They said the beach would be cratered by our bombardment. It wasn't. They said that the bombers would have blown the German defences clear off the planet. They hadn't. They said we'd be landing near a hamlet called "Les Moulins". We weren't. They said that the Krauts would be queuing up so surrender. They sure as Hell Goddam weren't!
After nearly forty eight hours at sea we were all keen to get on dry land again. But this dry land looked like a living nightmare. We were in the first wave, or so they said, but there were already guys on the beach. Some were hunkered down around the obstacles, taking what cover they could from the murderous fire that was coming down from the bluffs, others were up tight against the line of shingle, digging frantically with hands, helmets, rifle butts or anything they could use to escape the constant explosions of enemy mortar rounds amongst them.
There were a handful of tanks on the beach, but from somewhere to our left the retort of a gun, a large gun, could be heard. And with each retort another tank would explode into a ball of flame, or a landing craft would flounder, spilling its cargo of men into the water, water already red with the blood of the men who had gone before us.
The coastguard crew of the LCVP were clearly unhappy. They knew they were in the wrong place, but they weren't inclined to hang around. Some men vomited, some men prayed, the more pragmatic checked their weapons for the hundredth time in the last half hour.
The Briggs Stratton motor that controlled the ramp was running now and Sergeant "Bat" Guano at the front was calling back to the men. "Okay yous guys. Dis is it. When the ramp goes down we run, and don't stop until we hit the shingle". The craft rasped along side what appeared to be an under-water obstacle, and the Coastguard dropped the ramp. Too far out, but he was screaming at us to get the Hell out of his ship anyhow. Sergeant Guano was the first into the water, and years of training paid off. The men followed into the face of what must surely be certain death.
Wading in was the easy bit. Somehow the German gunners seemed to be concentrating on the mass of humanity that was already on dry land. As we emerged from the sea, sodden and feeling like our body mass had doubled, the living agony began. Men began to fall, some dead, some simply seeking what cover the little of obstacles and corpses could provide. Strangely a cheer went up from the men ahead of us on the beach, later I learned that one of our Shermans had put a round plumb through the front of a large bunker, silencing one of the guns in there. But that was of no consequence at the time.
Medics were now moving amongst the bodies, their presence seemed to calm some of the men. "Okay you dummies. I didn't come all the way from Goddam Brooklyn just to be shot in the ass on dis piece o'sand. When I give the word yous git movin'!" It was Guano again. Amidst the chaos it seemed that only he had kept his head. Sure as Hell the Lieutenant was nowhere to be seen.
"Go!". We ran as fast as we could. With every step our sodden feet plunged into the soft sand, making each yard feel like a mile. Men went down, but other came on. On, on to the shingle, where some respite from the bullets, at least, could be found.
"Sergeant, duh you have any explosive charges with you?". This was an officer, not one I knew. On his helmet was the markings of the 116th Regiment, the Blue & Gray, a Virginian by his accent. With him were three Engineers who were sitting aimlessly on the shingle bank. "Sure do, sir" replied Guano, and our five man Engineering detachment that had cleared the beach without loss – Lord alone knows how –moved furtively down towards this group. Now it seemed that there were two men who were keeping their heads.
Later I learned that the officer was a Lt Colonel "Hardcore" Bouldermeir, a deputy Regimental commander no less. Then he was just a man who seemed to be capable of leading us somewhere off this God forsaken beach. With German shells exploding all around us the Colonel formed us into impromptu sections while the Engineers worked with their explosives. Off to our right a blast and a cheer signified the first breach in the German wire at the top of the shingle, we were only moments behind.
"Fire in the Hole!", and then a blast that showered is with grit and sand. But the breach was made. The Colonel stood tall, seemingly impervious to the bullets that flew around him. "There are two sorts of men on this beach" he cried, "Those who are homosexuals and those who will become homosexuals. As for me I'm getting out of here" (thanks for that quote Nick! Some people can't stick to a script…sigh). And through the breach we went, following a man who most of us had never seen before, the Big Red One and the Blue and the Gray mixed into a murky purple of disparate units, men responding to strong leadership in a crisis.
Amid the dunes the remains of some Frenchman's holiday villa provided some small cover. If nothing else we were out of the fire from the heavy shells that were now dropping constantly on the beach. Above our heads the zip of bullets seemed somehow abstracted as we pushed forwards into a narrow valley.
I now know that off to our right some men of the 116th had breached the wire and were advancing into the teeth of fire from the position that the Germans called WN64. It may well be that their action saved us by drawing fire to the extent that our small party was able to infiltrate through onto the bluffs without opposition. When, ten minutes later, we were joined by Lieutenant "Cocoa" Cobanna and a further twenty men we knew that, whilst there was much, much more fighting to be done we had at least escaped the Hell that was Bloody Omaha beach……
Enough of that purple prose. This was the playtest of the Omaha scenario that I have written for the D-Day scenario supplement, and I was keen to see how close to the reality we could get. I wanted the beach to be a painful place to be, but I also wanted the Americans to have a chance of overcoming this through outstanding leadership. There are several bolt on mechanisms that I have used to achieve that, suffice to say that the game certainly provided the gritty painfulness that I was looking for.
Three Companies landed in the game we played, which was situated at the junction of Fox Green and Easy Red for those who know anything of the geography. On the left hand side of the table (looking in from the sea) the Germans were in WN62 with two Czech 75mm guns in bunkers overlooking the beach, four MMG positions and two 50mm mortar positions. They also had an artillery observer who had a four gun battery of 105mm guns pre-registered onto the beach. On the right of the table was WN62, a lesser position, with only one rifle squad and two 50mm mortars facing in this direction. Enfilading the beach was a Pak43 88mm gun firing from WN60, firing from an off-table position it proved a nasty addition to the German defences.
In the event of the three US companies that landed (450 men there or thereabouts) roughly a platoon infiltrated through the German positions and made it to the bluffs, their objective for the game. This replicated almost absolutely the force that was historically led by Sergeant Streczyk and supported by Lt. Spalding of G Company 16th RCT on D-Day. Historically this small force turned right and attacked WN62 from the rear, clearing the position.
Quote of the day. At one stage when the yanks were trying to organise their Engineers to breech the German wire and were suffering badly from German artillery as they crowded on the shingle, a fly landed on the beach amongst our toys. Not being a lover of flies, I squashed it. Skinner instantly quipped "Not even a fly can live on this beach!".