“Secret” hand-drawn plan of a vital assault point on Omaha Beach

Segeant Turner[?], OMAHA BEACH FRANCE 1944. England, mid-May / early June, 1944?
Manuscript in pencil, ink and colored pencil on onionskin, 14 ½”h x 20”w at neat line plus margins. Soiling and staining (including what look like old bloodstains), and some wear along old folds and edges,
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A rare and extremely dramatic manuscript tactical map of the Omaha Beach village of Les Moulins and its immediate surroundings, almost certainly drawn from confidential sources in the days or weeks before D-Day.

Background
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 a full German 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 terribly, 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.

One of the most fought-over spots was the village of Les Moulins near the very center of Omaha, which commanded a 200-yard-wide draw in the bluffs overlooking the beach. Control of Les Moulins, and of several other draws at Omaha, was essential for getting American armor off the beach and concentrating it inland.

“The Les Moulins Draw (Exit D-3) lay between Omaha Beach’s St. Laurent Draw (Exit E-1) to the east and Vierville Draw (Exit D-1) to the west. Its 200-yard gap between the bluffs near the beach was the widest, most open, and most exposed of Omaha’s draws, assuring easy fields of fire for the defending Germans. Colonel Charles Canham’s 116th Infantry Regiment—the Stonewallers—of the 29th Infantry Division assaulted the Les Moulins and Vierville draws on D-Day, while Colonel George A. Taylor’s 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division assaulted St. Laurent as well as the Colleville Draw (E-3) and Cabourg Draw (F-1) farther east.

 

“Oddly enough, it was the Les Moulins Draw, not the St. Laurent Draw, that led to the town of St. Laurent, half a mile south of the beach. Three Allied beaches faced Les Moulins: Dog White to the west, Dog Red directly in front of the draw, and Easy Green to the east.

 

“As one of Omaha Beach’s five draws, the Americans had to capture Les Moulins if they wanted to bring tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment off the beach and onto the high ground, linking with troops advancing through the other draws.” (Hymel)

The landing began around 6:30am on June 6th, and the exposed beach and strong German defenses made for brutal fighting. The 116th Regiment suffering appalling losses, with Arlington National Cemetery indicating that the 3100-man unit had 1007 casualties on D-Day alone. But by the morning of the June 7th they controlled Les Moulins, paving the away for the advance inland.

The map
The manuscript map offered here depicts in great detail Les Moulins, several hundred yards of beach front on either side, and the terrain extending some 800 yards inland. Contours are picked out at 10-foot intervals, revealing clearly the high bluffs fronting the landing beach, the Les Moulins Draw, and the road leading inland toward St. Laurent. German defenses are indicated in red, using standard symbols found on printed military maps, with numerous annotations such as “probably mined”, “MG on top of house”, and “dug into face of hill”. Of particular note are strong points in front of Les Moulins and flanking both sides of the draw. It is hard for me to imagine what must have gone through the mind of whomever drafted and view this map: Clearly the assault on Les Moulins was going to face brutal opposition, both head-on from positions in the village and on the bluffs as well as from flanking fire.

The maker does not identify his source (or sources) for the information on the map, but it is clearly based sheet 4 (Vicinity of Les Moulins) of a top-secret, six-sheet printed map of the Omaha landing beach issued in April 1944 (The manuscript itself bears a “secret” annotation in pencil[?], accompanied by initials which sadly are illegible.) However the manuscript omits certain details, notably the system of obstacles on and in front of the beach, while adding others, including a north-south running track in blue dashed lines at left, minefields outlined in orange at right, and arrows along several roads and the beach itself.

I can’t prove it, but the extensive folds, the soiling and possible bloodstains, and the name “SGT. TURNER” inscribed in the lower margin all suggest the map was produced by a non-commissioned officer for use at the platoon or company level, and that the map actually “saw action” at Omaha Beach. While printed maps relating to the D-Day landings are encountered on the market with some frequency, rich manuscript maps such as this are almost unheard-of.

In all, a rare and richly-informative artifact from one of the most significant, dramatic and terrifying events in American military history.

Provenance and references
The map was acquired from a gentleman in Coventry, Rhode Island, who claimed that his father served on a naval vessel off Omaha Beach. How his father would was able to obtain what is obviously an infantryman’s map is not known. Background from Kevin Hymel, D-Day Capture of Les Moulins Draw”, at WarfareHistoryNetwork.com (accessed Nov. 2021).