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." ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (37) entries in the Timeline of D-Day: The Allied Invasion of Normandy (June 6th, 1944). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.