THE NORMANDY LANDINGS
“Operation Overlord” – the Allied invasion Normandy was the beginning of the Allied conquest of Western Europe in the Second World War - and the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany and final victory for the Allies. The decision to carry out Operation Overlord was made following the Casablanca Conference in 1943.
Later at the Teheran Conference in November 1943 Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agreed that the invasion should take place around May 1944.General Eisenhower was chosen to be commander of the invasion.
On the 6th of June (later called “the longest day”) the Allies invaded Normandy by sea, air and land forces in a combined operation that to this day the greatest sea invasion in military history. 156,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers took part in the invasion on the first day, together with 1200 ships, 1500 tanks and 12000 aircraft and within a week the landing force totaled 326000 soldiers.
From the end of 1943 and following the Allied successes in North Africa and their invasion of Sicily and Italy it was planned to open Western Front in Europe against Nazi Germany (which was fighting against Soviet Russia in the East). This Second Front was intended to lead to final victory over Germany and to end the War. The Germans who controlled France from 1940 were aware that immense forces had been concentrated along England’s coasts which were completing the preparations for the invasion of France. They therefore constructed many fortifications and obstacle along France’s West coast and called them “the Atlantic wall“. Thanks largely to sophisticated Allied deception operations the Germans expected that the crossing would be made at the narrowest area between Dover in England and Calais in France. Thus the area around Calais was surrounded by German fortifications and the areas and flooded with water so as to turn them into swamps which would hamper the movement of the Allied ground forces.
The preparations for the invasion lasted for about two years and involved huge logistical organization. This included construction of landing craft, gliders, and special tanks. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers had to be brought to England in their units with their equipment mainly from the United States and Canada. The invasion forces underwent exhausting training in conditions similar to those in the intended battle zones. All this was carried out in strict secrecy so as to hide the date and the place of the invasion from the Germans
The commander of the invasion was General Dwight D. Eisenhower Supreme Commander of the American forces in Europe and his Deputy was British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery was appointed commander of the Allied ground forces during the first days of the invasion.
The Allies landed in a different place than was expected by the Germans—Normandy, which is more distant from the English coast. The advantage of the area chosen was that the German fortifications were less dense there. In the first stage of the invasion five infantry and three paratroop divisions participated .Five invasion beaches were designated along the southern coast of the Seine basin in Normandy which were given the code names, from west to east, “Utah”, ”Omaha”, ”Gold”, ”Juno” and “Sword“. The American forces were to land on the first two and British and Canadians on the three others. Monday 5TH of June 1944 was originally chosen to be D-Day but the weather forecast predicted strong winds and high seas. The forecast for the 6h of June was somewhat better and so the invasion was postponed for one day.
The German weather forecasters concluded that the difficult sea and wind conditions during the next two days would not permit an invasion and so the surprise that was achieved was even greater.
In the night of 5-6th June 1944 thousands of paratroopers were dropped in the enemy’s rear, as well as landing with hundreds of gliders belonging to the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6TH Airborne Division. Their mission was to secure the flanks of the invasion zone, to seize commanding positions, to hinder the German lines of communications and supply, and to sow fear and destruction amongst the German forces. On the same night some 2000 Allied aircraft bombed the German positions throughout France. French underground forces, which received codes transmitted from London to the clandestine organisations signaling the start of the invasion carried out sabotage operations of the local military railway lines and camps.
At dawn Allied naval ships launched heavy bombardments along the Normandy coast. Following this each ship received responsibility for its section of the coast and smaller craft were given responsibility to give direct support to the troops. Each regiment was given support of a ship of destroyer dimensions. 20,000 soldiers landed by landing craft in the first wave and intensive fighting began to seize bridgeheads and coastal strips. Thanks to the surprise achieved, the accurate planning, and the determination of the invading forces on the first day all the forces carried out their missions successfully, although in some places ,like Omaha Beach, this was at the cost of many casualties.
The Supreme German Commander on the Western Front was Field Marshal Von Rundstedt and his deputy was Field marshal Rommel. They had 67 divisions at their disposal, some of not a very high quality, to defend the French, Dutch, and Belgian coasts. They had to deploy these forces throughout the long coastal areas whilst maintaining large concentrations in those areas where there was more likelihood of the invasion taking place. The Allies had 37 divisions in England under the command of General Eisenhower.
By the end of the first day of the invasion 60000 soldiers had landed by air and by sea and each of the sides had 8 divisions in the landing zone and nearby areas. From that day both sides made maximum efforts to bring in reinforcements. In this the Allies the Allies had the upper hand. Thanks to the allied massive aerial offensive in the weeks previous to the invasion the trains, roads and bridges in France were hit .In this way the Allies managed to paralyse to a great extent the movement of German reinforcements to the area and thereby maintained numerical superiority Following the capture of the port of Cherbourg on the 27th of June, and the restoration of the port facilities their numerical superiority grew even larger.
In the Normandy invasion – the biggest sea invasion in military history, there were also elements of luck and timing which aided the Allied forces: just two days before the invasion the Luftwaffe’s planes were dispersed throughout France for fear of shelling and bombing. The Germans could not use these planes as they were not concentrated (they were in two’s and three’s) and their supplies were to be delivered to the new bases only some days after the invasion. Furthermore, Allied deception activities created dense ‘battle fog’ and to contradictory and strange reports on the German side. On the other hand most of the paratroopers who had jumped and landed the night before the invasion reached their objectives and carried out their mission successfully. The evening before the invasion the Germans were not on full alert because they thought that the weather conditions were too difficult to permit an invasion. Furthermore, the German command was not able to determine for some time the location of the main Allied effort and did not employ immediately their armoured forces in Normandy .Moreover at the German High Command (OKW) headed by Hitler mistakenly thought that this was just a diversionary attack and that the main attack would still be at Calais. Therefore they did not approve the movement of armored reserves to Normandy until it was too late.
Results of the invasion
The Normandy invasion attained its objectives fully from the point of view both of time and the capture of territory .From the outset of the aerial landings on the 6th of June the Allies maintained tactical and numerical superiority in the vis a vis the German forces opposing them The Western front in Europe had now been opened and Germany was forced to split its forces between the Eastern Front facing the Soviet Union and the Western Front against the Allies. In these conditions the collapse of the German Army was inevitable. The Normandy invasion was one of the most important events on the road to victory over Nazi Germany. This victory was attained on the 8th of May 1945 - 11 months following the day of the invasion.