I got around to various places when I was there, but what I reflect on most is the one night I spent in a little coastal village called Vierville sur Mer. I was alone, and as far as I could tell, the only guest in the hotel. That night a storm rolled in off the Channel and things got a little rough, knocking out the power. It was dark and cold and there was absolutely nothing to do, and no where to go, so I rolled up in some blankets, read a book with my flashlight, and eventually fell asleep.
Next morning I awoke very early. It was still dark, and it occurred to me that the windows were no longer rattling. The storm had passed, so I got dressed and went out to the beach and could see that the tide had rushed out in the night. I wandered down along the surf for awhile, and as dawn broke I could see patches of clearing sky in the dark clouds above. The tide was now coming in. In spring the wind in Normandy is damp, cold and constant. My teeth were chattering. I turned around and headed back to go find some strong coffee.
Before leaving the beach, near the mouth of Vierville draw, I turned around and took these two photos:
The photos were shot at about 630AM. Exactly when the first wave landed.
This is the western sector of Omaha Beach known as Dog Green. Here is an excerpt from an original Bigot map that would have been carried ashore by infantry officers. Beach sectors are superimposed on the map (in yellow) by me:
Some of the fortifications at Vierville draw remain to this day and its easy to stand on them and see the impossibility of a frontal assault against such a well-defended beach exit. This photo was taken at about 7AM from atop a bunker that housed an 8.8cm gun.
In the first hour of the D-Day landings it was a horrific place. The first wave of assault troops from the 29th Infantry Division who landed at 0630 on about the boundary between Dog Green and Charlie were massacred. German strong points along the seawall and bluffs at Vierville D-1 draw could make easy work of anyone coming onto this beach. There was only a partial second wave landing here at about 7AM and it was also a disaster. After this, no further landings were attempted on Dog Green that morning. Given the lack of survivors (none in some sections) the events of the initial assault here are not well known, only the tragic results.
By mid-morning Rangers had scaled the cliffs on the west side of the draw (i.e. Charlie) and cleared the German strongpoint fortifications along the bluffs. To the east on Dog White, a number of Rangers and units of the 29th ID scaled the bluffs and proceeded inland and back westward toward the village. [Note: These Ranger actions generally formed the basis for the fictionalized Dog Green landing shown in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.]
By noon the tide had come in all the way to the seawall in front of the draw. The photo below shows American Sherman tanks having made their way down to the vicinity of the Vierville draw (out of view to the left), but the Germans still have the exit blocked. The tide has just begun to recede, and the long shore current is moving left to right, leaving bodies, equipment and debris (from the failed initial assault) along the high water mark. Some surviving troops may be taking cover along the seawall.
Subsequently, a little after 1:00PM, German fortifications and all other visible structures in the draw were pounded by U.S. Navy destroyers McCook and Thompson as well as by the battleship Texas:
The Vierville draw itself was then taken in the early afternoon, but from the rear, by General Norman Cota and four soldiers. They walked from the inland village of Vierville and down the road through the draw, gathering prisoners as they went, and out onto the beach. Hardly what the D-Day planners had envisioned would transpire in the opening of this most prized beach exit.