D-Day took place on June 6, 1944 and was the largest military invasion ever. On that day 156,000 Allied troops were deployed. They crossed over from southern England to Normandy. There they had to establish a bridgehead (a foothold) by means of airborne and amphibious landings.
In addition, the Allied landings in Normandy were the beginning of Operation Overlord. A major undertaking resulting in the eventual liberation of Western Europe.
Also, the term ‘D-Day’ was originally used to herald the beginning of a major operation.
The Normandy landings were the first, largest and most important invasion of the Second World War for the Western Allies. Concluding from these three factors, this is probably the reason why we consider this moment as D-day.
There were many reasons why this day had to take place.
The main reason for the development of D-day was the need for a second front in Europe. The Germans had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As a result, they had to withstand the pressure in Eastern Europe almost alone. Consequently, a new front had to be opened in Western Europe. This was what the American president Franklin Roosevelt and the British prime minister Winston Churchill had promised Stalin. This promise would determine the further course of World War II.
The firm foundations and the original plans were laid by COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander). This consisted of Frederick E. Morgan and his Allied staff.
COSSAC presented the preliminary plan at the Quebec Conference. The plan: the landing was done by three divisions from the sea and two regiments from the air.
The plans for D-Day were presented in their final form under the supervision of SHAEF. (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force)
There were many strategic bombing raids on airfields, factories and transport links. This was done to limit the German striking power towards the invasion area of Normandy.
Besides all other plans, spies and operations were also called in to mislead the Germans. This with the intention to keep them wondering as long as possible where and when the invasion would take place.
The Mulberry artificial harbours were ingenious structures of immense size and complexity. These floating harbours provided the necessary port facilities during the invasion of Normandy. They remained in service until the launching of the port of Cherbourg.
The Germans also knew that they had to prepare for a possible Allied invasion of Western Europe. Yet there were many uncertainties. Among other things the ignorance of the landing spot and the positioning of the Panzer reserves worried many German commanders.
Also in the months before the invasion, they worked with all their might to reinforce the Atlantic Wall. In many regions, the coastal defences proved rather limited. Therefore Erwin Rommel, after his experiences, gave the order to optimise the defence system as much as possible. However, there was not enough manpower and material available to complete the Atlantic Wall in time.
On May 1, 1944 the Supreme Command set the target date for the landings. Eisenhower decided on May 8, in consultation with the other commanders, to postpone this date by one month. This gave extra time to produce extra landing craft. It also gave the opportunity to expand the originally planned attack with two army divisions to five.
Next, Target-date or Y-Day, the day on which D-Day had to be determined, was set on June 1. The invasion had to follow as soon as possible. As soon as possible meant on: Y + 4 (June 5). However, they postponed the landings by one more day because of bad weather conditions…
The next morning – June 5, 1944 at 4.30 am – General Eisenhower proclaimed the legendary words: ‘Ok, lets go’. With these three words he made history. Eisenhower made one of the most important decisions of not only his, but others’ lives.
The moment had arrived. D-day would take place on June 6, 1944.
Three divisions carried out the airborne landings that took place during the night of June 5 to 6. This was mainly to protect the flanks of the amphibious landings.
The British airborne landings with the 6th Airborne Division took place east of the amphibious landing zones. Their objective was to secure the bridges of the River Orne, communications lines and to take out the Merville Battery.
The American airborne landings took place with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions west of the amphibious landing zones. Their main objective was to capture communication lines and bridges.
The amphibious landings on D-Day can be divided into five zones or beaches. On each of these beaches divisions were assigned, each with a target.
The Americans were assigned the beaches Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. Especially on Omaha beach the most casualties fell. The German defence was much more stubborn. The landings on Utah beach went without much trouble. In the meantime, the American rangers had the objective to destroy six guns at Pointe du Hoc. These guns could reach both Omaha and Utah beaches.
For many it was one of the longest but most important days this war has known. The outcome of the Allied landings partly determined the fate of Europe.
Even though the Allies had achieved few of their objectives on 6 June, they created a bridgehead there.
Operation Overlord had begun and Allied forces could begin their liberation march across Western Europe.
Ultimately, the landings on June 6 were just the beginning. Next came a more difficult battle against the determined German defenders and the stubborn Normandy hedgerow landscape.
In the first place, the following objectives had to be achieved within the forty days:
As soon as Cherbourg was conquered, the Allied advance began to stagnate. This was mainly due to the enemy gradually organising itself. The American forces had great difficulty in advancing to the south. The British troops, after the capture of Caen, also had difficulties to break through to the south.
As a result, the advance had to be revived. Therefore, the Allies launched Operation Cobra. This operation forced the Americans to break through to the south. The British also supported this breakthrough. So they chose to abandon their march to the south and help the Americans in the west. The support of the British was called Operation Bluecoat.
As a result of this breakthrough, the Germans could only retreat via the east, south of Caen. Then they were surrounded and the gap threatened to close at the town of Falaise. Consequently, this retreat was later named ‘Falaise pocket‘.
On August 25 Paris was officially liberated from the German occupiers. The liberation of Paris also marked the end of Operation Overlord. In short, the Allies fought an unprecedented battle for three months in this small but important part of Europe. This allowed the Allied troops to continue the beginning of the liberation through Western Europe. Later on, the British and Canadian troops moved mainly to the north. Likewise, the American troops moved eastwards towards the German border.