Monday, 4 June 2012

Omaha Beach - A Disaster Made in the USA

It's just a few days from June 6th, so I thought I would post this.

The image of US soldier storming Omaha Beach is a heroic one - but if we turn to the US Army Green  books which describe the battle in detail, the story told is one of heroism being used to cover up incompetence.

There were three major factors in the disaster, none  of which generally make it into the public eye.

The central failure was to not take British advice. The British had much experience in the assault of well prepared enemy positions, both in WWI and in WW II.  The lesson both the British and the Germans learned from WWI was that well prepared enemy positions could not be taken by direct assault, or if the were taken, only with unsustainable casualties. The German 'Blitzkrieg' method of attack was essentially one of finding the weak points in the enemy line, infiltrating between the strong points and taking the strong points from the rear.

The US plan for Omaha beach required a direct assault on fortified the beach exits, which would be rushed and taken by storm. Artillery and tanks would suppress the German fire and combat engineers blow the concrete walls and bunkers

The British had  learned that combat engineers cannot do complex tasks like properly laying demolition charges under fire. No matter how courageous the engineers were it becomes almost impossible to do all but the simplest tasks while being shot at. The hands shake, and the mind cannot think clearly. There is a frantic, desperate rush to get the job done. Most charges fail to fire. It's equally difficult to clear mines under fire.

To overcome this the British would employ 'Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers' ('Hobart's Funnies) on the British beaches. Tanks specially adapted to blow gaps in the concrete walls, breach minefields and cross anti-tank ditches were designed and proved very effective.

They were offered to the US Army - but refused.

The final factor, which is some ways saved the landing, but in other ways almost doomed it, was the launching of the landing craft and swimming tanks too far from shore.

 We are told by the US Army official history (the Cross Channel Landing)  that the landing craft were launched 11 miles off the beach, the swimming tanks 6,000 yards in weather conditions which were known to be marginal.  Of 32 tanks launched only 5 made it to the beach. All but one of the artillery pieces was lost and at least 10 of the infantry assault landing craft were swamped and sunk. The infantry spent much of the hour long trip to the beach throwing up and were  exhausted by the time they hit the beach. At the point where they were required to the make the maximum physical effort.

The naval component of the landings wanted to launch closer in but were overruled.  A tactical decision should have been made to risk the losses from German fire rather than lose the bulk of fire support. That decision was not made. The result was that the attacking force lost roughly 80% of its armoured and artillery support before it got onto the beach. If it been a land battle the attack would have been cancelled immediately.

The infantry were expected make a direct assault on concrete gun emplacements without engineer or fire support. Had the infantry landed in the right place they would of been wiped out.

Fortunately the stormy weather pushed the landing craft off course and most landed away from concrete bunkers they were meant to attack.

Omaha is story of great heroism and sacrifice - but the terrible losses were caused incompetence rather than the Germans.

Once it was realised that the infantry were without fire support effective action was taken. Destroyers and warships closed right up to the beach, in range of the German guns to take out the German artillery. They fired heavy calibre guns at point-blank range with devastating results in a 'counter battery' artillery battle that had never been envisaged and is almost unique in history of modern warfare.

Unfortunately it took several hours for the situation on the beach to be understood and counter battery fire to be initiated - during that time the US troops on beach took terrible losses.  The infantry eventually got off the beach by infiltrating between the strong points and assaulting them from the rear - a process the exact opposite of that planned.

All this information is to be found in US Army documents.  Notably 'The Cross Channel Landings" which are some of the most fascinating books about WW II. They are fascinating because they tell a story that is different from popular history.

For political and propaganda reason many of the US militaries failings were covered up, The British aircraft and ships defending NY harbour in 1942, The USS Robin in the Pacify in 1943 and the British XXX Corps relieving Bastogne from the West - all were hidden from public knowledge - but not from the Official Histories.

If want to read about the secret history of WW II, you have to go to the source - the Official Histories

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