More than 60 years on, researchers are still arguing about exactly why Omaha Beach was the hardest fought of all the landing points of D-Day. Presenter Richard Hammond and Dr Simon Trew of ...
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More than 60 years on, researchers are still arguing about exactly why Omaha Beach was the hardest fought of all the landing points of D-Day. Presenter Richard Hammond and Dr Simon Trew of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst set out to look through the latest findings. Can new statistical research and fresh archaeological finds reveal the truth? Written by
Many of us feel we know pretty much what there is to know of any importance about the extremely costly landings of two American infantry companies at Omaha Beach. We watched "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Longest Day." But this program offers new insights into why the landings were so bloody at Omaha. For one thing, the assault was based on data that were at least a year old. The planners collected all the evidence they could about Normany in 1943 -- millions of personal postcards, family movies, maps, aerial photos, everything -- and based their agenda on that information.
Hitler was concentrating his forces around Calais and had neglected Normandy. But the Normandy that was laid out in 1943 was not the same beach as it was in June, 1944, because Erwin Rommel had been put in charge of the Atlantic Wall. He was smart and industrious. His defenses were beefed up and meticulously planned, kept mostly underground, safe from aerial reconnaissance.
The hundred-foot high bluffs behind the beaches are usually mentioned as the chief obstacle but contributory factors include the shape of the bluffs. They formed a semi-circle around Omaha, so that enfilade fire from both sides could be laid down on the featureless stretch of sand that formed the beach.
The defenses were completely intact because the massive air bombardment had missed its target and wiped out French villages and dairy farms miles behind the bluffs. Since the beach was never bombed, there were no craters to provide temporary shelter.
The losses were far greater than initially thought -- probably around 45,000 men killed, wounded, or missing.
The host interviews several expert and a few survivors. It's not overly dramatic. There are reenactors but there is more newsreel footage. The Allied liberators were greeted sometimes sullenly. One historian attributes this to the dour regional character of the French citizens. However, those citizens had seen their homes, cities, and livelihoods destroyed by the bombardments from sea and air, most of which landed far behind the beaches. Of course the continent of Europe was more important than the discomfort of the Normandy French.
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