Normandy Landings / D-Day

The Normandy landings were the landing operations and associated airborne operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of German-occupied France (and later western Europe) and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front

Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Alliesconducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, and the operation had to be delayed 24 hours; a further postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days each month were deemed suitable. Adolf Hitler placed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 AmericanBritish, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisionsbegan landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: UtahOmahaGoldJuno, and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialised tanks.

The Allies failed to achieve any of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeuxremained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until 12 June; however, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were documented for at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area now host many visitors each year.

Background

After the German Army invaded the Soviet Unionin June 1941, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalinbegan pressing his new allies for the creation of a second front in western Europe. In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and the United States made a joint announcement that a “… full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942.”However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchillpersuaded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with US help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such an activity.

Instead of an immediate return to France, the western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943 the campaign in North Africa had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and subsequently invaded the Italian mainland in September the same year. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944

Operations

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune. To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields. Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.

The landings were to be preceded by airborne operations near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lôthe first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword and Gold Beaches and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the US flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen on the first day. (A sixth beach, code-named “Band”, was considered to the east of the Orne.) A secure lodgement would be established with all invading forces linked together, and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the AvranchesFalaise line within the first three weeks. Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the River Seine

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