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D-Day - 60 years ago

post #1 of 2
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At 6:30 am 60 years ago today (June 6) the Alied invasion of Normandy began. (23,400 British and American paratroopers had begun their attack behind the front lines just after 1:00 am.)

Key to the invasion was the LCP (Landing Craft Personnel), better known as the Higgins Boad. Andrew Higgins (from New Orleans) designed and mass produced this unique craft with a shallow draft and a metal ramp in the front. (By the way, Andrew Higgens - a southerner - was the first person to fully integrate a plant, paying the blacks and women the same as he paid white men.) Each boat carried 30 men. The plan was to land men faster than the machine guns, morters, and artillery could kill them. It is generally estimated that 1000 men went down in the first 5 minutes. Wave after wave of boats came ashore, dropped their ramps, and hit reverse to go get the next load. Amphibious tanks, which were to provide cover and fire power, were extremely unsuccessful, and most sank before reaching shore.

The Germans had years to build bunkers, obstacles, and train personnel in defending the beach. The defenders had extensively practiced and trained their guns to every point within their range. 9 man demolition teams were sent in the early waves, each tasked with clearing a 50 foot wide path through the obsticles. Most teams were hit hard with casualties.

By 9:00 am both the Germans the Omar Bradley, commander of the invasion, believed the Germans had won. There was some success at the British and Canadian beaches of Sword, Gold and Juno and at the American Utah beach, but at Omah beach the troops were stopped at the waters edge, with the tide and more boats and personnel still coming. The boats have to weave their way through the bodies in the water. The tide is red with blood. Men drown as boats are hit or they leap over the sides to escape the onslaught of maching gun fire, dragged down by their heavy equipment. Survivors hide behind floating bodies, or the bodies of their friends who have fallen on the beach. German gunners quickly zoomed in on anyone that raised up, particularly looking for officers. By 6:45 am Able Company, one of the first to land (6:36 am), had only one man alive above the rank of corporal, Lieutenant Elijah Nance. Most of the survivors were in the water following the lead of one of their first aid men, Thomas Breedin, trying to push survivors from the surf to the shore. Many are cut down in the water. Omaha beach is a disaster.

47 men are called the Imortals of Omaha Beach. Through their widely separate individual acts heroism they changed the fate of the battle and took groups of men through the defenses to the sea wall and beyond. 28 out of 180 men in Baker Company make it beyond the beach.

Pointe du Hoc sits at a high point between Omaha and Utah beaches, with command of both. The Germans had built heavy bunkers with 6 feet of reinforced concrete wrapped around large fixed cannons. These could not only batter both beaches, they could also attack any ships in the water for miles from the beaches. It was the job of the Army Rangers to take out these fortifications. 234 men assulted the clifts at Pointe du Hoc. Rocket propelled hooks carried climbing ropes up the clifts and the men climbed against machine gun, automatic weapon, and rifle fire. The men reached the summits and fought back the German defenders, only to find that the bunkers on the clifts were fakes. Two men from the group found the real guns 1/4 mile inland. They fought through the defenders and took out two guns with thermite grenades. They went back to the others to get more grenades and returned to take out the rest of the guns, charging against machine gun fire to do so. The acts of heroism of these two is believed to have saved 10s of thousands of men. The Rangers were supposed to be relieved by the afternoon of the first day, it took three days. They survived by killing their enemy, then taking their weapons and rations to be able to continue to fight. 92 men were still alive when relief arrived.

Hitler suspected the Alies would attack at Normandy, but this did not seem practical since there was no port. The Alies solved this by creating an artificial port by dropping Mullberries, large concrete barges that would be sunk to form an artificial barrier to create a protected port. The port created was able to land 10,000 tons of equipment a day. By the end of day 1, June 6, 1944, over 160,000 men and tons of equipment had been landed and the beach head had been secured. My uncle landed at Normandy late in the day on June 6th.
post #2 of 2
Truly a heroic effort by all those involved on that Day of Days. They changed the course of history by sheer will.
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