allies on D-Day

Excerpt from: Gordon A. Harrison, United States Army in World War II: Cross-Channel Attack (Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1989 reprint, first published 1951), pages 300 to 335.

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Go to Victory in the West and Canadians on Juno.

[In the early hours of the invasion] The gravest immediate threat for the Germans arose to the east of [U.S.] V Corps where the British assault cracked through the coast defenses in some places during the first few hours. The British Second Army attacked with three divisions abreast under control of 1 and 30 Corps. Immediately on the flank of the American attack, the British 50th Division landed two infantry brigades supported by tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade and assault teams of the 79th Armoured Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando. The troops touched down approximately on time at 0725.

Opposition was heavy at certain points, but on the whole it was much less determined than at OMAHA. In the 50th Division zone le Hamel, strongly defended by the 1st Battalion, 916th Regiment, resisted until late in the day. To the east, however, the British division's left brigade struck a soft spot in the German defenses. The strong point at la Rivière held out only a few hours and when it fell at about 1000 its defenders, the 441st Ost Battalion, attached to the 716th Division, broke and pulled out, leaving the road to Bayeux open. This development, however, was not known to the British. Opposition continued to be reported south of Buhot, at Ryes, St. Sulpice, and Summervieu. It was always difficult in the early stages of the assault properly to distinguish enemy delaying action from major opposition or to discover where the holes were in the German defense. The 50th Division, moreover, still had only its assault forces ashore. Rising tide had prevented effective clearance of underwater obstacles. Enemy opposition and mines delayed the opening of beach exits. Caught in the resulting congestion, the two follow-up brigades of the 50th Division were two hours late in landing. When they did arrive, they found their assembly areas still not entirely cleared of enemy. Elements of the 352d Division, in fact, were still on the Meuvaines ridge after midday.

From the German point of view the crumbling of the 441st Ost Battalion was immediately critical. The gap had to be plugged at once. The 915th Regiment reinforced (LXXXIV Corps reserve) had been stationed near Bayeux and had often practiced just the maneuver now required-counterthrust, toward Crépon. But earlier in the morning (at 0400) the 915th had been ordered to the Carentan- Isigny area to attack reported large-scale enemy airborne landings between the Vire and Douve Rivers. The report was discovered to be unfounded at just about the time the hole in the 716th Division opened up. Threatened with having his whole right flank rolled up, Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, the commanding general of the 352d Division, secured corps approval for the return of the 915th Regiment. But an hour was consumed trying to reach the regiment. Then it had to countermarch almost twenty miles from a point nearly five miles west of the Forêt de Cerisy. The march was made partly on foot, partly by bicycle and French motor vehicles which suffered numerous mechanical breakdowns. Another three hours passed before even a portion of the unit was in position to attack. That delay proved crucial, for in those hours much happened to change the situation on OMAHA completely.

The D-Day Beachhead
First Army's assault plans provided that the initial task of clearing the beaches be carried out by assault sections organized by boatloads. Troops were then to proceed inland to various assembly areas where they would be reorganized in battalions and regiments to carry out their subsequent D-Day missions of securing and consolidating the corps beachheads.

On OMAHA Beach the troops of V Corps in order to reach their assembly areas had to cross a beach flat, varying in width from a few yards at each end to about 200 yards in the center, and climb steep bluffs behind. Although the beach flat offered only patches of tall marsh grass for concealment, the bluffs had irregularities that could provide cover for individual riflemen. The plan called for clearing five exit roads from the beach and an advance inland generally along the axis of these roads. But despite naval bombardment and tank fire from the beach on enemy positions defending these roads all remained active during the first two hours of the assault. Movement off the beach, in consequence, at first took place between the exits. It began before 0800 in a number of independent actions by groups of men, never more than of company size and often much smaller. Some of the attacks had tank fire support; others were materially aided by the bold action of destroyers which came within a few hundred yards of the beach and delivered direct fire wherever they could observe enemy activity.

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The failure of the Germans to exploit the weakness of [U.S.] V Corps was the result quite simply of their own greater weakness. During the first few hours it looked as though the OMAHA assault had been stopped, and the chief concern of the 352d Division was with its right flank which was threatened by the British penetration near Meuvaines. To meet this the LXXXIV Corps reserve, the reinforced 915th Regiment (Kampfgruppe Meyer) had been ordered to attack in the direction of Crépon. By 1100 the division commander, General Kraiss, began to consider the situation in his center more serious in the light of additional information on the whole invasion front. The 709th Division opposing U.S. VII Corps was reporting strong armored reinforcements landed from the sea. At the same time the British were building up their beachhead. A concentration of shipping observed off St. Laurent was thought to indicate Allied intention to reinforce what had heretofore been considered minor penetrations in the St. Laurent area. General Kraiss concluded (apparently for the first time) that the Allies were planning a two-pronged attack on Bayeux from bridgeheads at St. Laurent and Meuvaines. The 2d Battalion of the 915th Regiment was therefore split off from the force on its way toward Crépon and together with one antitank company (with twelve self-propelled 75-mm. antitank guns) was attached to the 916th Regiment in the center of the division sector. The infantry reinforcements moved into the Colleville area in the early afternoon but reported that their counterattack had been stopped by firm American resistance and that they had suffered heavy losses.

The body of Kampfgruppe Meyer in the meantime advanced toward the area Bazenville-Villiers-le-Sec whence it planned to attack to Crépon. By the time it reached its assembly area at about 1730 it found the British already in possession. The units on the right were able to withdraw to St. Gabriel where they were joined by the ten assault guns of the Kampfgruppe. But the infantry battalion under direct command of Colonel Meyer on the left brushed with British forces near Bazenville. Meyer was killed and the battalion lost contact with other German units for several hours. It seems clear that Meyer's forces made no concerted attack, but were chewed up in small defensive actions. The assault guns scored the only success of the day in knocking out four British tanks near Brecy. On the other hand four of the guns were themselves lost, possibly to British naval fire. Out of the entire Kampfgruppe only about ninety men escaped. In the evening these remnants were attached to the 726th Regiment, which was ordered to establish a defensive line: Coulombs-St. Gabriel-the Seulles River west to Esquay-sur-Seulles-Hill 64 (west of Bazenville)-the Gronde River to Asnelles-sur-Mer. The plan for 7 June on this front was simply to muster all available troops including artillery units in Kampfgruppen to prevent a British break-through into Bayeux.

In the meantime the commander of the British 50th Division had decided to halt on a line north and northeast of the city roughly between Vaux-sur-Orne and Vaux-sur-Seulles. He had been advancing against very slight opposition, but because of the delays in getting started he feared that he could not occupy Bayeux and organize a proper defense before dark. He ordered the attack to be resumed at daylight.

Most of the countermeasures initiated by OB WEST and Army Group B on D Day were directed against the British. Because the British had established the most extensive beachhead, their landings seemed to constitute the main Allied effort. Matching the success of the 50th Division immediately on the flank of U.S. V Corps, the 3d Canadian Division, landing on beaches near Courseulles, had advanced from three to six miles and had sent armored patrols as far as Bretteville l'Orgueilleuse some ten miles from the beach. On its left the 3d British Division advanced beyond Biéville to within about two miles of Caen. East of the Orne River the two parachute brigades of the 6th Airborne Division had successfully accomplished their missions of seizing bridges at Bénouville and destroying the enemy coastal battery at Merville. Although the advances of all British units fell short of their objectives (particularly in the failure to take either Caen or Bayeux), they nevertheless represented the widest and deepest penetration on the Allied front. Besides, they broke through what the Germans considered an especially vital portion of the defense. Caen was the gateway to the open country constituting the best tank route to Paris. In German eyes it was therefore the key to their whole position in France.

At 0500 Army Group B released the 21st Panzer Division (Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger) to Seventh Army control in order to counterattack British airborne landings east of the Orne River. For the attack the division lacked half of its infantry, one artillery battalion, and the antiaircraft and antitank battalions. These units, located on both sides of the Orne River, had been attached to the 716th Division after the seaborne landings began. General Feuchtinger organized the remainder of his troops and started them northward. But, while still on the approach march, at about noon he was ordered to cross the Orne and make his attack west of the river to counter directly the threat to Caen. Delayed in passing through Caen where only one bridge over the Orne was still usable, Feuchtinger could not jump off until 1600. Then, with his troops organized in two regimental combat teams, he attacked the British 3d Division from about the line St. Contest-Hérouville. The attack was heavily resisted and made little progress along the Orne. But to the west one battalion struck through to Cresserons and sent elements to the coast. A few stragglers got into a Luftwaffe communications bunker near Douvres where they held out until 17 June, but the bulk of the battalion after being badly mauled pulled out. Before dark Feuchtinger halted the attack all along the line and ordered his units to dig in only a few hundred yards north of the line of departure. He tied in with infantry units of the division fighting east of the Orne.

Feuchtinger's attack, stopped before it had achieved anything, was the only large-scale counterattack on D Day.

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At midnight General Kraiss reported his situation [at OMAHA] to General Marcks at corps. He was not sanguine. He thought his present forces might be sufficient to hold off enemy attacks on 7 June but his losses were so heavy that he would need reinforcements for the following day's fighting. In the coastal positions, he said, he had suffered a total loss of men and equipment. His casualties for the day were about 1,200, or nearly one-fifth of his combat effectives. General Marcks replied that the reserves which could be spared to the 352d Division had already been sent forward. Kraiss would simply have to hold on as tenaciously as possible with what he had.