The following article on the five D-Day beaches is an excerpt from Barrett Tillman’ D-Day Encyclopedia. It is available for order now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 


GOLD BEACH

A ten-mile stretch between Omaha Beach to the west and Juno to the east, Gold was divided into sectors H, I, J, and K, with the main landing areas being Jig Green and Red plus King Green and Red. It was one of the largest of D-Day beaches. Gold was assaulted by the British Fiftieth (Northumberland) Infantry Division and 47 Royal Marine Commando in the Item sector. Two good-sized towns fronting Gold Beach were La Rivère and Le Hamel, but the major objective was Arromanches at the west end, selected as the site of one of the Mulberry piers, meant to improve Allied logistics as soon after the landings as possible.

Gold Beach was held by elements of the 716th Infantry Division, with the 726th and 915th Regiments deployed north and east of Bayeux. However, they included a large proportion of Ost truppen, Poles and Russians who had been conscripted to serve in the Wehrmacht. A battery of four 155 mm guns was sited about half a mile inland.

Scheduled H-hour for Gold Beach was 0725, nearly an hour after the American D-Day beaches, owing to different tides. However, an unexpected northwest wind arose, leaving most obstacles submerged where the engineers could not reach them. Consequently, twenty LCT landing craft struck mines and were sunk or damaged. Offsetting the poor weather was the fact that naval gunfire largely suppressed the defense artillery, and Gold was seized, at the cost of about four hundred British casualties, by day’s end. The Fiftieth Division pressed inland, seizing the Bayeux road junction, which further consolidated Allied gains in the area. Throughout the day some twenty-five thousand men crossed Gold Beach.

JUNO BEACH

Smallest of the D-Day beaches, Juno covered two miles between Gold Beach to the west and Sword to the east. Its three sectors were designated L, M, and N. The primary sectors were Nan Red, White, and Green to the east and Mike Red and White to the west.

Allied planners were concerned about a reef and reported shoals, which required a high tide landing at 0745, later than the other D-Day beaches. As it developed, the ‘‘shoals’’ were accumulated banks of seaweed and probably would have posed little problem to most landing craft.

Juno was ‘‘the Canadian beach,’’ seized by the Third Canadian Infantry Division. Like Gold, it was held by elements of the German 716th Infantry Division’s 736th Regiment plus the 440th Ost (Eastern) Battalion, composed of Russians and Poles. Initial resistance was fierce; one-third of the landing craft struck mines, and nearly half of the Canadian casualties occurred in the first hour.

The Canadian drive from Juno yielded the deepest Allied penetration on D-Day; the Third Division occupied the airfield at Carpiquet west of Caen. Three phase lines were determined for the inland advance from Juno—Yew, Elm, and Oak—the latter just beyond the Caen-Bayeux highway. By midnight about 21,400 troops had landed on Juno.

OMAHA BEACH

Omaha was the most heavily defended of all the D-Day beaches; its bunkers, fighting positions, and obstacles were intended to repel any Allied landing. Though they exacted by far the heaviest toll of the attackers, its defenses delayed movement inland by only several hours.

Omaha spanned ten statute miles in seven sectors (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), bounded by the Douve Estuary separating Utah Beach on the west and by Gold on the east. However, the first three sectors were not used. Before the landing craft touched shore, the area was attacked by hundreds of bombers, mostly B-24 Liberators, but their bombs fell too far inland. Forced to drop through an undercast, the bombers were concerned about ‘‘overs’’ that might endanger the naval force offshore. Consequently, no German defenses were damaged, and no bomb craters were available to provide cover for the GIs on the beach.

Omaha was by far the toughest assignment in Overlord. Inland from the tidal flats, with their mines and booby-trapped obstacles, was a line of barbed wire and an artificial seawall. Next came a level, grassy plain between 150 and three hundred yards wide, also strewn with mines and providing almost no cover. Dominating the entire scene was a line of bluffs about 150 feet high, defended by a dozen primary concrete bunkers, including concrete casemates for 50, 75, and 88 mm artillery. There were also innumerable fighting holes for riflemen and machine gunners, with carefully designed interlocking fields of fire. Additionally, mortars and artillery behind the bluffs, largely invulnerable to naval gunfire, could cover almost any part of Omaha Beach.

American soldiers wading toward Omaha Beach: U.S. Army via Martin K.A. Morgan. Omaha came under the Western Naval Task Force led by Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. In direct supervision of the Omaha landings was Rear Adm. J. L. Hall.

The first wave of the First and Twenty-ninth Infantry Divisions scheduled to hit the beach at 0630 in sectors designated (west to east) Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, and Fox Green. Apart from ferocious German opposition, winds and tidal currents forced most landing craft off course, and only the 116th Infantry of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division landed where expected.

The landing sectors mostly lay within the operating area of the German 352d Infantry Division, with most of the landing sectors defended by the 916th Regiment plus the 726th Regiment of the 716th Division.

One American summarized, “Omaha was a killing zone” while another called it “a shooting gallery.” Two 352d Division machine gunners, Corporal Heinrich Severloh and Private Franz Gockel, are thought to have inflicted many of the U.S. casualties from Wiederstandnest 62 overlooking the beach. The defense was so fierce that the 352nd’s commander, Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, accepted reports that the Americans were withdrawing. Consequently, he committed his reserves against Gold Beach to his right, permitting other GIs to get ashore.

Three towns fronted Omaha Beach, and they became immediate objectives. From west to east they were Vierville-sur-Mer, St. Laurent-sur-Mer, and Colleville-sur-Mer. Each controlled one of the main exits from the beach into the interior—respectively, Dog One, Dog Three, and Easy Three. By day’s end nearly forty thousand men had landed on Omaha Beach, quickly moving inland to exploit the breakout.

SWORD BEACH

Easternmost of the landing D-Day beaches, Sword covered three miles adjacent to Juno Beach, with sectors O, P, Q, and R. Like all the British or Canadian beaches, Sword was fronted by vacation homes close to the sea wall. At Ouistreham some of the houses had been razed to improve the Germans’ field of fire, while others had been reinforced and turned into makeshift bunkers. An antitank ditch had been dug behind the seawall, but paved city streets lay beyond, some blocked by concrete walls. To the east was the Merville battery of four 75 mm guns, a target of Allied bombers and the Sixth Airborne Division. Within supporting range were 155 mm guns at Le Havre.

Sword was assaulted by the British Third Division, with attached units of British and French commandos plus the Twenty-seventh Armored Brigade. The First Special Service Force, under Brigadier Lovat, was piped ashore by Lovat’s personal bagpiper, Bill Millin. H-Hour was 0725, an hour later than at Omaha, owing to tidal conditions. Objectives of the Sword assault were important bridges three and a half miles inland.

During the day 28,500 men crossed Sword Beach, with about 630 casualties. Of the forty DD tanks allotted to Sword, twenty-eight reached shore and helped reduce the defenses. However, traffic quickly backed up owing to the rising tide, which narrowed the beach and led to congestion and confusion.

UTAH BEACH

The westernmost of the D-Day beaches, extending some eleven statute miles in four sectors (S, T, U, and V) running north-northwest to south-southeast. Utah joined the west end of Omaha Beach in a line projecting through tidal flats beyond the mouth of the Vire River.

Utah was the last landing area selected for Overlord, but its position afforded the U.S. VII Corps an excellent start at the vital port of Cherbourg, only thirty-five miles away. Though lightly defended, Utah Beach posed some difficulty in the flooded country and rough terrain to the north, in the direction of Cherbourg.

Commanding the Western Task Force responsible for landing troops on the American beaches was Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. The Utah landings were supervised by Rear Adm. Don P. Moon.

The greatest difficulty at Utah was the weather and sea conditions. Consequently, many landing craft offloaded troops some two thousand yards east of the intended beaches, which caused enormous confusion but presented an unexpected benefit. The actual landing sites were largely undefended in Victor Sector, away from Les Dunes de Verville. The error was unrecognized at first, as three of four beach control craft struck submerged mines, adding to the confusion.

At Utah, twenty-eight of thirty-two DD tanks reached theD-Day beaches, providing much-needed support to the infantry.

The main defense at Utah was Point W5 (Wiederstandnesten, or Resistance Nest) with a single 88 mm artillery piece. Major resistance collapsed when the gun was damaged by shell fragments and the point surrendered. The U.S. Fourth Infantry Division came ashore on Utah Beach, sustaining fewer than two hundred casualties, in vivid contrast to nearly ten times that number on Omaha. Among the significant leaders on Utah Beach was Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who received a Medal of Honor for his leadership. Within three hours of hitting the beach, all three major exits had been secured, permitting twenty thousand troops and some 1,700 vehicles to cross Utah Beach on D-Day.

These D-Day beaches represented the first steps of the Normandy Invasion.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.

 


This article on the five D-Day beaches is from the book D-Day Encyclopedia, © 2014 by Barrett Tillman. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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