U.S. 1st Infantry Division

The 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One)

Shoulder Patch of the 1st Infantry Division

Shoulder Patch of the 1st Infantry Division

The 1st Infantry Division, in early 1944, was one of the U.S. Army’s most experienced and battle-tested infantry divisions. The 1st (or Big Red One from their distinctive insignia) had fought and distinguished itself in North Africa and Sicily during 1942 and 1943, as part of the Allied attack in the Mediterranean Theater. In late October 1943, the division began its redeployment to the United Kingdom to prepare for the Normandy invasion and participated in the extensive rehearsals held in south Devonshire in preparation for its key role in the initial assault on the Calvados coast of Normandy.

The Allied assault plan designated the 16th and 18th Regimental Combat Teams of the 1st Division, together with the 116th and 115th Regimental Combat Teams of the 29th Division plus the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions as Force “O” for the initial attacks on Omaha Beach. These units comprised the 1st Division for the assault. On D-Day morning, the 16th and 116th RCT’s made the first landings. The 16th Regiment came ashore on the eastern sectors of the beach (subsectors Easy Red and Fox Green) at about 0630 on D-Day with the 116th Regiment on its right. The two Ranger battalions, formed in a provisional force, assailed the bluffs on the west end of the 116th’s sector. Three companies of this Ranger force assaulted the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, three miles west of Omaha Beach. Their assignment was to neutralize the powerful artillery guns atop the point, which could give devastating fire to the invasion forces.

The assault units on Omaha Beach immediately ran into intense and devastating fire from the German forces on the high bluffs which dominated the entire beach. Casualties in the initial assault wave were high, and it appeared the assault might flounder. Many units suffered losses of over 60% and could do nothing but seek cover. Many landing craft did not make it to their assigned beach sectors, unloading wherever they happened to land. Communications equipment had been lost or destroyed, therefore contact outside the beach was not possible. General Omar Bradley, commander of the American assault forces, even thought of diverting follow-up units to Utah Beach. On the beach, men were confused and many of the junior and senior officers had been killed or wounded. Colonel George Taylor, 16th Regimental commander, saw men bunched up taking casualties from artillery and mortar fire. He exhorted his troops: “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now, let’s get the hell out of here.” Slowly, several troops began to move and force their way up the bluff. Company G, 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry, led the way off beach sector Easy Red, up a draw through a mine field to the bluffs beyond.

At about 1130, General Bradley received a report that the deadlock had been broken and the troops were moving inland. The 18th Regiment landed during mid-morning and by late afternoon, most of the 1st Division had made it ashore. The “Big Red One” still had plenty of resistance to deal with, but by the end of the day, it had helped secure a hold on “Hitler’s Fortress Europe.” The devastation on “Bloody Omaha” was appalling, but the 1st Infantry Division, together with the other units on Omaha Beach, had done their job. The success of Operation Overlord had been assured.

For More Information on the 1st Infantry Division:

The 1st Infantry Division Museum at Cantigny -An interesting website devoted to the history of the 1st Infantry Division.