By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: John C. McManus
Narration by: Don Hagen
John McManus tells a story of one battle in WWII. Directly and indirectly, an estimated 80 million people die. Twenty two to twenty five million military men and women are lost to their families. McManus infers all WWII’ losses are exemplified by 3,000 Allied and 1,200 Axis soldiers that die in battle at Omaha Beach. The D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach contrasts honor, bravery, and leadership with blame, weakness, and powerlessness in battle.
American’ soldiers are trained by a martinet, Clarence R. Huebner, for a special battle assignment. (Huebner served in both WWI and WWII.) From experience, Huebner drills the 1st Infantry Division, knowing that discipline, physical conditioning, and team building are critical components of success in battle. Soldiers are trained to carry heavy equipment, ammunition, and rations into battle. Leadership interchangeability is emphasized so that when a battalion commander falls, a lieutenant takes charge; when a lieutenant falls, a sergeant takes charge and so on down to private.
The 1st Infantry Division is to make the first assault on Omaha Beach. The plan is to land on Omaha beach in 32 man assault groups. The size of the groups is based on landing craft capacity. The first groups are Engineer task forces to clear a path through equipment and infantry barriers placed on the beach by Axis soldiers.
Bouncing Bettys, antitank barriers, and barbwire fencing are set up all along the beach front.
The assault is to begin at 6:30 in the morning with task forces to arrive on each of 10 sectors on Omaha Beach, on the coast of France. The intent is to arrive at low tide so all obstacles to invasion are observable. Before the assault is to begin, Axis Power’s beach defenses are to be bombarded by artillery.
OMAHA BEACH LANDING PLAN
What McManus writes suggests nothing goes as planned. The sea is rough and most task groups are blown off course. Infantry backpack requirements are too heavy at 75 or more pounds per soldier. McManus argues that backpacks should have been restricted to weapons and ammunition for the first assault teams. Though the invasion is delayed one day because of weather, the weather on June 6, 1944 is still too rough. Only two of 32 Sherman tanks in the initial assault manage to make land fall. The others sink, or are damaged by salt water, because of rough seas. As men reach the beach, they are exhausted by the things they carry and the enemy’s defense.
The first assault is unable to clear a path to most enemy batteries because earlier artillery barrages offer no crater protection on the beach, and destroy no defensive bunkers. The Allied Force’s artillery overshoot Axis defense installations. The first assault groups lose nearly half their soldiers. They are compelled to use Axis soldier’s barriers (rather than destroy their installation) to protect themselves from enemy fire. Few paths to the enemy are cleared by the first Allied assault forces.
One of the many heroes of the first assault is Colonel George Taylor, a charismatic leader that pushes his men with words that give title to McManus’s book, e. g. “There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
After losing half his men, Lieutenant Jimmie Monteith, rallies his group to hold on until reinforcements arrive. When the second wave of Allied tanks make the beach, Monteith’s men lead the tanks to higher ground. Sadly, the 26-year-old Lieutenant is killed before the end of the day.
Another snafu in the initial assault at Omaha beach is a failure to think through the communication needs of a highly complicated invasion. General Huebner receives little intelligence on the difficulties that arise during the initial assault. One of the few radios that reach the shore is carried by John Pinder, Jr. The equipment is the size of a window air conditioner with multiple parts. Pinder, as a Technician 5th Grade, is wounded as he wades ashore carrying the main radio transmitter. He refuses medical treatment and returns to the delivery vessel three times to get the additional communications gear. On his last trip to shore, he is shot a second time, refuses treatment again, and is shot a third time. He dies June 6, 1944.
WWII becomes a necessary war when Hitler invades Poland in 1939. Few realize the depth of Hitler’s evil until near the end of the war. Without the honor, bravery, and leadership of Allied Forces before and after D-Day, the world would have little hope for freedom. In spite of mistakes made in life; inherent human weakness, and powerlessness in the face of inept leadership, good prevails over evil. That is the lesson of one battle; i.e. the battle for Omaha Beach. The power of good over evil is exemplified by a young boy, in 2014, who stands with an American flag on a lonely beach in France: