Normandy Landings (Operation Neptune) | World War II

Normandy Landings (Operation Neptune) | World War II

Overview

The Normandy landings were the landing actions and related airborne operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II's Operation Overlord on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. It was the most significant seaborne invasion in history, codenamed Operation Neptune and commonly referred to as D-Day. The operation kicked off France's (and later Western Europe's) liberation and created the groundwork for the Allies' triumph on the Western Front. The operation's planning began in 1943. The Allies conducted a major tactical deception, dubbed Operation Bodyguard, in the months running up to the invasion to deceive the Germans about the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was poor, and the charge had to be postponed for 24 hours; any added postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the assault organizers had specific requirements for the phase of the moon, tides, and time of day, which destined only a few days each month were deemed suitable. In preparation for an Allied invasion, Adolf Hitler placed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and developed defences along the Atlantic Wall. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower to command the Allied forces.

The amphibious landings were preceded by a massive aircraft and naval bombardment, as well as an airborne assault, which saw 24,000 American, British, and Canadian forces land shortly after midnight. At 06:30 a.m., Allied infantry and armoured units began arriving on the French shore. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword were the names of the five sectors that made up the target 50-mile (80-kilometre) stretch of Normandy shoreline. Strong winds blew the landing boats east of their intended places, particularly Utah and Omaha. The Marines landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches. The shore was mined and littered with impediments, including wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making beach-clearing teams' tasks challenging and deadly. Omaha, with its towering cliffs, suffered the most casualties. Several defended villages were cleared in house-to-house warfare at Gold, Juno, and Sword, and two essential gun emplacements at Gold were damaged with specialized tanks.

On the first day, the Allies failed to achieve their objectives. Carentan, Saint-Lô, and Bayeux continued in German hands, and it took until July 21 to capture Caen, a vital purpose. Only two beaches (Juno and Gold) were joined on the initial day. All five beachheads were not associated until June 12th. However, the operation acquired a foothold, which the Allies subsequently enlarged over the next few months. On D-Day, German casualties were believed to be between 4,000 and 9,000 troops. At least 10,000 Allied casualties were recorded, with 4,414 confirmed deaths. Many people visit the area's museums, memorials, and military graves each year.

Background

Succeeding the attack of the Soviet Union by the German Army in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressuring his new allies to establish a second front in Western Europe.

The United States and Soviet Union the declared in late May 1942 that they had established complete understanding concerning the critical responsibilities of forming a second front in Europe in 1942. However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill persuaded the US, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to postpone the planned invasion since the Allies lacked the necessary forces, even with American assistance.

Rather than returning to France immediately, the western Allies launched offensives in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where British forces were by now placed. By mid-1943, the North African operation had been won. In July 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily, followed by the invasion of the Italian mainland in September of the same year. By that time, Soviet forces had gone on the offensive and had scored a significant victory at Stalingrad. In May 1943, the Trident Conference in Washington decided to launch a cross-channel invasion within the year. Little initial planning is the amount of available landing craft, most already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific. Roosevelt and Churchill assured Stalin at the Tehran Conference in November 1943 that the long-delayed second front would open in May 1944.

The Allies evaluated Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and the Pas-de-Calais as landing sites. Because Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, the Germans could have cut off the Allied advance at a relatively small isthmus. Hence both locations were ruled out. Because the Pas-de-Calais was the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans thought it would be the most likely landing spot. Thus it was highly defended. However, because numerous rivers and canals bound the area, it provided few expansion opportunities.

In contrast, landings on a broad front in Normandy would allow concurrent threats counter to the harbor of Cherbourg, seaside ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and ultimately into Germany. As a result, Normandy was picked as the landing place. Creating artificial Mulberry harbours would address the Normandy coast's most critical flaw: a lack of port facilities. The Hobart's Funnies were a series of modified tanks handled with specific requirements during the Normandy Campaign, including mine-clearing, bunker demolition, and mobile bridging. On May 1, 1944, the Allies prepared to commence their invasion. In August 1943, the Quebec Conference approved the first draft of the proposal. Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force was given to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 21st Army Group, which included all land forces involved in the invasion, was commanded by General Bernard Montgomery. The proposal, which envisioned amphibious invasions by three divisions with two more divisions in support, was initially seen by Eisenhower and Montgomery on December 31, 1943. To allow operations in a broader front and speed the capture of Cherbourg, the two generals insisted that the first invasion be stretched to five divisions, with aerial descents by three additional divisions. However, the charge had to be postponed until June due to the necessity to procure or construct different landing craft for the extended operation. The Battle of Normandy would eventually see thirty-nine Allied divisions deployed: twenty-two US, 12 British, 3 Canadian, 1 Polish, and 1 French, totalling over a million troops.

Operations

The name for establishing a large-scale lodgment on the continent was Operation Overlord. Operation Neptune was the codename for the first phase, which included an amphibious invasion and the establishment of a secure foothold. The Allies thrown a bombing operation (codenamed Operation Pointblank) counter to German aircraft production, fuel supply, and airfields to obtain the air supremacy required for a successful invasion. In the months preceding the charge, elaborate deceptions codenamed Operation Bodyguard was carried out to keep the Germans from understanding the invasion's time and location.

The landings were to be preceded by aircraft operations near Caen on the eastern side and north of Carentan on the western flank to seize the Orne River bridges. The Americans, who were slated to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were supposed to capture Carentan and Saint-Lô on the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and finally take Cherbourg's port facilities. On the first day, the British at Sword and Gold Beaches and the Canadians at Juno Beach would cover the American flank and create airfields near Caen. (To the east of the Orne, a sixth beach codenamed "Band" was contemplated.) All invading forces would be tied together in a safe lodgement to hold all land north of the Avranches-Falaise line throughout the initial three weeks. After that, Montgomery planned a ninety-day struggle that would run until all Allied forces had reached the Seine River.

Trickery Plans

The Allies undertook many secondary operations under the banner of Operation Bodyguard to deceive the Germans about the date and location of the Allied landings. Fortitude North was a trickery involving the creation of a invented First United States Military Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, allegedly situated in Kent and Sussex, and Fortitude South was a significant deception concerning the formation of a fictitious Initial United States Military Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, evidently positioned in Kent and Sussex. The goal of Fortitude South was to fool the Germans into thinking the main attack would take place in Calais. To give the Germans the idea that most of the Allied soldiers were stationed in Kent, genuine radio transmissions from the 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent by landline and then transmitted. Patton remained in England until July 6, deceiving the Germans into assuming a second attack on Calais. In addition, many German radar sites around the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the invasion.

A small crew of Special Air Service operators also deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny the night before the assault. The Germans were persuaded to assume that another airborne landing had taken place because of these dummies. On the same night, as part of Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped "window" metal foil strips that created a radar response that German radar operators mistook for a naval convoy near Le Havre. A flotilla of tiny vessels hauling barrage balloons added to the illusion. Operation Glimmer, carried out by No. 218 Squadron RAF at Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area, was a similar deception.

Weather

The invasion planners devised a set of parameters involving the moon phase, tides, and time of day that would be acceptable only on a few days each month. A full moon was preferred since it illuminated pilots and had the highest tides. In addition, the Allies wanted the landings to take place just before daybreak, in the middle of the tide cycle, with the wave coming in. This would increase the visibility of impediments on the beach while reducing the time the soldiers were exposed to the elements. The date for the assault had been tentatively set for 5 June by Eisenhower. However, on the 4th of June, the weather was not conducive to a landing: high winds and rough seas made it hard to launch landing craft, while low clouds made it impossible for planes to detect their targets.

On June 4, Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower. On the 6th of June, he and his meteorological team anticipated that the weather would improve sufficiently for the invasion to go forward. The following available dates with the requisite tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) are from June 18 to 20, two weeks later. Postponing the invasion would have necessitated the recall of men and ships already in the position to cross the English Channel, increasing the likelihood of the invasion plans being discovered. Eisenhower chose to go forward with the invasion on June 6 after significant deliberation with the other senior commanders. The Normandy coast was battered by a strong storm from June 19 to 22, making the beach landings impracticable. Because the Allies controlled the Atlantic, German meteorologists had less information about oncoming weather patterns than the Allies. Many Wehrmacht officers left their stations to attend war games in Rennes. Personnel in many units were allowed leave since the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris predicted two weeks of severe weather. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel came to Germany for his wife's birthday and met with Hitler to secure more Panzers.

German Order of Battle

Nazi Germany had fifty divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another eighteen in Denmark and Norway. In Germany, fifteen divisions were in the process of being formed. Due to combat losses, the Germans no longer had a pool of capable young soldiers to draw from, notably on the Eastern Front. The average age of German soldiers was now six years higher than that of their Allied counterparts. Many of the Ostlegionen (eastern legions) in Normandy were conscripts and volunteers from Russia, Mongolia, and other Soviet Union countries. They were mostly given unreliable captured equipment and no motorized transportation. As a result, many German battalions were severely depleted.

Personnel and equipment transfers to the Eastern Front drastically weakened the German Western Front (OB West) in early 1944. The German High Command was enfored to transfer the entire II SS Panzer Corps from France during the Soviet Dnieper–Carpathian offensive (24 December 1943–17 April 1944), which included the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, as well as the 507th Heavy Panzer Battalion, the 349th Infantry Division, and the 311th and 322nd StuG Attack Gun Brigades. In total, German forces in France lost 45,827 personnel and 363 tanks, assault guns, and self-propelled anti-tank weapons. It was the first large force transfer from France to the east since Führer Directive 51, which relaxed limitations on troop movements to the eastern front. After being seriously wounded during the Dnieper-Carpathian campaign, the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler," as well as the 9th, 11th, 19th, and 116th Panzer divisions, and the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich," arrived in France in March-May 1944 for substantial refit. In early June 1944, seven of the eleven panzer or panzergrenadier divisions stationed in France were either not operational or just partially mobile.

Atlantic Wall

Following the bombings on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler ordered fortifications to be built all sideways the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against a projected Allied invasion. He planned 15,000 emplacements with 300,000 troops, but due to a lack of resources, mainly concrete and labour, most of the strong points were never completed. However, the Pas de Calais was well fortified because it was considered the site of the assault. The best fortifications in Normandy were centred at the port facilities of Cherbourg and Saint-Malo. Rommel was assigned with supervising the construction of additional defences along the anticipated invasion front, which ran from the Netherlands to Cherbourg. Rommel was assigned command of Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. The 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions served as reserves for this unit.

Rommel feared that the Normandy coast could be used as a landing zone for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of vast defensive structures along the shore. He commanded wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and significant anti-tank obstacles to be put on the beaches, in addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic spots along the coast, to delay landing boats and obstruct tank mobility. He ordered many of these barriers to be put at the high water mark, expecting the Associates to land at high tide so that the soldiers would spend less time exposed on the beach. The approach was dangerous for troops because of tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the lack of ground cover. The number of mines along the shore was quadrupled under Rommel's orders. The Allied air attack over Germany had decimated the Luftwaffe, and the Allies had secured air control over Western Europe, so Rommel realized he couldn't count on adequate air support. Compared to the Allies' 9,543, the Luftwaffe could only muster 815 aircraft over Normandy. Rommel arranged for booby-trapped spikes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) to be put in meadows and fields to dissuade airborne landings.

Concerned about the vulnerability of airports and port facilities along the North Sea coast, German armaments minister Albert Speer organized a conference on 6–8 June 1944 to examine upgrading defences in that area, according to his 1969 autobiography.

Speer stated: We didn't have any troop units at our disposal in Germany. Attack armies debarking from ships would, I feared, meet no resistance and would be capturing Berlin and all of Germany in a few days if the airports in Hamburg and Bremen could be occupied by parachute units and the ports of these cities secured by tiny forces.

Armoured Reserves

Rommel believed that stopping the invasion at the beach was Germany's best chance. He requested that the mobile reserves, particularly tanks, be stationed close to the coast. Senior commanders such as Rundstedt, Geyr, and others protested. They assumed the invasion would be impossible to stop on the beaches. Geyr advocated for a traditional strategy of concentrating Panzer forces around Paris and Rouen and only deploying them once the main Allied beachhead had been discovered. He also mentioned that naval bombardment had crippled armoured formations stationed near the Italian campaign. Because of Allied air superiority, Rommel believed that large-scale tank movement would be impossible once the invasion began. Hitler ultimately put three Panzer divisions under Geyr's command and three more under Rommel's operational control as reserves. Hitler gained the power of four divisions as strategic reserves, which were not employed until he gave the order.

Coordination with the French Resistance

The British Special Operations Executive coordinated a sabotage campaign to be carried out by the French Resistance over the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior). On D-Day and the ensuing days, the Allies devised four plans for the Resistance to carry out:

  • Plan Vert was a 15-day sabotage mission against the rail infrastructure.
  • Plan Bleu was tasked with eliminating electrical infrastructure.
  • Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed against enemy forces in Normandy who may potentially support Axis forces.
  • Plan Violet was tasked with severing telephone and teleprinter wires beneath the earth.

The Resistance was tasked with carrying out these activities after receiving signals from the BBC's French service in London. Hundreds of these communications, which could be bits of poetry, literary quotations, or random words, were sent regularly, obscuring the few that were genuinely important. Resistance organizations were given lists of messages and their meanings in the weeks leading up to the landings. German intelligence accurately deduced that an invasion was imminent or underway after a surge in radioactivity on June 5th. Most units, however, rejected the warning due to a deluge of earlier false alerts and misinformation. The outcomes of the French Resistance's sabotage attempts are detailed in a 1965 report from the Counter-Insurgency Information Analysis Center. On June 6, 52 locomotives were destroyed in the southeast, and the railway line was damaged over 500 locations. As of June 7th, Normandy was cut off from the rest of the world.

Naval Activity

Historian Correlli Barnett hailed the invasion's naval operations as a "never surpassed masterpiece of planning." British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had assisted as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years before, was in charge of the overall command. He was also in order of the naval strategy for the invasion of North Africa in 1942 and one of the two fleets that carried troops to Sicily the following year. The invading force consisted of 6,939 vessels, including 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing boats of various sorts, 736 support craft, and 864 merchant vessels drawn from eight foreign navies.

The United Kingdom furnished the majority of the fleet, with 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft. A total of 195,700 sailors were involved, with 112,824 from the Royal Navy, additional twenty five thousand from the Merchant Navy, fifty two thousand eight hundred anf eighty-nine from the United States, and 4,998 from other allied countries. The invasion fleet was divided into two parts: the Western Naval Task Force, which supported the US sectors, and the Eastern Naval Task Force, which helped the British and Canadian sectors. Five destroyers, 20 cruisers, 65 batteleships, and two monitors were available to the force. In addition, three torpedo boats, 29 quick attack craft, 36 R boats, and 36 minesweepers and patrol boats were among the German ships in the region on D-Day. The Germans also had several U-boats on hand, and all of the approaches were severely mined.

Naval Losses

Four German torpedo boats arrived at 05:10 and released 15 torpedoes, destroying the Norwegian battleship HNoMS Svenner off Sword Beach but avoiding the British battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After assaulting, the German ships turned away and raced east into a smokescreen set up by the RAF to protect the fleet from the long-range gun at Le Havre. The USS Corry, a destroyer off the coast of Utah, and the submarine chaser USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol ship, were both lost to mines.

Bombardment

Around midnight, more than 2,200 British, Canadian, and American bombers began striking sites along the coast and farther inland in Normandy. Because of the low cloud cover, the assigned targets were difficult to identify, and Omaha's shoreline bomber campaign was mainly ineffectual. Many bombers delayed their strikes too long, failing to hit the beach defences, fearful of inflicting fatalities on their forces. On D-Day, the Germans had 570 planes in Normandy and the Low Countries, and added 964 in Germany. Minesweepers began clearing channels for the attack fleet soon after midnight and ended just after sunrise, with no enemy encounters. The battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, eight cruisers, 28 destroyers, and one monitor made up the Western Task Force. The destroyer Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor Roberts, twelve cruisers, and 37 destroyers made up the Eastern Task Force. While it was still dark, the naval bombardment of regions behind the beach began at 05:45, with the gunners switching to pre-assigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50. Because the assault forces were planning to land at Utah and Omaha at 06:30 (one hour earlier than the British beaches), these regions only received around 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault soldiers arrived on the beach.

Airborne Operations

The amphibious landings' success hinged on establishing a secure lodgement to develop the beachhead and build up a well-supplied force skilled of breaking out. However, before adequate troops could arrive at the beachhead, the amphibious forces were exposed to powerful enemy counter-attacks. Therefore, airborne operations were utilized to secure vital targets such as bridges, roads, and land features, mostly on the easterly and western sides of the landing places, to limit or eliminate the enemy's ability to organize and conduct counter-attacks during this critical phase. In addition, the airborne landings, which took place some distance behind the beaches, were also meant to make it easier for amphibious forces to exit the beaches and neutralize German coastal defence batteries and build the beachhead more swiftly.

The 101st  and  82nd Aerial Divisions of the US were tasked with capturing and controlling the few narrow causeways that had been purposefully flooded by the Germans west of Utah Beach. The entrance of the German 91st Infantry Division was reported by Allied intelligence in mid-May, causing the intended drop zones to be altered eastward and to the south. On the eastern flank, the British 6th Airborne Division captured the Caen Canal and River Orne bridges, destroying five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east and destroying the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach. From 5 June through August, free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were dispatched to targets in Brittany as part of Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.

United States of America

At 00:15, pathfinders arrived to start the US airborne landings. Because of the thick cloud, navigation was difficult, and only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately designated with radar signals and Aldis lamps. Douglas C-47 Skytrains delivered almost 13,000 paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The planes reached from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited Utah Beach to avoid flying over the invasion fleet. At 01:30 a.m., 101st Airborne troops were dropped to hold the causeways behind Utah Beach and demolish road and rail bridges across the Douve River. Because of the dense cloud cover, the C-47s could not fly in a tight formation, and several paratroopers were released far from their designated landing zones. Many planes came in at such a low altitude that they were hit by flak and machine gunfire. When their parachutes failed to open in time, some paratroopers were killed instantly, while others perished in the flooded fields. With its stone walls, hedgerows, and marshes, the bocage landscape made it difficult to form battle units due to a lack of radios. Some teams did not arrive at their targets until the afternoon when the 4th Infantry Division elements advancing from the shore had cleared several causeways. The 82nd Airborne arrived at 02:30 with the primary goal of capturing two bridges across the Merderet River and destroying two bridges across the Douve.

Seventy five percent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone on the river's east bank. Within two hours, they had taken control of the crucial intersection at Sainte-Mère-Église and began working to secure the western flank. The two regiments released on the west side of the Merderet were severely dispersed, with only 4% landing in the target region due to the pathfinders' failure to pinpoint their drop zone precisely. Many people died as they landed in neighbouring wetlands. Paratroopers gathered in small groups, usually made up of men of varying ranks from various units, and attempted to focus on close objectives. The Merderet River connection at La Fière was captured but not held, and the battle for the passage lasted many days.

Reinforcements came by glider at 04:00 a.m. (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit) and 21:00 a.m. (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), carrying more troops and heavy equipment. Many of the paratroopers, like the paratroopers, landed far from their drop zones. Even those who landed on target had problems, with heavy cargo like Jeeps moving during landing, breaking through the wooden fuselage, and in some cases crushing passengers.

Only 2,500 men from the 101st and 2,000 men from the 82nd Airborne were under the authority of their divisions after 24 hours, accounting for roughly a third of the force. The Germans were perplexed, and their response was fragmented due to the widespread. The 7th Army was notified of the parachute drops at 01:20, although Rundstedt did not believe a severe invasion was taking place at the time. The Germans did not discover the oncoming fleet until 02:00 due to the loss of radar stations around the Normandy shore in the week leading up to the invasion.

British and Canadian

Allied gliders' capture of the Caen canal and Orne river bridges at 00:16 on D-Day was the first Allied engagement of the day (since renamed Pegasus Bridge and Horsa Bridge). The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment quickly captured undamaged bridges, only minor casualties. The 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th Parachute Battalion joined them. The 3rd Parachute Brigade destroyed the five bridges over the Dives with relative ease. Meanwhile, the pathfinders in charge of setting up radar beacons and lights for additional paratroopers were blown off course and forced to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers were blown too far east, landing far from their original drop zones; some were reunited with their troops hours or days later. At 03:30, Major General Richard Gale landed in the third wave of gliders, bringing anti-tank guns, jeeps, and additional troops to help hold the area against counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate proximity of the landings. At 02:00, the German 716th Infantry Division commander instructed Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzer Division into a counter-attack position. However, because the Division was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger had to get OKW's permission before committing his force. Feuchtinger didn't acquire orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meanwhile, he formed a battle group (with tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne on his initiative.

Only 160 soldiers from the 9th Battalion's 600-strong force charged with destroying the enemy artillery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous site. The operation's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, opted to go ahead nevertheless since the position had to be demolished by 06:00 to stop it from firing on the invasion fleet and troops arriving on Sword Beach. At the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied soldiers used plastic explosives to disable the guns, resulting in 75 deaths. Instead of the projected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery, the emplacement was discovered to have 75 mm guns. With the help of a few men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Otway's surviving group fled.

The British 6th Airborne Division completed its D-Day objectives with this action. Commandos bolstered them from the 1st Special Service Brigade, which landed on Sword Beach at midnight, and the 6th Airlanding Brigade, which arrived in gliders at 21:00 as part of Operation Mallard.

Beach Landings

Tanks

Specially constructed for the Normandy landings, self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks) were to land just before the infantry to cover fire. However, few, notably at Omaha, arrived ahead of the Army, and several sank before reaching the coast.

Utah Beach

Two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment were stationed in the region, defending Utah Beach. The first to land were members of the 4th Infantry Division's 8th Infantry Regiment, who arrived around 06:30. Strong currents pulled their landing craft south, and they ended up roughly 2,000 yards (1.8 kilometres) from their original landing zone. This location turned out to be superior because there was only one strongpoint nearby instead of two, and IX Bomber Command bombers hit the defences from lower than their intended height, causing significant damage. In addition, several of the undersea impediments had washed ashore due to the strong currents. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division and the first senior officer ashore, decided to "start the war from right now" and ordered future landings to be rerouted.

The initial assault battalions were swiftly followed by 28 DD tanks and multiple waves of engineer and demolition teams to clear the beach of impediments and mines, as well as the land right behind the beach. Gaps in the sea wall were torn apart to provide troops and tanks with easier access. At around 09:00 a.m., combat squads began to leave the beach, with some men wading across flooded fields rather than taking the lone route. They fought with sections of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, armed with anti-tank guns and firearms throughout the day. By noon, the major strongpoint in the area, as well as another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south, had been taken out. The 4th Infantry Division did not achieve all of their D-Day goals at Utah Beach, mainly due to being too far south, but they did land 21,000 troops with only 197 fatalities.

Pointe du Hoc

The 2nd Ranger Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder, was assigned to Pointe du Hoc, a significant promontory located between Utah and Omaha. Their mission was to use grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to scale the 30 m (98 ft) cliffs and destroy the coastal artillery battery at the summit. The French collaborators and German 352nd Infantry Division fired from above to defend the cliffs. Satterlee and Talybont, two Allied destroyers, supplied fire support. The Rangers noticed that the guns had already been withdrawn after ascending the bluffs. They discovered the weapons in an orchard 550 meters (600 yards) south of the point, unattended but ready to use, and disabled them with explosives.

The German 914th Grenadier Regiment launched many counter-attacks against the Rangers. The men were separated, and some of them were apprehended. The rudder had only 90 men ready to fight by the morning of June 7th. Associates of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others came on June 8th, bringing relief. Rudder's men had run out of ammo by that point and relied on captured German weapons. As a result of the German weaponry making a distinctive noise, the troops were mistaken for the enemy, and several men were murdered. The Rangers lost 135 men killed and injured at the end of the battle, while the Germans lost 50 men killed and 40 captured. A handful of French collaborators were executed, but the exact number is unknown.

Omaha Beach

The 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division were sent to Omaha, the most heavily defended beach. Instead of a single regiment, they were up against the 352nd Infantry Division. Due to strong currents, numerous landing boats were moved east of their intended position or were delayed. Because American bombers were afraid of hitting the landing boats, they held off on releasing their payload, and as a result, most of the beach barriers at Omaha were intact when the men arrived. Many landing crafts hit sandbars, forcing the men to swim 50–100 meters in water up to their necks while under fire to reach the beach. DD tanks from the 741st Tank Battalion companies were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 meters) offshore despite the strong seas; unfortunately, 27 of the 32 flooded and drowned, killing 33 crew members. Some beached tanks continued to offer cover fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swept away by the rising tide. The men were commanded to fire from the cliffs above, resulting in roughly 2,000 casualties.

The beachmaster called a halt to additional vehicle landings at 08:30 due to problems clearing the beach of impediments. Around this time, warships arrived to offer fire support to resume landings. Unfortunately, only five heavily guarded gullies allowed men to leave the shore, and by late morning, only 600 men had made it to higher ground. Nevertheless, the Americans could clear some routes on the beaches by noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans began to run out of ammunition. They also began clearing enemy defence gullies to allow vehicles to proceed off the beach. Over the next few days, the shaky beachhead was expanded, and by June 9th, the D-Day goals for Omaha had been met.

Gold Beach

Because of the tide variances between Gold Beach and the US beaches, the initial landings were scheduled for 07:25. Due to the poor landing conditions for the landing craft, the amphibious DD tanks were launched near to shore or straight on the beach rather than further out as anticipated. At 06:20, direct strikes from the cruisers HMS Ajax and Argonaut crippled three of the four guns in multiple positions at the Longues-sur-Mer battery. The fourth gun commenced intermittent firing in the afternoon, and the garrison surrendered on June 7. Aerial strikes had missed the Le Hamel strongpoint, which featured a thick concrete wall on the seaward side and an embrasure looking east to offer enfilade fire along the beach. The 75 mm cannon continued to cause damage until 16:00, when an Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank launched a huge petard charge at its rear entrance. At 07:30, a tank neutralized a second casemated emplacement at La Rivière, which had an 88 mm gun.

Infantry began clearing the highly fortified residences along the shore and advanced on targets further interior in the meantime. In the Battle of Port-en-Bessin, the No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando proceeded toward the little port of Port-en-Bessin and took it the next day. While invading two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury high point, Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis got the sole Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day for his heroism. The 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment, secured Arromanches (the future Mulberry "B") on the western side. Contact was made with the Canadian forces at Juno on the eastern flank. Due to heavy Resistance by the 352nd Infantry Division, Bayeux was not seized on the first day. At Gold Beach, there are expected to be 1,000 Allied casualties.

Juno Beach

Due to stormy seas, the arrival at Juno Beach was delayed, and the men landed ahead of their supporting armour, resulting in many casualties while disembarking. The German defences were largely unaffected by the offshore bombardment. Several beach exits were constructed, but not without difficulty. A massive crater was filled with an abandoned AVRE tank and numerous rolls of fascine at Mike Beach on the western flank, which was later covered by a makeshift bridge. The tank persisted in place until 1972 when men of the Royal Engineers removed it and rebuilt it. The beach and neighbouring streets were jammed with cars, making it challenging to travel inland for most of the day.

Courseulles-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer all had major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns, machine-gun nests, concrete defences, barbed wire, and mines. The house-to-house battle was required to clear the towns. Soldiers their route to Bény-sur-Mer, 3 miles (5 km) inland, discovered that the road was well fortified with machine-gun emplacements, which had to be outflanked before the advance could continue. Late in the afternoon, elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade moved to within sight of the Carpiquet airport. Still, their supporting armour ran out of ammunition, so the Canadians dug in for the night. The airfield was not taken until a month later after the area had become a hotbed of warfare. The contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered 12 miles (19 kilometres) wide and 7 miles (10 kilometres) deep before midnight. There were 961 men killed or wounded at Juno.

Sword Beach

On Sword Beach, 21 of the first wave's 25 DD tanks made it ashore safely, providing cover for the troops, who began disembarking at 07:30. The beach was extensively mined and strewn with impediments, making beach clearance teams' work challenging and dangerous. The tide came in faster than expected under the windy circumstances, making repositioning the armour difficult. The beach became clogged immediately. Brigadier Simon Fraser and his 1st Special Service Brigade came in the second wave, piped ashore by Lovat's piper, Private Bill Millin. Members of the No. 4 Commando passed through Ouistreham on their way to attack a German gun battery on the beach from behind. This emplacement had to be bypassed due to a concrete observation and control tower, which took several days to conquer. With the help of one of the DD tanks, French forces led by Commander Philippe Kieffer (the first French soldiers to land in Normandy) attacked and cleared the heavily defended strongpoint at the casino at Riva Bella. After nearly an hour of battle, the 'Morris' strongpoint near Colleville-sur-Orne was taken. The nearby 'Hillman' strongpoint, which housed the 736th Infantry Regiment's headquarters, was a vast, complex defensive structure that had survived the morning's bombardment relatively unscathed. It took 20:15 to capture it. King's Shropshire Light Infantry, began marching to Caen on foot, approaching the town within a few kilometres but were forced to retreat due to a lack of armour support. The 21st Panzer Division launched a counter-offensive between Sword and Juno at 16:00 and crossed the Channel. The British 3rd Division put up a vigorous fight, and it was quickly recalled to help in the area between Caen and Bayeux. Allied deaths on Sword Beach are estimated to be in the thousands.

Aftermath

With approximately 5,000 landings and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers, the Normandy landings were the most significant seaborne invasion in history. About 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by June. At least 10,000 Allied casualties were reported on the first day, with 4,414 confirmed fatalities. The Germans suffered a loss of 1,000 troops. The Allied invasion plans called for the capture of Carentan, Saint-Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all beaches (save Utah) connected by a front line 10 to 16 kilometres from the beaches; none of these goals was reached. The five beachheads were not united until June 12th, when the Allies had established a 97-kilometre-long and 24-kilometre-deep front. Caen, an important objective, was still held by the Germans at the end of D-Day and would not be fully seized until July 21. The Germans had ordered all people in Normandy except those considered necessary to the war effort to flee prospective fighting zones. It is estimated that 3,000 civilians died on D-Day and D+1.

Several things contributed to the Allies' Normandy triumph. First, as resources were diverted elsewhere, German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially completed; soon before D-Day, Rommel estimated that construction was just 18% complete in some sections. Second, the deceptions carried out during Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans with a large stretch of coastline to defend. Third, because the Allies had acquired and maintained air superiority, the Germans could not see the preparations in Britain and interfere with them via bomber raids. Fourth, allied bombs and the French Resistance severely crippled France's transportation infrastructure, making it impossible for the Germans to move troops and supplies up. Fourth, while some of the first bombardment was off-target or insufficiently concentrated on making an impact, the specialized armour performed admirably, giving close artillery support for the soldiers as they disembarked onto the beaches, except on Omaha. Finally, the German high command's indecisiveness and overly complicated command organization were significant factors in the Allied victory.

War Memorials and Tourism

Parts of the Mulberry port are still visible at Omaha Beach, as are a handful of the beach obstacles. A memorial to the United States National Guard stands where a historic German stronghold once stood. The environment at Pointe du Hoc hasn't changed much since 1944, with bomb holes and most of the concrete bunkers still standing. Colleville-sur-Mer is home to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. At Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, there is a museum dedicated to the Utah landings, and at Sainte-Mère-Église, there is one dedicated to the operations of the US airmen. Nearby, there are two German military cemeteries. Pegasus Bridge, a target for the British 6th Airborne, was the first Normandy landings fighting scene. The original bridge was substituted in 1994 by a replica, and the model is now located on the grounds of a neighboring museum complex. At Arromanches, some of Mulberry Harbour B are still submerged, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery lies adjacent. The Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans created the Juno Beach Centre, which opened in 2003. Liam O'Connor built the British Normandy Memorial, which opened in 2021 above Gold Beach.

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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