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D Day: the Battle of Normandy

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D Day: The Battle of Normandy

The Battle of Normandy or “D-Day” was the beginning of the end World War II. With over 20,000 American lives lost in a span of one single day, it was the bloodiest battle to date that the Americans have ever been involved in. The allied forces were made up of American, British, Polish, Canadian, and Free French Armies all under the command of General Eisenhower. General Eisenhower was named the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces by President Roosevelt in December 1943. At which point he dedicated all his available time to planning the invasion of France. (Williams, 2000) Several years of meticulous planning went into every detail of the climactic battle of World War II. (Ambrose, 1995) Operation Overlord was the code name used by allied forces when referring to the invasion of Normandy. This invasion involved more than 150,000 men and 5,000 ships. Alongside General Eisenhower were the Deputy Supreme Commander; British Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Tedder, British Admiral Bertram H. Ramsay who was appointed naval commander, and Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory who was appointed commander of the air forces. Part of the successful outcome of the invasion came from elaborate plans to deceive the German Army. Operation Fortitude was the name of the plan that had Germans thinking that massive Allied forces were concentrated in Kent. A fake army led by General George S. Patton was put in place to keep the German High Command guessing as to where the real invasion would come from. To offer more validity to the fake army (which was called the US 1st Army Group) radio transmissions were faked, buildings were constructed out of plywood and canvas, and inflatable tanks and vehicles were set up. This deception proved to be a great success in the ability to trick the German command, and cause them to withhold some units once D-Day began. Preparing for the actual invasion proved to quite a challenge. General Eisenhower had several conditions and requirements for the invasion itself. He thought it best that the Airborne units go in first, but under a full moon. The water crafts needed to land in the early morning after a few minutes of heavy daylight. Because of many different obstacles the landings also needed to be just as the tide was beginning to rise on the beach. Meeting all these conditions proved to be a challenge, and as such were only able to be met between the 5th and 7th of June. Allied forces began preparing on the 2nd of June, but a violent storm rolled in on the 4th of June causing a 24-hour delay. Later in the 4th of June, the weather forecast called for a break in the weather on the 6th of June. At that time, Eisenhower gave the green light for the invasion. The amphibious units also needed to land in the early morning hours of dawn, to be able to give the most protection at night, and yet allow for the most hours of daylight once the invasion began. Another plus side to morning operations is many units would not be fully ready for an invasion at dawn. The invasion of Normandy began at 00:15 hours on the 6th of June, 1944 with 17,000 British and American paratroopers landing behind enemy lines in Normandy. The battle ended at close to 00:00. (King, 2004) The landings consisted of five areas of beach operations along with three jump zones (for airborne attack). The areas were given different names for ease of radio communication. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches were simultaneously attacked by Allied forces. The U.S. forces concentrated on the western landings taking over Utah and Omaha beaches, while the British and Canadians were more focused on the central and eastern landings taking over Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. While all the areas were all with their own battles and casualties, the most noted and talked about among Americans even still is the battle at Omaha beach. The battle at Omaha beach’s main objective was secure a beachhead between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, then to advance southwards toward St. Lo. Another key objective of the battle at Omaha beach was for V Corps was to link with the VII Corps in the east through the small town of Insigny.

Even with the meticulous planning on the part of the Allied forces, the German Army was just as meticulous in planning their defenses. There were approximately 32 fortified areas between the Vire River and Port-en-Bessin. The most fortified of these were the Vire Estuary, Grand camp, and Port-en-Bessin. The Germans set up three types of obstacles on Omaha beach. They called it the Atlantic Wall. It consisted of 10 feet high gate like structures that were strapped with mines. They were placed about 250 yards from the water line. Up a little further were heavy logs that were driven into the ocean floor at an angle, also strapped with mines. These were followed by metal hedgehogs that were buried in the sand. There were mines places along the shoreline of the beach. Reaching land safely proved to be quite a task all by itself. The gentle shape of the shoreline made it much easier for fire against landing troops. The Germans meticulously prepared their forces for quite some time. Most of the points protecting Omaha beach were located close to the entrance of the draw and contained machine guns as well as light artillery pieces. Also, there were eight concrete cases and 35 pillboxes that held guns up to 88mm in size. Different areas of Omaha beach were given code names (from west to east) Charlie, Dog, Easy, and Fox. The first landing scheduled for 0630 was planned to have around 96 tanks, The Special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of infantry. The task force was comprised of both Army and Navy demolition teams whose only job was to clear paths and get rid of any obstacles in getting ready for the rest of the landing force. The infantry that came along with the task force was there for the sole purpose of covering fire. A strong current flowed from west to east at speeds of five miles per hour. In flowing parallel to the coast, it became increasingly difficult for teams to land at their designated areas. As a result, most teams had to land further east than originally anticipated. In addition to landing in the wrong area some of the teams of engineers landed where tanks and infantry could not deliver cover fire. The engineers were heavy with equipment and explosives. Having to be dropped in deep water, they were often easy targets for the Germans.
Being that enemy defense was much stronger than expected, the battle at Omaha Beach sustained many casualties. Casualties for V Corps alone were about 3,000 while other units sustained around 1,000 casualties. The total casualties for the invasion are 29,000 killed and 106,000 missing. Operation Overlord was the bloodiest battle in military history. There are 9,386 American war dead buried at Normandy American Cemetery, which is located at the top of a cliff overlooking Omaha beach. In addition there were 14,000 others originally buried there, but their remains were returned to America at the request of the families. (Shankar, 2005) The Memorial spans over 172 acres, and shows the great amount of American lives lost that day. World War II did not end with the Invasion of Normandy. The invasion moved the American and British troops into Northern Europe. The Allied forces were attacking the Germans from the west while the Russians were attacking from the east. Fighting two overwhelming enemies coming from two different directions made a victory for the Germans impossible, as they did not have enough resources to take on both fronts. The Germans were forced to surrender exactly eleven months after Allied forces landed in Normandy. D-Day was the 6th of June 1944, and the war officially ended on the 6th of May, 1945. Had Operation Overlord never happened, World War II would most likely have had a very different outcome.

Ambrose, S. (1995). D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. Simon & Schuster.
King, B. (2004, 6 6). Minute by Minute D-Day Timeline. Retrieved 11 5, 2010, from Armchairgeneral:
Shankar, N. K. (2005, 8 14). Memories of D Day. Retrieved 11 5, 2010, from
Williams, B. (2000). Operation Overlord. Retrieved 11 5, 2010, from militaryhistoryonline:

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