France - Normandy: Utah Beach, Point de Hoc, and Omaha Beach
This specific page is dedicated to the World War II landing sites that we visited in Normandy. It is difficult at best to describe the emotions that well up inside when walking on these beaches, memorial grounds, and cemetaries. It is certainly something that is better experienced than described. In the two days we had to spend on the beaches it was impossible to see everything. We chose to spend our time at the American beaches and memorials. There are similar British, Canadian, and German areas to visit. I would like to see these should we have the opportunity to return. I will outline a short history of the events that transpired on the beaches we visited in the next paragraph. A complete history of the entire landing operation would amount to a small novel and indeed many are available. From double agents to fake plywood planes and tanks, reading about the planning and execution of the Normandy landings will not disappoint.
June 6, 1944 - A day later than originally planned, Allied forces stormed five beaches along the Normandy coast. From east to west, they were : Utah, Omaha, Gold (British), Juno (Canadian), and Sword (British). Spread across roughly 60 miles of beachhead these initial five landing points would eventually allow for an Allied concentration of over 325,000 men and 50,000 vehicles within six days. By the end of the month, the Allies occupied France from near the mouth of the Seine river to accross most of Brittany and were over a million strong.
Utah beach was the first beach landed upon. The initial landing area was missed by a mile and a half South and resulted an avoidance of the German batteries at Montebourg and Saint-Marcouf. As such, there was limitted resistance on Utah and forces were able to quickly form solid positions and spread west to meet up with parachute troops dropped the night before. General Roosevelt came ashore with the first wave on Utah beach. This original landing site is where the current Utah beach museum now resides.
Between Utah and Omaha beaches lies a small promontory that housed a German battery called Point du Hoc. It was the task of the American 2nd Ranger battalion to take this battery out of play. The battery lied on top of sea cliffs that were scaled using grappling hooks and ladders placed on the floor of small landing boats. Supported by naval shelling and under heavy enemy fire, the 2nd Rangers were able to take Point du Hoc and defend this position for two days without reinforcement. Brutal German counter attacks decimated the battalion but they held fast.
Omaha beach was an all together differnet story from Utah. Due to the heavy cloud cover, many of the night's bombing efforts on German emplacements for Omaha beach were not successful. Once the bombing stopped and daylight began, German forces became immediately aware of the invasion prior to the arrival of the first wave. Landing tansport ships were raked with automatic gunfire from several fully functional German emplacements. Unbeknownst to the Allied forces, the Germans had reinforced their concentration of men along Omaha beach with a higher quality regiment doubling the total number of battalions in this area. Trapped between a fortified sea wall and a rising tide, the American forces worked miracles in clearing mines, wire and defences. Veteran German soliders from the Russian front placed shots at will knowing they would run out of ammunition eventually and must flee the emplacements. It wasn't until after noon that American forces under the leadership of General Cotta and Colonel Canham breached the sea wall and maintained positions in Vierville. The American cemetary is near the place where this occured and it is easy to see how difficult it must have been to come accross "bloddy Omaha".
Gabi and Gus standing near the memorial at Utah Beach:
AC posing near a small gun mount at Utah Beach:
Gus on top of a Utah Beach bunker:
Juanita and Gabi standing next to a large gun placement, Point du Hoc:
Susan standing in a huge 360 degree placement, Point du Hoc:
Mike standing in a crater left by allied shelling, Point du Hoc:
Gabi and Susan, bunker, Point du Hoc:
View of the cliffs scaled by the US Rangers, Point du Hoc:
Gabi and Juanita at the memorial statue, US Cemetery, Omaha Beach:
US Cemetery, Omaha Beach:
View of Omaha Beach at low tide (note horse and buggy on left):
Old Photo from the museum of the troops before landing:
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