Veterans – History in the Making … 1
Today June 6, in 1944, was the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi which would lead to the end of World War II.
Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.
With Hitler’s armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. The 3rd Reich knew this too, and were expecting an assault on North Western Europe. The Germans hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving them time to throw the majority of their forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east.
On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave Britain for the trip to France. 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.
By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m.
British and Canadian forces overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; with the US forces at Utah.
The toughest assault was at Omaha beach where 2,000 troops were lost. By the end of the first day some 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.
For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks. Without his celebrated and the brilliantly military minded Field Marshall Rommel to hand Hitler, believed the invasion was designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, and refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack. Reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armoured divisions to help in the defence. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.
The operation did not go off exactly as planned, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France–D-Day but by the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.
The fighting and loss of lives on this day 73 days went on to change Europe and lead to the end of the War just over a year later.