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The Meaning of D-Day

Operation Overlord
By Brian Williams

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).

The Deception - Operation Fortitude
Elaborate efforts were taken in order to deceive the Germans into thinking that a massive Allied force was concentrated in Kent - just opposite Pas de Calais.  Command of the fake army (known as the US 1st Army Group) was given to General George S. Patton in order to lend validity to the Army Group.  Radio traffic was faked, plywood and canvas installations were constructed, inflatable tanks and vehicles were used extensively in order to deceive the Germans.  In all, the plan called Operation Fortitude, was considered a great success in keeping the German High Command guessing about where the real invasion would come from.  It would be instrumental in causing the Germans to withhold units once D-Day began.  On a side note, Patton would later take command of the US Third Army in Normandy after the landings and during the breakout phase of the campaign.

The Landings - Preparations
Eisenhower decided that the Airborne units would go in first the night before the invasion under a full moon.  The amphibious landings needed to land early in the morning after 40 minutes of heavy daylight bombardment.  Due to the numerous beach obstacles, the landings also needed to take place at low tide but at the beginning of the rise of the tide.  This allowed for most of the obstacles to be visible and thus be avoided, but caused the landing craft to debark their troops much further from shore.  Unfortunately, all these conditions were only met between the 5th and 7th of June.  Preparations began on the 2nd of June, but a powerful storm arrived on the 4th of June, causing a 24-hour postponement.  Later on the 4th, a break in the weather was forecasted for the 6th - at which time Eisenhower gave the go ahead for the invasion.

In addition, the amphibious units needed to land at dawn in order to give the maximum protection during night and then allow for 16 hours of daylight once the invasion began.  Also, the surprise of morning operations cannot be underestimated as many units were not yet ready for the invasion that early.  

The Allied landings consisted of 5 major areas of beach operations in addition to 3 airborne drop zones (parachute and glider).  The U.S. forces were concentrated on the western landings, while the British and Canadians were concentrated in the central and eastern landings.  The U.S. Airborne divisions (82nd and 101st) were to secure inland objectives approximately 5 miles inland opposite the Utah landings, while the 6th British Airborne division would form the most eastern extent of the invasion by securing the bridges over the Orne river.

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