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Introduction (Norm)

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By the summer of 1944, almost every nation in Europe had fallen under Nazi occupation. To stop Hitler’s invading forces and to free those countries under his control, Allied forces drew up plans for an assault, code-named Operation Overlord. In the early morning of June 6th, American soldiers landed in two separate areas of the 60-mile coastline of Normandy, France.

The D-Day invasion had begun.

Operation Overlord consisted of three nations attacking five different locations. The areas assigned to the Americans were code-named Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. The British were given Gold Beach and Sword Beach. The Canadian forces targeted Juno Beach.

Leading up to the invasion, the Allies employed several elaborate deceptions to draw attention away from Normandy. They provided the Germans with false information about the existence of a First U.S. Army Group under the command of General Lesley J. McNair and General George S. Patton, Jr. This fictitious group supposedly planned an invasion at Pas de Calais to the north. The Allies hoped that if the Nazis believed this was a genuine threat, they would be hesitant to send reinforcements when the real attack began.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox himself, organized the German defense. Months before the invasion, upon seeing the sad state of the coastline fortifications, Rommel immediately stepped up the production and installation of German defenses, including the placement of millions of land mines and thousands of tank traps.

Rommel believed that an Allied invasion would need to be stopped at the beaches, and that German tank forces needed to be stationed near the coast. Others in the German high command believed letting the Allies land and then initiating a counterattack would be a better strategy. They wanted the tanks far inland, near Paris. Instead of favoring one strategy or the other, Hitler split his panzer divisions between the two proposed areas. This decision served neither strategy well.

The invasion at Normandy had originally been scheduled for June 5th, but poor weather convinced the Allies to wait. Despite the questionable weather forecast for the 6th, the Allied leaders decided there could be no further delays.

During the final hours of June 5th and in the early morning of June 6th, the Allies launched numerous airborne assaults, while their invasion fleet, encompassing several thousand ships, proceeded to the disembarkation points along the Normandy coastline. Utah Beach fell quickly as the Americans encountered only light opposition. The Germans defended Gold Beach, Sword Beach, and Juno Beach more vigorously than the Allies had expected. Nonetheless, the British and Canadians eventually
overwhelmed their opponents.

At Omaha Beach, the largest of the landing areas, spanning six miles and guarded by 100-foot cliffs, the Allied attack stalled. As the Americans confronted a division of Rommel’s elite infantry, heavy clouds protected the German defenders from Allied bombers, and offshore artillery provided little support. Tragically, 27 Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, amphibious vehicles made specifically for the Normandy invasion, sank along with their crews upon leaving their transports.

As the Omaha landing faltered and organization sank into chaos, dire necessity drove the American forces forward. Smaller groups of soldiers and officers split from the main combat force, advancing on German positions at the ends of the beach. Meanwhile, Army Rangers scaled the surrounding cliffs. Ultimately this progress, combined with naval bombardments and hours of assaults, secured the beach for the Americans.

The Germans still believed that Normandy was the diversion from Pas de Calais.

By the end of June, the Allies had put over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies ashore in France.

With the Allies’ successful landing at Normandy, Germany was now trapped between the invading Allied forces to the West and the Russians to the East. For the Allies, the inevitable march to Berlin – and ultimate victory – was finally underway.

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