task, I feel like a child at the beach trying to scoop up the ocean in a sand pail. But, sensing the need to remind some of us about the importance of that event and teach others who have not been properly taught about it before, here goes.
By June 1944, most of Europe had been under the Nazi jackboot for four horrific years. Millions of Jews and others had been hauled off to concentration camps. There were no individual liberties, no elections. Merely listening to free radio broadcasts from London could cost you your life.
(Over the years I have been teaching since 1987, I sometimes encounter students who sadly had been brainwashed by the nonsensical idea, “all governments and government forms are equally valid.” To those people, in an attempt to help them and free them from that fallacy, I ask: “If that were true, then are you saying Bill Clinton, George Bush, or Barack Obama are no better than Adolph Hitler?”
Liberating Europe from Nazi rule could not be done by writing letters to the editor, conducting boycotts, or singing kumbaya. Tragically, it took a war: World War II.
In our peaceful, prosperous, naïve, and silly age, many people have forgotten that tragic but true fact: when viewing history and human nature, we see that sometimes, war is inevitable. By 1944, Europe could only be liberated by force.)
In the midnight darkness early on June 6, 1944, thousands of brave American GI’s dropped behind Nazi lines by parachute or glider. Of course, once they dropped out of the sky, there was no going back. If the D-Day landings were unsuccessful, those souls would be trapped in enemy territory and end up dead or in POW camps.
As dawn rose over the Normandy beaches, the Nazi forces beheld the largest sea flotilla and number of aircraft in one area that the world had ever seen, or ever would see.
Brave Allied soldiers, most only 18 or 19 years old–most fresh out of high school–clambered down rope nets from ships onto tiny landing craft. All this in a pitching sea and while under enemy fire. Because of seasickness and sheer terror, vomit was everywhere. Then, the landing craft–with no tops and little side protection–came to within a 100 yards or so of the beach. The front ramp dropped, and the men rushed out into the cold, chest-deep or even head-deep water, loaded with 100 pounds of gear or more, and in the face of Nazi fire, tried to make it to shore.
Countless men were killed as soon as the landing craft ramps dropped, or drowned as they floundered in the water.
(As I have often asked my students over the years, how many of those young soldiers do you think had friends or family in occupied France? Or could speak French? Or had once lived in France? Or had a personal stake in that country?
The answer, of course, is almost none.
But still, they left the safety of home and hearth to liberate a continent of people who were total strangers to them.
Do you see the tremendous debt we owe those soldiers and their generation?
The Allies had planned their landings at five beaches. The Americans assaulted beaches code-named Utah and Omaha, the Brits at Gold and Sword, and the Canadians at Juno. In addition, free forces from France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere did what they could to help.
Going into D-Day, there was not much that the US or Nazi commanders agreed upon, but leaders of both sides believed this: If the Allied forces would be able to establish and keep a toe-hold on the French beaches by nightfall on the first day of the landings, then eventually the Allies would win WWII and the Axis powers would lose.
As it turned out, by the Grace of God, the Nazis were unable to drive the Allies back into the English Channel on that fateful day, and the Allies did establish those toe-holds on the Normandy beaches.
However, it took another bloody and long eleven months for Hitler to finally kill himself and the Germans to surrender. (See “Victory in Europe” VE Day .)
In the US, we are hearing of a pernicious idea called “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). In a nutshell, the notion runs: people with white skin are evil by nature and oppressors. In contrast, people with dark skin are virtuous by nature and oppressed. (The fact that skin pigmentation is something you inherit at the moment of conception, cannot control, and cannot be responsible for, some folks conveniently ignore. So much for “following the science….”)
Now, back to D-Day. Those Nazi soldiers, fighting in pillboxes and foxholes to keep Europe oppressed and Hitler in power? Guess what: they were white males.
Now, how about most of those soldiers from the US, Britain, and Canada, fighting to liberate Europe and overthrow Hitler? The vast majority were white males too.
(The US Army integrated white and black soldiers a few years later, during the Korean War, at the order of President Harry Truman. Many Indian soldiers–all non-white–served the British Empire with distinction during WWII.)
Could it be, that Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had it right when he claimed:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts (…)”
In other words, are good and evil a matter of the state of one’s heart, and not one’s skin pigmentation?
Plus, was that not the main idea of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech?
Know the truth: it may irritate some people, but it will set you free.
Remember D-Day. Honor the Greatest Generation.
Learn more about D-Day, how it fits into the bigger picture of WW II, and why the National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford, Virginia by visiting our DreyerCoaching blog.
For more information on the issue of making reasonable judgments and decisions, and that not all government forms are equally valid, please read “Be Discriminating when Describing Discrimination.”
Scott Dreyer in his classroom.
The Baseball Superstar Who Was on the Front Lines at D-Day
Yogi Berra had a way with words, including when it came to relating his own wartime experiences.
“It looked like the Fourth of July. It really did.”
Every Yogi Berra story contains a good quote. This one has several. The one above is the colorful Hall of Fame ballplayer describing the Allied invasion of Normandy, 75 years ago today, on June 6, 1944. Back then, the future New York Yankees catcher was just Seaman 1st Class Berra, a 19-year-old minor leaguer who had volunteered to serve his country and found himself on the front lines of the most remarkable invasion in modern history.
Berra, who died in 2015, was a class act, a consummate storyteller and a walking quotation-maker (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”). And he had such an honest, unfiltered way of observing the world around him that to witness the D-Day invasion through his eyes and his words is to hear a war story like no other.
“I was sick of hanging around all day. I wanted to be doing something.”
Lawrence Peter Berra was signed by the Yankees as a 17-year-old and assigned to the team’s affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, near the U.S. Navy shipyard. The 5-foot-8 prospect quickly demonstrated his prowess behind the plate and in the batter’s box, once driving in 23 runs in a doubleheader. But with his country at war, Berra, like so many other ballplayers of the day, including major leaguers Ted Williams and Bob Feller, put his baseball career on hold, enlisting in the Navy when he turned 18.
We called it landing craft suicide squad.
“I kind of enjoyed it. We had our own boat.”
The young Berra signed up to join the “amphibs,” even though he didn’t really understand the concept. “They asked for volunteers to go on a rocket boat,” he later put it. “I didn’t even know what a rocket boat was.” As it turned out, a rocket boat, also known as a landing craft support small (LCSS), was a 36-foot wooden-hulled vessel with steel plating. The seamen referred to them as “big bathtubs” — bathtubs that came equipped with 48 rockets, one twin .50-caliber machine gun and two .30-caliber machine guns. It would be the LCSS’ job to fire on the beaches at Normandy to help clear the way for the landing crafts. “We called it landing craft suicide squad,” Berra said.
“I’d have to say I was involved.”
Berra sliding into base during a 1958 World Series game.
Berra was next stationed in Plymouth, England, where for three weeks he and his fellow seamen waited. They didn’t know when they were going out or what was coming next — and they weren’t allowed to share details of anything in their letters home. Early on June 4, Berra’s LCSS set off aboard the USS Bayfield, a Coast Guard transport that was the smallest craft to take part in the invasion, the largest amphibious assault in history.
“I never saw so many planes in my life. It was like a black cloud.”
US troops disembarking from a landing craft to wade through surf towards beachhead in the days following the invasion of Normandy, aka D-Day.
Berra’s boat was lowered from the Bayfield at 4.30 a.m. on June 6. Most stories about the invasion focus on the troop-filled landing crafts that poured their contents onto the Normandy beaches, but the tip of the spear for the invasion was actually the 24 LCSS crafts, including Berra’s, that approached the German fortifications first and were the most vulnerable to enemy fire. Berra manned a machine gun and helped load the rocket launcher, but he couldn’t help marvel at the spectacle of it all. “Boy, it looks pretty, all the planes coming over,” he said at one point about the Allied planes overhead. “You better get your head down in here, if you want it on,” the officer on his boat retorted.
“Nothing happened to us. That’s one good thing.”
Berra’s boat received little fire from the Germans on the beach, and the crew spent the next two weeks helping relay messages and direct new arrivals. At one point, Berra’s gun crew was directed to fire at enemy planes. They shot one down … an American plane. “The pilot was mad as hell, and you could hear him swearing as he floated down in his parachute,” Berra recalled. “I remember him shaking his fist and yelling, ‘If you bastards would shoot down as many of them as us, the goddamn war would be over.’”
Aftermath of the D-Day Landings
At the end of the day on 6 June 1944, the Allies had prevailed on all the Normandy beaches. British and Canadian forces established themselves well ashore, although they failed to seize Caen because the Germans pulled together a defense of the city, including their only available armored division. The Americans were still vulnerable to enemy artillery within range of supply dumps and unloading points along the invasion beaches. Yet more than 100,000 men had come ashore on the five beachheads, the first of millions who would follow.
German reinforcements were prevented from reaching the area in strength, and within days Allied troops besieged Cherbourg and slowly expanded southward through the entangling Norman hedgerows. St. Lo was reached by 18 July, well behind schedule. On 25 July Operation COBRA used massed bombers from England against German positions and armored infantry finally broke the German defensive line. Pouring through the gap, American troops advanced forty miles within a week. U.S., Canadian, British, and Polish troops encircled the Germans in a giant pocket around Falaise where Allied fighter-bombers and artillery destroyed twenty German divisions. The Second Front was well under way.
See also the linked page for a description of the M4 Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tanks employed on D-Day for the assault from the sea.
Find additional photos and hi-res versions of the D-Day invasion of France at the Olive-Drab Military Mashup.