Where they should have landed
We can see where 21 BDS should have landed, the landing table (see Landing Area Map) tells us: they should have landed on Easy Red. That is the section of beach starting from a point halfway between the Les Moulins draw and the St Laurent draw, and running eastwards to a point close to the Colleville draw. (A draw is a less-developed stream course than a valley; it has steep sides.) Not only was this the scheduled landing point, but if everything had gone to plan, it would also have been the safest and most secure.
The RAF team were due to land at H-hour + 300 minutes. As H-hour for the American beaches was 06:30hrs, this meant their scheduled landing time should have been 11:30hrs. However, as they approached the beaches, it was clear that none of Omaha was safe for non-combatants to land on. The off-shore beach masters instructed them to return out to sea and circle round till the beaches were made safe enough to attempt a landing.
Had everything gone according to the original plan, the beach demolition crews of the American First Infantry Division would have created safe channels in which incoming landing craft could safely progress, allowing disembarkation to take place regardless of the state of the tide. Their scheduled time of 11:30hrs meant their landing should have taken place at near enough high water mark. The following information is taken verbatim from the Operation Record Book (ORB) for 21 BDS:
At approximately 04:00 hours the Armada left port and set sail for the English (Editor: French?) coast but before reaching Poole the whole fleet turned around and was back in port again by 07:00 hours, where it remained until 04:30 hours on the following morning. This time the Armada set sail for the invasion of the Continent, and the rendezvous off the coast of Normandy was reached soon after daybreak on 6-6-1944. The sea voyage was completely without enemy interference. Enemy aircraft were conspicuous by their absence, none being seen at all during the voyage. The sea was rough with a South West wind blowing.
The first attempt at landing was made at 11:30 hours on 6-6-1944; the convoy moved towards the beach, the vehicles, all with their engines running, ready to disembark when the ramps were lowered, but as the convoy approached the beach it was observed that this beach was still under machine gun fire and heavy shell fire, and it was obviously impracticable to land the convoy then, as without warning it withdrew until 17:00 hours. During this time, considerable shelling of the cliffs was being done by the Navy to try and silence the shore batteries that were established on the cliffs, continually shelling the beach. This went on right up to the time of landing. At 17:00 hours the convoy again headed for the beach, an order having been given to land.
As the convoy drew close to the shore, it was observed that this beach, which was St Laurent, about one mile to the West of Colleville beach where it was supposed to land, was under heavy shell fire from 88mm guns; these guns had got the range of the beach and were consistently shelling the American vehicles which were lined up at the head of the beach and unable to get a way as the exits were blocked, but nevertheless, in spite of this, it was apparently decided suitable to land 21 (BD) Sector. Most of the craft were landed in about 4’ 3” of water so that immediately they (Editor: the vehicles) struck a hole they were drowned. In all, 27 vehicles were landed but out of this lot, only 8 were driven off the beach, although a number were salvaged later in varying stages of disrepair.
LCT 649 was landed considerably further out to sea than the other craft on a sandbank with about 4’ 3” of water but the vehicles very soon dropped into the water about 6’ deep and were drowned. The men having to scramble on top of the vehicles to avoid also being drowned. All the vehicles from this craft were lost except one which never got off the craft as there was difficulty in starting the engine and the skipper refused to wait. It was noticeable that the skipper of this craft had only one interest and that was to get the vehicles off and to be away as soon as possible, having no consideration whatever for the fate of the vehicles and the troops he was disembarking. It is considered that this skipper did not look after his craft in the best interests of the men on board, as on no less than three occasions he got so far behind the convoy that one of the accompanying launches had to order him to close up on account of the risk he was taking.
There was great difficulty in getting the men from this craft ashore as there was considerable distance to swim, but they were all safely got ashore in the end and nobody was drowned.
Reading many of the accounts from various authors concerning the events at Omaha Beach on 6th June 1944, there is a common theme that runs through these descriptions of the events: namely, navigation and execution of the correct landing location was difficult and often wrong.
The tragic consequences of these errors had a profound effect on many divisions and that was certainly the case for 21 BDS. We will never know why they landed close to the Les Moulins draw (D-3), some 1500 metres to the west of their intended landing position. It is estimated that 4 of the landing craft dropped their men and lorries at a spot to the extreme edge of Easy Green beach whilst LCT 649 was a little to the east.
I believe that the order for 21 BDS to land at 17:00 might have worked and been vindicated if the LCTs had landed in the correct location. We know that, by 16:30, the draw towards St Laurent (E-1) was open to vehicles being safely off-loaded and a semblance of order had been established. Tragically, the Les Moulins draw was still essentially in German hands and led to the carnage that 21 BDS experienced. Perhaps it was through poor visibility or unfortunate navigation that they landed where they did. We will never know.