D-Day Normandy

Operation Overlord and the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.

Long considered the decisive battle of the war in Western Europe during World War 2, the invasion of Normandy, France was one of the biggest coordinated land, sea and air attacks in human history. Operation Overlord was literally the military operation that freed France from Germany’s death grip, and provided a win over Hitler that would propel the Allied forces to victory over the 3rd Reich.

France’s coast was the scene of a bloody, fierce battle that claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides the Allied troops. The cost in human lives was astronomical but it is said that the cost would have been much greater had the invasion never occurred or if it had been repelled and the Germans had emerged victorious.

Planning for the operation began in earnest in the summer of 1942 but it wasn’t until June 6, 1944 that the invasion took place. There were a number of reasons that it took so long to coordinate the invasion, including the diversion of troops and watercraft to the Mediterranean, the constant German U-Boat threat that had ship Captains literally awake at night with fear, and the surprising capabilities of the German ground forces who had entrenched themselves deeply into France’s coast. The massive relocation of ships, planes and troops was also a big factor in the postponement of the invasion, but by late 1943 enough detailed planning, movement and materials had been put into place to give the operation a green-light.

The Normandy Invasion was a true marvel of strategic planning and international teamwork. Over 1200 naval warships were involved in the operation, including ships and landing craft. Great Britain, The United States and Canada were the biggest representatives, but France, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland and Norway also supplied ships and manpower, making it a truly international fighting force. Code named Operation Neptune, the main task of the naval fleet was to provide protective bombardment for the landing troops as well as guarding the transports, minesweeping and patrolling for U-boats.

More than 3500 landing craft were used for the Normandy Invasion, carrying the troops, vehicles and artillery needed along a 50 mile wide area of the coast called the Bay of Seine. The initial assault was on a five-division front between the Orne River and the Cotentin Peninsula. The code names used for the beaches are some of the most famous and most remembered in military history. From west to east there were Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.  The first two were assigned to the largely American-manned Western Task Force with the other three the responsibility of the British-dominated Eastern Task Force.

The German attack that they faced on that bloody day was something out of Dante’s Inferno. The Germans, fearful of an attack along the French coast, had heavily entrenched themselves. Their defensive strip along the coast was fortified heavily with concrete, steel beams, barbed wire and other barriers. The Allies knew this and were expecting heavy losses, and they weren’t disappointed. Casualties along all 5 beaches were heavy, with the heaviest losses suffered on Utah and Omaha.

The Isle of Wight was the gathering area for the naval assault and thousands of ships began gathering there on June 5th.  From there it was a precarious journey through the night in mine-infested waters as they moved into place in the early morning hours before dawn on June 6th. Protecting their flanks were hundreds of anti-submarine ships and patrol planes. At 5:30 that morning bombardment of pre-arranged areas of the beach began.

The first landing began at 6:30 at Utah beach and 6:35 at Omaha.  Utah saw a rapid advancement of its troops and supplies as everything proceeded more or less to plan. Omaha was a different story. Underwater barriers that the Germans had erected took out many of the Americans landing craft, creating a ‘bottle-neck’ and providing the Germans with easy targets. With the highest casualties among the entire landing assault force, it was only a combination of short-range destroyer support, air bombardment and the grit and determination of the American soldiers that finally took the day. By noon the 29th infantry division had finally started to cross the beach in force, but not before suffering tremendous losses. At Gold beach, where the 50th division landed at 0725, the beach obstacles were also numerous and many men were lost. It wasn’t until nightfall that Gold was secured.

Once ashore en masse, the allies took no time securing the entirety of the French landing zone, which was quickly reinforced with troops and supplies. The amphibious supply boats were the absolute workhorses of the first few days, shuttling manpower, equipment, supplies and vehicles to the newly arrived soldiers. The German counter attacks that occurred over the next days were quickly repelled by the superior allied naval and shore based artillery. Allied dominance of the skies cut off German reinforcements and by July 25th Operation Cobra was launched and the liberation of France began.

Looking at the war in a historical perspective it can be presumed that the success of Operation Overlord was as much a psychological blow to Germany as a physical, and the beginning of the end for the 3rd Reich. Their defeat along the French coast showed that the German army could not, as was once presumed, control the whole of Western Europe. It gave the French a renewed vigor to repel the foreign invaders and heartened the spirits of all the countries who were fighting against Nazi tyranny. The Normandy invasion tipped the balance of power in Europe in the Allies favor, and gave them the advantage that they needed to begin the march into Germany that would ultimately see Hitler’s fall and the 3rd Reich destroyed.

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