Subject: The First Wave at Omaha Beach – Able Company and the Gospel
Isaiah 50:7 “The Lord God will help Me. Therefore I will not be disgraced. I have set My face like a flint and I know that I will not be ashamed.”
On 6 June 1944, 9 divisions of young men (most under age 22) landed in the first wave on Omaha Beach. The plan was for 40 minutes of naval and aerial bombing of the German defenses on the beachhead, followed by the first group, Able Company of the 116th Infantry, 29th Division, landing at 06:30 AM.
Each landing division arrived in specially-design ‘Higgins boats’, which could navigate right up to the beach and drop its front to allow its cargo of 32 soldiers to quickly charge onto the beach. With wave after wave of Higgins boats depositing the men on the beach, they would overwhelm the estimated 2,000 German defenses, especially after heavy artillery barrages, and thus clear the path for tanks and heavier artillery. The mission’s goal was to eliminate German defenses by 8:30AM. But nothing went according to plan.
Bad weather combined with the goal of not accidentally hitting our troops resulted in the bombers missing the Germans, hardly damaging their positions. Able Company, assaulting the beach in 7 Higgins boats, became a suicide mission. In his article ‘First Wave at Omaha Beach’, SL Marshall tells the story.
“At 1,000 yards, Able Company Boat #5 is hit. 6 men drown before help arrives. The other 6 boats ride to within 100 yards of the shore, where a shell into Boat #3 kills 2 men. Another dozen drown, taking to the water as the boat sinks. At 6:36 AM, Boat #2’s ramp drops and the men jump off in water from waist deep to higher than a man’s head. This is the signal awaited by the Germans atop the bluff. Boat #2 is instantly swept by crossing machine-gun fires from both ends of the beach. The first men out of Boat #2 are ripped apart before they can make 5 yards. Any wounded die by drowning, due to their overloaded packs.
From Boat #1, everyone jumps into water over their heads. Most drown. 10 survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides to stay afloat. The same happens to Boat #4. Half of the men are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot.
Within 7 minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is leaderless. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top. Along the beach, only 1 officer still lives. By the end of 10 minutes, every sergeant is either dead or wounded. Among the men who are still moving in with the tide, rifles, packs, and helmets have already been cast away in the interests of survival.
Boat #7, carrying a medical section with 1 officer and 16 men, drops it’s ramp. In that instant, 2 machine guns concentrate their fire on the opening. Not a man is given time to jump. All aboard are cut down where they stand. By the end of 15 minutes, Able Company has still not fired a weapon.
No orders are being given by anyone. No words are spoken. Merely to stay alive is a full-time job. By the end of 30 minutes, two thirds of the company are dead. By the end of 1 hour and 45 minutes, 2 survivors from the boat section join a group from the Second Ranger Battalion, and fight on with the Rangers through the day. 2 men. 2 rifles. Except for these, Able Company’s contribution to the D Day fire fight is zero.”
Only 7 of Able Company survived. But David Chrisinger explained how we were victorious at Normandy: “Most of the men in the first wave never stood a chance. But Allied troops kept landing, wave after wave. It wasn’t bombs, artillery or tanks that overwhelmed the Germans. It was men — many of them boys, really — slogging up the beaches and crawling over the corpses of their friends.” It began with Able Company. Boys who had a whole life ahead of them but knew they were likely to die. None complained or refused the mission. All, as our verse this week says, “Set their face like a flint”, to defeat tyranny and defend freedom.
There is a close parallel between Isaiah 50 and Able Company. Verses 5-6 records this about the future Messiah: “The Lord has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard.” The Father set a mission for His Son, to offer Himself as a sacrifice so that others could choose eternal life by confessing Messiah as their Lord and Savior. Isaiah was recorded in 730BC, and fulfilled by Jesus Christ in 32AD.
75 years ago, the resolve of so many boys to give up their lives for our freedom breaks our hearts and draws us to them. About 1900 years before D-Day, the resolve of Jesus Christ, to likewise “set His face like a flint”, to go to His death for our salvation, should even more so break our hearts and draw us to Him.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.