Today marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. The landings on the Normandy beaches was a part Operation Overlord, the operational code name for invading France. This was the largest seaborne invasion in history. This invasion was a major contribution to the liberation of France from Nazi control and the overall victory of the Allied forces in WWII. This operation took a great effort to pull off, training of millions of troops, gathering of supplies, and months of deception to fool the Germans as to when the date and location of the main Allied landings would occur. The weather was not ideal for the operation, but they could not stall any further for fear of being pushed back several weeks. Eisenhower chose Normandy as the location for invasion as it was the longest distance from England to France and he wanted to deceive the Germans. The 50-mile stretch of beach was divided into 5-sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach (as seen below).
Prior to departure, following message was handed out to the troops:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Allied Commander
While 6:30am is the date commemorated on this day because it was the time when troops first started hitting the beaches, but operations began at midnight with thousands of airborne troops beginning to land further inland. The Allied forces diverted the attention of the Germans to fake paratrooper drop zones near Marigny, France, by using straw-filled and inflatable rubber dummy parachutists which weakened the defenses in the actual drop zones. They were fitted with explosive devices fused to detonate near the ground which gave the illusion of gunfire. Paratroopers begin to cut phone lines and knock down telephone poles. It should be noted that the weather caused many troubles for those landing and some lost their lives during the jump. At 1:00am landing crafts began to be lowered into the water, but it wouldn't be until 02:45am that men would load into them. According to Eric Broadhead, from the Durham Light Infantry heading for Gold Beach, sea sickness was a problem:
"The landing craft was rolling in every possible direction; the sea-sickness pills had failed. Lying still only made one feel worse."
By 03:09am German radar detects the Allied fleet and ordered shore batteries to prepare for invasion. Around a quarter to 4:00am, German E-boats (fast attack craft) depart to intercept the Allied fleet. At 04:30am the first P47s take off and at the same time the French town of St. Mère-Eglise was liberated by American paratroopers. This town was an important achievement because all the roads that came from Utah beach went through this town. At sunrise, around 05:20am, Allied bombers began to drop the first of their bombs on German targets and dropped so much munitions that the pilots could feel the concussion of their own bombs.
At 05:30am naval bombardment operations began, hitting the shore before Allied forces arrived, and receiving fire from German shore batteries. By 06:20am, Allied landing craft approach the beach. H-Hour, 06:30am, Allied forces start landing on the Omaha and Utah beaches. The German opposition was strong at Omaha beach and the Allied troops suffered heavy losses. The amount of dead bodies clogged the entry to the beaches that some leaders thought of abandoning further landings at beaches like Omaha. Out at sea, the USS Corry (a destroyer) was sunk due to heavy gunfire and mine damage.
Around 07:00am Army Rangers began their assault on Point-du-Hoc while the 70th Tank Battalion began to land at Utah beach. At 07:25am was H-Hour for Sword beach where the British 3rd Division began to land their troops. At 07:35am, British Engineering forces followed by infantry landed at Gold beach. Around this same time, Canadians started to land on Juno beach. The successes on the beach were aided by the amphibious tanks that were able to make it ashore.
At 08:30am, landing crafts began to launch armored assets onto Omaha beach. By 09:00am take over the Point-du-Hoc and held it for the rest of the day. For the next few hours troops continue to land at Omaha and Utah beaches and aided by gunfire from naval vessels. By the early afternoon Omaha beach was secured by Allied forces. Mid-afternoon the Panzer division was released by order from Hitler. In the early evening forces of the 3rd Canadian Division, North Nova Scotia Highlanders reach 5-kim inland; 1st Hussar tanks cross the Caen-Bayeux railway, 15-km inland; and Canadian Scottish link up with the 50th Division at Creully. By 7:00pm, General Charles L. Huebner, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division set up is command post on Omaha beach."The German machine gunners in the dunes were stupefied to see a tank emerge from the sea. Some ran away or just stared, mouths wide open."
Sgt Leo Gariepy
They key leaders in this monumental operation were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and overall commander of forces going to France; General Bernard Montgomery who was in charge of all troops landing on the beach; the American troops landing on the beach were lead by General Omar Bradley and the British were lead by General Thomas Dempsey; Air Marshall Trafford Leigh was given supervision over all Allied Air Forces; and Bertram Ramsay, who was a British Admiral that was put in charge of Allied naval forces.
The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day, but gained a foothold onto mainland Europe that would expand over the coming months.
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