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Normandy: Omaha Beach

Our next stop was Omaha beach. Omaha was by far the hardest fought beach. Here the German defenses were their most deadly. With American officers leading their squads off the landing boats, the German machine gun and artillery fire killed them instantly. The men who made it ashore in one piece were shocked, demoralized, and leaderless. The German fire was accurate because they had pre-ranged all their guns for every feature on the beach. Gunners only had to note where the soldiers were, consult their charts, adjust their sights and fire. The soldiers reported all was quiet until the doors of the landing craft opened then all hell broke loose.

The men huddled on the stone shingle or behind anti-tank walls pinned down and leaderless. Many had dropped their weapons in the deep water to avoid drowning, many of the tanks were never landed or disabled by the German 88s (88mm artillery). These men were now systematically shelled by German mortars. And it was here that some men assumed leadership and pulled together ragtag squads with nothing more inspiring than a desire to not die there. That it would be better to die on the bluff. They worked their way up the faint German paths through the mine fields and slowly took the Colleville draw from the Germans and secured the exit.

Omaha Beach at the Colleville Draw (You can see a small remnant of the stone shingle on the left where the sand ends. This was the small feature behind which men would huddle for safety.) Redington crawled up on the shingle toward the German placement to get a GI's view.

A gun casement facing down the beach.

Again the side of the casement facing the sea was solid. A clear angled view of the beach was afforded. All of the brush would have been cut down to provide an unobstructed line of fire. This was called WN-62 by the Germans. In the D-Day book the draw at Coleville was described extensively. Below is an excerpt from the book describing this exact location (click on it to enlarge it). This was part of what made the visit special. To read the accounts from people who had been there then at exactly this location. To read what they had done and felt that day.

Excerpt from D-Day about WN-62

Above Coleville draw was the American cemetery. I have to say for myself I was terribly moved. We have all seen the images of the crosses and stars of David in their neat rows. It was something else entirely to see them personally, read the names, think of their deeds and their lives cut short. I walked with a lump in my throat and on the verge of tears the entire time.

Reflecting pool at the American cemetery

Memorial of the Invasion of Europe shows battles and troop movements.

Cemetery with Americans killed not just in Normandy but all over Europe.

Crosses and Stars
There are about 8,000 dead buried here. There are other American cemeteries of course and ones for the English, Polish, and Germans too. Amongst the visitors that day Redington and I heard many nationalities among them French, American, and English of course but also German. All of them, like us I suppose, trying to take away some meaning from conflict and sacrifice. It struck me that the best memorial for these men was all of these nationalities visiting this place sixty years later with Europe at peace the entire time.

After we left the cemetery we headed toward Pointe du Hoc. On the way Redington and I couldn't resist the temptation of a yard full of old military hardware. This turret below was interesting as it solved a mystery for us about a fortification back at Juno beach. Redington peered into the holes that pierced it.

Redington ducks around a German turret

These are the feared German 88s. 88mm guns that were used as artillery (foreground) and as anti-aircraft guns (background). They were feared for their power and accuracy.