A rare map depicting the Normandy coast at Colleville-sur-Mer, St. Laurent-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer, better known today simply as Omaha Beach. Issued less than two months before D-Day and bearing the “Top Secret” classification.
Of the five D-Day landing beaches, that of the American 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions at Omaha was by far the most harrowing. The beach was defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division—rather than a single regiment, as anticipated by Allied planners—which was well emplaced on high bluffs, with wide-open fields of fire overlooking the landing zone. Further complicating matters, many landing craft ran aground on sandbars, forcing infantrymen to wade through water up to their necks while heavily loaded and under fire; and most of the specialized amphibious tanks sent to support them were swamped before making it to land. As a result the Americans were pinned to the beach for hours and suffered hugely, with casualty estimates ranging as high as 5000. Nevertheless, by mid-morning they had breached the German defenses on the bluffs and begun moving inland.
Offered here is a very rare, top-secret map of Omaha Beach, produced under supervision of Vice Admiral John Augustine Edgell, Hydrographer of the Royal Navy from 1932 to 1945. It does not bear a date of publication, but a note at top right reads “information up to 6th April 1944”, so it must have been issued very soon thereafter. The map was one of a series of five, each depicting one of the D-Day invasion beaches, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
Omaha is depicted extending along six miles of Normandy coastline, roughly from Pointe et Rax de la Percée in the west to just east of Colleville-sur-Mer, with coverage extending perhaps two-to-three thousand yards inland. The base map shows contours at 10-metre intervals; roads, paths, and built-up areas in black; and wooded areas in green. Dashed black lines superimposed on the map indicate the four main landing sectors into which Omaha was divided: Charlie, Dog, Easy and Fox (These were further subdivided into a total of ten landing sectors, including for example Dog White, Dog Green and Dog Red.)
Superimposed in purple on the base map is a great variety of symbols, 39 in all, indicating for example German artillery and machine-gun positions; different types of shelters, gun emplacements and strongpoints; barbed wire, anti-tank ditches, and road blocks; and even “dumm[ies]”. At note at upper right warns the viewer, “Underwater Obstacles of various Types are being laid with great rapidity and are likely to extend along further stretches of the coast.” Indeed, by May Allied map makers were able to provide far a more detailed—and daunting—picture of the obstacles that would be faced in the landing, as may be seen here.
The map gives us no indication of how this mass of intelligence was assembled, but this and similar maps were the result of a complex, multi-layered information-gathering effort: Starting with existing base maps and hydrographic data, largely supplied by the British Hydrographic Office, military cartographers and artists added data from aerial reconnaissance surveys by Allied warplanes, including extraordinarily dangerous low-level overflights. To these were added information from a host of other sources, including reconnaissance of the beaches by commandos (“frogmen”) and reports from French Resistance fighters.
The map makes the tactical situation at Omaha Beach clear: In most places the beach faced high bluffs that would be difficult to scale, which freed the German defenders of the 352nd Division to concentrate their forces on the few draws leading inland. Landing at low tide—when the many beach obstacles would be visible and easier to destroy–the attackers would have to cross a wide flat beach under heavy fire with little cover.
In all, a rare and richly-informative artifact from the run-up to one of the most significant, dramatic and terrifying events in American military history.
Rarity and references
OCLC 45572107 gives complete sets at National Library of Scotland and Oxford, while 1064871698 gives the Omaha map alone at the British Library. Library Hub Discover adds no additional holdings. I find an additional example at the National Army Museum London.