D-Day: The Beginning of the End June 6th 59 years ago
Date: Friday, June 06 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
The Second World War's most dramatic invasion is also history's largest amphibious operation. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 was an overwhelmingly successful attack on the well-fortified northern coast of Nazi-occupied France. The Allied Forces needed to re-establish their presence on the Continent, and a foothold in France would allow them to push eastward to Germany.
D-Day is a general military term for the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated; it's used when the actual day has not been determined or revealed. The invasion of Normandy has become synonymous with the term, making it history's most famous D-Day.
Meticulous planning and extensive training for this campaign had begun in 1943. Considerable effort went into creating feints and hoaxes to mislead and confuse the Germans, including the construction of artificial harbours. Commanded by General George S. Patton, this plan was known as Operation Fortitude, and it was very successful in deceiving the Germans into believing an Allied force was amassing in Kent, opposite Pas de Calais.
As part of the buildup to this enormous battle effort, troops had begun assembling in the United Kingdom in January, 1944, at which time 750,000 American soldiers were there. In the week prior to D-Day, this number swelled to 1,537,000. To support the combined efforts of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the Battle of Normandy, nine other countries ultimately contributed troops and equipment: Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland. French resistance forces had been committing acts of sabotage in support of Operation Overlord, stepping up their activities upon the invasion.
The formation of this armada was directed by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower in concert with British commanders, while German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel set about fortifying defenses on the French coastline, as part of what was known as the Atlantic Wall. D-Day ground forces were led by British General Sir Bernard Montgomery and included: the Canadian 1st Army (directed by Lieutenant General Harry Crerar), the British 2nd Army (directed by Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey), and the British 6th Airborne Division. Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley led the U.S. 1st Army and the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. The invasion was supported by some 5,000 ships, commanded by Admiral Sir Bertram H. Ramsay. More than 11,000 aircraft, commanded by Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, ensured the air supremacy of the Allied Forces, which was crucial in overwhelming German defenses and limiting their movement.
Originally scheduled for May, then moved to June 5, the attack was delayed another day due to adverse weather conditions, but in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, the invasion began. The Royal Air Force had begun pre-landing bombardment and paratrooper drops around midnight. Around 5:30 a.m., there was some sporadic response from German coastal gun batteries, but they had no grasp of the impending assault. Despite having 865,000 troops in France, German counterattack was severely hampered by conflict in the German high command about the expected site of the invasion and military strategy.
Shortly before 6:00 am, Allied naval bombardment began, destroying key German targets. American forces landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches in the west at 6:30 a.m.; just under an hour later, British forces reached Gold and Sword Beaches in the east. Somewhere in the next half hour Canadian forces, with the disastrous raid on Dieppe not far from their hearts and minds, landed on Juno Beach, between Sword and Gold. All of these were taken with relative speed and ease, with the exception of Omaha, where the German resistance was stronger than expected and Americans sustained 3,000 casualties (including killed, wounded and missing).
The day's main objective was for British forces to take Caen, though because they encountered a strong defense from a German Panzer division that day, followed by a second division on June 7, this was not achieved until July 9, following a month of heavy fighting.
By the end of this astonishing day, 156,000 troops (83,000 British and Canadian, and 73,000 American) and more than 5,000 ships had landed, and the five beachheads had been largely secured by the Allies. Allied casualties were estimated to be 9,000-10,000, including 3,000-4,000 dead. The success of this invasion and the weeks of military action following it were a serious blow to Germany, ultimately leading to the fall of Hitler's regime and the end of the Second World War in May 1945.