Landing on the Edge of Eternity
Twenty-Four Hours at Omaha Beach
by Robert Kershaw
Pub Date 06 Nov 2018
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A visceral and momentous narrative of the first twenty-four hours of D-Day on Omaha Beach: the most dramatic Allied landing of World War II.
Before World War II, Normandy’s Plage d’Or coast was best known for its sleepy villages and holiday destinations. Early in 1944, German commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took one look at the gentle, sloping sands and announced "They will come here!” He was referring to "Omaha Beach”—the prime American D-Day landing site. The beach was subsequently transformed into three miles of lethal, bunker-protected arcs of fire, with seaside chalets converted into concrete strongpoints, fringed by layers of barbed wire and mines. The Germans called it “the Devil's Garden."
When Company A of the US 116th Regiment landed on Omaha Beach in D-Day’s first wave on 6th June 1944, it lost 96% of its effective strength. Sixteen teams of US engineers arriving in the second wave were unable to blow the beach obstacles, as first wave survivors were still sheltering behind them. This was the beginning of the historic day that Landing on the Edge of Eternity narrates hour by hour—rom midnight to midnight—tracking German and American soldiers fighting across the beachhead.
Mustered on their troop transport decks at 2am, the American infantry departed in landing craft at 5am. Skimming across high waves, deafened by immense broadsides from supporting battleships and weak from seasickness, they caught sight of land at 6.15. Eleven minutes later, the assault was floundering under intense German fire. Two and a half hours in, General Bradley, commanding the landings aboard USS Augusta, had to decide if to proceed or evacuate. On June 6th there were well over 2,400 casualties on Omaha Beach – easily D-Day’s highest death toll.
The Wehrmacht thought they had bludgeoned the Americans into bloody submission, yet by mid-afternoon, the American troops were ashore. Why were the casualties so grim, and how could the Germans have failed? Juxtaposing the American experience—pinned down, swamped by a rising tide, facing young Wehrmacht soldiers fighting desperately for their lives, Kershaw draws on eyewitness accounts, memories, letters, and post-combat reports to expose the true horrors of Omaha Beach.
These are stories of humanity, resilience, and dark humor; of comradeship and a gritty patriotism holding beleaguered men together. Landing on the Edge of Eternity is a dramatic historical ride through an amphibious landing that looked as though it might never succeed.
About the Author:
Robert Kershaw joined the Parachute Regiment in 1973 and went on to command the 10th Parachute Battalion. His active service included several tours in Northern Ireland, the First Gulf War, and Bosnia. After retiring from the British Army as a full Colonel, he became an author of military history and a battlefield tour guide. He has written twelve books published in Great Britain and has participated in numerous National Geographic and History Channel documentaries.