The Invasion of Normandy: D-Day, 6 June 1944
Naval demolition men were preparing a charge that would blow up this "Belgian Gate" a type of obstacle which was a framework of steel mounted on rollers with the flat side facing seaward. About ten feet high and eight feet wide, it usually had a teller mine attached to the top. This mine contained pliable plastic explosives that could be bent around steel or stuffed into crevices. Tetrytol, a stronger charge, but not so easy to handle, was also used. These demolition units started as part of the beach battalions and trained intensively for this type of work. After they cleared channels through the barriers and the beach was secured their most important job was over, but there still remained plenty of demolition work to do on the beach.
Another beach obstacle was the log ramp. This was nine to ten feet high, consisting of two upright logs driven into the sand, one short and one long, with a third log placed on top slanting backwards from the sea. This was constructed to catch an incoming landing craft and slide it upward towards the mine placed on the end. Stakes pointing seaward with mines attached were a variation of this, but perhaps the most commonly used obstacle was the hedgehog or tetrahedron or "element C" as it was variously called. This was an ingenious contrivance of three steel rails, riveted together and flattened on their ends to prevent sinking too far into the sand. All these devices were used in combination, usually with "Belgian Gates" and log ramps, forming an outer barrier with hedgehogs and stakes thickly placed inside all along the beach. Some of the beaches were found to be much more formidable in barriers than others.
American forces fought all day for this stretch of Omaha beachhead. Its benign green bluffs and valley entrance were a maze of crossfire from enfilading (positioned to fire down the length of the beach) German guns. These included 88s (a high-velocity 88mm anti-aircraft artillery piece which was used with devastating effect on Allied armored vehicles), mortars (small shell-launchers which fired at a high angle to clear hills and other obstacles), and machineguns. All of these, plus infantry rifle fire, raked the beaches and pinned the infantry to a small area before the expertly designed and deadly minefields.
By mid-afternoon disabled landing craft were clogging the few gaps in the beach obstacles, while under a rain of short and long-range artillery fire, support waves circled and jockeyed for an opening. Destroyers moved toward the beach into dangerous shoal waters to pump salvos of five-inch shells into stubborn German emplacements and mobile targets of opportunity.
The house in the valley and the spire of Colleville-Sur-Mer on the Hill were landmarks of Fox Green Beach. Germans used the spire for an artillery control tower, with spotters able to see the full panorama of the American forces and direct artillery fire at opportune targets. The churchs lovely renaissance architecture crumbled into sad rubble when a U.S. fire-control party on the beach called on the destroyer U.S.S. Emmons to demolish it. The artist was serving as an identification officer aboard that ship. This was the beach which Hemingway described in his article "Voyage to Victory."
This is what the Allied forces in Normandy called the Omaha beachhead. All day the landing waves suffered terrible attrition from the stubborn, enfilade German fire which raked the shore. A coast studded with beach and underwater obstacles, mines, and German fortified positions and pillboxes, it proved deadly to many American soldiers and sailors on June 6, 1944.
One of the spectacular actions of D-Day was the duel between the destroyer U.S.S. Emmons and mobile 88mm German guns on the Normandy cliffs near Port-en-Bessin. While cruising near the beach, the U.S.S. Emmons (DD-457) pitched out 250 rounds of five-inch shells as she wormed her way among the near misses of the enemy guns, in the meanwhile silencing the 88s with counter-battery fire. As this rapid action drew to a close, her sister ship, U.S.S. Doyle (DD-494), steamed up parallel to the shore and fired furiously in assistance.
This sketch was made from the vantage of high ground slightly inland from the landing beaches. This is the landing area as the German defenders saw it. Looking down the beach, the open fields of fire that the American invaders had to endure is well illustrated.
This was the scene at the easternmost of the two American beaches (Utah Beach) at about 3 p.m. on D-Day. The fighting had moved inland, but all along the seawall, which extends a considerable length of the beach, men dug themselves in - hospital corpsmen, beach battalion members, Sea Bees, and anyone whose work was on the beach itself. The beach first aid station was a short way down from here, and the wounded and dead are in the sand in front of the sea wall. The tide was out at this time, and the wounded could not be evacuated back to the ships because of the difficulty in getting landing craft in and out. An enemy artillery battery, located some distance inland from the beach but still in range, sent shells steadily over the Americans, impeding work. An ammunition truck was hit and burned at the beachs far end. A lone LCI unloaded her troops and the men filed across the beach and started inland. In this section beach obstacles were not as formidable as in other areas, and the demolition parties were able to clear the way for landing craft with few losses.
Study for the above: The Sea Wall at the Eastern-Most American Beach (Utah Beach).