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D-Day: ‘The Blessing of Almighty God’

Posted on | June 6, 2023 | Comments Off on D-Day: ‘The Blessing of Almighty God’

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

The U.S. forces in Operation Overlord did not keep a day-by-day casualty count — which would have been an impossible task, given the circumstances — but research indicates “there were about 1,465 American deaths, 3,184 wounded, [and] 1,928 missing” on D-Day itself. Most of the combat deaths occurred on Omaha Beach, where the Americans had the misfortune of encountering part of the German 352nd Infantry Division, which had several well-sited machine-gun emplacements on high ground that put the beach under a deadly crossfire that pinned down the first two waves of troops that landed.

Because of the rough seas, many troops on Omaha came ashore hundreds of yards from their intended objectives. Many landing craft were swamped in the choppy surf, and the majority of the amphibious tanks assigned to Omaha sank before reaching the beach. Of the nine infantry companies in the first wave, only one (Company L, 16th Regimental Combat Team, 1st Division) landed in such a way as to enable the whole company “to operate as a unit. All the other companies were, at best, disorganized, mostly leaderless and pinned down . . . with no hope of carrying out their assault missions.” The first wave hit the beach shortly after 6 a.m., and at 7 a.m., the second wave came ashore:

The survivors of the first wave were unable to provide effective covering fire, and in places the fresh landing troops suffered casualty rates as high as those of the first wave. Failure to clear paths through the beach obstacles also added to the difficulties of the second wave. In addition, the incoming tide was beginning to hide the remaining obstacles, causing high attrition among the landing craft before they had reached the shore. As in the initial landings, difficult navigation caused disruptive mislandings, scattering the infantry and separating vital headquarters elements from their units.

For nearly an hour, which must have seemed an eternity for the GIs pinned down on Omaha, there was little progress. Finally, about 7:50 a.m., led by 29th Division assistant commander Brig. Gen. Norman “Dutch” Cota, the Americans made their first breakthrough. About 8:15, Col. George Taylor of the 16th Regimental Combat Team landed and famously declared: “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die — now let’s get the hell out of here!” Taylor organized the survivors and led them inland, and by 9:30, after more than three hours of fighting, Omaha had been secured.

The best history of D-Day remains Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, which was of course made into a major motion picture with an all-star cast including John Wayne as Lt. Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort of the 82nd Airborne Division and Robert Mitchum as Norman Cota.




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