Omaha Beach shortly after the Allied landing of 6 June 1944. Copyright Imperial War Museums (EA 26941)
On 5 November 1943, Hitler appointed Erwin Rommel inspector-general for the North Sea and Atlantic coasts. As commander of Army Group B, he had under his command the 7th Army, on which the sector stretching from Brittany to the Cotentin Peninsula depended. The Desert Fox was convinced that, once the landings were made, the battle would be decided in two days: the enemy must be pushed back to the sea in the initial hours of fighting, to prevent it from establishing a bridgehead and landing more men and equipment. He therefore undertook to considerably reinforce the Atlantic Wall because, while the German defences were very strong on the coastline of Pas-de-Calais, where it seemed most likely the Allies would land, they were far weaker elsewhere, outside the major ports like Cherbourg and Saint Nazaire, transformed on the Führer's orders into Festungen, or 'fortresses'. Meanwhile, Rommel's superior, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commander-in-chief on the Western Front since 1942, regarded the Atlantic Wall as ”no more than a cheap bluff”.
Field Marshal Rommel knew that his mission was crucial to the future of the Reich, and he was determined for it to be successful. As he became increasingly convinced that the Allies would land on Normandy's western beaches, he had the low-lying areas at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula flooded and the defences there reinforced, erecting a second line of coastal defences, laying more mines and obstacles on the beaches, and enclosing the cannons in pillboxes. On the eve of D-Day, in the Overlord area, approximately 200 000 obstacles were scattered from the dunes out to sea: metal barriers from the Belgian defensive line of 1940, oblique-cut tree trunks covered with a steel blade or topped with a mine, and ”Czech hedgehogs” (formed of three metal beams crossed in the middle and set in concrete). Millions of mines were buried, anti-tank walls put up and miles of barbed wire laid. In addition, nearly 2 000 blockhouses were built by conscripted French workers and Italian prisoners of war put to work for the Organisation Todt. Gun turrets from French tanks captured in 1940 were fixed atop concrete foxholes to form ”Tobruks”, named after a battle in Libya. Despite being far apart, these defensive positions prevented any landings at night or at high tide. At low tide, the invaders would be forced to cross a large exposed area, making them very vulnerable. Finally, to prevent gliders from landing, thousands of wooden stakes were driven into the ground at the most likely sites: these were known as ”Rommel's asparagus”. Rommel had around 80 000 men with which to defend Normandy.
On 29 January 1944, he was on a tour of inspection of the Normandy coast. After passing through Colleville-sur-Mer, his convoy stopped on a cliff overlooking the five-mile long beach of Sables d'Or. Hemmed in by tall, steep cliffs, dotted with natural obstacles - including a 65-foot wide embankment of pebbles bordered by a low stone wall - and overlooked by dunes and hills, the beach was favourable to the defenders, provided that it was further fortified. Rommel likened this beach to that of the Gulf of Salerno, where the Allies had landed on 9 September 1943. Turning to Ernst Goth, the commander of the 916th Grenadier Regiment, stationed in the sector, he said: ”Goth, they'll be arriving on your doorstep.” The beach was named Omaha by the commander of the First United States Army, General Bradley.
On the eve of the landings, the SHAEF strategists knew only too well that Omaha Beach would be the most difficult to take, having the terrain least favourable to the assailants. Fifteen defensive positions, or Widerstandsnester, numbered from 60 to 74, were installed, 12 of which dominated the beach, which they had covered with crossfire, hindering access inland. Each position had 50-88mm cannons or a tank turret, machine guns and mortars. At Longues-sur-Mer, four miles to the east, a battery of four 152mm cannons was installed, capable of intervening at Omaha. The sector was defended by 2 000 German soldiers. However, situated as it was between Utah and Gold beaches, Omaha Beach could not be allowed to remain in German hands. The Allies were therefore relying on the aerial and naval bombardment prior to Zero Hour to inflict as much damage as possible to the enemy defences.
Vue aérienne de navires de la Royal Navy massés au large de l'Ile de Wight avant de se diriger vers les plages normandes. Copyrignt Imperial War Museums (A 237 20 A)
6 juin 1944 - Vue aérienne de la flotte alliée au large d'Omaha. Copyrignt Imperial War Museums (MH 24887)
6 juin 1944 - Vue aérienne du secteur de Gold durant le débarquement de la 50e division britannique. Un fossé anti-chars est visible sur la gauche, en face de Ver-sur-Mer. Copyrignt Imperial War Museums (MH 24887)
Commandos de la Royal Navy s'apprêtant à faire exploser des hérissons tchèques posées sur les plages par les Allemands. Date et lieu inconnus. Copyrignt Imperial War Museums (A 23992)
Montage d'une pièce d'artillerie dans un buker allemand du nord de la France, le 21 juin 1943. Copyright Bundesarchiv
Le maréchal Rommel, à gauche, inspecte les défenses allemandes du Mur de l'Atlantique. Date inconnue. Imperial War Museums (HU 28594)
5 juin 1944 - Un convoi de barges de débarquement transportant troupes et véhicules des 13e et 18e Royal Hussars vogue vers la Normandie. Imperial War Museums (B 5108)
6 juin 1944 - Le HMS Orion fait feu sur des positions allemandes sur les côtes normandes. Imperial War Museums (FLM 4021)
6 juin 1944 - Troupes canadiennes de la 3e division débarquant à Bernières dans le secteur de Juno Beach. Copyright Archives nationales du Canada, Phot. G. Milne (PA 137013)
6 juin 1944 - L'infanterie canadienne débarque sur la plage de Juno Beach et marche en direction de Bernières-sur-Mer, le 6 juin 1944. SourceL'infanterie canadienne débarque sur la plage de Juno Beach et marche en direction de Bernières-sur-Mer. Copyright Archives Nationales du Canada.
6 juin 1944 - Photo aérienne du débarquement sur Mike Beach, dans le secteur de Juno, à l'ouest de Courseulles-sur-Mer. Copyright Imperial War Museums (CL 41)
6 juin 1944 - Photo aérienne montrant la jonction des troupes britanniques entre les plages de King Red et de King Green, dans le secteur de Juno. Copyright Imperial War Museums (CL 3947)
Le général britannique Percy Hobart, inventeur des chars modifiés dits Funnies. Copyright Imperial War Museums (H 20 697)
Char amphibie M5 ou M3 Stuart DD (Duplex Drive) munie de sa jupe imperméable en caoutchouc qui assure sa flottaison. Copyright Imperial War Museums (H 35181)
Char amphibie Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) utilisé sur les plages du débarquement. Copyright Imperial War Museums (MH 3660)
Char Bobbin, qui déroule un tapis de toile pour pouvoir avancer sur le sable mou. Copyright Imperial War Museums (H 37859)
Char Fascine destiné à combler les fossés anti-chars en y déversant des fagots de bois. Copyright Imperial War Museums (H 29043)
Une plage bondée de véhicules de différents types, peu après le débarquement. Copyright Imperial War Museums (A 23947)
Un char M3 Stuart britannique détruit sur une plage après le débarquement - Date inconnue Copyright Imperial War Museums (A 23946)
Sword Beach, la percée des Alliés - Copyright SGA-Com (Ministère des Armées)