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Normandy Sections
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 D-Day Home <<<
  The Atlantic Wall
  Overlord Preparations
  Airborne Landings
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  Gold
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D-Day, Normandy, France June 6, 1944
 
D-Day, Normandy, France June 6, 1944

by Brian Williams and John Barratt


The Atlantic Wall
After the invasion and subsequent fall of France in 1940, the German army controlled the entire coast of Northern France.  Following the Allied evacuation at Dunkirk, Hitler had hoped that Britain would agree to settle the war.  But, because of British determination and Germany's inability to carry out an invasion of England, Germany was forced to maintain a defensive posture along the coast. In 1944, the German war machine was still very powerful despite the many setbacks on the Eastern Front.  What it lacked in Luftwaffe and materials, it made up for in highly experienced and trained men.  Also, its armor, heavy infantry weapons, and anti-tank capabilities were years ahead of the Americans and British.  But, the Allies controlled the air and sea and what they lacked in quality, they hoped to make up for in quantity. The German high command was actually anticipatory about the upcoming Allied invasion.  It meant that finally the British and American threat could be "dealt with" once and for all.
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Overlord Preparations
Operation Overlord, the Allied codename for the invasion of Normandy, involved more than 150,000 men and 5,000 ships.  It consisted of American, British, Canadian, Polish, and Free French Armies under command of General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (the choice of Eisenhower was officially made by President Roosevelt in December 1943, and agreed upon by the British). The Deputy Supreme Commander of the invasion was British Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Tedder, who had been the commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean.  While British Admiral Bertram H. Ramsay, was appointed naval commander.  He had conducted the evacuation at Dunkirk and also planned the Torch landing in North Africa.  British Air Chief Marshal Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory was appointed as commander of the air forces. Montgomery was chosen as the ground forces' commander, despite his well-known personality problems.  Eisenhower's first choice was in fact General Harold Alexander, but Churchill needed Alexander to remain in Italy.  Montgomery arrived in Britain in January 1944 and began to evaluate the feasibility of the operation.  He proposed the expansion of the invasion area to include landings west of the Vire River - allowing for the encirclement of Cherbourg (this would later become Utah Beach).
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The Airborne Landings
The first three of these units were given the missions of securing the eastern and western flanks of the beachhead by destroying bridges and laying mines.  Their main mission was to allow for the main invasion force to come ashore without the immediate threat of German flank attacks.  They were tasked to destroy bridges where the enemy was likely to stage a counterattack, and to secure bridges where Allied forces were expected to go immediately on the offensive.The US 82nd Airborne Division's mission was to protect the far right flank of the invasion in the Cotentin peninsula.  It hoped to accomplish this by destroying bridges over the Douve River and by securing the Merderet River by occupying both sides.  It also had the mission to capture Ste. Mere-Eglise from the German garrison stationed there.  The capture of Ste. Mere-Eglise was important because it straddled the main road between Carentan and Cherbourg. The US 101st Airborne Division's mission was to secure four exits across the marshland near the coast for the invading US 4th Infantry Division at Utah beach.  These causeways needed to be secured because on each side of the exits, it was flooded several feet deep in places.  The 101st also were tasked to destroy two bridges over the Douve and to capture the La Barquette lock just north of Carentan.  The lock controlled the water height of the flooded areas and it was essential that it be captured. The British 6th Airborne Division was to land Northeast of Caen and secure the left flank of the invasion force by controlling bridges over the Orne Canal and River. The left flank of the invasion force was much more vulnerable to German armored attack since the 21st Panzer was stationed just outside of Caen and the 12th SS Panzer miles to the east. Potentially, if the Panzer Divisions were not stopped by the British 6th, they could attack Sword and the rest of the landing beaches.
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Utah
At 0300 on the morning of June 6th, fleets of Allied bombers roared overhead delivering thousands of tons of bombs onto the German coastal defenses.  These were followed at 0500 by the naval bombardment which had been planned to immediately precede the invasion itself. The battleship USS Nevada's 14-inch guns were assigned to the bombardment of the German batteries on Utah beach, while the USS Texas was to fire at Pointe-du-Hoc where the Rangers were to land as part of the Omaha landing.  On the western end of Omaha proper, the USS Arkansas pounded a battery at Les Moulins.  Several cruisers and destroyers also jumped into the bombardment with pre-determined targets and as opportunity arose.  At such close range, there was very little trajectory to the shots and many Americans who were coming in to land, could feel the vacuum of the shells passing overhead.  Needless to say, the bombardment was a very welcome sight to those troops about to land. At approximately 0620, the Nevada turned its guns to the beach and began bombarding a concrete seawall.  Immediately after the bombardment, the plan called for a rocket bombardment by LCT(R)s (Landing Craft, Tank with Rocket launcher).  This was to be followed by the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, in 20 Higgins boats which carried a 30-man assault team each.
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Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc was located on the coast to the west of the Omaha beach landings and was the position of six 155mm cannons with a range of 25,000 yards.  These cannons had a commanding view of both Omaha and Utah beaches and the potential to cause much damage to the invading force.  The area had been bombed since May and then grew in intensity during the three days and nights before D-Day.  During D-Day, the USS Texas bombarded the point as did 18 medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force at H-20. The point stood on cliffs between 85 to over 100 feet high at whose base was a very small rocky beach that offered no protection.  Because the point was positioned on near impregnable cliffs, the Germans had concentrated their defenses in anticipation of a ground assault from inland.  Above were heavily fortified concrete casements interlaced with tunnels, trenches, and machine-gun positions around the perimeter.  Although the 716th Infantry Division was thinly stretched along 30 miles of the shoreline, approximately 200 German troops (125 infantry and 85 artillery men) were garrisoned in or around the point. The task fell to Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder's 2nd Ranger Battalion and called for 3 Companies (D, E, and F) of the battalion to scale the heights.  Company D was to approach the heights on the west, while E and F were to attack on the east.  The main Ranger force (5th Battalion and Companies A and B of the 2nd) were to wait off shore for signal of success and then land at the Point.
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Omaha
The US 1st Army, V Corps had the mission of securing the beachhead between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River and to advance towards St. Lo. The Corps was to arrive in 4 stages with the 1st Division (with the 29th attached) leading the landings with about 34,000 men in the morning, followed by another 25,000 men after noon. The 1st Division was a veteran unit which had served through the campaigns of North Africa and Sicily.  While for the most part, Normandy would be the 29th Division's first experience in combat.  Two American Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) of four rifle companies each, were tasked with the initial landing (the US 29th 116th RCT and the US 1st 16th RCT), followed by the remainder of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions.  Fire support included naval gunfire from the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers offshore, heavy bombing by B-24 Liberators, the 741st and 743rd DD (dual-drive amphibious) tank battalions, several battalions of engineers and naval demolition personnel, and several howitzer battalions. 
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Gold Beach
Gold Beach was the code name for the center of the landings on the Normandy coast.  The British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division of the 2nd Army under Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey was to land at H-Hour + 1 (0730), seize Arromanches and drive inland to capture the road junction at Bayeux.  Its additional objectives were to make contact with the US forces to the west at Omaha Beach and the Canadians to their east at Juno Beach.  In addition to the 50th, the 47th Royal Marine Commandos were to land on sector Item and to attack south of Arromanches and Longues and take Port-en-Bessin from the rear. Gold Beach spanned nearly 10 miles long although the areas where landings were to occur were about 5 miles wide.  Gold was characterized mainly by the 3 sea villages of La Rivière, Le Hamel, and the small port of Arromanches to the west.  The Allied sectors were designated from west to east: How, Item, Jig, and King.  Of these four sectors, only the easternmost 3 were to actually become assault sectors. Units of the German 716th Division and elements of the veteran 1st Battalion of the 352nd Division defended the coast in the beach houses along the coast with concentrations at Le Hamel and Le Riviere.  Fortunately for the Allies, these houses proved to be vulnerable to naval and air bombardment.  In addition, an observation post and battery of four 155mm cannon was located at Longues-sur-Mer.
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Juno Beach
Of all the troops involved in the D-Day landings, the men of the Canadian Army , with raw memories of the disaster suffered by Canadian forces in 1942 at Dieppe, might have had greatest cause for apprehension. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, (Maj-Gen R.F.L. Keller) supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, formed part of I Corps (Lieutenant-General J.T. Crocker), whose D-Day objective was to secure Caen and push 11 miles inland to seize Carpiquet airfield. These were ambitious aims, particularly as the presence of rocks offshore meant that the tide would not be high enough for the landings to begin until half an hour later than those elsewhere, and so probably facing an alerted enemy. The main immediate opposition would come from three, fairly low grade, battalions of the 716th Division, but of more concern was the possibility that 21st Panzer Division, believed to be south-east of Caen, might intervene quickly, possibly reinforced during the afternoon by 12th SS Panzer.
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Sword Beach
AAs well as being the furthest east of the landing beaches, "Sword" was also the smallest, only wide enough for a brigade-sized landing force. The 3rd British Division was tasked with getting enough troops ashore to push inland quickly and seize Caen, and link up with 6th Airborne Division. It would prove to be a seriously over-ambitious aim. Early on June 6th Naval Force"S", carrying the assault force and support units, moved into position off the mouth of the River Orne. It was here that the only notable German naval activity of the day occurred, when three E-boats emerged through the Allied smoke screen, fired a salvo of torpedoes, which sank the Norwegian destroyer Largs, and made off unscathed. It proved to be the only appearance of the Kriegsmarine that day, and the Allied bombardment force, including the battleships Warspite and Ramillies, proceeded to lay down the heaviest barrage of the day on the three-mile wide stretch of beach where the 8th British Brigade was to land.
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Counterattack
As Rommel had recognised, Germany's main chance of defeating the invasion lay in prompt counterattacks, particularly by her panzer forces. However, for a variety of reasons, the powerful striking force within easy reach of the invasion beaches which he had called for was not immediately available. A major problem resulted from a lack of clarity in the panzer command structure. The newly formed 47th Panzer Corps was still in process of taking over command of 21st, 116th and 2nd Panzer Divisions, whilst administrative and supply matters remained under Panzer Group West, with both responsible to Rommel's Army Group B. To complicate matters further, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief West, was powerless to commit the strategic reserve without the authority of OKW, meaning in effect Hitler.
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The Fight for the Foothold
By nightfall on June 6th 1944-D-Day, Hitler's Atlantic Wall on the coast of Normandy had been breached. The Allies, at a cost of 9,500 casualties compared with 4-10,000 Germans, were ashore in Fortress Europe. But their position remained precarious; the beachheads had less depth than had been hoped for, and British and US forces had not yet linked up. Supplies and reinforcements were not coming ashore as rapidly as had been planned, and the initially slow and piecemeal enemy reaction could not be expected to remain so favorable. The Allies had to link up and expand their currently insecure toeholds into something more substantial as rapidly as possible. For Germany, the result of the first day of fighting had been disappointing, but was not viewed as disastrous. Partly as a result of Hitler's hesitancy, and also as a consequence of virtually complete Allied air supremacy over the approaches to the battle area, 21st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, forming the immediate mobile reserve, had not intervened effectively on June 6th. Indeed losses from enemy air attack were so substantial that it is unlikely that their earlier release would have made any significant difference.
Rommel, absent in Bavaria during the opening hours of the battle, arrived back at Army Group B Headquarters late in the evening, and began re-organising the currently fragmented command structure.
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John Barratt and Brian Williams

Copyright © 2000 John Barratt and Brian Williams
Featured Books


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