The United States President, Franklin D Roosevelt, had been waiting to form an operation in order to gain back France from the German's in WWII. Since 1942 the US had been pressing the British for an attack and the need for one became imminent as the Battle of Stalingrad ensued in late 1942. Joseph Stalin, the leader of Soviet Russia, needed the rest of the Allies to create another front in the west of Europe to relieve his own army because the battle was costly for Russia. The same type two-front war had happened in WWI and caused the defeat of Germany. The theory for a two-front war was that Germany would not be able to keep its army intact on two fronts. In June 1943 it became clear that German U-Bats were no longer a big threat to the Allies. This meant the ocean was now safe for the flow of supplies and equipment from the US to Britain. And finally this gave Britain the confidence in November 1943 to agree with the plan of an immense operation to cross the English Channel and liberate France.
The United States chose US Army general Dwight D Eisenhower to lead the invasion. The Allied ground forces commander was British General Bernard Montgomery. Together the two planned an attack by the code name Operation Overlord. “The broad outline of the attack was relatively simple: find suitable beaches, gather landing force, isolate the battlefield by attacking bridges, tunnels, and rail networks so that German defenders could not be easily reinforced, and land the troops. Once a beachhead was established, the plan was to pour in the supplies needed to sustain an offensive and then break out into the French countryside.”1 However the amphibious attack would not be as simple as it is stated. The success of D-day not only needed the things listed above, but Allied air and naval superiority and German troops not congregating in one area. That is why the Allies needed to setup a hoax in order to make sure the Germans had no idea where or when the operation would take place.
D-Day was planned to begin with Paratroopers dropping into France by moonlight, the late evening or early morning before the invasion. Their goal was to take over the bridges and roads that the Germans to move the battlefields once the invasion began. The rest of the troops would land on 5 beaches. The British Army would land in the east on the code-named beaches Sword and Gold. The Canadians would invade Juno beach. Omaha and Utah beach would be invaded by the American Army. “America’s forces included the 1st, 4th, and 29th Infantry Divisions, and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The British sent their 3rd and 50th Infantry Divisions and the 6th Airborne Divisions, while Canada used their 3rd Infantry Division.”2
The Allies needed to be sure of the geographical information of Normandy; where the Nazis were, landmines, etc. They sent "frogmen" to get sand samples from the beaches that were patrolled by German sentries. French Patriots gave "anti-tank ditch around strong point" or "hedgehog 30 to 40 feet apart" map notations. "French laborers conscripted by Nazis paced distances between obstacles or kept track of German troop movements. A house painter, hired to redecorate German headquarters in Caen, stole a blueprint of Atlantic Wall fortifications. French Resistance networks passed on precious bits of information, particularly the condition of bridges and canal locks. Wireless telegraph operators transmitted in bursts to evade German radio-detection teams." Also, the French Resistance used pigeons to fly information to the Allies. Some of the pigeons were shot down, however most made the trip to the Allies.
Operation Overlord is most famously known as D-day, however it is not the only operation known as D-day. D-Day is a reference to Day-Day because the exact day was not known therefore it was represented by the letter D. The weather, tides, and moonlight conditions were the main decision makers on when the operation would take place. Tides were important since the invasion was amphibious. It was necessary for it to be low tide because it would give the Allies the advantage of seeing where mines and other obstacles were located. The risk with low tide was the larger amount of land the Infantries would have to cross. The operation had been previously scheduled for May 1, 1944. Because the date was fast approaching, the US wanted to practice the operation and on April 27th 1944 exercise Tiger occurred. However by that date the Allies still did not have enough landing crafts to proceed. The operation was pushed back until June 5th of the same year.
Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5th made a speech to the troops to boost their moral and to help them realize just how important their jobs were. He said, “Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the greatest crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”3
General George Patton also made his famous D-day speech on June 5th, 1944. He spoke to the soldiers in a way that motivated them. “You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you here today will die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Every man is frightened at first in battle. If he says he isn’t, he’s a goddamn liar. Some men are cowards, yes! But they fight just the same, or get the hell shamed out of them watching men who do fight whoa are just as scared. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour. For some it takes days. But the real man never lets the fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to this country and his innate manhood.”4 He also said, “There is one great thing you men will all be able to say when you go home. You may thank God for it. Thank God, that at least, thirty years from now, when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knees, and he asks you what you did in the Great War, you won’t have to cough and say, and ‘I shoveled shit in Louisiana.’ No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, ‘Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-Goddamned-Bitch named George Patton!”5 These words that made the soldiers not only think about the honor they will carry in the future but what a great sacrifice they are making for their country is immeasurable.
However, when June 5th was close it was obvious that the weather was terrible. Europe was having an awful storm. The Allies watched the weather closely seeing a break in the bad weather on June 6th 1944. "The Germans were unaware of this break; all they saw was the bad weather hitting the shores of Normandy. This ignorance was fatal to the Germans, and the Allies were able to land in almost total surprise.”6
Just before midnight on June 5th, Eisenhower gave the “O.K., We’ll go” and the more than 20,000 airborne troops parachuted, after the okay, into France to capture the bridges and roads to complete their goal. Even though the paratroopers were scattered compared to where they were supposed to drop, it worked out for the better. The scattering confused the enemy by not allowing them to have an idea of the size or scope of the invasion.
By dawn on June 6th, 1944, through the fog, Allied warships were appearing off Normandy beach. Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion in history. “(Duplex-Drive) tanks were designed to preserve the element of surprise during an amphibious assault by hiding the bulk of the tank below the waterline until it reached shore.”7 Most of the tanks that were transported to Normandy never made it to shore. The Germans shot mortar shells at the boats and the canvas “bloomers” that were designed to float the tanks onto the beach.
The US Destroyer Corry was targeted by the Germans and at 6:10 am Allied planes laid a smoke screen. However, one of the planes was shot down and it was the one that was supposed to cover Corry. At 6:30 am Corry struck a mine and the main deck went underwater. They lost 24 men but 240 survived. The surviving men jumped off into the 54 degree water.
Utah beach had appeared to be the most difficult and hazardous of the 5 beaches. It had turned out to be the easiest and least costly. “By the time the first seaborne units touched down in the shallow waters and upon the yellow sand at Utah’s edge, American soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had been fighting for hours upon the soil of France. The paratroopers had quickly dominated the countryside for as far as seven miles inland from the beach, drawing upon themselves defensive fire which would have otherwise been concentrated upon the seaborne landings.”8 The first infantry assault had much less enemy fire than what was thought to have happened and the maps the troops were believed to be wrong. They later found out that they had landed a mile off course. Where they were supposed to land was heavily defended and many would have died. Thirty-six square miles of French soil was liberated at Utah beach at the cost of less than 200 infantry soldiers’ lives.
Omaha beach was the most difficult part of the invasion. Mines covered the only exits of the beach that were four ravines which lead to heavily mined roads. “The enemy poured a withering fire upon landing crafts as they touched down and upon the troops who floundered out of them into shallow water, where many not killed by shot or shell or mine were drowned when they were wounded or stumbled under their heavy burdens. All seemed to be confusion and chaos.”9 Soldiers were brought down under the water to drown by the tide. Also their equipment and soaked pack could pin them to the ocean floor. Some soldiers risked their lives to try and save others by jumping in the water to pull them ashore. Germans were mowing down the brave ones trying to save the drowning and the drowning just trying to stay alive.
German Pfc. Hein Severloh was behind a machine gun at Omaha beach watching the American GIs on the ramps of the landing crafts. “My order,” he recalls, “was to get them when they were still in one line, one after another, before they started spreading. So I did not have to swing my gun sideways… The water sprayed up where my machine gun bursts landed, and when the small fountains came closer to the GIs, they threw themselves down… Very soon the first bodies were drifting in the waves of the rising tide… In a short time, all the GIs down there were shot.”10 After killing many American GIs he surrendered once they gained control of Omaha beach.
In the morning there was barely any forward movement because of the heavy fire from the Germans. “Nearly all Americans who survived the bloody approach spent all of D-Day morning huddled helplessly, fearfully, under a seawall and behind beach obstacles and stalled vehicles.”11 However, small groups of men took it upon themselves, even if they were seriously injured to blast holes in barbwire and clear lanes through minefields. Without that effort and Germans not having an intense counterattack because of Operation Overlord’s being a surprise, infantry men would not have been able to advance up the bluffs and vehicles began to move off the beach and up the ravines. The invasion caused the front to push 1 to 1 and a half miles inland. Reinforcements and supplies were sent to Omaha beach in massive quantities.
Sword Beach had 650 casualties. The attack began an hour later than that of Omaha and Utah because of patches of quicksand. The troops had to wait for the tide to rise higher to cover the quicksand so boats, amphibious vehicles and men could make it to shore. British and Canadian soldiers by night fall “were linked up in a continuous front four to six miles inland from Gold and Juno.”12
One amazing figure in Operation Overlord is Lt. Walter Taylor. Click the link to read his story.
Even though every unit but one had mislanded, Operation Overlord was a success. The Allies dominated the sky and lost 11,000 casualties out of 156,000 men in those fateful 24 hours. It was truly the longest day. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was sent to France to reorganize the channel’s defenses. He rightfully said, “The war will be won or lost on the beaches. The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive.”13 The Allies had won the battle and began the ending of WWII.
D-Day was the beginning of the end for not only the Germans but Hitler most of all. D-Day forced the Germans to fight a two front war again just as they had in WWI. Yet again the Germans could not handle war on both sides of them. “By the end of June 1944, about a million Allied troops had reached France.”14 Reinforcements for the infantry of D-Day had come in. On June 26th, 1944 the Allies captured the French port of Cherbourg. After that day, the Germans began to retreat. On August 25th, 1944 came the day that the French had been waiting for, Paris had been liberated.
On December 16, 1944 “the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western Front, begins. Hitler orders a quarter of a million troops across Luxembourg to push back the Allied forces.”15 The German troops advanced 50 miles into Allied lines creating the “bulge.” However on Jan 16th, 1945 Germany was defeated in the Battle of the Bulge and Germany retreats because of Allied resistance and shortage of supplies. In March 1945 US troops cross the Rhine and Germany troops retreat more. One month later on the 30th of April, Adolph Hitler commits suicide. May 7th, 1945 World War II is officially over. Without the surprise invasion of Operation Overlord, the turning point in WWII would not have happened. Russia most likely would have fell and allowed Germans to over take the country. The world would be a different place.
The fear of the Germans figuring out where Operation Overlord was going to be was huge. Thousands of lives were at stake for the location and date to be kept secret. Therefore a plan of misleading the Germans as to where and when the invasion would take place was put forth. The Allies placed dummy landing crafts in Thames estuary and along the eastern coat. Hundreds of dummy tanks were deliberately placed where German air reconnaissance would photograph them. Deserted tent encampments were setup in East Anglia. A fake radio network was setup to simulate the traffic of an army preparing to invade. The pattern of air bombardment was arranged to indicate Pas de Calais in France was where the invasion would happen. The efforts were very successful and lead the Germans to keep their main forces in Pas de Calais even after the day of Operation Overlord had passed.