1944 D Day
On June 6, 1944 the largest amphibious assault in history took place. On the morning of the Invasion of Normandy, beaches in the area of Cotentin, France, were bombarded with over 5,000 tons of bombs, destroying anti-invasion equipment and de-mining many areas. The official British history says: “Never has any coast suffered what a tortured strip of French coast suffered that morning.” Following the bombardment over 100,000 soldiers swam ashore (Normandy), and 11,700 paratroopers were dropped (D-Day) to secure Normandy Beach.
The casualties for the invasion were extensive. Five thousand, four hundred and thirty-six paratroopers were either killed or wounded (D-Day). Fifty-seven thousand prisoners were taken and only 4,000 French and 2,700 American lives were lost (Kemp). After two months of battle, Allied troops marched into Normandy on August 24th, 1944 (5). The Invasion of Normandy not only was the turning point of the World War II, but also directly led to the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazi regime.
Deception of the Germans was an important factor in the preparations for D-Day. Although the actual attack was to take place near Cotentin, German forces were misled into believing that the attack was to take place at Pas de Calais. First, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, created a mythical 1st Army Group, which would be based in Dover, just across the channel from Pas de Calais. An array of inflatable tanks and vehicles were placed in Dover, and a harbor containing an armada of inflatable rafts was constructed in the area. In command of the phantom 1st Army group was Patton, the Allied General for whom the Germans held the highest regard. Known enemy spies were informed of the supposed state of Patton’s forces. Naval maneuvers were performed off the area’s coast by the allies, and radio trafficking was manipulated so that German intelligence would suspect a major military force was organizing. Before the invasion, more bombs were dropped on Pas de Calais than anywhere else off the coast of France. By the time the invasion took place, the German’s were so convinced that the invasion would take place at Pas de Calais that even after a few hours of the Normandy invasion they still believed the main invasion would be there. Because of these efforts, 19 enemy divisions did nothing on the day of the attack (Normandy).
The efforts of the French Resistance also helped make D-Day successful. They cut railroad tracks, sabotaged train engines, targeted supply trains (Normandy), cut phone lines, assassinated German officers, (Koeller 47), and bombed roads, bridges, and rail junctions. This work practically destroyed the French transportation system, disallowing the Germans the ability to send reinforcements for the attack (Normandy).
The night before D-Day, three airborne units, the 101st and 82nd American Airborne Divisions and the 6th British Airborne Division were meant to be deployed to areas south of the beach (Kemp). Their mission was to clear the way for the troops by eliminating various obstacles. However, due to the weather the mission was not fully successful. The 82nd, to be dropped near the town of Sainte-MÃ¨re-Eglise, were scattered throughout the countryside. The 101st suffered equally badly. Their mission was to drop south of Utah Beach to secure roads and bridges at Carentan, a town near the center of the Peninsula. Unfortunately, many of the paratroopers were dropped into the water and drowned (Koeller 60).
If it were not for their utter determination, there would have been practically no purpose for the paratroopers. After the drops, small skirmishes erupted everywhere. However, the troops rallied and were able to regroup to complete most of their objectives, thanks to the efforts of the French Resistance. Because the Resistance had cut phone lines, the German chain of command was disrupted, and they could not get a firm hold on the battle (Koeller 60).
At 0700 hours, the time appointed as H-Hour, the amphibious invasion began. The bombardment was to end and the invasions begin at the same time (Kemp). The bombers finished on time, but the landing equipment ran late, giving the Germans a little bit of time to recuperate. When the British I and XXX Corps arrived on the Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches at 0700, they encountered heavy fire. At Gold Beach, the British 50th division also encountered heavy fire, but they made their way off the beach within a matter of hours (Normandy).
At Juno Beach, offshore reefs caused many problems. These reefs were never above water, and they were covered with mine-tipped obstacles. The mines blew up many landing craft before they ever reached the shore. Early bombardment did not fully eliminate German resistance at Juno Beach, as many Germans were holed up to pour bullets and artillery onto the allied soldiers. As more and more tanks and vehicles landed on shore, they had to weave in and out of destroyed landing craft. Despite many obstacles, at sunset the Canadians had taken the town of Saint-Aubin and had established a bridgehead with the British XXX Corps at Gold Beach. The civilians had come from their basements and were eating and drinking with the soldiers at nightfall (Koeller 75).
The British 3rd Infantry division with supporting units, including a group of French Commandos and the Scottish 1st Commando Brigade, assailed Sword Beach. The commandos were to secure a path through the town of Ouistreham, and then meet with the British 6th Airborne at the Orne Bridgehead. After the most extensive bombardment of the morning, the landing craft were launched (Koeller 76). However, there was an error in the launching of the landing craft: landing schedules collapsed and a large group of men were landed at the same time, causing a group of soldiers and vehicles to cluster at the water’s edge (Normandy). Included in the infantry was a bagpiper, Bill Millin, who was the personal bagpiper of the commander of the 1st Brigade. In the town of Ouisterham, the Allies faced a line of German-occupied villas, including an occupied casino. The soldiers made quick work of the town, taking out buildings one by one and taking many prisoners (Koeller 76). After the elimination of resistance at Ouisterham, the Allies marched toward the bridges at the Orne and BÃ¨nouville canals. There they were entangled in a skirmish between the British 6th Airborne and the 21st Panzer Division (Koeller 76).
The Utah Beach landing was successful and went completely as devised. Tanks came in first and began firing upon surprised Germans, and then the first waves of infantry soldiers swarmed onto the beaches (Koeller 68). There was one large problem with the Utah Beach attack. At the shoreline, when men landed, they were often forced to move into the obstacles and the line of fire to make room for heavy equipment and vehicles that followed them (Koeller 69). The minesweepers worked in conjunction with the tanks and foot soldiers: while the engineers cleared away beach obstacles, the tanks and infantry plowed away at the bunkers and gun batteries. By 1300 hours, the Allies had met with the 101st Airborne Division, and by nightfall, a solid bridgehead along the beach had been established (Koeller 68).
If one could call Utah Beach a success, Omaha Beach was anything but. The bombardment at Omaha was barely effective. Due to the weather, bombardiers dropped their cargo up to three miles too far inland, and gunners could not effectively zero in on their various targets. High seas swamped landing craft, and surviving infantry were seasick and unsteady. Over half of the amphibious tanks sank, due to heavy seas that the tanks were not made to endure. Heavy winds and unfavorable currents blew landing craft off course, away from the protection of destroyer artillery. The beach’s obstacles were not easily removed. Engineers in the 6th Engineer Brigade suffered 40 percent casualties, the majority in the first half-hour of the attack. Of 16 bulldozers brought to the beach, only one could be used effectively. Of six paths that were made with the bulldozers, only one could be used. When the infantry started moving onto the beach, they were pelted by enemy fire. Allied rocket ships responded by firing from extreme range, only to hit their own troops. As landing timetables fell apart, landing craft piled up on each either; soldiers were forced to wade 50 to 100 yards to shore, most of them being gunned down before they even got close. Sergeant Bob Sales of the B Company said about the situation,
“It became obvious that we were in mortal danger. Men were all around me in the water bleeding from wounds and screaming for help . . . I watched him as he disembarked and that machine gun opened up, cutting him down. I’ll never forget his helmet flying off and seeing all that red hair.” (Miller 301-302)
The situation was so bad that General Bradley, the American commander in charge of Omaha and Utah Beach, was debating whether to pull his force back to Utah or stand as they were. Eventually, Bradley decided to keep his force there, and after two days, reinforcements arrived to complete the invasion (Normandy).
Over the course of the next three months, the Allies marched from Cotentin into Paris. They were hindered by constantly renewing German counter-attacks. Political pressure rushed General Montgomery, leader of the D-Day force, into rushing into decisions and causing unnecessary casualties. Eventually, however, the Allies marched triumphantly into Paris, France on August 24th, 1944. This was followed by the Germans surrendering after the eventual liberation of the entirety of Northeast Europe. So overall, D-Day brought about the beginning of the vast campaign to end the war in Europe.