The Main Events of D Day – Beach by Beach

Daybreak 05.15

Sunrise 06.00 Dawn on D-Day was around 0600 on all beaches

Tide Times Varied for each beach, east to west. This meant H-Hour was earlier in the west on Utah and Omaha

The leading ships were the minesweepers. Those attached to Force U came in view of the Normandy coastline at approx 0200 but the Germans did not see them. The Germans opened fire at 0530. Sweepers cleared the route for all ships and craft and an area for the bombarding ships to use. The fleet’s bombardment started at 0550. They were joined by aircraft bombing on beach target areas. On the run in other landing craft with guns and rockets added their fire to cover the assault craft.

Utah Beach.

On Utah the first troops touched the beach at 0630 but missed their target because of strong tides and 18 knot wind making four feet high waves during the 11 mile run in. Because of bad weather their amphibious tanks left the carrying craft at 3,000 yards (instead of the planned 5,000 yards). Of 32 DD (Dual Drive) tanks 28 made the beach. The first wave of LCA’s each carrying 30 man assault teams was followed by a second wave of 32 craft who also had assault engineers and naval demolition teams to clear obstacles. Brigadier General Roosevelt realised the beach was lightly defended and ordered the advance. By the end of the day 4th Division had pushed inland 4 miles and made contact with 101st Airborne Division.

Omaha Beach.

Minesweepers of Force O were at work off the beach at midnight. At 0300 the transports had arrived and unloading of assault troops into landing craft began 11 miles off the beach. The sea was rough and many troops seasick – several craft were swamped as were most of the DD tanks (of 32 tanks only 5 made the
beach). The strong easterly tide carried most craft to the wrong beaches and this breakdown of the landing plan had a disastrous effect on the assault. At 1000 yards the leading craft came under intense and accurate enemy fire. Many craft grounded 1,000 yards offshore and troops leapt into deep water – some drowned weighed down by their heavy equipment. By mid day the German lines had been breached in four places and troops began moving inshore around and bypassing heavily defended strongpoints. The tide had risen, drowning many wounded too weak to move ashore. The beach was crammed with men, trapped against the sea wall, sheer weight of numbers clogged up the exits and prevented artillery and vehicles landing. Supporting fire from the Navy destroyers which closed to 800 yards to fire directly into pill boxes helped turn the tide and inflicted heavy losses on defenders. The situation was tenuous. Follow up units were restricted to narrow cleared columns as most obstacles could not be cleared. V Corps did not have the planned tank or artillery support, suffered severely but in the course of the day managed to clear the beachhead to a mile inland.

Gold Beach.

Similar minesweeping and fleet bombardment. The flood tide delayed H Hour until 0725 and this
allowed the bombardment over an hour and a half. The British chose assembly areas only seven miles off the coast
– for a shorter final run in by assault craft. Again bad weather affected plans. Rather than launch the DD tanks in
the fierce current and force 5 winds the craft brought them in to the beach, behind the first infantry, most tanks
were bogged down or disabled by enemy fire. Clearing its way through the Atlantic WaIl the 50th Division covered
five square miles by nightfall, almost to Bayeux.

Juno Beach.

Task Force J carrying the Canadians offloaded them seven miles offshore and. the shorter distance to the beach helped the troops. Like Gold Beach Juno was wide enough to land two brigades side by side. The Canadian 7th Brigade landed at Courseulles (0745) and the 8th Brigade at Bernieres (0755). H Hour was delayed
so that the tide could cover rocks. However many beach obstacles were also covered and thirty percent of all landing craft on Juno Beach were damaged/destroyed. Heavy seas again caused confusion. With the prompt arrival of the armoured units the extra fire power of DD tanks and ‘funnies’ (AVRE – Armed Vehicles Royal Engineers – some with a large gun or petard) made all the difference. Bypassing strongpoints the Canadians moved inland, joining up with the British on Gold Beach and forward elements even reached the Bayeux – Caen road in a strong position but to the East a gap of two miles still separated them from Sword Beach.

Sword Beach.

H Hour was the same as on Gold (0725). Here the beach was only wide enough for one brigade at a time to come ashore because of offshore rocks/shoals and the entry to the River Orne at the small port of Ouistreham. The same minesweeping cleared the channels for ships’ approach. The bombarding force faced
batteries from Merville and further to the East and included battleships HMS WARSPITE, RAMILLIES and the monitor ROBERTS all with 15 inch guns. 8th Brigade came ashore at the right place, at the right time. Lovat’s Commandos followed to reinforce 6th Airborne Division at Pegasus Bridge. The strong point of La Breche was subdued by 1000. The Free French assaulted Ouistreham. Frogmen and engineers had a hard time clearing obstacles and the tide reduced the beach to a 10 yard strip. However the exits were clear and infantry continued to land without much trouble. In the afternoon much of the armour and vehicles were packed close together – the beach remained under fire and only had one usable road exit. Most of the heavy weapons were left to catch up as best they could. By late afternoon 185th Brigade had reached two miles short of Caen and here met heavy German resistance from 21st Panzer Division. The enemy was about to launch a counter attack.By nightfall on D-Day the Allies were firmly ashore on all beaches. Average depth inland was five miles, only half of what had been planned. The position was not yet continuous, but it was defensible. The weather had not been on the side of the Allies yet the landings had succeeded and a firm beachhead had been established.