Omaha Beach

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Troops from the first division landing on Omaha beach

Omaha Beach was the Allied codename for one of the principal landing points during the Normandy landings on June 6 1944. The beach is about 3.5 miles long, from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer.

The untested American 29th Infantry Division were to land on the west side of the beach. The 1st Infantry Division was given the eastern approaches. This was their third amphibious assault of the war, after Africa and Sicily. The principal objective of the Omaha Beach landing was to secure the line between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, before pushing south towards Saint-Lô.


"Bloody Omaha"

The Germans had adequately prepared their defences along the obstacle-strewn beach, and the gentle downward slope gave them an excellent field of fire. Certain sections of the beach, particularly above the high-water mark, were mined. The German 352nd Division defending Omaha Beach was one of the better trained German units in the area. About half of the swimming Sherman DD Tanks intended to give armoured support swamped and sunk before reaching shore, due to adverse weather conditions and deployment orders that were inappropriate for such conditions -- half the tanks were launched as planned, from 6 kilometers out. The Allied air bombardment of the beach defenses prior to the landings was largely ineffective: most of the bombs fell too far inland. The initial naval bombardment was ineffective. The German defenses were largely intact when the first assault waves hit the beach. The assault troops had almost no cover or craters on the 400-yard deep beach at low tide. Carefully planned assault waves turned into chaos as wind, waves, and current scattered most of the landing craft far from their assigned targets. Tired and seasick troops, weighed down by wet and sand-filled gear, could not run across the open sand (as often portrayed in movies). Most could only walk or trot across the exposed sand.

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Monument on the beach

The landings at Omaha Beach resulted in heavy Allied casualties. The official record of the 1st Infantry Division stated that "Within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded... It had become a struggle for survival and rescue". The invaders suffered over 2,400 casualties, most in the first few hours.

Casualties per unit varied widely. Squads landing directly in front of the most fortified German positions were wiped out as the landing craft ramps dropped. Other units, lucky to land between bunkers or on portions of the beach obscurred by smoke, made it onto the beach with few losses. Another factor was the skill and courage of landing craft coxswains. Some emptied their boats too far off the beach, after hitting sandbars, and the soldiers had to drop their weapons and supplies or drown in the surf. Other coxswains made every effort to land the troops right on the beach with multiple attempts and risking their craft. The first wave was hit the hardest. Later, larger landings were more successful.


Commanders offshore considered abondoning the attack, and redirecting the Omaha forces to Utah Beach. However, several small groups of surviving rag-tag infantry, initially pinned down on the beach behind the cover of the seawall or the shingle, eventually abandoned their original plans to move up through the fortified the beach exits and improvised a direct attack up the steep bluffs through minefields between the bunkers, resulting in the first breakthroughs. German trenches and pillboxes were then attacked from the rear. Also, several Allied destroyers helped turn the battle in favor of US forces by improvising an attack on the German positions. The ships had to nearly run aground to get past the smoke and and train their guns on the cliffs.

Famous names at the beach

  • Omar Bradley, commanding general of Omaha forces, offshore aboard USS Augusta (CA-31)
  • Robert Capa landed at Omaha Beach in the second wave as a news photographer. He did not stay on the beach long, and made the return trip on a landing craft. Nearly all of his photos were lost in a dark room accident.
  • Norman Cota, a general from the 29th who helped motivate troops off the beach.
  • Joseph T. Dawson was one of the first officers to make it to the cliff tops.
  • Ernest Hemingway was aboard a landing craft in the seventh wave as a war correspondent, but did not actually set foot on the beach. In later writing he not only implied that he had gone ashore, but that he had played a vital role in helping to locate the beach. Few questioned his assertions at the time, however.
  • Director John Ford went ashore and shot official film of the landings
  • John M. Spalding led one of the first successful assaults into the German fortifications.
  • Phillip Streczyk made one of the first successful attempts to move inland.
  • George A. Taylor, regimental commander, rallied the troops with his famous quote: "There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach – those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here".

See also

Beaches at the invasion of Normandy

Edit (
Utah Beach | Omaha Beach | Gold Beach | Juno Beach | Sword Beach

External Links

  • Omaha Beachhead (, official Army report

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