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Second World War History > D-Day, the Allied Invasion of France Timeline

D-Day, the Allied Invasion of France Timeline

So ends the bloody business of the day as the Allies enact their brazen plan to take back Europe.

Authored By Staff Writer

It was no secret to both sides of the war in Europe that France would be the ultimate battleground for turning the tide in either party's favor. Germany was entrenched in a bloody struggle to the East against the might of the Red Army, having a hard time replacing their mounting losses in the process. They were losing ground in Italy after having lost their hold in North Africa altogether. But in the north of France, the Germans maintained a relatively easily accessible route to the North Sea. Should any invasion stem from English shores, the German Army would indeed be ready.


What Germany needed now, above all else, was time. Time to develop and unleash their newfangled technological marvels on an unsuspecting world. Time to recoup the devastating losses to American and British air power. Time to develop a sound counter-offensive to send any possible invasion force to the bottom of the North Sea. There were the rocket and jet powered fighters and bombers taking shape at airfields across Germany. There were the superheavy tanks ready to take on whatever armor the Allies could field. There were the advanced U-boat submarines that would have revolutionized open-sea warfare. Having all of these important elements in their operational stable could prove a decisive turn of events for Hitler's Germany.


While German authorities were convinced that the invasion of Europe would come from England herself, they mistakenly agreed that the most logical point would be in the region of Pas de Calais - the shortest jaunt from English shores to France - and thus proving logistically sound. As such, defenses in this area were heightened. The Allies respected this mentality and, in fact, began a campaign to prove the Germans correct - more or less.


False vehicles and concentrations of troops coupled with fake communications and the mention of American General George S. Patton in the area all played a role in creating the front that was the nonexistent "US 1st Army Group" preparing for a possible invasion. The concentration centered around Kent and rallied a German defense on the shores of France immediately across from it. The defense was became known as the "Atlantic Wall" and would provide the buffer that Germany needed to mount the all-important counter-attack against the heady invaders.


In truth, the Allied invasion force was amassing to the south of England. Along its shores were thousands of naval vessels ready to sail the choppy and unforgiving North Sea into France. Weather played a major role in preparations and only two days were afforded for the massive invasion plan - May 17th and June 5th. The former was cancelled on account of bad weather. Likewise, bad weather forced the latter to be postponed 24 hours, resulting in the date of June 6th, 1944 - the "Day of Days" - to be the deciding moment, forever to be encapsulated to history as "D-Day". The operation was to be known as Operation Overlord.


Before the invasion, a period marked from April to June, Allied bombers and strike fighters concentrated their wrath on key infrastructure throughout France in preparation for the land invasion. Targets included railway yards, bridges and roads. These targets would prove invaluable to the defending German Army, needing these arteries for the shipping of vital reinforcements and supplies to the zones of action. French resistance forces in France itself were also called to action to sabotage such targets that included enemy communications, railways and roads.


Similarly, the night before the invasion proper, Allied forces unleashed their well-trained paratrooper forces to soften coastal defenses and hold key bridges and checkpoints ahead of the incoming amphibious assault. These forces were made up of 20,000 to 24,000 total men, dropped into action by way of parachute from their transport aircraft. The paratrooper forces included the likes of the fabled American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as well as the British 6th Airborne Division, Canadian and Free French airborne troops. While landings were scattered, this misplacement of resources - while hindering Allied progression - added to the German Army confusion as well. However, only a few of the intended objectives fell under Allied control.


The naval invasion force was pieced together from the navies of eight different countries, made up of surface warships and transport vessels. In all, the total number was nearly 7,000 vessels. The warships were charged with offshore bombardment of key German defenses and providing cover to the transports and their landing craft. The landing craft would be have to battle the rough seas before making it to the French shoreline, only to face an alerted enemy.


By 6:30AM, the first of the many Allied landings began in Northern France, formally initializing D-Day. Five beach sectors were codenamed for the landing of further infantry, armor and supplies - they became known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno. The Americans were charged with handling Utah and Omaha while the British and Canadian forces were to take Sword, Juno and Gold. Despite all of the planning, many landing craft released their infantry well ahead of the shoreline, against both rough seas and enemy fire. Casualties of the first waves were extensively high.


At Utah beach, the Americans arrived some 2,000 yards away from their expected landing zone, ensuring a long walk back but at the same time encountering lesser resistance in the process. 197 to 300 casualties were reported in the ensuing action, making it the lightest Allied casualty count of all the beach sectors.


At Omaha, the Americans face a stout and prepared foe in the hardened German 352nd Division. Losses mounted and little ground was ultimately gained by the end of the day but a beachhead was nonetheless established. Out of the 50,000 American soldiers participating in this beach assault, 5,000 American casualties were recorded against 1,200 German casualties. The original Omaha landing party objectives would not be held until three days after landing.


Gold beach would fall quickly despite a strong German defense and heavy British casualties. Regardless, the British 50th Army would make its way some 6 miles inland before the end of the operation.


Sword beach would prove similar, though British forces facing a much stouter resistance, this ultimately being stamped out by 8:00AM. However, the primary D-Day objective of holding Caen was not to be met.


Juno proved a handful for the Canadians, to which some 30 percent of their landing craft were lost before making it to shore. Once on land, the Canadian soldiers would fight tooth-and-nail against a prepared German foe. Losses are heavy but the Canadians would ultimately prevail and establish their beachhead allowing 30,000 troops to come ashore before the end of it all. Casualties were noted as high as 50 percent, earning the Canadians one of their most significant events of their military history.


The first town in France to be liberated from Nazi occupation became Ste Mere Eglise. Other towns would soon fall under Allied control. Key bridges would also be captured and held by the following morning.


The German Army, held far in reserve against the wishes of German General Rommel, were finally put into action. Though they made a push against forces at Sword beach, the attack was repelled by joint action from Allied armor and air cover. Forces from Juno and Sword would ultimately connect to form the largest concentrated pocket of Allies in Northern France.


At the end of the day, all beachheads were established though not all of the optimistic objectives were met. Regardless, the operation proves an overall success and the road to Paris was now open. At any rate, the failure of Germany to defend the French coastline would killed any future that Hitler envisioned for his Third Reich. Though D-Day does not directly signify the end of the war at any length, it does signify one of the largest Allied coordinated successes to date - bringing a fateful beginning to an inevitable end for Hitler's Germany.


In all, Operation Overlord involved 175,000 land personnel, 195,700 navy personnel and 6,939 surface vessels making it the largest amphibious assault in recorded history. Interestingly, Germany's fabled U-boat fleet was nowhere to be found in the ensuing actions, providing the Allies with full control of the North Sea at the time of the invasion.

As the Greek epic poet Homer put it, "So ends the bloody business of the day."

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Total D-Day Events: 37

1944
Saturday
April 1st - June 5th

Allied bombers increase their sorties across Northern and Western France in preparations of the D-Day landings. Targets include the vital railways, railyards, bridges and roads dotting the French landscape. These facilities will prove crucial to the German response to the invasion.

1944
Wednesday
May 17th

This date became one of the two best weather options for the Allied invasion of France.

1944
Wednesday
May 17th

Weather on May 17th cancels the D-Day operation. Leaving the next best weather window of opportunity to be June 5th.

1944
Wednesday
May 17th

June 5th is selected as the next official launch date for D-Day.

1944
Sunday
June 4th

Official word comes down that the June 5th landings will be postponed due to inclement weather across the North Sea.

1944
Monday
June 5th

Some 6,000 naval vessels depart from the south of England towards France.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

In preparation for the arrival of the regular armies by way of amphibious landing, British and American airborne paratroopers arrive in France just after midnight.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

Elements of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions land across the Cotentin Peninsula. Despite all the planning, their dropzones are widely scattered.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

British paratroopers of the 6th British Airborne Brigade land near Benouville.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The British paratroopers take the bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

British paratroopers destroy the coastal fortifications at Merville.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

No less than five key bridges over the Dives River are blown up by British paratroopers.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

Despite the confusion on the part of the misdropped Allied paratroopers, the defending Germans are thrown into an equal level of confusion, noting Allied airdrops all around them.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

Allied naval warships open up with their guns on German defensive positions along the French coast.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

At approximately 6:30AM, American Army forces begin landing at two key beaches, codenamed Utah and Omaha.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

US Army forces arriving at Utah beach find themselves some 2,000 yards away from where they should be. The result is the force finds little German opposition at Utah. Their original landing zone was to be centered around Les-Dunes-de-Varreville. Total casualties from the landing are 300 personnel.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The US Army forces arriving at Omaha beach face a prepared, stout and veteran defense made possible by the German 352nd Division. After 2,400 casualties, the 1st US Infantry Division holds a beachhead.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

At approximately 7:25AM, forces of the British and Canadian armies wade ashore at beaches codenamed Gold and Juno.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The combined British and Canadian forces at Gold face little opposition and claim their objectives with little incident.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The British 50th Division pushed some 6 miles inland.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The British 3rd Division arriving at Sword beach face a stouter German defense but are able to overwhelm the enemy and establish a foothold.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

By 8:00AM, most of the German defenders at or near Gold and Sword beaches have been cleared or are on the run.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division makes its way towards Juno beach. The German defenses, heavy seas and underwater obstacles cause a loss of 30 percent of the landing craft. The onshore result is equally grim as the Canadians are assaulted by the prepared Germans.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

At approximately 10:00AM, British forces out of Gold beach take La Riviere.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The Canadians out of Juno beach take Bernieres at about 11:00AM.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

Near the town of Pouppeville, the US 4th Infantry Division at Utah beach connects with the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

British and French special forces elements out of Sword beach connect with the British paratroopers holding the key bridges over the Orne River.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

At 4:00PM, the mobilized German 21st Panzer Division launches a counter-attack.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The German counter-attack reaches the beachhead at Sword.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The German 21st Panzer Division is repelled by a combined Allied armor and air assault, saving further actions at Sword.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

By 8:00PM, the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division out of Juno beach connects with the British 50th Division out of Gold beach. This union becomes the largest Allied-held pocket in the north of France to this point.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The first town in France - Ste Mere Eglise - is liberated by the Allies, this honor falling to the American forces from Utah beach and paratroopers from the previous day's drops.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

By midnight, D-Day is more or less over. Not all objectives are captured but progress is made nonetheless.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The British and Canadian forces out of Gold and Juno beaches enjoy the largest footholds in France, encompassing land holdings some 9 miles wide and 6.2 miles inland.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

The Allied elements at Sword beach hold onto a 6-by-6 mile piece of land though they are still cut off from the Allies at Juno.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

Omaha statistics are grim and the group holds the least amount of real estate at just 4.3 miles across and 1.2 miles inland. However, they do hold positions in Vierville sur Mer, Colleville and St-Laurent sur Mer.

1944
Tuesday
June 6th

American forces at Utah beach hold pockets of land totaling just over 6 miles.
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