We’ll all be killed, Ray, we’ll all be killed.
Posted on June 6, 2009
The actual invasion had really been set for yesterday, sixty five years ago – June 5, 1944. It – the beginning of Operation Overlord – was postponed one day because of inclement weather. Gen. Eisenhower had decided to wait – but only one more day. Before this day was over, 5000 ships and 13000 aircraft would have participated in the greatest single-day amphibian invasion of all time. The toll in terms of life was staggering – 9,000 allied soldiers were killed or wounded along that coastline – heavily fortified by the Germans.
I am not militarily astute enough to say whether this invasion was necessary, whether the operation was conducted in a matter that spared the most lives. I don’t know that part and I don’t think I want to argue about it. That would be too great a dishonor of too many good men. I do know that from everything I have read on the subject – at the end of the day, the invasion had achieved the largest objective it had and that was to secure all of the beaches and gain a foothold in France. That day turned the tide of the war in Europe and probably was a key point in overturning the hold a fiend named Adolf had on that continent.
There was so much preparation – so much detail involved in this operation that it would be impossible in one blog to do justice to it’s complexity and planning. I can, I think give you a general idea of what happened on a day that has been termed – the Longest Day.
At fifteen minutes after midnight, the day began. Seventeen thousand – 17,000 – British and American paratroopers and gliders drop behind enemy lines. It has begun surreptiously. Twenty minutes later, British airborne troops have secured two key bridges. By one hour in, all hands in the Navy have been called to man their battle stations. They have begun lowering the landing craft into the water. Behind enemy lines – under the cover of night- Allied troops are knocking down telephone poles and severing lines to disrupt communication.
At two o’clock am, the first wave of bombers takes off. They are en route to attack targets along the beaches. An hour later, Allied paratroopers are being reinforced by additional glider troops. Nine minutes later, the invasion fleet has been detected by German radar – Overlord is discovered and the Germans on the shorelines are told to prepare for the invasion. At 3:30 am – twenty one minutes after their presence has been detected, Allied troops being boarding the landing craft.
At 4:30, the Merville Battery, a coastal fortification in Normandy, which intelligence reports having held four 150mm guns is captured by the British troops. This clears the way for that part of the invasion which will be landing on Sword Beach. An hour later, Allied forces begin bombarding the beaches. Americans land at St. Marcouf, an island off Utah Beach held by the Germans.
Six hours into the invation, the German 7th Army HQ is made aware of heavy bombardment by the Allied forces. Thirty minutes later, it is H- Hour on both Omaha and Utah Beaches. The die is cast – the Rubicon has been crossed and a full scale invasion is now underway. The 82nd Airborne’s objective is to take the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise and protect the right flank on the American beach landings of Omaha and Utah Beaches. The 101st Airborne is dropped behind Utah beach, to secure the beach exits and The British 6th Airborne is dropped between the river Orne and some high ground of the Bois de Bavent . At some point after securing their initial objectives, the 82nd and 101st Airborne are to reunite.
In all things, it seems – the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. There are mis- drops – and more mis- drops. Some troops are dropped as far as five miles from their landing zone – others were dropped into the English Channel. But they perservere and Operation Overlord continues.
Before 7:00, when the actual invasion of ground troops begins on the beach, let me give you an idea of the terrain. Right behind the beaches were bluffs – this is where the Germans were waiting and heavily fortified.
As the invasion begins – so does the slaughter. I hate to use that word, but there is no other word for it. Glory comes to mind – what immense courage, determination and fortitude it must have taken for those men to keep jumping off those landing craft and into that heavy pounding surf. I don’t know that I have words in me to describe them – for they are like Titans. It’s no myth that the ocean ran red with the blood of men who were no more than boys that day and those who lived to tell about it – well they don’t much like recounting it. One soldier said that as their landing craft hit the beach and the doors opened for them to disembark, he entered the gates of hell.
By 7:00, the first troops who landed on Omaha Beach are pinned down. The Army’s 2nd Rangers have begun to scale the 100 meter high cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, halfway between Omaha and Utah beaches. Their objective is to knock out the deadly 155 mm cannons. Although their commanders knew – the rangers did not – that the guns had been moved by Rommel only two days before. Nonetheless, the concrete fortifications there would give advantage to the Germans that the Allies could not afford.
At 7:30, the invasion begins on Sword and Gold Beaches. On Utah Beach, the forces begin advancing inland. The invasion begins on Juno Beach.
At 8:00, the troops begin scaling the bluffs on Omaha Beach. An hour later, the German 84th Corps learns of the Allied landing. Thirty minutes after that – at 9:30, the press is informed of the Operation Overlord’s landing. On Gold Beach, the British have advanced a mile inland.
By 10:00 American troops have successfully scaled the bluffs on Omaha Beach. Fifteen minutes later, German Field Marshall Rommel is informed of the attacks and hastily departs Germany to return to France. At 10:30 hrs, the German’s 21st Panzer division receives orders. They are to attack between Bayeux and Caen. Thirty minutes later, Vierville secured by American soldiers and fifteen minutes later, Canadians capture St. Aubin. At three minutes after twelve, the 101st and 82nd Airborne troops and British Commandos at rendezvous as planned. Twelve minutes later, there are reports received of German armor north of Caen.
At 12:30 hrs, on Sword Beach, the British 185th Brigade moves inland. Thirty minutes later, a link up is achieved by 101st Airborne and U.S. 4th Infantry Division at Pouppeville. By 13:30 hours, on Omaha Beach, American troops advance inland. The tide turns and by 13:35 hours, the German 352 Division is reported to have pushed the Allied landing back into the sea.
At the same time, and within the next thirty minutes, there is fighting on Periers Ridge, Sword Beach. Hitler finally conducts his first meeting regarding the invasion. Within the next two and half hours, the Germans and Brits see combat inland and American armor begins advancing inland from Omaha beach. The 12th SS Panzer division are released from reserve status into the fighting and the 21st Panzer Division is engaging the Allies on Sword Beach. The British troops who had been advancing towards Caen are halted.
Between 19:00 hrs and 21:00 hours, General Huebner, commander of the 1st division has set up his command post on Omaha Beach. The Allies have secured Colleville-sur-Med and Taillerville. Allied gliders with reinforcements have begun to land on Utah Beach and east of the Orne River.
At 00:00 hours – the close of The Longest Day – all five Allied beachheads have been secured. There are a total of nine Allied divisions ashore. Although not each and every objective for D-Day were achieved in this day – the tide will have been turned in the European Theatre. The Allies have 9,000 boys – more boys than men – killed or wounded. That’s three times the counts on 9/11. I don’t know that our Country has ever since then experienced any thing like this one day.
Their sacrifice and that of their families and loved ones was immense. Their courage, their fortitude, their valor was that of men larger than life – not of this world. They knew to a certainty when they parachuted, when they disembarked those landing craft – they were doomed. But they did their duty. They neither hesitated, nor faltered. They were, indeed, part of the Greatest Generation and don’t any of us ever forget that. We can work at it until we have no more to give and still never pay the debt of gratitude to those who are still living and those who have perished. This is their story….in their own words and what I feel is the best memorial to them.
Last edited by katie on June 6, 2009, 7:04 pm