The Invasion of Normandy

The battle plan, code-named Operation Overlord, called for the largest amphibious assault ever to start the liberation of occupied Europe from Nazi Germany. It began in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, now known as D-Day. Thousands of American, British, Canadian, and French soldiers-backed by paratroopers, bombers, and warships-stormed a 50-mile stretch of French beach called Normandy. This “invasion of Normandy” was the greatest event to occur between the years of 1919 and 1945. D-day was the beginning of the end of the war. The invasion of Normandy allowed the Allied forces to get their soldiers back on the European mainland and to start defeating German opposition and Nazi tyranny. It was the major turning point of World War II and perhaps one of the greatest strategic military operations that ever executed.As the tide of World War II began to turn in favor of the Allies, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had the task of forming the largest invasion fleet in history, in order for an amphibious landing on the northern coast of France to be effective. If it was executed as planned and labeled a success, the landing would be the starting point for the massive attack. The attack would move eastward through France and into Nazi Germany.In May, while millions of troops and equipment poured into the staging area of southern Britain, the Allies created a decoy. False radio transmissions and rows of inflated rubber tanks and landing craft located away from the true staging area kept the Germans confused about the operation’s size and target.The invasion of northern France from England was not launched in May, as its planners had initially prescribed, but on June 6, the famous D-Day of World War II. A huge fighting force had been assembled, including 1,200 fighting ships, 10,000 planes, 4,126 landing craft, 804 transport ships, and hundreds of amphibious and other special purpose tanks. During the operation, 156,000 troops, of which 73,000 were American, were landed in Normandy, airborne and seaborne.As the day of the invasion approached, the weather in the English Channel became stormy. Heavy winds, a five-foot swell at sea, and lowering skies compelled Eisenhower to postpone the assault from the fifth to the sixth of June. Conditions remained poor, but when weathermen predicted that the winds would abate and the cloud cover rise enough on the scheduled day of the attack to permit a go-ahead, Eisenhower reluctantly gave the command.The assault had been timed for low tide to expose as many underwater obstacles as possible. At 6:31 am, the first landing craft dropped its ramp and U.S. soldiers began fighting. In the invasion’s early hours, more than 1,000 transports dropped paratroopers to secure the flanks and beach exits of the assault area. Amphibious craft landed some 130,000 troops on five beaches along fifty miles of Normandy coast. In the eastern zone, British and Canadians landed on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. The Americans landed on two beaches in the west-Utah and Omaha. As the Allied forces came ashore, they took the first steps on the final road to victory in Europe.To guard against an Allied invasion of Europe, Adolf Hitler ordered the laying of millions of mines and miles of barbed wire and poured tons of concrete to create a defensive barrier along the western coast of Europe. This was soon to be known as the “Atlantic Wall”. Although the plan was a sham because the Germans didn’t know where an invasion would occur, it still cost many Allied soldiers their lives.As planned, airborne units led the invasion. Dropping paratroopers behind German forces and supporting the soldiers on the beach, air support was crucial for the success the operation. Allied bombers, which were unable to see through heavy clouds, missed their beach targets. Three airborne divisions of U.S. and British forces dropped inland. Some soldiers were machine-gunned to death before they landed; others landed thirty-five miles from their targets. Much of the air assault was a fiasco due to stormy weather. Yet British glider troops seized key bridges east of Caen, and U.S. airborne troops seized their first key town, Saint Mere Eglise. The drops took place on both flanks of the invasion area in the late hours of June 5th and early morning of the 6th. Most of the drops took place in clear weather, but were scattered over a large expanse of the countryside. In spite of this, British and American paratroopers met most of their D-Day objectives. The drop also confused the German defenders, thus buying time for the invasion troops. Allies added to the confusion by parachuting dummies wired with firecrackers far to the rear of German positions. The trick drew major enemy units away from the landing zone, where their presence might have done considerable damage tot he attackers.As dawn broke, an armada of more than 5,000 Allied ships steamed through 10 lanes cleared by minesweepers. The warships opened fire with the most intense bombardment in naval history. The naval bombardment began at 5:50 am, detonating large German minefields, and destroying many blockhouses and artillery positions. Although three German torpedo boats briefly attempted to contest the attack, the inflicted minimal damage to the armada of ships.Any other immediate response to the Allied fleet heading towards the French coast never happened. The reason for this was that since Hitler was asleep, and disliked being awakened, approval for any major movement of forces and equipment took hours to come, and stalled what might have been a powerful German response.Planners chose the Normandy beaches because they lay within the range of air cover, and were less heavily defended than the obvious objective of the Pas de Calais, the shortest distance between Great Britain and the continent. The beaches chosen for the landings stretched from the estuary of the Orne to the southeastern edge of the Cotentin peninsula, with the British and Canadians taking the eastern beaches (Juno, Sword, and Gold) and the Americans taking the western beaches (Utah and Omaha). Utah beach was added to the initial invasion plan almost as an afterthought when allies realized they needed a major port. The major obstacles which American forces encountered in this sector were not so much the beach defenses, but the flooded and rough terrain that blocked the way north.At Omaha beach, U.S. soldiers found only death and misery. Heavy German defenses killed thousands of men while securing the beachhead. Omaha beach linked the U.S. beaches, and was also the most restricted and heavily defended beach. The terrain here was difficult, and unlike any of the other assault beaches in Normandy, its crescent curve and unusual assortment of cliffs, bluffs, and draws made advancement here unlikely and almost impossible. German strongpoints were arranged to command all the approaches and pillboxes were situated in the draws, which allowed them to destroy forces without being hit by bombarding warships.Gold beach was the objective of a British division. The initial opposition was fierce, but the British invasion forces broke through with relatively light casualties and were able to reach their objectives in this sector.Juno Beach was were the Canadian forces landed. Despite heavy opposition, they broke through and advanced to their objective. The Canadians made the deepest penetration of any land forces on June 6th, again with moderate casualties.Sword beach is where a single British infantry division quite a ways inland after breaking the opposition at the water’s edge. They also encountered fierce opposition, further inland, from two Panzer divisions.Allied losses had been high: 2,500 men at Omaha alone, and more than 9,000 men in all, one-third of whom where killed in action. Even so, the number was less than Allied planners had expected.The German’s main handicap was their need to cover 3,000 miles of western European coastline, from the Netherlands around the coast of France to the Italian Mountain frontier. Although victorious against the first wave of invaders at Omaha, the Germans could do little when the force on the beach began to renew itself. With many of their troops off chasing dummy paratroopers, which the allies had dropped, the Germans could hold their own fixed positions but could not drive the invaders back. Thus, the Americans kept the ground they gained.The Allies, for their part, had brought four years of planning and hard work to completion. Exhausted and battle-worn, they had at last reached their objective destination targets. From there, the land was dry and relatively open. The final act of the war, the great push through France into Germany itself, could now begin.The invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day, proved to be the pivotal point in the war. It was crucial for both sides. And fortunately, it was the Allies who came through with the win, thus allowing the allied forces to push into France and then into the heart of nazi Germany. There is where the war, which had caused the end of millions of lives, would finally come to an end.