Operation OverlordBy 1944 World War II had lasted nearly four and a half years.
The entire war nowdepended on the success or failure of an invasion of France. The first three years of the warhad almost entirely been a chain of Nazi victories. They had succeeded in crushing Poland andforcing 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 onthe United States and forced Italy to follow. By November of 1942 Hitler began to pay for his string of mistakes. In Egypt his favoriteGeneral, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, had been defeated at The Alamein by the British EighthArmy, after being trapped between two armies. Hitler, fearing he would be captured, orderedhim back.
The fighting in Russia had been so severe and deadly that Marshal Stalin wasdemanding an allied landing in France, so as to force Hitler to move his troops from Stalinsdivisions in the East. The line of trust between Stalin and the allies was thin, but fearing Russiawould leave the was, the United States and Britain send Canadian soldiers and Britishcommandos 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 theearliest possible opportunity. Britain argued that a failure of not capturing a strong hold on abeachhead could set them back two years. In August of 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill met inQuebec, Canada and the invasion was approved. The plan included the landing of allied troopson different beaches, and also the battles that would follow, on the quest for Berlin.
Theshortest route would be Dover to Calais, but that would be a place where Germany wouldexpect an invasion and would be heavily guarded. Now all eyes were pointing towardsNormandy. 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 schoolin West London. The plan had taken nearly two years to plan.
Attending the review waseveryone who had a role in the plan. Some in attendance were King George VI, WinstonChurchill, General Dwight Eisenhower and General Bernard Montgomery. Many of the Britishcommanders in attendance had served in the first World War and were weary of sending massamounts 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.
Timingand coordination were of great importance, a failure at one of the hundred points could sendthe whole balanced plan in to chaos. The first assault wave would have eight division, close to80,000 men. Three of the eight divisions, 1 of Britain and two of the United States, would beairborne paratroopers and glider troops that would be dropped at night. The other five divisionswould be Infantry divisions and would land on five beaches at the crack of dawn. After theAtlantic Wall had been broken by the first assault and a stable beachhead was obtained, morethan thirty-nine divisions would rapidly pour in. Capturing a strong hold of a beachhead was crucial to the success of the invasion. Thebeachhead would need to be able to hold back the inevitable counterattack of strong Germanforces.
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 wasCherbourg a major harbor. Unless this mission was successful, supplies would have to beshipped 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 wouldcarry the assault troops across the channel, bombard the enemy defenses threatening thebeaches, then send troops to landing crafts. Never in history had such a large fleet beenassembled. Chief Marshal Trevor Leigh-Mallory had many concerns about the plans. The24,000 allied paratroopers and glider forces would be in unarmed and unarmored transportplanes, a mere thousand feet above the ground.
Over a thousand twin-engine, slow planeswould each carry about twenty paratroopers and be towing a glider. The gliders would carry notonly 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 costthem three-quarters of their airborne troops. When it came down to it Eisenhower had to makethe decision to let the airborne divisions take their chances, because if they did not make theirpositions, the whole invasion could quite possibly fail. The weather, was one of the biggest factors on deciding the date of the invasion. Theweather could not be accurately predicted until three or four days before hand. The date of June5, was set as the beginning of Operation Overlord.
If the weather was not suitable they couldpostpone for a maximum of forty-eight hours. Now that the date had been set, Keepinglocations and plans a secret was the main objective. Only a few senior officers knew the exactdate of the invasion, but by the fifth of June over a hundred thousand troops would beinformed. Keeping the plans and date a secret was a hard task for some, and Germany had a fewopportunities to find out about the invasion. At a cocktail party, a United States Airforcegeneral man an indiscreet indication to the date of D-day.
On another occasion an army postalclerk 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 inthe war. By coincidence in one of his many examples of an attack on Normandy, he almostexactly suggested the accurate landing points. On June 6, 1944 at fifteen minutes past midnight, the first United States pathfindersfloated in the sky. Their main objective was to mark drop zones for the airborne division whowould follow in less than an hour. Less than one-third of the 120 pathfinders were dropped ontheir correct positions. Some were merely a few feet away from their ,arks, while others weremiles 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. Dropswere made too soon due to the beginning to the German counterattack.The same mistakes struck the paratroopers, and gliders. They were disorganized andmany were seperated from their units. In the dark of the night they formed small groups withonly 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 theirlocations and units or even just another allied troop. Generals were not exempt from gettinglost.
General Maxwell Taylor, came down alone and nearly six and a half-hours later he foundenough men to start considering to carry out his objective. Except for the 101st, that were luckyenough to land together, many had difficulty finding landmarks they expected. Many ofD-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 werecompletely confused. They were trying to determine where the largest concentration of alliedtroops 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 believednot even Eisenhower would risk a failure by landing in the weather they had. But whatEisenhower knew spelled disaster for the Germans. The weather was clearing, but when Hitlerrealized it, it would be too late. The Germans had flooded the area around the Douve and Merederet Rivers, and itbecame similar to marshland.
Some of the first deaths of D-day took place in less than threefeet of water. Vital equipment was dropped and sank in the marshland conditions, only fortypercent 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 gunsreinforced the two airborne divisions. The Cotenin had been successfully sealed off and only acounterattack with tanks would ruin the allied win. The British 6th divisions objective was toprotect the beaches from attack by German Panzers. They also had to capture and destroy aheavily defended battery of big guns at Merville.
The only hope to gain it was for paratroopersto get inside, through minefields and barbed wire, and blow it up. Two bridges were to betaken, the Orne Bridge and one near the Caen Canal. Within three minutes the Caen CanalBridge had been taken by surprised German forces, only losing one Lieutenant. The OrneBridge was easily taken as well. Three gliders had been dropped, only two close enough to takeit.
The third was a quarter of a mile away, by the time he reached the bridge, it had already beentaken. Lieutenant Colonel T.B.H. Otway was the commander of the Merville attack. When hewas descending in his parachute he realized he was headed straight for a German battalionheadquarters. He fell into the garden making a lot of noise.
The sleepy Germans woke and wentto see what all the noise was about. He threw a brick through a window. The Germans thoughtit was a grenade and ducked.
Otway and his men escaped. When he arrived at his position, hefound only 150 of his original 750 men. But worse then not enough men, he found they onlyhad one heavy machine gun, and no other heavy equipment. A reconnaissance platoon was toadvance before them and mark a path through the minefields with white tape; he had no cluewhere they were or if they had come. Three Horsa gliders were supposed to crash land right onthe guns when they began their attack. All this had to be in place or else they were committingsuicide. The advance on Merville looked to be a failure. He waited a long time, and no oneshowed, so he ordered the remaining troops to march on.
Just before the three Britishparatroopers glided in, they found the white tape trail through the minefield. They were inposition and the two gliders and their towplanes arrived on time but landed far from where theywere supposed to. The only way to capture Merville was to fight with what they had. In twentyminutes it was over, Otways group had won. By dawn the British 6th airborne, despite allmistakes, completed every single one of their missions.Shortly after 4 a.m.
rope ladders dropped over the sides of the ships and the loading ofthe landing crafts began. The men were crammed in, many became seasick and it was almostimpossible not to get wet. Since it took ninety minutes to reach the beach, the crafts left shortlybefore 5 a.m. At 5.40 a.m.
the troops heard guns and saw nothing but a cloud of smoke. TheUnited States troops advanced fast once the doors of the landing crafts were opened. The beachwas not taken without loss. The US destroyer Corry hit a mine and sank, and a LCT (landingcraft tank) struck a mine and went down with its crew and four amphibious tanks. The Germanregiment defending Utah beach surrendered. The Utah beach attack by the United States hadbeen successful. But at Omaha beach, another United States objective, only twelve miles away, the luckwas 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 wherethey could see the stretch of the beach. When they first arrived on the beaches the first 127LCTs sank and they lost a heavy cannon. Ten tanks were knocked out and the men thatescaped had to survive the heavy gunfire from the Germans. The LCTs still in the sea began tosink and many troops drowned being carried down by their packs. Many men hid behindwhatever would protect them from the fire. As wave after wave of the assault arrived, theGermans dominated and after four hours of murderous fire they sent a triumph message to thesupervisor.
Reserves were sent to the British beaches. Omaha was in grave danger. Tanks andheavy guns began to land on Omaha, and allied planes flew over head to keep German planesaway as the courageous and stubborn men at Omaha fought to survive. By the end of the dayOmaha 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 gunswent into action as soon as they hit the land. The British invasion of Gold beach looked to bequite successful. But the Germans decided to hold the beach lightly at the waterfront andincrease inland.
The troops stopped and were slowed at many points, and the city of Bayeuxwas not taken immediately or easily. At Juno beach, the Canadian 3rd infantry divisions cameashore and were met by German fire. The outlook at Juno, seemed to be another Omaha, afailure. But more and more tanks came ashore and began to advance. German trenches near thewater were overrun, but farther inland things got heavier. The Canadians made the greatestadvance of any of the beaches. They ripped through nearly ten miles, but still the daysobjectives were not met.
The heaviest guarded of all the beaches was the British objective of Sword beach. Thebeach was narrow, so fewer troops could land at once. For the first time of the day, Germanbombers dropped bombs, but they were quickly driven off, having little effect.
It was also onSword 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 theBritish troops prepared for counterattack. At the same time the British 6th airborne was fightingto 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 airforces, began landing allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.Many peoplein the United States were asleep and didnt get word of the invasion until morning. Churchbells rang, sirens were heard and many people wept and prayed for loved ones fighting inNormandy. The public was not informed of the success, failure or given any information onwhat was going on. They had to wait and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, Von Rundstedt decided to call Berlin and demand Hitler release two Panzerdivisions begin held back. Hitler was sleeping and his officials refused to wake him. When hewoke it was to late to repel the invasion. IT was late afternoon before the tanks began to fillCane. The Germans began to try to make it to the gap between the British hold on Juno andSword beaches. It was too late, the Germans had waited too long. The Germans fought to reachthe gap and the British fought to reach Caen. Allied planes came to relieve some troops in theCotentin, and planes and naval gunfire cut off the Germans.
It was a stalemate. When Hitlerawoke and released the two divisions, he thought it would be enough to rid the allies inNormandy. 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 werepoured 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 theinitial invasion. Still they prevailed. D-day had been the beginning of the end for the Germanrule. Today signs of the massive, and deadly battles that took place on the Normandy beachescan still be seen.
Rusting hulks of ships still sunk in the sea can be seen. But the most visible, isthe military cemeteries and the rows of carefully placed white crosses that remind people thecost of the invasion that day.Words/ Pages : 2,711 / 24