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D-DAY, 6 June 1944

by Nov 17, 2019

Image: American infantry troops approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

Seventy-five years ago, they landed on the beaches of Normandy.

The US 1st Infantry Division, known at the “Big Red One” was in charge of the initial landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day. The first waves landed under intense fire and suffered significant casualties.

Colonel George A. Taylor, commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment, is quoted: “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.”

The following formal language excerpted from a 1st Infantry Division narrative report of the invasion, provides sparse clarity and insight into the events experienced by so many during the days preceding and during the initial hours of the assault on Normandy:

“Messages from the Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Commanding General, 21st Army Group, and Commanding General, 1st US Army were read on 5 June 1944 to the Army officers and men on the eve of their departure for the invasion.

Force “O” sailed from Portland Harbor, Weymouth, Dorset, approximately 0530 hours 5 June 1944; USS Ancon (headquarters ship Force “O”) passed the harbor breakwater at 1630 hours; the USS Chase (first alternate headquarters Force “O”) sailed at 1725 hours and the entire convoy began to sail east along the south English coast.

Invasion convoy of Force “O” arrived in the transport area off the coast of Normandy, France at 0230B 6 June 1944.

Landing craft were lowered from USS Chase for the 1st wave of 16th Infantry at approximately 0530B 6 June 1944.

First wave of 16th Infantry and 116th Infantry were landed at 0635B.

The following message was received by Naval Commander Western Task Force, “First wave assault group O-1 landed 0635B, one LCA capsized, one LCT (A) sinking with engine room flooded. Success signal for capture of Ponte du Hoe was reported by V Corps; returning boats reported floating mines near the beach endangering landing; many boats swamped and many personnel in the water.”

Fifteenth wave landed 0840B. It was reported by control vehicle that many wounded on Dog Red Beach needed immediate evacuation and many LCT’s were standing by but could not be landed because of heavy enemy shell fire on beach.

At 0900B several companies of 16th Infantry were seen on Easy Red and Fox Red Beach; enemy artillery and machine gun fire was still effective; about 30 LCT’s were standing by to land; obstacles seemed thicker than in photos; Btry A, 7th Field Artillery just arrived. LCI 85 was hit after unloading and is smoking; 2 LST’s are burned. 10 tanks are on Fox and landing resuming on Dog.

At 0945B Navy reported to the Division Commander that they could find no targets of opportunity without endangering own landing.

At 1026B, the Division requested the USS Arkansas to endeavor to locate and destroy batteries impeding the landing on Beach Dog Red by heavy shell fire.

At 1105B, the 16th Infantry reported no beach exits were open in regimental sector. At 1110B, the 2d Battalion 18th Infantry landed and the rest of regiment was on the way in.

At 1125B, beachmaster Easy Red notified USS Ancon “enemy holding vigorously; combat troops needed.”

A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) onto Fox Green section of Omaha Beach. During the initial landing two-thirds of Company E were casualties.

Pulitzer Prize-winning War Correspondent Ernie Pyle arrived ashore at Normandy the day after the initial landings. Over the following days, he drafted three columns for the Scripps-Howard News Service. The following is taken from the third of those, titled: A Long Thin Line of Personal Anguish, published on June 17, 1944 (permission to republish provided by Scripps-Howard Foundation):

“Normandy Beach Head - In the preceding column we told about the D-day wreckage among our machines of war that were expended in taking one of the Normandy beaches. But there is another and more human litter. It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out – one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier’s name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don’t know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.

Soldiers carry strange things ashore with them. In every invasion you’ll find at least one soldier hitting the beach at H-hour with a banjo slung over his shoulder. The most ironic piece of equipment marking our beach – this beach of first despair, then victory – is a tennis racket that some soldier had brought along. It lies lonesomely on the sand, clamped in its rack, not a string broken.

Two of the most dominant items in the beach refuse are cigarettes and writing paper. Each soldier was issued a carton of cigarettes just before he started. Today these cartons by the thousand, water-soaked and spilled out, mark the line of our first savage blow.

Writing paper and air-mail envelopes come second. The boys had intended to do a lot of writing in France. Letters that would have filled those blank, abandoned pages.

Always there are dogs in every invasion. There is a dog still on the beach today, still pitifully looking for his masters.

He stays at the water’s edge, near a boat that lies twisted and half sunk at the water line. He barks appealingly to every soldier who approaches, trots eagerly along with him for a few feet, and then, sensing himself unwanted in all this haste, runs back to wait in vain for his own people at his own empty boat.

Over and around this long thin line of personal anguish, fresh men today are rushing vast supplies to keep our armies pushing on into France. Other squads of men pick amidst the wreckage to salvage ammunition and equipment that are still usable.

Men worked and slept on the beach for days before the last D-day victim was taken away for burial.

I stepped over the form of one youngster whom I thought dead. But when I looked down, I saw he was only sleeping. He was very young, and very tired. He lay on one elbow, his hand suspended in the air about six inches from the ground. And in the palm of his hand he held a large, smooth rock.

I stood and looked at him a long time. He seemed in his sleep to hold that rock lovingly, as though it were his last link with a vanishing world. I have no idea at all why he went to sleep with the rock in his hand, or what kept him from dropping it once he was asleep. It was just one of those little things without explanation that a person remembers for a long time.”

  • Five days after the initial D-Day landings at Normandy, on 11 June 1944, the USS Missouri was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
  • On April 18, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper’s bullet on the small island of Ie Shima off the western coast of Okinawa, as the last major battle of World War II raged.
  • On September 2, 1945, the USS Ancon, former command ship for the 1st Infantry Division at Normandy, was in Tokyo Bay, moored a short distance from the USS Missouri, as World War II was finally, formally concluded.

A ”Omaha Beach” and Seine Bay (Baie de Seine) as it looks today.