its 0630, on the 6th of June, 1944, and you are nervously waiting as the LCVP (landing craft vehicle and personnel) draws nearer to shore, praying, waiting for the hail of fire and death that awaits, knowing your chances of lasting more than two minutes upon landing are almost zero, and that’s if you even make it out of the LCVP.
The ramp lowers, an almost interminable hail of fire erupts. men are dropping like flies everywhere, your left leg has suddenly become very warm and wet, you charge forward to be met with more automatic machine gun fire, mortars dropping everywhere, confusion, the dead and wounded laying everywhere, the shore is red with blood, and you have just seen your best friend cut in half by machine gun fire.
Now imagine being an 18 year old and seeing all this. Imagine the sheer terror you would feel leading up to the assault, the utter fear and confusion as you sit on the beach watching men die and knowing that there is a good chance that in 2 minutes you will also be dead. imagine the sheer horror of storming up the beach wondering if this moment will be your last… Your thoughts wander to your family, will you ever see them again? will you even see the end of the hour out? all the time taking your chances running up a beach being shot at and shelled.
That, for almost 24,000 British, Canadian and American troops, is what the hours leading up to and the first few hours of “Operation Neptune” (the amphibious assault phase of Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of Normandy) must have been like.
British soldiers of the 50th Division Come Ashore On D-Day.
My only idea of the sheer hell of what it must have been like come from the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” and i cant help but wonder if that opening scene, although graphically realistic, REALLY portrays the fear and uncertainty of the first wave.
I think, to anyone who wasn’t there, that horror and fear is incomprehensible, whilst it gives a good account, it can never make you feel the exact same way as a frightened 18 year old boy did upon landing on that beach. My words also, hold scarce account to that fear.
The men who survived it, the reluctant heroes of Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, hold no regard for what they achieved that day, most merely seeing it as doing their job, and not wanting to let their mates down. But lets get one thing straight right now. These men are heroes one and all. Spielberg, and even myself have tried to paint a picture of the horror of those first few seconds, minutes, hours of the landings, neither of us will ever do it justice, but these men carried on in the face of fear and all the time knowing their chances of “catching a packet” were extremely high.
That’s true Heroism. Being scared silly of doing something, but doing it anyway. I have no doubt whatsoever, that even as a 37 year old man, i would probably go to pieces under those conditions. This then, is what makes their achievement and heroism even more striking and outstanding.
Looking at the statistics, its easy to be fooled into thinking that 4900 (of which approx 2700 were British) casualties from 155,000 who landed on the beach is relatively light, but then, when you consider that 9/10ths of these men were landed after the beach-head was secured, it becomes and entirely different matter. Of course, these figures are only approximate, but by my calculations, it means roughly 12000 men were in the first couple of waves that sought to take the beach, and over a quarter of those died in the attempt. To put it into context, i will let Sgt. Ray Lambert, who was a medic with the American 1st division, and among the first wave to hit the beach on June the 6th, tell you in his own words.
When we got within a thousand yards of the beach, you could hear the machine-gun bullets hitting off the front ramp of the boat
The ramp went down, and we were in water over our heads. Some of the men drowned. Some got hit by the bullets. The boat next to ours blew up. Some of those men caught fire. We never saw them again
When we got to the beach, I said to one of my men, Cpl. Meyers, `If there’s a hell, this has got to be it.’ And it was about a minute later that he got a bullet in his head.
To make a long story short, only seven of the 31 men on my boat made it to the beach
Lambert was severely wounded on D-Day but survived the ordeal, as also did Cpl. Herbert Meyers. The two were quite astonished to see each other at a veterans’ reunion many years later.
Nearly 40 years later, General Omar Bradley, who commanded U.S. ground forces on D-Day, wrote in his memoir:
Omaha Beach was a nightmare.
Even now it brings pain to recall what happened there on June 6, 1944. I have returned many times to honor the valiant men who died on that beach. They should never be forgotten. Nor should those who lived to carry the day by the slimmest of margins
Nothing i say, can do these men justice. Year by year, the numbers of veterans dwindle by as many as 300,000. Only by remembering them, and their gallantry, will be able to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Only by remembering them, and their struggles, will we ever be able to repay these men who so gallantly “gave their tomorrow for our today” and pay fitting tribute to those who survived and are still alive.
I will leave you now with a few poignant images, as if any further need to re-enforce the magnitude of the task of d-day, here are a few reminders of the sacrifices made to keep the world free…
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them…