By 1944 World War II had lasted nearly four and a half years. The entire war now
depended on the success or failure of an invasion of France. The first three years of the war
had almost entirely been a chain of Nazi victories. They had succeeded in crushing Poland and
forcing France to surrender. Hitlers attempts at capturing England were halted by the RAF,
Royal Air Force. After the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on
the United States and forced Italy to follow.
By November of 1942 Hitler began to pay for his string of mistakes. In Egypt his favorite
General, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, had been defeated at The Alamein by the British Eighth
Army, after being trapped between two armies. Hitler, fearing he would be captured, ordered
him back. The fighting in Russia had been so severe and deadly that Marshal Stalin was
demanding an allied landing in France, so as to force Hitler to move his troops from Stalins
divisions in the East. The line of trust between Stalin and the allies was thin, but fearing Russia
would leave the was, the United States and Britain send Canadian soldiers and British
commandos to raid Frances Port of Dieppe. Nearly five-thousand troops were either dead,
wounded or captured by the alert German forces, it had been a disaster.
Britain and the United States were butting heads on whether to invade Europe at the
earliest possible opportunity. Britain argued that a failure of not capturing a strong hold on a
beachhead could set them back two years. In August of 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill met in
Quebec, Canada and the invasion was approved. The plan included the landing of allied troops
on different beaches, and also the battles that would follow, on the quest for Berlin. The
shortest route would be Dover to Calais, but that would be a place where Germany would
expect an invasion and would be heavily guarded. Now all eyes were pointing towards
Normandy. The distance was almost twice that of Dover to Calais.
The final review of Operation Overlord was held on May 15,1944 at the St. Pauls school
in West London. The plan had taken nearly two years to plan. Attending the review was
everyone who had a role in the plan. Some in attendance were King George VI, Winston
Churchill, General Dwight Eisenhower and General Bernard Montgomery. Many of the British
commanders in attendance had served in the first World War and were weary of sending mass
amounts of troops into a battle where the enemy may be laying and waiting for them.
The plan was complicated, precise and heavily relied on the element of surprise. Timing
and coordination were of great importance, a failure at one of the hundred points could send
the whole balanced plan in to chaos. The first assault wave would have eight division, close to
80,000 men. Three of the eight divisions, 1 of Britain and two of the United States, would be
airborne paratroopers and glider troops that would be dropped at night. The other five divisions
would be Infantry divisions and would land on five beaches at the crack of dawn. After the
Atlantic Wall had been broken by the first assault and a stable beachhead was obtained, more
than thirty-nine divisions would rapidly pour in.
Capturing a strong hold of a beachhead was crucial to the success of the invasion. The
beachhead would need to be able to hold back the inevitable counterattack of strong German
forces. A port would have to be seized to be able to supply necessary supplies for land invasion.
A strategic drop was to be made at the Contentin Peninsula of Normandy because its North was
Cherbourg a major harbor. Unless this mission was successful, supplies would have to be
shipped through open invasion beaches subject to attacks by guns, planes and buzz bombs.
British Admiral Sir Bertram would be responsible for five-thousand ships that would
carry the assault troops across the channel, bombard the enemy defenses threatening the
beaches, then send troops to landing crafts. Never in history had such a large fleet been
assembled. Chief Marshal Trevor Leigh-Mallory had many concerns about the plans. The
24,000 allied paratroopers and glider forces would be in unarmed and unarmored transport
planes, a mere thousand feet above the ground. Over a thousand twin-engine, slow planes
would each carry about twenty paratroopers and be towing a glider. The gliders would carry not
only a glider infantry but also extra ammunition, land mines, antitank guns, cannons and jeeps.
If the Germans caught on too quickly and counter attacked happened too soon, it could cost
them three-quarters of their airborne troops. When it came down to it Eisenhower had to make
the decision to let the airborne divisions take their chances, because if they did not make their
positions, the whole invasion could quite possibly fail.
The weather, was one of the biggest factors on deciding the date of the invasion. The
weather could not be accurately predicted until three or four days before hand. The date of June
5, was set as the beginning of Operation Overlord. If the weather was not suitable they could
postpone for a maximum of forty-eight hours. Now that the date had been set, Keeping
locations and plans a secret was the main objective. Only a few senior officers knew the exact
date of the invasion, but by the fifth of June over a hundred thousand troops would be
Keeping the plans and date a secret was a hard task for some, and Germany had a few
opportunities to find out about the invasion. At a cocktail party, a United States Airforce
general man an indiscreet indication to the date of D-day. On another occasion an army postal
clerk accidentally mailed his sister a package of overlord reports instead of the intended gift.
Miksche, a Czech officer, published a book in 1943 about the future of airborne operations in
the war. By coincidence in one of his many examples of an attack on Normandy, he almost
exactly suggested the accurate landing points.
On June 6, 1944 at fifteen minutes past midnight, the first United States pathfinders
floated in the sky. Their main objective was to mark drop zones for the airborne division who
would follow in less than an hour. Less than one-third of the 120 pathfinders were dropped on
their correct positions. Some were merely a few feet away from their ,arks, while others were
miles away. Time was winding down for them, 13,000 paratroopers were in route to Normandy.
The formation mistakes were due to a thick cloud layer causing them to scatter about. Drops
were made too soon due to the beginning to the German counterattack.
The same mistakes struck the paratroopers, and gliders. They were disorganized and
many were seperated from their units. In the dark of the night they formed small groups with
only one thought in mind; grab the bridge, seize the town and reach the causeway and hold it.
Close to 25,000 paratroopers and glider troops were scattered in the dark trying to find their
locations and units or even just another allied troop. Generals were not exempt from getting
lost. General Maxwell Taylor, came down alone and nearly six and a half-hours later he found
enough men to start considering to carry out his objective. Except for the 101st, that were lucky
enough to land together, many had difficulty finding landmarks they expected. Many of
D-days objectives had been carried out by small, determined groups of troops.
One of the only positive sides to the chaos was the fact that the Germans were
completely confused. They were trying to determine where the largest concentration of allied
troops were landing, but instead they received confirmations of hundreds of different positions.
Many German generals were skeptical on whether this was even a real attack. They believed
not even Eisenhower would risk a failure by landing in the weather they had. But what
Eisenhower knew spelled disaster for the Germans. The weather was clearing, but when Hitler
realized it, it would be too late.
The Germans had flooded the area around the Douve and Merederet Rivers, and it
became similar to marshland. Some of the first deaths of D-day took place in less than three
feet of water. Vital equipment was dropped and sank in the marshland conditions, only forty
percent was recovered. General Pratt was believed to be the first general lost in the operation.
He was found in the marshland, his jeep had been smashed into a tree.
Just before dawn over a hundred WACO gliders, bringing the much needed antitank guns
reinforced the two airborne divisions. The Cotenin had been successfully sealed off and only a
counterattack with tanks would ruin the allied win. The British 6th divisions objective was to
protect the beaches from attack by German Panzers. They also had to capture and destroy a
heavily defended battery of big guns at Merville. The only hope to gain it was for paratroopers
to get inside, through minefields and barbed wire, and blow it up. Two bridges were to be
taken, the Orne Bridge and one near the Caen Canal. Within three minutes the Caen Canal
Bridge had been taken by surprised German forces, only losing one Lieutenant. The Orne
Bridge was easily taken as well. Three gliders had been dropped, only two close enough to take
it. The third was a quarter of a mile away, by the time he reached the bridge, it had already been
Lieutenant Colonel T.B.H. Otway was the commander of the Merville attack. When he
was descending in his parachute he realized he was headed straight for a German battalion
headquarters. He fell into the garden making a lot of noise. The sleepy Germans woke and went
to see what all the noise was about. He threw a brick through a window. The Germans thought
it was a grenade and ducked. Otway and his men escaped. When he arrived at his position, he
found only 150 of his original 750 men. But worse then not enough men, he found they only
had one heavy machine gun, and no other heavy equipment. A reconnaissance platoon was to
advance before them and mark a path through the minefields with white tape; he had no clue
where they were or if they had come. Three Horsa gliders were supposed to crash land right on
the guns when they began their attack. All this had to be in place or else they were committing
suicide. The advance on Merville looked to be a failure. He waited a long time, and no one
showed, so he ordered the remaining troops to march on. Just before the three British
paratroopers glided in, they found the white tape trail through the minefield. They were in
position and the two gliders and their towplanes arrived on time but landed far from where they
were supposed to. The only way to capture Merville was to fight with what they had. In twenty
minutes it was over, Otways group had won. By dawn the British 6th airborne, despite all
mistakes, completed every single one of their missions.
Shortly after 4 a.m. rope ladders dropped over the sides of the ships and the loading of
the landing crafts began. The men were crammed in, many became seasick and it was almost
impossible not to get wet. Since it took ninety minutes to reach the beach, the crafts left shortly
before 5 a.m. At 5.40 a.m. the troops heard guns and saw nothing but a cloud of smoke. The
United States troops advanced fast once the doors of the landing crafts were opened. The beach
was not taken without loss. The US destroyer Corry hit a mine and sank, and a LCT (landing
craft tank) struck a mine and went down with its crew and four amphibious tanks. The German
regiment defending Utah beach surrendered. The Utah beach attack by the United States had
But at Omaha beach, another United States objective, only twelve miles away, the luck
was anything but good. Two German divisions defended Omaha. There was hard sand, gullies,
a low cobblestone wall, hundreds of barbed wire fences and the Germans were on a bluff where
they could see the stretch of the beach. When they first arrived on the beaches the first 127
LCTs sank and they lost a heavy cannon. Ten tanks were knocked out and the men that
escaped had to survive the heavy gunfire from the Germans. The LCTs still in the sea began to
sink and many troops drowned being carried down by their packs. Many men hid behind
whatever would protect them from the fire. As wave after wave of the assault arrived, the
Germans dominated and after four hours of murderous fire they sent a triumph message to the
supervisor. Reserves were sent to the British beaches. Omaha was in grave danger. Tanks and
heavy guns began to land on Omaha, and allied planes flew over head to keep German planes
away as the courageous and stubborn men at Omaha fought to survive. By the end of the day
Omaha was only a mile deep and it had cost 2,500 men.
Landing crafts crashed through reefs and obstacles to get ashore. Tanks and heavy guns
went into action as soon as they hit the land. The British invasion of Gold beach looked to be
quite successful. But the Germans decided to hold the beach lightly at the waterfront and
increase inland. The troops stopped and were slowed at many points, and the city of Bayeux
was not taken immediately or easily. At Juno beach, the Canadian 3rd infantry divisions came
ashore and were met by German fire. The outlook at Juno, seemed to be another Omaha, a
failure. But more and more tanks came ashore and began to advance. German trenches near the
water were overrun, but farther inland things got heavier. The Canadians made the greatest
advance of any of the beaches. They ripped through nearly ten miles, but still the days
objectives were not met.
The heaviest guarded of all the beaches was the British objective of Sword beach. The
beach was narrow, so fewer troops could land at once. For the first time of the day, German
bombers dropped bombs, but they were quickly driven off, having little effect. It was also on
Sword beach that the French troops came ashore. The French captured the town of Ouistreham.
Eight miles inland from Sword was Caen, the key town. It wasnt taken the first day and the
British troops prepared for counterattack. At the same time the British 6th airborne was fighting
to hold onto the Orne Bridges.
At 9:30 a.m. allied headquarters announced what was already happening in Normandy.
1Under the command of General Eisenhower, allied naval forces, supported by strong air
forces, began landing allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.Many people
in the United States were asleep and didnt get word of the invasion until morning. Church
bells rang, sirens were heard and many people wept and prayed for loved ones fighting in
Normandy. The public was not informed of the success, failure or given any information on
what was going on. They had to wait and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, Von Rundstedt decided to call Berlin and demand Hitler release two Panzer
divisions begin held back. Hitler was sleeping and his officials refused to wake him. When he
woke it was to late to repel the invasion. IT was late afternoon before the tanks began to fill
Cane. The Germans began to try to make it to the gap between the British hold on Juno and
Sword beaches. It was too late, the Germans had waited too long. The Germans fought to reach
the gap and the British fought to reach Caen. Allied planes came to relieve some troops in the
Cotentin, and planes and naval gunfire cut off the Germans. It was a stalemate. When Hitler
awoke and released the two divisions, he thought it would be enough to rid the allies in
Normandy. The Panzer divisions got word at 5 p.m. and were ordered to move out at first light.
It was too late. By June 8th, the holds on the beachheads were strong. 155,000 soldiers were
poured into Normandy on the first day alone.
No accurate number of how many allied troops died in Normandy can be determined.
After fifty-five days the allied troops had reached where they should have five days after the
initial invasion. Still they prevailed. D-day had been the beginning of the end for the German
rule. Today signs of the massive, and deadly battles that took place on the Normandy beaches
can still be seen. Rusting hulks of ships still sunk in the sea can be seen. But the most visible, is
the military cemeteries and the rows of carefully placed white crosses that remind people the
cost of the invasion that day.
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