General Dwight D. Eisenhower under the watch of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, commanded the Allied invasion force at Normandy.
The night of June 5, paratroopers were sent into the Cotentin Peninsula in France to drop behind the Germans. At 0630 on June 6, 1944, allied ships bombarded the American beaches, Omaha and Utah, to keep the Germans occupied while troops stormed the beaches. The German defenders at Omaha beach were able to maintain a steady rate of fire. The American casualties at Omaha alone were 2,400, while the casualties for the other beaches combined were about 2,530.
The troops at Utah were accidentally dropped 2,000 yards from their intended target in a less heavily guarded section of the Cotentin Peninsula than originally planned. The soldiers that landed at Utah beach moved 4 miles inland by the end of the day, and suffered less than 300 casualties. The Canadian beachhead, Juno, had problems getting to the shore because of a reef hat stretched across the shoreline. The Canadians secured the beach with 1,200 casualties, and then linked up with the British forces that landed west of their position at Cold beach. The western British beach, gold, was relatively easy to secure because the German forces had defensive positions in seaside houses, which were susceptible to aerial and naval bombardment.
There were 400 Allied casualties at Gold beach. The fact that Sword beach mostly consisted of obstacles such as tank traps and walled off areas made it impossible for troops from Sword beach to unite with troops from Juno. As a result, the German 21st Panzer Division rode through the gap between Juno and Sword to the beach in the only serious counterattack of D-Day. When the Panzer Division reached the beach it was destroyed by the overwhelming presence of Allied weapons and troops. The casualties at Sword beach numbered 630 .
June 6, 0100 The invasion begins. Glider and paratroop units begin landing behind the German beach defenses. Because of the darkness and the German AA fire, many units are dropped far off the intended drop zones. Most are scattered and disorganized at first, but take up the fight wherever they land. British 6th Airborne Division dropped northeast of Caen, near the mouth of the Orne River, where it anchored the British eastern flank by securing bridges over the river and the Caen Canal. On the other side of the invasion area, the U.S. 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions dropped near Ste. Mere-Eglise and Carentan to secure road junctions and beach exits. At 0130 the German Seventh Army received word from that landings from the air were under way from Caen to the northern Cotentin.
0330 The assault waves begin loading in the landing craft. The seas are rough and the climb down the nets in the predawn darkness is a hazardous journey. The troops are in for a rough ride to the beach. The cold sea spray soaks everyone almost immediately and the flat-bottomed LCVPs are tossed around like corks. The high seas would swamp some landing craft during the ten-mile run from mother ships to shore. To assist the pumps, many of the troops bailed with their helmets. Survivors would reach land seasick and wobbling.
0400 Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt orders two panzer divisions to move immediately toward Caen to guard against Allied amphibious operations in support of the airborne attack. Informed of the order, Rundstedt's superiors at OKW placed it on hold until Hitler himself could concur. Since he was asleep and disliked being awakened, approval took many hours to come and stalled what might have been a powerful German response. The few officers of Rommel's staff present in the area were more energetic. In the early morning hours they ordered the 21st Panzer Division to Caen.
0558 As dawn came the entire horizon off Normandy between Caen and Vierville-sur-Mer had filled with the invasion armada. Allied battleships and other warships begin to pound the German shore positions. "They came, rank after relentless rank, ten lanes wide, twenty miles across, five thousand ships of every description," wrote one reporter that morning: "Coast Guard cutters, buoy-layers and motor launches," and "a formidable array of 702 warships."
0630 The assault waves begin to touch down. The situation on Omaha is the worst. The beach was a tangle of obstructions: concrete cones, slanted poles, logs tilted seaward with mines lashed to their tips, and steel rails welded together at angles and so strongly set into the beach that their ends would stave in the bottoms of landing craft. The Germans had also made good use of a line of cliffs, four miles long and up to one hundred fifty feet in height, that paralleled the length of the assault beach. Dotting the ravines and draws that led through the bluffs with antitank and antipersonnel mines, they had scattered blockhouses, bunkers, and machine gun nests in strategic locations where they could dominate the shoreline below. Unknown to the Americans, the highly disciplined 352d Infantry Division manned many of those fortifications. The troops could hear the steady beat of enemy fire on the ramp as they approached the beach. Most landing craft grounded on a sand bar 50 to 100 yards out and the men waded in. The water was whipped by automatic weapons fire as the men struggled through the neck deep water. Some dove under water or went over the sides to escape the fire of the machine guns. When they finally did reach shore they faced another 200 yards or more of open sand to cross before reaching cover at the sea wall
0638 Perhaps the worst area on Omaha was Dog Green, directly in front of strongpoint guarding the Vierville draw and under heavy flanking fire from emplacements to the west. Company C of the 2d Rangers landed on this sector. One of the six LCA's foundered about a thousand yards off shore, and passing Rangers saw men jumping overboard and being dragged down by their loads. The remaining craft grounded in water 4 to 6 feet deep, about 30 yards short of the outward band of obstacles. Starting off the craft in three files, center file first and the flank files peeling right and left, the men were enveloped in accurate and intense fire from automatic weapons. The troops attempted to dive under water or dropped over the sides into surf over their heads. Mortar fire scored four direct hits on one LCA, which "disintegrated." When the survivors reached the sand, some found they could not hold and came back into the water for cover, while others took refuge behind the nearest obstacles. Shells from an antitank gun bracketed Capt. Ralph E. Goranson's craft, killing a dozen men and shaking up others. An enemy machine gun ranged in on the ramps of the second LCA and hit 15 Rangers as they debarked. Without waiting to organize, survivors of the boat sections set out immediately across 250 yards of sand toward the base of the cliff. Too tired to run, the men walked the three or four minutes it took to get there, and more casualties resulted from machine guns and mortars. When the Rangers got to shelter at the base of the cliff, they had lost half their men.
0700 As the second wave touched down at Omaha the conditions were unbearable. Enemy mortar and artillery batteries, unscathed by Allied fire, poured destruction upon the attackers while German machine gunners raked the beach with fire. Wreckage at the water's edge accumulated as landing craft became hopelessly entangled in the barbed wire and projecting beams of uncleared beach obstructions. Little more than one-third of the first wave of attackers had reached dry land. Lacking most of their heavy weapons, those survivors had little choice but to huddle behind sand dunes and in the lee of a small seawall that ran along the base of the beach. Many soldiers were killed outright, but some, wounded and unable to move, drowned as the tide moved in. As further waves reached the beach they struggled through the rising tide under continuing German fire and mingled with the first wave survivors huddled along the seawall. Naval gunfire had lifted as the leading landing craft neared the beach. Spotters had gone in with the assault waves, but most were dead, wounded or their radios ruined. The crews looked on in frustration as the slaughter on the beach continued. Finally, U.S. destroyers ran in to the beach and, from only a few hundred yards from shore, blasted away at the German fortifications. Some were so close they scraped the bottom. They were able to use the firing of the pinned down infantry as spotters
0730 - 1200 Inch by inch the troops on Omaha moved forward, up through the bluffs and onto the flatland above. In the absence of much room to maneuver, their attack had been unoriginal, a straightforward frontal attack. Not in any grand coordinated assault, but by squad and platoon they climbed the bluffs under murderous fire. As the troops reached the top of the bluffs they took on the German fortifications in small groups, one-by-one, and gradually began to knock them out.
The Rangers of Company C on Dog Green were up on the bluff by 0730 . While the movement was in progress, Capt. Goranson saw an LCVP landing troops just below on the beach and sent a man back to guide them through the wire and mines to the top. The Rangers found a maze of dugouts and trenches, including machine-gun emplacements and a mortar position. They began a series of small attacks which continued for hours. The boat section came up and joined in, but even with this reinforcement Captain Goranson's party was too small to knock out the enemy position. Three of four times, attacking parties got into the German positions, destroying the post and inflicting heavy losses. Enemy reinforcements kept coming up along communication trenches from the Vierville draw, and the Ranger parties were not quite able to clean out the system of trenches and dugouts. Finally, toward the end of the afternoon , the Rangers and the Company B section succeeded in occupying the strongpoint and ending resistance. They found 69 enemy dead in the position. This action had cleared one of the main German firing positions protecting the Vierville draw.
1335 The German 352d Division inaccurately advised Army HQ that the Allied assault had been hurled back into the sea; only at Colleville was fighting still under way they said, with the Germans counterattacking. This reassuring view was sent on to Army Group. (At 1800 the Division corrected it's report. There was more bad news: Allied forces had penetrated through the strongpoints, and advance elements with armor had reached the line of Colleville-Louvieres-Asnieres.)
1430 Follow-on waves continued to arrive on the beaches, often simply bulling their way through the uncleared obstacles. As the tide receded, the remnants of the engineer demolition teams again went to work clearing lanes. They had to work under harassing fire from enemy snipers on the bluff as well as enemy artillery, but they completed three gaps partially opened in the morning, made four new ones, and widened some of the others. By evening, 13 gaps were fully opened and marked, and an estimated 35 percent of the obstacles on the beach had been cleared. Along the beach flat, units of the Engineer Special Brigade Group were making gaps in the embankment, clearing minefields, and doing what they could to get at the exits.The Germans made use of the maze of communications trenches and tunnels and emerged from dugouts to reoccupy emplacements already neutralized. Snipers reappeared along the bluffs in areas where penetrations had previously been made. Above all, artillery from inland positions kept up sporadic harassing fire on the beach flat.Working inland, the American units advanced in pockets, still uncoordinated in a single front. Stubborn enemy resistance, both at strongpoints and inland, had held the advance to a strip of ground hardly more than a mile-and-a-half deep in the Colleville area, and considerably less than that west of St-Laurent. Barely large enough to be called a foothold, this strip was well inside the planned beachhead maintenance area. Behind U. S. forward positions, cut-off enemy groups were still resisting. The whole landing area continued under enemy artillery fire from inland.
1930 As evening finally approached, the beach was a shambles of burning and disabled vehicles, but the German positions along the beach were in Allied hands. By nightfall, Allied power had prevailed all across the Normandy beachhead.
The Americans had yet to secure a front far enough inland to keep enemy artillery from hitting supply dumps and unloading points they were building along the invasion beaches. Men dug in for the night wherever they could, some in the sand or on the bluff slopes. All through the shallow beachhead, along the bluffs, in the transit area, and around command posts, sniper fire continued and started outbursts of firing. There were no "rear areas" on the night of D-Day