Leading Up To the Attack: Just before dawn on June 6, 1944,
hundreds of Allied battleships, cruisers, and
destroyers opened fire on France’s Normandy coast. Waiting in thousands of transport ships were 150,000 soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and France. The troops watched with awe as the beaches that they would soon run across were pounded with explosives. This was the deciding moment of World War II, and they had spent months training for it. This was D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Europe had been at war since 1939, and by 1940, only Great Britain remained to stand before the German empire. In 1941, Germany attacked Russia and Japan attacked the United States. This would cement a two-front war for Germany. With the Soviet Union on one side and Britain and America on the other, Germany was dangerously surrounded.
In 1943, the Allies (Britain, America, and Russia) agreed to invade Nazi-occupied France from across the English Channel. At this time, Germany was battling Russia on the eastern front. Joseph Stalin pressed Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt to open a second front. Churchill and Roosevelt agreed, but they said they would not be ready until 1944. While Russian forces battled Germany on the ground, British and American airmen battled the German Luftwaffe (German Air Force) over Western Europe. Also during this time, British and American land forces were training and preparing for what they all knew was coming: the liberation of Europe from German control.
Preparation: U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was placed in charge of planning the invasion itself (code name Operation Overlord). Three things were done to guarantee success: 1) servicemen were trained under the same conditions they would face on D-Day 2) huge amounts of men and supplies were gathered to overwhelm the Germans in France 3) false messages were allowed to be captured by German intelligence to hide the real location of the attack. The plan of attack had two major parts to it. First British and American airborne troops used parachutes and gliders to drop behind enemy lines. Despite tragic mistakes and confusion, the airborne troops took control of vital towns, bridges, and waterways. Second was the landing of troops on the beaches in France. The landings would take place in a region called Normandy. The main landing was divided into five beaches. The U.S. was to attack Utah and Omaha beaches while British and Canadian forces were to attack Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. The airborne troops were to guard the flanks.
D-Day: the Date of Attack: On the morning of June 6, 1944 at 6:30 am, Allied landing forces approached the beaches. The small transport boats the men made the final part of the journey and had a gate at the front that could be lowered. This made it much easier for the soldiers to exit the boat quickly. The Germans had covered the beaches with metal obstacles called hedgehogs that forced many boats to stop while still in deep water. Many Allied troops drowned in deep water because their heavy gear weighed them down.
The attack was confusing and frightening for those that made it ashore; men faced deadly fire as soon as the gates dropped down. Many never made it out of the landing boats. While airborne troops who had landed the night before worked their way back to the beaches to link up with the landing force, soldiers charged up the beaches to force their way onto the mainland. The Germans had spent over three years building up defenses fully expecting this invasion to happen. While Allied troops were out in the open during the attack, many German defenders fired from safety (inside cement bunkers).
At the beginning of the attack, German officers argued whether or not this was the real landing or just a cover-up for another, much larger invasion. They had heard Allied messages saying the real attack was to take place somewhere else, not knowing the Allies wanted them to hear those messages. By the time they realized this was the main attack, they were in desperate need of reinforcements. Those reinforcements could only be called up by Adolf Hitler, and he was asleep at the time of the invasion. His generals were under orders not to wake him and were afraid to disobey those orders. Germany had lost valuable time.
As the German defenders blazed away with deadly machine gun fire, Allied troops pushed their way up to the seawall. This was not a quick moving attack. Some men moved barely a hundred yards in two hours. Soldiers were shot at from every angle. Many found cover in holes in the sand created by German mortar fire. Eventually Allied explosives were used to blow holes through the German line of defense, and soldiers rushed through the openings.
By the End of the Day and Beyond: Eventually, Allied forces were able to establish a foothold on their respective beaches. The German defenders were unable to keep the Allies out of France. At the end of the day, D-Day was a success. The Allies had landed a military force in Western Europe that was there to stay. They would now have to slowly grind their way through France, moving from town to town, pushing the Germans back to their own country. The months ahead would be difficult and costly. On June 6, 1944, over 150,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy in Northern France. By the end of the war, over three million would take the same path in France. Over 2,500 men were lost and another 7,500 were wounded. More than 1,000 of the men lost were at Omaha Beach (shown in the movie Saving Private Ryan). The invasion of Nazi-occupied France, famously known as D-Day, is considered the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and his war machine.
D-Day Letter Home
Task: Write a 2 page, hand written, letter home to your family as a survivor of D-day. Be sure to describe your experience, and emotions, in great detail. You can choose to write as a soldier that rushed Normandy Beach, as a medic at Normandy beach, or as a paratrooper that survived the drop and fought behind enemy lines. Use the space below for note taking. Your letter should be on a sheet of notebook paper. Include your name, core, a salutation, the message, and a closing (1 page minimum).