Normandy landings

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Normandy landings
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit.jpg
US Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Decisive Allied victory[1]
Territorial
changes
Five Allied beachheads established in Normandy
Belligerents
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
Strength
156,000[a] 50,350 +[2]
Casualties and losses
At least ~12,000 casualties; 4,414 confirmed dead[b] 4,000 to 9,000 casualties[3]

The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 am British Double Summer Time (GMT+2). In planning, as for most Allied operations, the term D-Day was used for the day of the actual landing, which was dependent on final approval.

The landings were conducted in two phases: an airborne assault landing of 24,000 British, US and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France starting at 6:30 am.[4] Surprise was achieved thanks to inclement weather and a comprehensive deception plan implemented in the months before the landings, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to distract German attention from the possibility of landings in Normandy. A key success was to convince Adolf Hitler that the landings would actually occur to the north at the Pas-de-Calais. There were also decoy operations taking place simultaneously with the landings under the codenames Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable to distract German forces from the real landing areas.[5]

Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was General Dwight D. Eisenhower while overall command of ground forces (21st Army Group) was given to General Bernard Montgomery. The operation, planned by a team under Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan, was the largest amphibious invasion in world history and was executed by land, sea and air elements under direct Anglo-American command with over 160,000 soldiers landing on 6 June 1944: 73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians.[6][7] 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were also involved.[6][8] The invasion required the transport of soldiers and materiel from England by troop-laden aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel and naval gunfire support. The landings took place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Background

After the fall of France in June 1940, the defending British Expeditionary Force, trapped along the northern coast of France, was able to evacuate over 338,000 troops to England in the Dunkirk evacuation (27 May to 4 June).[9] The Western Allies did not immediately have adequate forces to return to France,[10] so they instead launched the invasion of Sicily in June 1943 and of Italy in September 1943.[11] The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.[12] The initial plans were constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.[13]

Four sites were considered for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would be possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.[14] The Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe from Britain. The Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.[15] But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,[16] whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.[17] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours.[18]

The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.[16] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).[19] General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.[20] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg.[21] The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.[21] Eventually, 39 Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: 22 American, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops[22] all under overall British command.[23]

Operations

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.[18] To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook bomber attacks (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields.[18] Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from knowing the timing and location of the invasion.[24]

The landings were to be preceded by airborne drops near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Bayeux and Caen the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold Beach and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the Avranches-Falaise line within the first three weeks.[25][26] Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, ending when all the forces reached the Seine.[27]

Deception plans

Under the overall strategy of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings.[28] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,[29] and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First U.S. Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing the main attack would take place at Pas de Calais.[24][30] Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.[31] Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.[32]

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.[33] In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe an additional airborne assault had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of "window", metal foil that caused a radar return mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small craft towing barrage balloons. "Window" was also dropped by No. 218 Squadron RAF near Boulogne-sur-Mer in Operation Glimmer.[34]

Weather

The invasion planners set forth a set of conditions regarding the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach while minimising the amount of time the men had to spend exposed in the open.[35] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing; high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.[36]

Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force met with Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve sufficiently so that the invasion could go ahead on 6 June.[37] After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead on the 6th.[38] Had Eisenhower postponed the invasion, the next available date with the correct combination of tides (but without the desirable full moon) was two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. But during this period they would have encountered a major storm which lasted four days, between 19 and 22 June, that would have made the initial landings impossible to undertake.[36] Postponing the invasion would also mean recalling men and ships that were already in position to go across, and increase the chances of the invasion being detected.[39]

Allied control of the Atlantic meant that German meteorologists did not have access to as much information as the Allies on incoming weather patterns.[33] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.[40] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife's birthday and to meet with Hitler to try to get more Panzers.[41]

German order of battle

The military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany reached their numerical peak during 1944. By D-Day, 157 German divisions were stationed in the Soviet Union, six in Finland, 12 in Norway, six in Denmark, nine in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.[42] However, these statistics are somewhat misleading since a significant number of the divisions in the east were depleted due to the intensity of the fighting; German records indicate that the average personnel complement was at about 50% in the spring of 1944.[43]

German Supreme commander: Adolf Hitler
Oberbefehlshaber West (Supreme Commander West; OB West): Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Army Group B: Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
7th Army: Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann
Panzer Group West: General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg

Cotentin Peninsula (Utah Beach)

Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced the following German units of LXXXIV Corps under General der Artillerie Erich Marcks:

Grandcamps Sector (Omaha Beach)

Americans assaulting Omaha Beach were faced with troops of the 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments.[48]

  • 914th Grenadier Regiment
  • 915th Grenadier Regiment (as reserves)
  • 916th Grenadier Regiment
  • 726th Infantry Regiment (from 716th Infantry Division)
  • 914th Artillery Regiment[49]

Gold, Juno, and Sword

Allied forces attacking Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches faced the following German units of LXXXIV Corps under General der Artillerie Erich Marcks:

Allied forces at Gold and Juno also faced:

  • Elements of the 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss
    • 914th Grenadier Regiment
    • 915th Grenadier Regiment
    • 916th Grenadier Regiment
    • 352nd Artillery Regiment[54]

Atlantic Wall

Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in green
  German Reich and Axis powers
  Allies
  Neutral countries

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but due to shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, most of the strongpoints were never built.[55] As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, Pas de Calais was heavily defended.[55] In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.[21] Rommel was assigned to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg,[55][56] and was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands.[57][58]

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beach to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.[59] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high tide mark.[35] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.[59] On Rommel's order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.[21] Given the Allied air supremacy (4,029 Allied aircraft assigned to operations in Normandy plus 5,514 aircraft assigned to bombing and defense, versus 570 Luftwaffe planes stationed in France and the Low Countries[35]), booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) were set up in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings.[21]

Armoured reserves

Rommel, believing that their best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore, requested that mobile reserves—especially tanks—be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (commander of Panzer Group West), and other senior commanders believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. Geyr also noted that in the Italian Campaign the armour stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel's opinion was that because of the overwhelming Allied air superiority, large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was underway. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three Panzer divisions under Geyr's command and give Rommel operational control of three Panzer divisions as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.[60][61][62]

Allied order of battle

D-day assault routes into Normandy

Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF): General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Commander, 21st Army Group: General Bernard Montgomery[63]

American zones

Assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944

Commander, First Army (United States): General Omar Bradley[63]

In total, the First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.[3] The amphibious operation was the largest in American military history since Ulysses S. Grant landed at Bruinsburg during the American Civil War.[64]

Utah Beach
Omaha Beach

British and Canadian zones

Royal Marines Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944

Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey[63]

Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British.[3] The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons, and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships.[68]

Gold Beach
Juno Beach
Sword Beach

Coordination with the French Resistance

Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (EMFFI), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D-Day and the following days:

  • Plan Vert was a fifteen-day operation to sabotage the rail system.
  • Plan Bleu dealt with destroying electrical facilities.
  • Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed at the enemy forces that would potentially reinforce Axis forces at Normandy.
  • Plan Violet dealt with cutting underground telephone and teleprinter cables.[72]
French Resistance members and Allied paratroopers discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944

The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by means of transmission by the BBC's French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which might be snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to resistance groups.[73] An increase in radio activity on 5 June was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most ignored the information.[74][75]

A 1965 report from the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center details the results of the French Resistance's sabotage efforts: "In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June. The telephone network in the invasion area was put out of order and beginning June 20, the railway lines of France were rendered inoperable, except in the Rhone Valley where the line Marseilles-Lyon was kept open by the Germans despite heavy engagements with [partisan] units ... Although the German local reserves were able to reach the front area despite resistance action ... marked delays were achieved against the movement of strategic reserves. The French claim to have delayed up to 12 divisions for 8 to 15 days."[76]

Naval activity

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944

Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett as a "never surpassed masterpiece of planning".[77] In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had served as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier. He had also been responsible for the naval planning of the invasion of North Africa in 1942 and one of the two fleets carrying troops for the invasion of Sicily the following year.[78]

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels. There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.[3] The invasion fleet was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.[79][78] Available to the fleet were five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors.[80] German ships in the area on D-Day included 3 torpedo boats, 29 fast attack craft, 36 R boats, and 36 minesweepers and patrol boats.[81] The Germans also had several U-boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.[35]

Bombardment

Map of the invasion area showing channels cleared of mines, location of vessels engaged in bombardment, and targets on shore

Bombardment of Normandy began around midnight with over 2,200 British and American bombers attacking targets along the coast and further inland.[35] The coastal bombing attack was largely ineffective at Omaha, because low cloud cover made the assigned targets difficult to see. Concerned about inflicting casualties on their own troops, many bombers delayed their attacks too long and failed to hit the beach defences.[82] The Germans had 570 aircraft stationed in Normandy and the Low Countries on D-Day, and another 964 in Germany.[35]

Minesweepers began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn without encountering the enemy.[83] The Western Task Force included the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, plus 8 cruisers, 28 destroyers, and one monitor.[84] The Eastern Task Force included the battleships HMS Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts, 12 cruisers, and 37 destroyers.[85] Naval bombardment of areas behind the beach commenced at 05:45, while it was still dark, with the gunners switching to preassigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50.[86] Since troops were scheduled to land at Utah and Omaha starting at 06:30 (an hour earlier than the British beaches), these areas received only about 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault troops began to land on the shore.[87] Some of the landing craft had been modified to provide close support fire, and self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks), specially designed for the Normandy landings, were to land shortly before the infantry to provide covering fire. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.[88][89]

Naval losses

HMS Lawford was sunk by enemy fire during an air attack off Juno Beach on 8 June 1944

The only naval contact during D-Day occurred when four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force late in the afternoon and launched eighteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After firing, the German vessels turned away and fled east into a smoke screen. Thanks to ULTRA, the Allies knew where the Germans' channel was through their own minefields. The only Allied losses to mines were the USS Corry off Utah; USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol craft; three LCTs; and two LCIs.[90]

The landings

Situation map for 24:00, 6 June 1944

Airborne operations

The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the build up of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the build up of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy's ability to organize and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralize German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.[91][92]

The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach, where they hoped to capture and control the few narrow causeways through terrain that had been intentionally flooded by the Germans. Reports from Allied intelligence in mid-May of the arrival of the German 91st Infantry Division meant the intended drop zones had to be shifted eastward and to the south.[93] The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east, and destroy the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach.[94] Free French paratroopers from the British Special Air Service Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June through August in Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.[95][96]

American airborne landings

Gliders are delivered to the Cotentin Peninsula by Douglas C-47 Skytrains. 6 June 1944

The American airborne landings began with the arrival of pathfinders at 00:15. Navigation was difficult because of a bank of thick cloud, and only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately marked with radar signals and Aldis lamps as a result.[97] Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 Skytrains of the IX Troop Carrier Command.[98] To avoid flying over the invasion fleet, the planes arrived from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited over Utah Beach.[99][97]

Troops of 101st Airborne paratroopers were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River.[100] The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their chutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields.[101] Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.[102][103] Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach.[104]

Troops of the 82nd Airborne began arriving around 02:30, with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve.[100] On the east side of the river, 75 per cent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone, and within two hours they captured the important crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église (the first town liberated in the invasion[105]) and began working to protect the western flank.[106] Because of the failure of the pathfinders to accurately mark their drop zone, the two regiments dropped on the west side of the Merderet were extremely scattered, with only four per cent landing in the target area.[106] Many landed in nearby swamps, with much loss of life.[107] Paratroopers consolidated into small groups, usually a hodgepodge of men of various ranks from different units, and attempted to concentrate on nearby objectives.[108] They captured but failed to hold the Merderet River bridge at La Fière, and fighting for the crossing continued for several days.[109]

Reinforcements arrived by glider at around 04:00 (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit) and 21:00 (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), bringing additional troops and heavy equipment. Like the paratroopers, many landed far from their drop zones.[110] Even those that landed on target experienced difficulty, with heavy cargo such as Jeeps shifting during landing, crashing through the wooded fuselage, and in some cases crushing personnel on board.[111]

After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd Airborne were under the control of their divisions, approximately a third of the force dropped. However, this wide dispersal had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.[112] Seventh Army received notification of the parachute drops at 01:20, but Runstedt did not initially believe that a major invasion was underway. Destruction of radar stations along the Normandy coast in the week before the invasion meant that the Germans did not detect the approaching fleet until 02:00.[113]

British and Canadian airborne landings

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops

The first Allied action of D-Day was Operation Deadstick, a glider assault at 00:16 at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and the bridge (since re-named Horsa Bridge) over the Orne, half a mile (800 metres) to the east. Both bridges were quickly captured intact with light casualties by members of the 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.[114][115] The five bridges over the Dives were destroyed with minimal difficulty by the 3rd Parachute Brigade.[116][117] Meanwhile, pathfinders that were to land nearby to set up radar beacons and lights for further paratroopers scheduled to begin arriving at 00:50 to clear the landing zone north of Ranville were blown off course, and had to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers, also blown too far east, landed far from their intended drop zones; some took hours or even days to be reunited with their units.[118][119] Major General Richard Gale arrived in the third wave of gliders at 03:30, along with equipment such as antitank guns and jeeps and more troops to help secure the area from counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate vicinity of the landings.[120] At 02:00 Richter, in command of the German 716th Infantry Division, ordered Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzers into position to counter-attack. However, as the unit was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger was obliged to seek clearance from OKW before he could commit his unit.[121] Feuchtinger did not receive orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meantime on his own initiative he put together a battle group (including tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne.[122]

Only 160 men out of the 600 members of the 9th Battalion tasked with taking out the enemy battery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous point. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, in charge of the operation, decided to proceed regardless, as the emplacement had to be taken out by 06:00 to prevent its being able to fire on the invasion fleet and the troops arriving on Sword Beach. In the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied forces disabled the guns at a cost of 75 casualties. The emplacement was found to contain 75 mm guns rather than the expected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery.[123]

With this action, the last of the D-Day goals of the British 6th Airborne Division was achieved.[124] They were reinforced at 12:00 by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach, and by the 6th Airlanding Brigade, who arrived in gliders at 21:00 in Operation Mallard.[125]

Utah Beach

Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background.

Utah was in the area defended by two battalions of 919th Grenadier Regiment (GR.919).[126] Members of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division were the first to land, arriving at 06:30. Their landing craft pushed to the south by strong currents, they found themselves about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zone. This site turned out to be better, as there was only one strongpoint nearby rather than two, and bombers of IX Bomber Command working this sector had dropped lower than their prescribed altitude, inflicting considerable damage. In addition, the strong currents had washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the first senior officer ashore, made the decision to "start the war from right here", and ordered further landings to be re-routed.[127][128]

The initial assault battalions were quickly followed by 28 DD tanks and several waves of engineer and demolition teams to remove beach obstacles and clear the area directly behind the beach of obstacles and mines. Gaps were blown in the seawall to allow quicker access for troops and tanks. Combat teams began to exit the beach at around 09:00, with some infantry wading through the flooded fields rather than travelling on the single road. They skirmished throughout the day with elements of the GR.919, who were armed with antitank guns and rifles. The main strongpoint in the area and another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south were disabled by noon.[129] The Allies did not meet all of their D-Day objectives, partly because they had arrived too far to the south, but they landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties.[130][131]

Pointe du Hoc

The massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by James Earl Rudder. The task was to scale the 30 meter (100 ft) cliffs under the cover of night, approximately at 5:30, one hour prior to the landings with ropes and ladders, and then attack and destroy the German 15,5 cm Kanone 418(f) coastal defence guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. The infantry commanders did not know that the guns had been moved prior to the attack, they had to press farther inland to find them and eventually destroy them. However, the fortifications themselves were still vital targets as a single artillery forward observer based there could have called down accurate fire on the US beaches. The Rangers were eventually successful, and captured the fortifications. They then had to fight for two days to hold the location, losing more than 60% of their men. They subsequently regrouped and continued northeast to the rally point one mile from the gun emplacements on Pointe Du Hoc.

Omaha Beach

Survivors of a sunken troop transport are assisted ashore on Omaha Beach

Elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division (US) faced the recently formed German 352nd Infantry Division, a mixed group of Russian "volunteers" and teenagers stiffened with a cadre of eastern front veterans, unusual in the fact that it was one of the few German divisions remaining with a full complement of three regiments albeit at reduced strength; fifty percent of its officers had no combat experience. However, Allied intelligence was unaware until two weeks before the planned invasion that the 100 km stretch of beach originally allocated to be defended by the 716th Infantry Division (static) had been cut into two parts in March, with the 716th moving to the "Caen Zone", and the 352nd taking over the "Bayeux Zone", thus doubling the complement of defenders.[132] Omaha was also the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery; the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only two survived the landing. The official record stated that "within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue".

Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings. The heavily defended draws, the only vehicular routes off the beach, could not be taken and two hours after the first assault the beach was closed for all but infantry landings. Commanders (including General Omar Bradley) considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units of infantry, often forming ad hoc groups, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defences by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day, two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach

Gold Beach

At Gold Beach, 25,000 men were landed, under the command of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, Commander of the British 2nd Army. Casualties were also quite heavy; around 400, partly because bad weather delayed the swimming Sherman DD tanks, and also because the Germans had strongly fortified a village on the beach. However, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the Canadians at Juno Beach, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.

No. 47 (RM) Commando was the last British Commando unit to land and came ashore on Gold east of La Hamel. Their task was to proceed inland then turn right (west) and make a 16-kilometre (10 mi) march through enemy territory to attack the coastal harbour of Port en Bessin from the rear. This small port, on the British extreme right, was well sheltered in the chalk cliffs and significant in that it was to be a prime early harbour for supplies to be brought in, including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore.

Juno Beach

Canadian operations on D-Day

The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced two heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and nine medium batteries of 75 mm guns, as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach. The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads. The use of armour was successful at Juno, in some instances actually landing ahead of the infantry as intended and helping to clear a path inland.[133]

Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando "W" landing on Mike Beach, Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead. 6 June 1944

Despite the obstacles, the Canadians were off the beach within hours and beginning their advance inland. A single troop of four tanks managed to reach the final objective phase line, but hastily retreated, having outrun its infantry support. In particular, two fortified positions at the Douvres Radar Station remained in German hands (and would for several days until captured by British commandos), and no link had been established with Sword Beach.

By the end of D-Day, 30,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water's edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) Panzer divisions on 7 and 8 June.

Sword Beach

British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach

The assault on Sword Beach began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the DD tanks of 13th/18th Hussars followed closely by the infantry of 8th Brigade.

On Sword Beach, the regular British infantry came ashore with light casualties. They had advanced about eight kilometres (5 mi) by the end of the day but failed to take some of the deliberately ambitious targets set by Montgomery. In particular, Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands by the end of D-Day, and would remain so until mid-July; its central urban area was cleared 8–9 July, and the suburbs were fully cleared by 20 July in Operation Atlantic. (See Battle for Caen.)

1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No. 4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The 1st Special Service Brigade's landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin. The British and French members of No. 4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham: the French, a blockhouse and the Casino; the British two German batteries that overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT anti-tank weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.

Crossword puzzles

Leonard Dawe, the headmaster at Strand School in Effingham, Surrey, also compiled crossword puzzles for various newspapers. In his 17 August 1942 crossword in The Daily Telegraph, the clue "French port" had the answer Dieppe. As this was only two days before the disastrous Dieppe Raid, the War Office suspected that the crossword had been used to pass information to the enemy. They called on Lord Tweedsmuir to investigate. His inquiry, which also included MI5, concluded it was a coincidence. Later, during the run-up to the Normandy landings, several of the operation's code names were answers in crosswords that Dawe submitted to the Telegraph. In his crossword for 2 May 1944, the clue for 17 across was "one of the U.S."; the correct answer was Utah. On 22 May the correct answer for 3 down, "Red Indian on the Missouri", was Omaha. On 27 May, "overlord" was the answer to 11 across, and three days later "Mulberry" was the answer to 11 across. A total of four top-secret codewords had appeared in less than a month, and the words "Gold", "Juno", and "Sword" had appeared in previous months. The final straw came on 1 June, when "Neptune" was the answer for 15 across. Dawe was again interrogated by MI5, and again he persuaded them that it was all a coincidence. Dawe may have picked up the words his students, some of whom were children of military families.[134]

War memorials and tourism

At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbour are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. A memorial to the American National Guard sits at the former location of a German strongpoint. Point du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is nearby, in Colleville-sur-Mer.[135] A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the American airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby.[136]

Pegasus Bridge, a target of the British 6th Airborne, was the site of some of the earliest action of the Normandy landings. The bridge was replaced in 1994 by one similar in appearance, and the original is now housed on the grounds of a nearby museum complex.[137] Sections of Mulberry harbour B still sit in the sea at Arromanches, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery is nearby.[138] The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003, was funded by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans.[139]

See also

Explanatory notes

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ The official British history gives an estimated figure of 156,115 men landed on D-Day. This comprised 57,500 Americans and 75,215 British and Canadians from the sea and 15,500 Americans and 7,900 British from the air. Ellis, Allen & Warhurst 2004, pp. 521–533.
  2. ^ The original estimate for Allied casualties was 10,000 overall of which 2,500 were killed. Research underway by the National D-Day Memorial has so far confirmed 4,414 deaths, of which 2,499 were American and 1,915 were from other nations. Whitmarsh 2009, p. 87.

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Bibliography

External links

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Coordinates: 49°20′N 0°34′W / 49.333°N 0.567°W / 49.333; -0.567