Omaha Beach–was the most heavily defended and where Allies suffered the most casualties. Here, the untested US 29th Infantry Division was joined by the veteran 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One).
Gold Beach – was charged to the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division.
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Juno Beach – was charged to the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and commandos of the Royal Marines.
Sword Beach – was located closest to the town of Caen. It was charged to the British 3rd Infantry Division that met armored resistance from the 21st Panzer Division.
Pointe du Hoc – was the highest point between Utah and Omaha Beaches and heavily fortified by the Germans. US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs and overcame the Germans.
Just prior to the invasion, thousands of Allied airborne troops invaded behind the lines at Normandy under the cover of darkness. Their mission was to secure bridges and strategic locations until relieved by troops coming from the beaches. At the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, American paratroopers suffered heavy casualties as they descended on the town, thanks in large part to a building on fire and illuminating the night sky, making the soldiers easy targets. Many other paratroopers fell into fields deliberately flooded by the Germans. Burdened by considerable equipment, many Allied soldiers drowned.
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Eisenhower’s attack caught the Germans by surprise, including Hitler and Rommel, causing them to react slowly. Nonetheless, 12,000 Allied casualties were recorded on the first day, with 4,414 confirmed dead and several others missing. The Germans would lose 1,000 men, small by comparison. Although the Germans were finally able to mount a counterattack, the Allies had secured Normandy and began to move inland. Two months later, they would liberate Paris. Eleven months later, the war in Europe would be over.
Those who survived the invasion were left with indelible impressions of their experience. In a letter to his wife Mabel, Army Chaplain and 2nd Lieutenant John G. Burkhalter described his experience on landing at Omaha Beach with the 1st Infantry Division:
When my part of the Division landed, there were impressions made on my mind that will never leave it. Just before landing we could see heavy artillery shells bursting all up and down the beach at the water’s edge under well directed fire. As I stood in line waiting to get off the LCI to a smaller craft to go into shore, I was looking toward land and saw a large shell fall right on a landing craft full of men. I had been praying quite a bit through the night as we approached the French coast but now I began praying more earnestly than ever. Danger was everywhere; death was not far off. I knew that God alone is the maker and preserver of life, who loves to hear and answer prayer. We finally landed and our assault craft was miraculously spared, for we landed with no shells hitting our boat.
Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue. As I look back through hectic days just gone by to that hellish beach I agree with Ernie Pyle, that it was a pure miracle we even took the beach at all. Yes, there were a lot of miracles on the beach that day. God was on the beach D-Day; I know He was because I was talking with Him.
Chaplain Burkhalter would go on to receive the Bronze Star for valor, the Silver Star for gallantry, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained. His full letter was published in the Miami Daily News on Sunday, August 6, 1944.
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