Omaha Beach

Omaha-beachIt is the east side of the American sector, going roughly speaking from Vierville to Saint Honorine des Pertes, the fights having taken place in front of Vierville, Saint-Laurent-sur-mer and Colleville. It is devolved to the 5th army corps of General Gerow (which is a part of 1st US army, commanded by General Omar Bradley), in particular to 29th and 1st US infantry divisions (“The Blue and Grey” – 29- and “The Big Red One”).

Today, everybody knows that, for American people, this beach is called “Bloody Omaha“: between 2000 and 3000 deaths, more than 2000 wounded men. How did we getting there ?

Underestimate of the natural obstacle doubtless: the cliff which dominates the beach offers to defenders a dreamed position to shot while staying under cover. Besides, it is separated from the sandy beach by a band of pebbles impassable for vehicles, except on rare points, and thus easy to defend.

Omaha-CollevilleBad luck finally : it is known, the weather is not on allied side: consequences : because of  a very poor visibility, bombers missed their targets (and the naval artillery, firing blind – German having opted for opening fire at the very last moment, not to reveal the position of their batteries – was’nt more lucky) ; tanks cannot land, those who try (several kilometers away from the beach) sink straight to the bottom (only 5 will reach there), as well as numerous artillery pieces and barges transporting the fighters. Those who reach nevertheless the shore, often far from the planned point, are feeling left alone, the support or the associated material not having arrived at the same place.

The first wave, which landed at 6:30 am, finds itself very quickly pinned down, and the second is going to do the same. The situation is such as at 9 am, General Bradley, which follows the operations since USS Augusta, gets ready to give the order to retreat and to give up Omaha.

Commemorative-MonumentNevertheless, before noon, “boys” are going to return the situation. How? A little bit of luck at first, that could not last always: the naval artillery finally hits the bull’s eye : a gun of the most important German battery is hit by a shot of the battleship Texas. Especially, on the beach, at the heart of the battle, as in good old time of the napoleonic wars, characters of exception are going to reveal and to change the destiny of the battle: colonels Canham (116th I.R) and Taylor (16th I.R), General Norman Cota Assistant Division Commander of the 29th ID (through “The longest day “, it is especially him, interpreted by Robert Mitchum, that posterity will remember) are going to galvanize the morale of the survivors, and succeed finally in leaving the beach by breaking a way through German bunkers.

In the evening, we are very far from the assigned objectives (penetrate 10 km inside lands, on a 28 km forehead, from the mouth of the Ledge and Isigny to almost Bayeux), but the bloodbath was not unneeded: the bridgehead is settled.

cemetery-of-collevilleToday, the beach is dominated by the American cemetery of Colleville, moving necropolis where rest about ten thousand of braves which gave their life for our freedom. Names of the missing men are also reminded : ”Here are recorded the names of americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves. This is their memorial the whole earth their sepulchre. Comrades in arms whose resting place is known only to god”.

As in all the military cemeteries of this importance (we think to the national necropolis of Notre-Dame de Lorette, in Pas-de-Calais, or to the German cemetery of La Cambe, a few kilometers away from there), the place invites of course at the memory and at the meditation, at the questioning too.

Here, the importance of the memorial contrasts with the simplicity of crosses (or stars of David) impeccably aligned. Next to maritime pines, rocked by the surf of the Channel’waves, this small part of America could not leave unmoved.

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