D-Day snafu

I recently revisited “The Longest Day”, and upon release some time ago “Saving Private Ryan”. Both movies partrayed a chilling account of the Omaha Beach invasion. It was woefully obvious that the element of surprise was dispensed with in that fateful regatta. I wonder whether a nighttime amphibian landing was deemed impractical because of the sheer quantity of craft and men involved? Is there another explanation? Weren’t more men slaughtered because of their blatant visibility than would have perished from friendly trampling in a nocturnal mahem?

I think Omaha was so costly because large German forces happened to be on exercises nearby.

Were there any nocturnal amphibious landings in WW2? I can’t see it working.

D-Day was a surprise. Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches were hit with far fewer casualties and the Germans held off sending re-inforcements for a couple of days, thinking that it was a Dieppe-style distraction raid.

My memory is that Omaha was so bloody because the Germans had moved several units into the area for training and so there were more defenders than usual at the beaches.

If you want to have an understanding of how terrible a night assault would have been, read the particulars of the assaults by the 83d and 101st airborne units. They did great work, after intense training, but they still found whole regiments out of position after the drops. Now send several tens of thousands of infantrymen ashore when they can’t even see the water or the beach (and the landing craft coxswains can’t see the beach, either).

I like to read books about WWII, and IIRC, another problem with landing at night was that they would have had to start loading the ships during daylight hours in Britain, thus possibly showing themselves to German planes. This was June 6, so the nights were pretty short.

As a side note, I recall very clearly that some of the unsung heroes of the invasion were the crews of the weather data gathering ships in the Atlantic, some of whom never made it back from Arctic storms. The Allies had better weather information than the Axis, and Eisenhower was told there was a very good probability of the weather clearing just in time to get things underway. The Germans, meanwhile, had put people on leave, and officially lowered their readiness in the region. Rommell went back to Germany, to argue with Hitler for better supplies, I think.

Actually, Rommel went home to celebrate his wifes birthday.

I don’t think any large scale night landings were made. Even in daylight many landing craft landed at the wrong place. Go to the 29th Infantry Division web page. One company of their assault battalion was landed so far from their assigned place that they couldn’t find their unit and joined the Rangers assaulting the Pointe du Hoc gun emplacements.

The landing craft were loaded like 10 miles out and visibility was terrible with a rough sea. The landing boad crews did well to get to shore at all.

Paratroops, who did drop at night, were scattered badly, some of them even dropping into the ocean. The paratroops simply “played it by ear” using whatever troops could be rounded up and on the whole were quite successful in isolating the battle area from and spreading confusion in the defenders.

I thought that the problem with the Omaha beach landing, as distinct from the others, was that naval units tasked to support the landing with off-shore bombardment were out of position. Their suppressing fire didn’t hit the beach, so the German units were ready and unhindered in repelling the invasion. On the other beachs the pillboxes and prepared defenses were damaged or destroyed, and the Germans were forced to evacuate or reposition while the landings were going on.

Thanks for the correction. I did remember the wife’s birthday part, but I thought it was during the Africa campaign. He was missing for something crucial battle there, too, I think. What was that about?

I feel compelled to recommend “A Bodyguard of Lies” to people who are actually reading this thread. I love this book. It tells the spy/espionage stories behind both the D-Day invasion (and a bit of the Africa campaign), and the resistance to Hitler made by German high-ranking officers.

If you want a taste of what it was like to live in Germany under Hitler in an easily readable format, and from a very informed POV, there’s “Berlin Diary” by William Shirer.

I think another reason there were more casulties at Omaha was the geography of the beach. Here there were low cliffs , overlooked by gun emplacements. At the other beaches there was just flat land behind and , apart from the buildings lining the sea front, the Germans did not have the same advantage for placing guns. The Americans on Omaha had to scale these cliffs while forces on the other beaches could just drive ashore. I have visited all the D Day beaches ( apart from Utah ) and this was the one thing that struck me :- the difficulty that the USA forces must have faced in getting off the beach .

Slight hijack.

It is really difficult to believe that the German intellegence agents in England would have overlooked so large an operation. By this time, of course, anyone in Germany with half a brain knew the war was lost and had been since Stalingrad. Many in high places were desperately looking for a way to be saved from the Russians and were not particularly concerned with the coming of the British and the Americans. The Russians would have been in Berlin by 1945, D-Day or not. D-Day was about saving capitalist bacon in Europe, not about defeating fascism. It simply wasn’t necessary for that purpose.


German intelligence knew an invasion attempt was imminent - but they didnt know where. Allied misinformation had convinced them that Normandy was not the target.

Why did the Germans have their “last throw of the dice” in the West (the Ardennes offensive) rather than the East?

And, no, I don’t think that the Russians would have got to Berlin by 1945 without a second front.

What German intelligence agents were still operating in England as of June 1944?

D-Day was an essential part of the effort to win the war, and something that Stalin had been bugging the West to do for some time. To say the Russians would have been in Berlin by 1945 with no pressure from the west is not supportable, and the above quote is nonsensical.

But even if one does suppose that the D-day invasion did forestall the Soviets from dominating all of continental Europe - well, that’s a good thing, IMHO.

At this stage of the war there were no German Agents in Britain. They had all been “turned” or arrested. Information was fed back to Germany by these compromised agents but they were acting on instructions from British intelligence and they were pointing to an invasion near Calais and not in Normandy . Try to get hold of a book about this double cross system operated by the Allies ,it was a very clever plan.

Apparently, a factor that brought about problems on Omaha beach was the fact (mentioned briefly above) that many of the troops landed on the wrong section of beach (too near the cliffs). If they had landed where they were supposed to, they would have experienced less resistance… much like the more successful landing on Utah beach.

Stalin desparately wanted a Western front, and without it, there is no telling how much longer the war might have continued. If Britain and the U.S. hadn’t bombed the bejezez out of Germany and destroyed the Luftwaffe and simply waited till Germany and the USSR bled each other white (as Churchill at times considered doing) the war may have lasted much longer and Stalingrad might not have been a turning point. As little credit as the Western Allies give to the Russians doing most of the awful bloody work on the Eastern front, had the Allies simply stopped after recovering North Africa and possibly Italy, the final victory was not certain. The USSR very much needed and benefited from the enormous pressure the Western Allies put on the Nazis. An unreduced Luftwaffe and German industrial base might have been able to hold off the numerical superiority of the Soviets (and their superior tanks). The Messerschmit 262 jets could have achieved air supremacy over the Soviets. So I have to disagree that Normandy was only for capitalism. It was militarily necessary.

As for surprise, Operation Bodyguard took complete advantage of Hitler’s belief in his own “military genius” and kept German reinforcements from coming for a long time. The timing of the landing was a complete surprise and Hitler withheld reinforcements because he believed the real landing would come at the Pas d’ Calais shortly. He had no clue of the scope of the Normandy invasion due to complete air supremacy and a disinformation campaign. As heavy as the Omaha casualties were, the Allies were fortunate that all the beaches didn’t have such high casualties. Amphibious operations had (and have) enormous risks, and the troops are very vulnerable while landing. The Germans knew that the Allies were coming, they just didn’t know when and where.

IIRC, Allied commanders were very concerned about landing at Omaha from the early days of planning. They realized that the terrain behind the beaches heavily favored the defenders, and actually considered not landing there at all.

They decided that they had to because, had they not, the gap between Utah and Gold beaches would have been so great as to preclude mutual support - it would have been like two independent landing operations, which the enemy could have dealt with piecemeal.

OK, then why bother with Utah? Planners felt that Gold, Juno and Sword alone would not provide enough landing space to get a big force ashore quickly and expand into a large beachhead that could repel the anticipated counterstrikes.

OK, so why Normady at all? A fascinating, but much larger, question.

Another factor in the landings was the pattern of tides, to ensure that the landing craft didn’t beach too far out, nor impale themselves on the anti-invasion beach defences - the metal tetrahedrons you saw in Private Ryan, each of which was topped by a mine. If the invasion hadn’t gone ahead on the 6th, it would have been weeks before they could have tried again.

That was the 2nd Battle of Alamein, where he’d returned to Germany to recuperate from a desert illness.

There weren’t that many choices which fit all the practicalities. The landing area had to be in range of UK airfields (to take advantage of allied air superiority). This limited it to basically: the Cotentin peninsula, the Normandy beaches, or the pas de Calais. The Cotentin was ruled out, as the allies could have been bottled up by strong German forces at the southern end of the peninsula, as was the pas de Calais, because that was where the main German counter-invasion strength was. Which left Normandy.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in this particular topic, I recommend Peter Tsouras’s book “Disaster at D-Day”. It’s a “What If?”-type history book, where the main premise is that even stronger German units oppose the Omaha landings, causing them to fail there, leaving the allies with two separate weaker landings, as brad_d describes.

Re: the misinformation campaign

I saw a photograph of four British soldiers holding a Sherman tank on their shoulders, one at each corner. Apparently, the allies built huge numbers of decoy tanks, either inflatable, or made of wood. They were carged around to show an invasion force much further north.

I haven’t read this book and probably won’t. But, Gen. Bradley wrote later that he considered halting further landings at Omaha and redirecting the invasion forces still being off-loaded to Utah beach where things were going well.

There is no evidence that the Germans had a large force at, or could move one to, the base of the Cotentin Peninsula in time to prevent US forces from moving out into Normandy from there.

It is relatively easy now to look at a map and say, “Well, they could have moved Army Group B, which was unoccupied at the time, to here and that would have bottled us up.” It is another thing to recognize that possibility at the time. And to disengage the force from whatever it is doing, even if it is just in reserve, to gather the transport needed, select the roads to use so there won’t be a big traffic jam, redirect supply lines so that the force will have fuel to get there and some food and ammunition when they get there, and all the other details required for such an operation. And all this movement at least partly in daylight, because speed is essential, in the face of complete US air superiority over that area.

I’ve said it before and will say it again. All “what if” plans are perfect until they are actually put to use. It is only when plans are tried out that the flaws come to light.

The damage on Omaha was done largely by one German infantry battalion - less than a thousand men. It wouldn’t have taken much more to make the landing there fail. Tsouras places one more Panzer Division near enough to Omaha for elements of it to reach the beach on the morning of the landings - in his book, a few dozen tanks roaming up and down the beach cause Bradley to order the landings cancelled. This is, of course, “counterfactual”, but if Rommel had had his way, this is exactly what would have happened. The Germans wavered between Rommel’s approach - strong forces directly on the coast - and holding their armoured forces as a general reserve, and ended up doing mostly the latter.

Very true. The allied landing plan was sound (land on as large a front as possible) and even with hindsight, landing at Omaha is still the right decision in terms of making the invasion succeed.