Friday, June 6, 2014

D Day, Omaha Beach, Normandy France

Seventy years ago today, at 0630, allied infantry and armored divisions from America, Britain and Canada under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in France along a stretch of Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach in the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, leading to the restoration of France and Allied victory in World War II.

Omaha Beach, Normandy France

Hitler had placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore.

In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beach to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks. Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover along the shore made the approach hazardous for infantry.[

Omaha Beach, Normandy France

Allied troops landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches. Omaha Beach was assigned to the American 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended beach, with its high cliffs.

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.

Omaha Beach, Normandy France

Allied casualties on the first day were at least 12,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II cemetery and memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, that honors American troops who died in Europe during World War II.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer

Like all other overseas American cemeteries in France, France has granted the United States a special, perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery, free of any charge or any tax. This cemetery is managed by the American government, under Congressional acts that provide yearly financial support for maintaining them, with mostly military and civil personnel employed abroad. The U.S. flag flies over these granted soils.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer

The names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located and/or identified are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial. This part consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing maps and narratives of the military operations. At the center is a 22-foot bronze statue entitled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.

Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool, the mall with burial areas to either side and the circular chapel beyond. Behind the chapel are allegorical figures representing the United States and France. An orientation table overlooks the beach and depicts the landings at Normandy.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer

The cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. It covers 172 acres, and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. Included are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer

I visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer with daughter Tricia and son-in-law Alvin on a day weather wise not unlike the day the Allied forces landed on the Normandy coast. Seeing the rows of 9,387 white tombstones, Jewish-American soldiers bear the Star of David at their grave site, rather than a cross, was one of the most moving moments of my life.

Standing there quietly and thinking about the thousands of lives that were sacrificed, was a truly humbling experience. If you are ever in the area, we made it a day trip, albeit a long one from Paris so we could see the battlefields and visit the hallowed grounds of the cemetery.

In addition to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, there is a memorial to the American National Guard at the location of a former German strongpoint. Pointe du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the American airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michel. This is a moving, heartfelt post. I've been a couple of times, once also as a day trip from Paris. It's totally doable. Thanks for sharing this.