Widerstandsnest 72 - Omaha beach, Dog Green sector, Vierville-sur-mer, Normandy
WN72 - Vierville sur Mer, Omaha beach, Normandy, France
Omaha was divided into ten sectors, codenamed (from west to east): Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red. On june 6, 1944 -D-Day - the initial assault on Omaha was to be made by two Regimental Combat Teams (RCT), supported by two tank battalions, with two battalions of Rangers also attached. The RCT's were part of the veteran 1st Infantry division ("The Big Red One") and the untested 29th ("Blue and Grey") , a National Guard unit.
The plan was to make frontal assaults at the "draws" (valleys) in the bluffs which dominate the coast in Normandy , codenamed west to east they were called D-1, D-3, E-1, E-3 and F-1 . These draws could then be used to move inland with reserves and vehicles.
The Germans were not stupid; they knew the draws were vital and concentrated their limited resources in defending them. To this end they built "Widerstandsneste" with AT guns, mortars, MG's in Tobrul's, trenches and bunkers, manned by soldiers of the German 716th and - more recently - 352nd Infantry Division, a large portion of whom were teenagers, though they were supplemented by veterans who had fought on the Eastern Front. All in all some 1100 German soldiers defended the entire Omaha beach sector of over 5 miles.
Preliminary bombardments were almost totally ineffective and when the initial waves - on this sector units of the 29th division and Rangers - landed on low tide they met with fiece opposition of an enemy well dug in and prepared.
Casualties were heaviest amongst the troops landing at either end of Omaha. At Fox Green and Easy Red, scattered elements of three companies were reduced to half strength by the time they gained the relative safety of the shingle, many of them having crawled the 300 yards (270 m) of beach just ahead of the incoming tide. Casualties on this spot were especially heavy amongst the first waves of soldiers and the demolition teams - at Omaha these were tasked with blasting 16 channels through the beach obstacles, each 70 meters wide. German gunfire from the bluffs above the beach took a heavy toll on these men. The demolition teams managed to blast only six complete gaps and three partial ones; more than half their engineers were killed in the process.
Situation here on Dog Green and on Easy Red on the other end of Omaha by mid morning was so bad with nearly all the troops essentially pinned down on the beach gen. Eisenhower seriously considered to abandon the operation.
As the US first waves assault forces and combat engineers landing directly opposite the "draws" were pinned down it was up to forces landing on the flanks of the strongpoints to penetrate the weaker German defences by climbing the bluffs. Doing this they had to overcome the minefields and barbed wire as well as machinegun fire from German positions but they did and they were able to attack some key strongpoints from the side and the rear, taking them out by early afternoon.
This happened on several spots at Omaha and essentially saved the day: individual acts of initiative by lower ranked officers and courage like that of First Lieutenant Jimmy Monteith, who led a group of men to take one of the key German widerstandsneste and was killed in action, succeeded where a flawed plan failed.
Widerstandsnest 72 is part of the "Atlantic Wall". It guarded the "Dog-1" exit towards Vierville-sur-mer and was built in 1943-44 . It lies in the Dog Green sector which saw some of the heaviest fighting in the morning of june 6, 1944.
The reason why this particular spot on Omaha Beach was so heavily defended is the famous "Vierville Draw": a road through the bluffs leading directly to the town of Vierville-sur-Mer and then connecting to the Route Nationale. In other words: an ideal spot for a breakout after the landings and of course the Germans realised this too, making the Dog-1 exit a deathtrap for anyone trying to take it.
The Draw was defended by three German "Widerstandsneste" numbered WN 71, WN72 and WN73 and manned by members of the veteran 352nd division . WN72 consisted of two H-667 type casemates, which are directly overlooking the beach with one of them housing a formidable 88 mm. PAK43 gun. It's still there.
Both casemates are guarded from fire from the sea and have gun positions enfilading the beach, their muzzle flashes were not visible from the sea. In 1944 these bunkers were protected by barbed wire, minefields and trenches.
The hill behind also had several strongpoints of WN 71 and 73, with at least nine MG positions , two mortar positions and a light fieldgun on top of the bluffs over a stretch of some 200 metres these defenses were the best the Germans had to offer in the entire Omaha sector. To top it off an anti-tank wall 2 metres high was erected to block any vehicle.
The bluffs behind also had several strongpoints of WN 71. An observation post was situated just below the bungalow halfway up the hill and nine MG positions , two mortar positions and a light fieldgun were on top of the bluffs over a stretch of some 200 metres.
When A-Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry of the 29th "Blue & Grey" division landed here (an old Virginia National Guard Unit with a long tradition harking back to Stonewall Jackson's Brigade) it was "H-Hour" on D-Day: june 6, 1944: 06.30 hour. They were coming in exactly on the right spot opposite the draw (a lot of units in other sectors drifted away from their designated areas due to the strong current) in six Royal Navy LCA assault boats. The soldiers could see the German bunkers in the distance and the beach seemed to be untouched by the preliminary bombardments. They had to cross a large stretch of beach (some 250 metres) towards the Vierville draw. The germans waited until the landing craft were all empty and then opened fire with their MG 42's, mortars, and guns.
It was carnage. A-Company was virtually wiped out within the first minutes of the landing; no one knows exactly what happened with the 30 men in LCA 1015 but all of them were killed, and most of their bodies were found on the beach, commanding officer captain Taylor Fellers among them. In fact all all but one officers were killed in action within the first minutes, as were more then half of the soldiers and NCO's. Those who did survive the initial onslaught could do little more then stay in the water or press them self against the sand hanging on to their lifes. The shingle bank offered a little bit of protection to the happy few which made it that far, but most survivors had to stay in the water, creeping forward with the rising tide.
Incredible acts of heroism were performed by men trying to help their wounded comrades out of the water only to see them cut down by enemy fire or get shot themselfes. A-Company was reduced from an assault company to a small rescue party within 15 minutes. The follow up troops of the second wave didn't fare much better and subsequent waves landed more to the east of this WN where resistance was less heavy.
Among the casualties in A-company were 19 men from Bedford, VA. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses.
Note: Some Ranger units also landed here, just to the west of Dog Green on Charlie sector, and this was the inspiration for the famous first scene of the 1998 movie "Saving Private Ryan".
On the Photo:
The H-667 type casemate on the centre left behind the red tractor houses a formidable 88 mm. PAK43 gun. It's still there. On top of the casemate now rests a National Guard memorial.
To the right is a second casemate which housed a 50mm. gun. and a Renault FT tank turret. Note the off-white door on the back which wouldn't have been there in 1944, the bunker is nowadays used as a shed.
Tonemapped using three (Handheld) shots made with a Nikon D7000 and a Tamron 28-75 mm f/2,8 XR Di, augustus 2012. Updated june 2019 with higher res. version and slight alteration in tonemap.