The landing by regiments of the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions and Army Rangers on Omaha Beach was even more difficult than expected. When the first wave landed at 6:30 a.m., the men found that naval gunfire and prelanding air bombardments had not softened German defenses or resistance. Enemy positions that looked down from bluffs and water and beach obstacles strewn across the narrow strip of beach, stopped the assault at the water's edge for much of the morning of D-Day.
For American troops, the plan was to land alongside armored amphibious Sherman tanks. Such a powerful force would give Americans the strength they needed to conquer the German forces. Unfortunately, the tanks never made it. The 29 tanks were released from the landing craft too far from the beach. Moreover, strong tides and winds veered the landing craft off its direction. When troops did land, they were confused by the disorganization and where each unit was meant to be directed. The ocean's great swell was just the first of misfortunes that left the American troops without cover and without a prayer.
The long distance from ship to shore and tumultuous seas destroyed many amphibious vehicles, darkness and strong winds combined to cause other troops to land in different areas. The troops were exposed as they reached the shore. They forged ahead with the tide and met their fate as their feet hit the sand. The Germans patiently held their fire until the first wave of men hit the beaches, and then the scene turned disastrous. For the first six hours, the invaders held only a few yards of beach, which remained under intense enemy fire.
Sergeant Robert Slaughter, one of the few American survivors, recalls the scene, "It was all very disorganized, because we lost nearly all our officers and people just lay around, not knowing what to do. If the Germans had counterattacked we could not have held them. We threw our hand grenades away or lost them. We didn't really have any weapons at all!"
Fighting heavy gun fire, the American engineers did what they could to clear beach obstacles. Landings could then gather around the few channels that were successfully cleared. But the strength of the German defenses proved to continually overwhelm the American plan. The surviving troops could not clear the heavily defended exits thus causing delays for more landings. It appeared that no one would survive the horror that was unfolding. Then, as if a light was found at the end of the enduring tunnel, small penetrations were achieved by the remaining survivors. Through spontaneous assaults, two small, isolated footholds were conquered. The American objective was once again in sight.
The Rangers Lead the Way
American troops knew the only way to escape was to scale the cliffs. Goranson ordered three of his men to scale the cliffs. The three Rangers climbed about a 100 foot cliff with Goranson and the remaining men giving them cover fire from down below to keep the Germans from stopping their climb. The last ten or fifteen feet they chinned themselves up with their bayonets to pull themselves to the top, where they hooked up a rope so the others could follow. Once they reached the top, Goranson and his men (now down to 21) cleared out a maze of German defensive positions. Although none knew it at the time, they were the first U.S. troops to fight their way off Omaha Beach and assault the German defenses!
( Interview with Jeff Goranson 2007 West Peoria Residents Association)
Visions of terror, bloody body parts, and overwhelming obstacles still plague those heroes that survived the beach that has become known as "Bloody Omaha." General Bradley was once quoted as saying, "Even now it brings pain to recall what happened there on June 6, 1944. I have returned many times to honor the valiant men who died on that beach. They should never be forgotten. Nor should those who lived to carry the day by the slimmest of margins. Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero."
The beauty that is Omaha Beach will forever be tainted by the American blood that seeped into the tide waters. U.S. troops who landed in the midst of the heavy gun fire were in an exposed position that was tantamount to a death sentence. They began to rally the troops and what followed were extraordinary acts of heroism.
died here on June 6, 1944. With his last breath he was urging his men to get off the beach to a safer location.
"We went out onto the beach, and the Germans had [us] zeroed in. We waded in about a foot of water...All of us ran across the beach as fast as we could. I ran about 100 feet before hitting the ground, when we ran into enemy crossfire from the right and in front."
PFC Nelson Noyes
Company C, 2nd Ranger Battalion
"After going a short distance, a mortar shell landed behind me, killing or wounding my mortar section, the concussion knocking me forward and on the ground. I thought I was dead...Just then sand was kicked in my face; I assumed that an enemy machine gunner was getting me in range, and decided that I had better move. I got up and ran to the base of the cliff."
1st Lt. Sidney Salomon
Company C, 2nd Ranger Battalion
"The only way to escape the firepower was to get under those cliffs". I just got undressed by bullets. I lost all my extra ammo, my gear, my canteen, my rations-everything was shot off my back. I even had a bullet ding off my helmet but somehow I never got a scratch."