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D-Day Invasion at Normandy
Category: 20th Century: Military History
The D-Day Invasion of Normandy laid a beachhead for the Allies on the Western Front of Europe. This battle was the single most important battle on the Western front because a defeat would have been tragic for Allied morale. D-Day is the military codeword for the paratrooper operations on the night of June 5 and the beach landings on the morning of June 6 in Normandy. On the morning of June 6, 1944, it was cloudy and pouring rain. The tide was low, and thousands of soldiers from America, Britain, Canada, and many other countries were prepared to storm the beaches. The battle was going to be fierce, and thousands of men would lose their lives fighting.
For one to understand D-day, one must first understand World War II. The war started on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland with Russia. The Russians had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany on August 23, 1939. The British and the French were outraged because of the invasion and declared war on Germany. Poland was taken over in as little as seventeen days. Germany also invaded France and the Low Countries on May 8, 1940. The Low Countries were invaded by Germany to get around the Maginot Line, which was a huge fortification stretching the whole distance of the French-German border, but not to the Low Countries. The surprise confused the French Army, and the French surrendered on June 22. The British forces that went to protect France were forced to retreat at the port of Dunkirk. This retreat was an embarrassment for the British army, and they planned to have revenge by invading France and taking it back from Germany. However, Germany was not the only aggressor.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused a declaration of war by Congress the next day. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States, now at war, beat the Germans in North Africa and invaded Italy in 1942-1944 with the British. On June 4, 1944, two days before D-Day, the Allies captured Rome. The Germans launched an invasion of Russia, code-named Operation Barbarossa, in June of 1941. However, the invasion was pushed back by the Russians with great victories at Kursk and Stalingrad, and the Russians made an immediate counterattack in December of 1941. The Russians did not want to fight the whole German Army alone. They asked for a British-American invasion of Western Europe at the Conferences of Alta and Teheran. Britain and America answered Russia’s call. Their plan was to liberate Western Europe, code-named Operation Overlord, and its first step was in Normandy.
Before the Allies could plan an invasion, they had to get a supreme commander. The Americans and the British had argued about this for months until they decided that General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander with British generals as his chiefs of staff. A difference in opinion by the American and the British generals was evident. The Americans favored invading at Calais. The British Chiefs of Staff, already not having a high regard for Eisenhower, favored invading at Normandy. The choice was Normandy, but Calais still played a part. The fictitious U.S. 1st Army, led by General George S. Patton, placed dummy installations on the beaches of Calais. The dummy installations caused speculation by the German high command.
The German commanders did expect an invasion, but they did not know where it would take place. Some thought that the assault would be on Norway because the British 4th Army was stationed in Scotland. Adolf Hitler and Field Marshall von Rundstedt believed the invasion spot would be at Calais. General Rommel, von Rundstedt’s inferior, believed that an invasion would be at Normandy. Since Rommel was von Rundstedt’s inferior, Rommel’s opinion was not accepted. It was these clear faults in intelligence by the German high command that made them ill prepared for an invasion at Normandy on June 6.
The plan for Normandy was complicated. There was to be a naval and aerial bombardment, and paratroopers would be dropped behind enemy lines. There would be five beaches for landing, code-named Juno, Sword, Utah, Omaha and Gold. The Americans would take Omaha and Utah, the British would take Sword and Gold, and the Canadians would take Juno. The date was first set to June 5. However, bad weather would postpone the invasion to June 6. Even on June 6, the weather conditions were not suitable for an invasion. Eisenhower, however, decided to take a chance and attack on June 6.
The first phase of D-Day was the naval and aerial bombardment. The fleet, numbering 7,000, was the largest fleet ever assembled. The flotilla was three-fourths British, with some American and other Allied ships present. Admiral Ramsay was the leader of the fleet. The Allied Air Force had 9,000 planes, and it was half British and half American. The Allies had aerial superiority over the Germans, who had only anywhere from 183 to 419 planes. A huge problem with the bombardment that was recognized early in planning was that the French civilians would be unaware of the barrage. Statisticians estimated that 80,000 civilians would die in the bombardment. The problem was solved by the Special Leaflet Squadron, which dropped pamphlets to the French populace warning them of the bombardment. The barrage was effective, but it did not completely decimate the German forces. After the bombardment, the paratroopers would land behind Normandy.
The paratroopers had many goals to fulfill. They were to flank the beaches before the landings, to dismantle artillery positions, and to take the glider landing positions in order that supplies and reinforcements could arrive. The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions would land behind the Omaha and Utah beaches. The British 6th Airborne and two battalions of the British 5th Parachute Brigade landed on a strip behind Sword and Gold beaches. The Canadian 1st Paratroop Battalion landed near Juno. During the drop, many of the companies were mixed up and many men were being commanded by officers of different divisions. The glider landing zones were not all taken, and nearly sixty percent of the supplies did not make it to the paratroopers. This did not drastically thwart the paratroopers, as they completed a vast majority of their objectives. In the end, 18,000 paratroopers were placed behind the beaches. Now, the beach landings had to succeed.
The D-Day beach landings were at 6:30 A.M. on the western end and at 7:30 A.M. on the eastern end. Before the men could land, obstacles on the beaches had to be cleared. Allied teams were sent to clear sixteen paths for landing. About one-third of the supply teams were shot by sniper fire before they could complete their work. Only five of the original sixteen paths were cleared. The divisions landing at D-Day were numerous. The U.S. 1st and 29th Divisions were assigned to Omaha, and the 4th Division was assigned to Utah. The British 3rd Division was ordered take Sword, and the British 50th Division would take Gold. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division would take Juno. Also, three U.S. Ranger companies were to attack an artillery placement at Pointe du Hoc. The Germans on the beaches did not know how many men they would be facing on D-Day.
Though the Germans had over fifty divisions at Normandy, ten of which were armored divisions, many of their commanders were not present. Some had taken weekend leave. The most important of these commanders was Erwin Rommel. Rommel had left Normandy to celebrate his wife’s birthday and to see his son, Manfred, who had been drafted into the German Army. Once Rommel was alerted of the invasion, he returned as fast as he could to his headquarters Normandy. Rommel pleaded to Hitler for reinforcements, but Hitler refused. Hitler did not believe that D-Day was the real Allied invasion point.
The beach landings did succeed. Though many boats were impaled by obstacles or detonated by mines, many of the men were still able to land on the beaches. The seasoned German 352nd Division gave the Americans at Omaha a tough time, but the Americans prevailed. The British-Canadian forces had a much easier time. They faced the German 716th Division, which was made up of mainly Polish and Russian conscripts that eagerly surrendered. The U.S. Rangers, though they had to climb up a cliff under heavy machinegun fire, were successful at Pointe du Hoc. All of the major objectives were captured, except for the main British objective of Caen. The success on D-Day marked a great start for Operation Overlord. Many times during the battle, the troops had some type of music marching them in. For the Canadians, it was a bugle. For the Americans, it was a band. However, for the British, it was a bagpiper. Piper Bill Milin marched the troops ashore on Sword Beach. His superior, Lord Lovat, ordered him to play "Highland Laddie". The first man to appear on Sword, he marched up and down the beach and played his pipes. The German snipers did not shoot at him because they thought he was crazy. He would survive the battle.
The Allies had an estimated total of 10,000-15,000 casualties. The Americans had 6,603 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing. There were 2,500-3,000 casualties for the British, and 946 for the Canadians. The Germans suffered anywhere from 4,000-9,000 casualties. One must note that in a usual battle, the aggressor usually takes more casualties than the defender. It is for this reason that the Allies had more casualties. Also, D-Day was well planned, and though the Allies had way more men involved on D-Day than Operation Market Garden, the total casualties in Market Garden numbered 18,000.
The Allies continued to invade France. By the end of June, Rommel reported to losing nearly 250,000 men. Also, at the end of June, the Allies landed 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy. On July 9, the British finally captured their main objective of Caen. The Americans broke out from Normandy on July 25. The Allies captured Paris on August 8. Paris was the second of the Axis capitals in Europe to be captured. The Allies continued their advance into the Low Countries, though they were surprisingly attacked in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge, and into the western half of Germany. Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies on May 22, 1945, officially ending the war in Europe.
D-Day had a great effect on the outcome of World War II. If the Russians could capture half of Germany with an Allied success at D-Day, then it is possible that an Allied loss at D-Day could have allowed the Russians to capture most of Germany. Therefore, an Allied loss at D-Day could have had a great impact on the Cold War. Also, if the Allies had failed at D-Day, to plan another invasion and to get the manpower to do so would have been exceptionally hard. Allied morale would have been low, and Russia, seeing that its Allies were weak, may have even abandoned the Allies and made a separate peace with Germany, as they had done in World War I. All of these scenarios could have happened had D-Day failed. The D-Day Invasion of Normandy is a great part of American history that has had a great impact on the world in which we live in today.
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