Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-day, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during World War II. In commemoration, presented below is a portion of a hand-drawn map of the landing beaches at Omaha Beach - specifically the Dog Green and White sectors - from the C.H. Paulsen Papers (MS 454). Carley Herbert Paulsen enlisted and, shortly thereafter, was commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War I. During World War II, Paulsen was recalled to active duty and served in the U.S. Navy’s Eleventh Amphibious Force in the United Kingdom working with advanced amphibious bases and landing craft in preparation for the Allied invasion of Normandy.
(At left, C.H. Paulsen's drawing of the Dog Green sector in the weeks after D-day. Notice the constructed bridge to make it easier for supplies vehicles to transport through the draw. Click image to see larger version.)
This portion of Paulsen's map depicts the various landing craft and supply ships in sectors Dog Green and White shortly after D-day. The Dog Green sector saw some of the heaviest fighting during the entirety of D-day. This was in part due to the presence in this sector of the Vierville Draw, a road visible in Paulsen's drawing, which was one of only five draws leading inward between the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. Of the five draws, only the Vierville maintained a paved road navigable by military armor and vehicles. The Vierville Draw was of strategic importance as it connected to Utah Beach in the west to further British and Canadian landing-heads to the east, and continued south to the village of Vierville-sur-Mer. Put simply, the Vierville Draw was an excellent break-out position after a successful Allied landing.
(At right, photo taken by Paulsen of vacated German 210mm and 88mm artillery at Omaha Beach shortly after D-day.)
The Dog Green sector was defended by members of the German 352nd Infantry Division who fortified its opposing pillboxes, houses, and Widerstandsnester (WNs) or resistance nests, with 88mm cannons, 50mm guns, and other machine guns and mortars. Between these fortifications and the beach ran a twenty-foot-high sloping seawall crested with lengths of barbed wire. The Germans also seeded the more than 400 yards of low-tide beach, road, and cliff bluffs with anti-tank steel gates, iron obstacles, and mines. To stop Allied armor and vehicles from advancing through the draw exit, the Germans constructed two concrete walls, measuring six feet thick and almost ten feet high.
Responsibility for the attack on Omaha Beach fell to the U.S. V Corps commanded by General Leonard Gerow. The naval component responsible for landing troops and mechanized armor, minesweeping operations, and providing gunfire support - Amphibious Task Force O - was commanded by Rear Admiral John L. Hall, Jr. The naval component of the operation called for the landing of amphibious tanks by Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs), other armor and small vehicles carried by both Landing Barge Vehicles (LBVs) and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCMs), and assault infantry ferried and deployed by Landing Craft Infantry (LCIs) and the more familiar Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVPs) or Higgins Boats. Also visible in Paulsen's drawing are landing barges for emergency repair work (LBEs), other barges, and a pair of floating cement docks.
Preceding all Allied landing operations at Omaha was a forty-minute, naval and air bombardment of German radar and beach defenses carried out by U.S. Navy destroyers, cruisers, battleships, and B-24 Liberators of the U.S. Army air forces. However, heavy cloud cover confounded the airstrikes, and aerial bombardment of Omaha Beach was particularly ineffective. Military historians still debate the number of U.S. Navy vessels employed for the pre-landing bombardment and the effectiveness it had on softening the German defenses.
(At left, photo taken by Paulsen of his unit's operations at Omaha Beach shortly after the D-day landing.)
According to the Allied plan, code named "Operation Neptune," seizing the draw would be accomplished by landings of U.S. infantry at H-hour: 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, followed by combat engineers to clear beach obstacles and mines, and then field artillery for fire-support, all the while reinforced by heavy armor. Various factors threw the plan into chaos. In the darkness, the various LCTs transporting tanks became lost and unable to reorganize, causing infantry to make the dangerous landing without heavy armor fire support. Smoke from bluff grass fires caused by heavy salvos from U.S. Navy ships obscured the vision of infantry landing craft crews, resulting in companies assaulting the wrong locations. German infantry gunners peppered landing craft exit ramps with machine gun fire while hails of inaccurately lobbed mortar shells fell among the slow-moving Allied infantry wading to and crawling forward across the beach. Some of the amphibious Duplex Drive (DD) tanks that made it ashore and were not destroyed by German 88mm fire marked pillboxes with tracers for Navy bombardment and fired at enemy positions.
(At right, photo taken by Paulsen of U.S. servicemen posing near a vacated German WN at Omaha Beach shortly after D-day.)
Ultimately the allied landings in Dog Green and other sectors to the east were successful. Through a deadly effort by U.S. forces the road inland was broken open, allowing tanks and other vehicles to safely roll from landing craft across the beach and into occupied French towns. While statistics vary, U.S. casualties at Omaha Beach range between 2,000 and 2,500 missing, wounded, and killed. At the end of June 6, 1944, the first day of the overall invasion (Operation Overlord), U.S. casualties numbered over 6,600 missing, wounded, and killed. The vast majority of U.S. casualties at Omaha Beach were sustained in the first waves of the attack.
The digital collection containing images seen in this post and similar photos by Paulsen in the aftermath of D-Day is accessible here.
The finding aid for the entire C.H. Paulsen Papers, spanning 0.9 linear feet of documentation and consisting of orders, memoranda, blueprints, maps, rosters, drawings, photographs, postcards, and printed ephemera may be found here.
United States Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Battle Experience: Supporting Operations for the Invasion of Northern France, June, 1944. Washington, D.C.: United States Fleet, Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, Navy Department, 1944.