D-Day 1944: Navy battleship 16-inch guns bombarded Nazis at Omaha Beach


Struggling to withstand dangerous Nazi attacks on U.S. supply boats, three famous U.S. Navy battleships faced heavy resistance as they closed-in on the German-held Cotentin Peninsula as part of the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach.

As entrenched Nazi forces mounted attacks, three U.S. battleships — the USS Texas, the USS Nevada and the USS Arkansas — pounded German coastal defenses with their 16-inch guns. In return, German fast boat and torpedo boat attacks, fortified by Luftwaffe air support, brought heavy casualties upon U.S. forces.

Nazi resistance to the U.S. attack on the Cotentin Peninsula, called the Battle of Cherbourg, forced the U.S. to move more naval resources to the well-defended peninsula.

“The Germans did destroy most of the ports and the piers to make it much more difficult to move supplies. Guys going into the battle in the Fall and Winter were still fighting in Summer clothes,” Naval History and Heritage Command historian, Guy Nasuti told Warrior in an interview last year.

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Naval History and Heritage Command’s formal assessment reinforces this point. While citing German strategy, the assessment writes “the invader was to be denied access to all ports.”

The German destruction of ports greatly delayed and complicated the Allied approach, allowing German forces to regroup.

While recalling the naval portion of the assault, called Operation Neptune, Nasuti made a point to emphasize naval forces were supporting U.S. Army troops fighting ashore.

Troops crouch inside a LCVP landing craft, just before landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Troops crouch inside a LCVP landing craft, just before landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.)

“Omaha was a much tougher fight than Utah. When things got bogged down in Omaha, the USS Texas and USS Arkansas got up close to shore to blast the German emplacements,” Nasuti said.

While approaching closer to the shoreline, U.S. Navy ships fought off heavy German attacks from mortars, artillery and machine guns.

“Hitler wanted the German Army to defend to the death, but a German general eventually surrendered,” according to Nasuti.

The Germans did not have a large U-boat presence because Hitler held many U-boats and Panzer tanks back even though they had been requested by German commanders, Nasuti added.

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The German Omaha Beach defense plan, as cataloged by Naval History and Heritage Command, intended to destroy approaching forces at the coastline using supportive artillery and beach defenses, fortified by concrete or armor.

The Germans also constructed heavy lines of field defenses on the first suitable high ground inland from the coast.

“These field defenses were unable to give direct support to the coastal crust, except in few cases where the high ground came close to the coast,” states Naval History and Heritage Command’s “Neptune Operations Plans” write-up.

The Germans also used barbed wire, anti-tank obstacles, sea walls and mines.

Prior to reaching the coastline, attacking U.S. Navy forces contended with five German destroyers, nine to 11 torpedo boats and 50-60 E-boats.

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