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Gold Beach, 6 June 1944

Gold Beach, 6 June 1944

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Gold Beach, 6 June 1944

The landing on Gold Beach was one of the more successful of the D-Day landings, and by the end of 6 June the British had penetrated the German's coastal defences and were on the verge of liberating Bayeux, which on 7 June became the first French town to be liberated (Operation Overlord). Gold Beach was on the right flank of the British and Canadian sector on D-Day, and was in the centre of the line of five beaches chosen as Allied landing grounds. The troops on Gold Beach had two vitally important task – to capture Bayeux and prevent the Germans from using the towns through that town to move troops between the beaches, and to link up with the Americans on Omaha Beach. Neither objective would be achieved on D-Day itself, but enough progress was made to ensure that the Germans were unable to launch a full-scale counter attack against the hard-pressed Americans on Omaha Beach.

Gold Beach was the landing ground General G.C. Bucknall's British XXX Corps. The assault was to be carried out by the 50th Infantry Division, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade, and the 8th Infantry Division was to land later on the day. 231st Brigade was to land on the western half of the beach, facing Le Hamel, with 69th Brigade to the east, at la Rivière. The beach was gentle, with no major obstacles at the top, but it did contain some strands of treacherous soft clay which needed to be covered if they were not to trap Allied armour.

The beach was defended by part of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter's 716th Infantry Division, with elements from the far superior 352nd division on the German left. Richter was painfully aware that many of his troops were Russians, and would probably not put up much of a fight. Many German defensive positions were built into the houses of the villages that lined this part of the Norman coast, which made them much more vulnerable to the Allied naval bombardment than the solid concrete bunkers of Omaha Beach. Some strongpoints did hold out for some time, most notably the sanatorium at Le Hamel, but the thin coastal crust would not hold for long.

The timing of the tides meant that the landing on Gold Beach took place one hour after the landings on the American beaches further to the west. This meant that the naval bombardment lasted much longer and did more damage. The poor weather meant that the tides were higher than expected, which caused some disruption later in the day as landing craft became entangled on the beach defences, but not as much as at Juno Beach, where the landings started even later.

At 7.25 (or 7.35 in some sources) the flail tanks and armoured vehicles of the Westminster Dragoons and the 81st and 82 Assault Squadrons, Royal Engineers, landed at Le Hamel and La Rivière. At the western end of the line the assault teams on the right flank of the 231st Brigade ran into heavy fire. Only one of the flail tanks managed to create a safe way off the beach, while the remaining tanks had their tracks blown off. Even then they served as fixed armoured gun positions and shelter for the infantry.

On the left flank the three assault teams were safe from the fire from Le Hamel and Hobart's specials worked exactly as planned. The flail tanks detonated the German mine, creating four safe lanes through the minefields. The bobbin tanks covered the soft clay patches and the fascine tanks bridged the shell and bomb craters and the anti tank barriers. Within an hour of the landings Hobart's specials had cleared four safe lanes off the Le Hamel beaches and were leading the 231st Brigade onto its first objectives, while the Petard tanks began to destroy German strong-points along the beach.

The strongest German resistance on the coast came at Le Hamel, where the sanatorium held out until mid-afternoon. The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the leading unit on the British right, was forced to move east from its starting point in front of Le Hamel, advancing through les Roquettes and Asnelles-sur-Mer before attacking Le Hamel from the flank. German resistance finally ended when Petard tanks arrived and destroyed the sanatorium building.

At La Rivière the 5th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment and the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards, the leading battalions of the 69th Brigade, fought a well integrated battle, with the infantry, tanks and off-shore guns working together exactly as hoped. Some tough street fighting meant that the fighting went on until 10.00am, but the Germans were unable to prevent the British from advancing around the village. Even before Le Hamel fell the British had advanced three miles inland and had cut the roads from Le Rivière and Arromaches to Bayeux.

The DD tanks allocated to Gold Beach arrived late, having been carried all the way to the shore to avoid the rough seas. They came into their own later in the day, when they helped support the 56th and 151st Brigades as they advanced into the countryside behind the beach.

One of the most impressive achievements on D-Day was the ten mile long advance of 47th Royal Marine Commandos, the furthest any unit advanced on foot. Their task was to land at the western end of Gold Beach, push slightly inland and then advance west to attack Port-en-Bessin from behind, and by the end of the day they were within a mile of the port. It had been hoped that they would join up with the Americans from Omaha Beach on D-Day, but the port held out for longer than expected, and didn’t fall to the Commandos until early on 8 June.

If things had gone according to their plans the Germans would have been able to launch a powerful counterattack on Gold Beach. Kampfgruppe Meyer, the 352nd division's reserve, had been posted around Bayeux, and was prepared for a rapid advance to the beaches, but at four in the morning, with an unknown number of paratroops landings to his west, General Kraiss, the commanding officer of the division, sent his reserves west towards Isigny. At eight he changed his mind, and ordered them back towards the battle on the beaches, sending one battalion to Omaha Beach and the remaining two to Gold. The confusion behind the German lines and the disruption caused by Allied air power meant the reserves didn't reach their assembly area at Brazenville until 17.30, by which time the village was in British hands and instead of being used to launch a counterattack the Kampfgruppe had to be thrown into the defensive battle.

By the end of the day the British on Gold Beach had advanced five miles into France. They had joined up with the Canadians on Juno Beach to form the biggest single beachhead established on D-Day, and although then had failed to capture Bayeux or cut the Bayeux-Caen road, both objectives were achieved on D-Day+1. By the end of D-Day 25,000 men had landed on Gold Beach, at a cost of 400-500 casualties.

Gold, Juno, And Sword – The British and Canadian Landings on D-Day

Today, the Normandy landings might be most associated with the iconic photos of Omaha Beach, but let us not forget that there were five sectors that needed to be secured to successfully invade Nazi-occupied France in 1944.

Operation Neptune (the code name for the invasion phase of Operation Overlord) included American, British, Canadian, French and other forces opposing the grip of the tyrant Adolf Hitler.

The five points of the invasion were split between the American and British forces Utah Beach and Omaha Beach were stormed by a total of around 73,000 American soldiers, and their mission included the fight for the high ground at the infamous Pointe du Hoc, the center of Omaha beach. The three beaches codenamed Sword, Gold, and Juno were taken on by British and Canadian Divisions – we’ll take a closer look at these three beaches today.

An interesting fact is that it was originally planned to name the British-Canadian beaches after fishes ― Goldfish, Swordfish, and Jellyfish, which would be shortened to Gold, Sword, and Jelly. Winston Churchill found the name Jelly inappropriate and disrespectful towards the men who would undoubtedly die there on his insistence, it was decided that the name should be changed to Juno, the name of an important Goddess of ancient Rome.

Left: Troops storm ashore on Gold Beach. By Midgley (Sgt) No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit. Right: Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) amphibious tank with waterproof float screens.

The landings on Gold Beach were scheduled for 7:25 on June 6, 1944, almost an hour after the Americans had landed on Utah and Omaha. The time difference was set due to the differences in the tide between the British and the American beaches. High winds also made it difficult for the DD Tanks (Shermans adjusted for amphibious warfare) to land and deliver proper support, as 8 of the tanks were lost during transport. Sea conditions caused some of the tanks to become stranded in the shallows, where they suffered heavy casualties from the German anti-tank crews.

Luckily, many casualties were avoided due to the support fire by the cruisers, HMS Ajax, and HMS Argonaut, which neutralized three out of four gun emplacements on Longues-Sur-Mere, overlooking the Omaha and Gold beaches. The fourth emplacement continued to operate until 19:00 that day. Aerial attacks weren’t so lucky – they failed to hit the strategically important Le Hamel strongpoint, which had its embrasure facing east to provide fire along the beach and had a thick concrete wall on the seaward side.

Meanwhile, the infantry had already landed and was fighting its way through the obstacles laid on the beach. Company Seargent Major Stanley Hollis led a charge on two pillboxes on one of the high points. For this and other actions at Gold Beach, he was awarded the Victoria Cross ― the only one given on D-Day. Soon, visual contact was established with the Canadians at Juno, and the beach was more or less conquered. The Allied casualties at Gold numbered approximately 1,000 soldiers, of which 350 were killed and the rest wounded.

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada dug in at the end of D-Day near Carpiquet.

Similar to the situation at Gold Beach, the landing at Juno was delayed due to weather conditions, so the infantry landed on the shores way ahead of the armor. This led to heavy casualties in the initial minutes of the landing. Also, most of the bombardments had missed the German strongpoints, so the defense forces used most of their capacity during the attack.

Major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns machine-gun nests, concrete fortifications, barbed wire and mines were located at Courseulles-Sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer. Once the beach had been captured, with heavy fighting, these villages had to be taken house by house as they were defended by German soldiers who refused to give up easily.

Elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade made a significant breakthrough that day, almost arriving at the vicinity of the small airport at the village of Capriquet, from the Germans launched their aerial assaults. The Canadians were forced to dig in for the night as their tanks were running low on ammunition. The total casualties at Juno Beach on June 6 were 961 men, of whom 340 were killed.


Sword Beach. On the right of the column, wades through the water. The figure in the foreground is Piper Bill Millin. By Evans, J L (Capt), No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit.

On Sword Beach, 21 out of 25 DD tanks managed to get ashore, thus providing excellent armored support to their infantry counterparts. Though the initial landings were achieved without heavy losses, the beach was heavily mined and peppered with obstacles, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous.

In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, so maneuvering the armor was difficult. The beach quickly became congested. The 1st Special Service Brigade embarking the shores of Sword Beach was accompanied by Private Bill Millin, the famous WWII bagpiper.

The Free French Forces under Commander Phillipe Kieffer arrived on their home soil together with the British. They were responsible for capturing a German strongpoint at the Riva Bella Casino in the village of Ouistreham, with the assistance of one of the DD tanks. Members of No. 4 Commando moved through Ouistreham to attack a German gun battery on the shore from the rear. A concrete observation and control tower at this emplacement had to be bypassed and was not captured until several days later.

The British troops advanced across the area, capturing several other strategic strongpoints and bunkers that served as field HQ’s for the Germans. They started marching towards the town of Caen. They were several kilometers away from the town when they were forced to withdraw, facing a German armored counterattack.

Since the British lacked armor support at this point, they had to retreat and regroup to hold off the fierce counterattack they now faced. The 21st Panzer Division mounted a counterattack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the Channel.

These Panzers met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Division and were soon recalled to assist the troops located between Caen and Bayeux.

The Normandy landings and the combined assault by over 150,000 Allied troops represent the single biggest amphibious invasion in history. Across the five sectors, more than 10,000 allied soldiers were lost, with almost half of these confirmed dead. German casualties are harder to gauge estimates vary from 4000 to 9000. Ultimately, the Allied victories at Normandy, on June 6th, 1944, paved the way for the defeat of Hitler’s regime in Western Europe.

Utah Beach

The second main American attack took place at Utah Beach – the westernmost point of the landings – with the 4th US Infantry Division and 70th Tank Battalion leading the assault against the 919th Grenadier Regiment.

Airborne troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division supplemented the beach landings, and were dropped behind the beach in the middle of the night, although many of the groups of paratroopers struggled to complete their objectives.

However, the beach forces secured the area quickly, and with relatively few casualties – the 4th Infantry Division lost just 197 of 21,000 troops – where the force defending the beach largely defended by poorly-equipped and non-German conscripts.


In June 1940, Germany's leader Adolf Hitler had triumphed in what he called "the most famous victory in history"—the fall of France. [21] British craft evacuated to England over 338,000 Allied troops trapped along the northern coast of France (including much of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)) in the Dunkirk evacuation (27 May to 4 June). [22] British planners reported to Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 4 October that even with the help of other Commonwealth countries and the United States, it would not be possible to regain a foothold in continental Europe in the near future. [23] After the Axis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for a second front in Western Europe. Churchill declined because he felt that even with American help the British did not have adequate forces for such a strike, [24] and he wished to avoid costly frontal assaults such as those that had occurred at the Somme and Passchendaele in World War I. [25] Two tentative plans code-named Operation Roundup and Operation Sledgehammer were put forward for 1942–43, but neither was deemed by the British to be practical or likely to succeed. [26] Instead, the Allies expanded their activity in the Mediterranean, launching the invasion of French North Africa in November 1942, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and invading Italy in September. [27] These campaigns provided the troops with valuable experience in amphibious warfare. [28]

Attendees at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943 took the decision to launch a cross-Channel invasion within the next year. [29] Churchill favoured making the main Allied thrust into Germany from the Mediterranean theatre, but the Americans, who were providing the bulk of the men and equipment, over-ruled him. [30] British Lieutenant-General Frederick E. Morgan was appointed Chief of Staff, Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC), to begin detailed planning. [29] The initial plans were constrained by the number of available landing-craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific. [31] In part because of lessons learned in the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, the Allies decided not to directly assault a heavily defended French seaport in their first landing. [32] The failure at Dieppe also highlighted the need for adequate artillery and air support, particularly close air support, and specialised ships able to travel extremely close to shore. [33] The short operating-range of British aircraft such as the Spitfire and Typhoon greatly limited the number of potential landing-sites, as comprehensive air-support depended upon having planes overhead for as long as possible. [34] Morgan considered four sites for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and the Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, the Germans could have cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected. [35]

Pas de Calais, the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, was the location of launch sites for V-1 and V-2 rockets, then still under development. [d] The Germans regarded it as the most likely initial landing zone and accordingly made it the most heavily fortified region [36] however, it offered the Allies few opportunities for expansion as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals. [37] On the other hand, landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. The Allies therefore chose Normandy as the landing site. [38] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial harbours. [39]

The COSSAC staff planned to begin the invasion on 1 May 1944. [37] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). [40] General Bernard Montgomery was named commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion. [41] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the COSSAC plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions, with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted on expanding the scale of the initial invasion to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and to speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg. This significant expansion required the acquisition of additional landing craft, which caused the invasion to be delayed by a month until June 1944. [41] Eventually the Allies committed 39 divisions to the Battle of Normandy: 22 American, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops. [42] [43] [e]

Allied invasion plan Edit

"Overlord" was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. [44] The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was code-named Operation Neptune. [39] To gain the required air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies launched a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) to target German aircraft-production, fuel supplies, and airfields. Under the Transport Plan, communications infrastructure and road and rail links were bombed to cut off the north of France and to make it more difficult to bring up reinforcements. These attacks were widespread so as to avoid revealing the exact location of the invasion. [39] Elaborate deceptions were planned to prevent the Germans from determining the timing and location of the invasion. [45]

The coastline of Normandy was divided into seventeen sectors, with codenames using a spelling alphabet—from Able, west of Omaha, to Roger on the east flank of Sword. Eight further sectors were added when the invasion was extended to include Utah on the Cotentin Peninsula. Sectors were further subdivided into beaches identified by the colours Green, Red, and White. [46]

Allied planners envisaged preceding the sea-borne landings with airborne drops: near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges, and north of Carentan on the western flank. The initial goal was to capture Carentan, Isigny, Bayeux, and Caen. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah and Omaha, were to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno, were to capture Caen and form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen in order to protect the American flank, while establishing airfields near Caen. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give the Anglo-Canadian forces a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the town of Falaise. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory captured north of the Avranches-Falaise line during the first three weeks. The Allied armies would then swing left to advance towards the River Seine. [47] [48] [49]

The invasion fleet, led by Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors. [50] [51] The American forces of the First Army, led by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, comprised VII Corps (Utah) and V Corps (Omaha). On the British side, Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey commanded the Second Army, under which XXX Corps was assigned to Gold and I Corps to Juno and Sword. [52] Land forces were under the overall command of Montgomery, and air command was assigned to Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory. [53] The First Canadian Army included personnel and units from Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. [3] Other Allied nations also participated. [54]

Reconnaissance Edit

The Allied Expeditionary Air Force undertook over 3,200 photo-reconnaissance sorties from April 1944 until the start of the invasion. Photos of the coastline were taken at extremely low altitude to show the invaders the terrain, obstacles on the beach, and defensive structures such as bunkers and gun emplacements. To avoid alerting the Germans as to the location of the invasion, this work had to be undertaken over the entire European coastline. Inland terrain, bridges, troop emplacements, and buildings were also photographed, in many cases from several angles, to give the Allies as much information as possible. [55] Members of Combined Operations Pilotage Parties clandestinely prepared detailed harbour maps, including depth soundings. [56]

An appeal for holiday pictures and postcards of Europe announced on the BBC produced over ten million items, some of which proved useful. Information collected by the French resistance helped provide details on Axis troop movements and on construction techniques used by the Germans for bunkers and other defensive installations. [57]

Many German radio messages were encoded using the Enigma machine and other enciphering techniques and the codes were changed frequently. A team of code breakers stationed at Bletchley Park worked to break codes as quickly as possible to provide advance information on German plans and troop movements. British military intelligence code-named this information Ultra intelligence as it could only be provided to the top level of commanders. The Enigma code used by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West (Supreme Commander West OB West), commander of the Western Front, was broken by the end of March. German intelligence changed the Enigma codes right after the Allied landings of 6 June but by 17 June the Allies were again consistently able to read them. [58]

Technology Edit

In response to the lessons learned at the disastrous Dieppe Raid, the Allies developed new technologies to help ensure the success of Overlord. To supplement the preliminary offshore bombardment and aerial assaults, some of the landing craft were equipped with artillery and anti-tank guns to provide close supporting fire. [59] The Allies had decided not to immediately attack any of the heavily protected French ports and two artificial ports, called Mulberry harbours, were designed by COSSAC planners. Each assembly consisted of a floating outer breakwater, inner concrete caissons (called Phoenix breakwaters) and several floating piers. [60] The Mulberry harbours were supplemented by blockship shelters (codenamed "Gooseberries"). [61] With the expectation that fuel would be difficult or impossible to obtain on the continent, the Allies built a "Pipe-Line Under The Ocean" (PLUTO). Specially developed pipes 3 inches (7.6 cm) in diameter were to be laid under the Channel from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg by D-Day plus 18. Technical problems and the delay in capturing Cherbourg meant the pipeline was not operational until 22 September. A second line was laid from Dungeness to Boulogne in late October. [62]

The British military built a series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart's Funnies, to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign. Developed under the supervision of Major-General Percy Hobart, these were specially modified M4 Sherman and Churchill tanks. Examples include the Sherman Crab tank (equipped with a mine flail), the Churchill Crocodile (a flame-throwing tank), and the Armoured Ramp Carrier, which other tanks could use as a bridge to scale sea-walls or to overcome other obstacles. [63] In some areas, the beaches consisted of a soft clay that could not support the weight of tanks. The "bobbin" tank would overcome this problem by deploying a roll of matting over the soft surface and leaving the material in place as a route for more conventional tanks. [64] The Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVREs) were modified for many tasks, including laying bridges and firing large charges into pillboxes. [65] The Duplex-Drive tank (DD tank), another design developed by Hobart's group, was a self-propelled amphibious tank kept afloat using a waterproof canvas screen inflated with compressed air. [66] These tanks were easily swamped, and on D-Day, many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha. [67]

Deception Edit

In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted Operation Bodyguard, the overall strategy designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. [68] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio-traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway, [69] and Fortitude South, a major deception designed to fool the Germans into believing that the landings would take place at Pas de Calais in July. A fictitious First U.S. Army Group was invented, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex under the command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton. The Allies constructed dummy tanks, trucks, and landing craft, and positioned them near the coast. Several military units, including II Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Division, moved into the area to bolster the illusion that a large force was gathering there. [45] [70] As well as the broadcast of fake radio-traffic, genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give the Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there. [71] Patton remained stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais. [72] Military and civilian personnel alike were aware of the need for secrecy, and the invasion troops were as much as possible kept isolated, especially in the period immediately before the invasion. One American general was sent back to the United States in disgrace after revealing the invasion date at a party. [45]

The Germans thought they had an extensive network of spies operating in the UK, but in fact, all their agents had been captured, and some had become double agents working for the Allies as part of the Double-Cross System. The double agent Juan Pujol García, a Spanish opponent of the Nazis known by the code name "Garbo", developed over the two years leading up to D-Day a fake network of informants that the Germans believed were collecting intelligence on their behalf. In the months preceding D-Day, Pujol sent hundreds of messages to his superiors in Madrid, messages specially prepared by the British intelligence service to convince the Germans that the attack would come in July at Calais. [71] [73]

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed by the RAF in preparation for the landings. [74] On the night before the invasion, in Operation Taxable, 617 Squadron (the famous "Dambusters") dropped strips of "window", metal foil that German radar operators interpreted as a naval convoy approaching Cap d'Antifer (about 80 km from the actual D-Day landings). The illusion was bolstered by a group of small vessels towing barrage balloons. No. 218 Squadron RAF also dropped "window" near Boulogne-sur-Mer in Operation Glimmer. On the same night, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe an additional airborne assault had occurred. [75]

Rehearsals and security Edit

Training exercises for the Overlord landings took place as early as July 1943. [76] As the nearby beach resembled the planned Normandy landing-site, the town of Slapton in Devon, was evacuated in December 1943, and taken over by the armed forces as a site for training exercises that included the use of landing craft and the management of beach obstacles. [77] A friendly fire incident there on 27 April 1944 resulted in as many as 450 deaths. [78] The following day, an additional estimated 749 American soldiers and sailors died when German torpedo-boats surprised members of Assault Force "U" conducting Exercise Tiger. [79] [80] Exercises with landing craft and live ammunition also took place at the Combined Training Centre in Inveraray in Scotland. [81] Naval exercises took place in Northern Ireland, and medical teams in London and elsewhere rehearsed how they would handle the expected waves of casualties. [82] Paratroopers conducted exercises, including a huge demonstration drop on 23 March 1944 observed by Churchill, Eisenhower, and other top officials. [83]

Allied planners considered tactical surprise to be a necessary element of the plan for the landings. [84] Information on the exact date and location of the landings was provided only to the topmost levels of the armed forces. Men were sealed into their marshalling areas at the end of May, with no further communication with the outside world. [85] Troops were briefed using maps that were correct in every detail except for the place names, and most were not told their actual destination until they were already at sea. [86] A news blackout in Britain increased the effectiveness of the deception operations. [45] Travel to and from the Republic of Ireland was banned, and movement within several kilometres of the coast of England restricted. [87]

Weather forecasting Edit

The invasion planners specified a set of conditions regarding the timing of the invasion, deeming only a few days in each month suitable. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles the enemy had placed on the beach while minimising the amount of time the men had to spend exposed in the open. Specific criteria were also set for wind speed, visibility, and cloud cover. [88] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault, however, on 4 June, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets. [89]

By the evening of 4 June, the Allied meteorological team, headed by Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force, predicted that the weather would improve sufficiently so that the invasion could go ahead on 6 June. He met Eisenhower and other senior commanders at their headquarters at Southwick House in Hampshire to discuss the situation. [90] General Montgomery and Major-General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, were eager to launch the invasion. Admiral Bertram Ramsay was prepared to commit his ships, while Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory expressed concern that the conditions would be unfavourable for Allied aircraft. After much discussion, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead. [91] Allied control of the Atlantic meant that German meteorologists did not have access to as much information as the Allies on incoming weather patterns. [74] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris predicted two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave. [92] Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife's birthday and to meet Hitler to try to get more Panzers. [93]

Had Eisenhower postponed the invasion, the next available period with the right combination of tides (but without the desirable full moon) was two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. As it happened, during this period the invaders would have encountered a major storm lasting four days, between 19 and 22 June, that would have made the initial landings impossible. [89]

German preparations and defences Edit

Nazi Germany had at its disposal 50 divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another 18 stationed in Denmark and Norway. [f] Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany, but there was no strategic reserve. [94] The Calais region was defended by the 15th Army under Generaloberst (Colonel General) Hans von Salmuth, and Normandy by the 7th Army commanded by Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann. [95] [96] Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions)—conscripts and "volunteers" from Turkestan, [97] Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. The Wehrmacht had provided them mainly with unreliable captured equipment they lacked motorised transport. [98] Formations that arrived later, such as the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, were, for the most part, younger and far better equipped and trained than the static troops stationed along the coast. [99]

In early 1944, OB West was significantly weakened by personnel and materiel transfers to the Eastern Front. During the Soviet Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive (24 December 1943 – 17 April 1944), the German High Command was forced to transfer the entire II SS Panzer Corps from France, consisting of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, as well as the 349th Infantry Division, 507th Heavy Panzer Battalion and the 311th and 322nd StuG Assault Gun Brigades. All told, the German forces stationed in France were deprived of 45,827 troops and 363 tanks, assault guns, and self-propelled anti-tank guns. [100] It was the first major transfer of forces from France to the east since the creation of Führer Directive 51, which no longer allowed any transfers from the west to the east. [101] There were also transfers to the Italian front: von Rundstedt complained that many of his best units had been sent on a "fool's errand" to Italy, saying it was "madness . that frightful boot of a country should have been evacuated . we should have held a decent front with a few divisions on the Alpine frontier." [102]

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 9th, 11th, 19th and 116th Panzer divisions, alongside the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", had only arrived in March–May 1944 to France for extensive refit after being badly damaged during Dnieper-Carpathian operation. Seven of the eleven panzer or panzergrenadier divisions stationed in France were still not fully operational or only partially mobile in early June 1944. [103]

Atlantic Wall Edit

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but due to shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, most of the strongpoints were never built. [104] As the expected site of an Allied invasion, Pas de Calais was heavily defended. [104] In the Normandy area the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo. [105]

A report by Rundstedt to Hitler in October 1943 regarding the weak defences in France led to the appointment of Rommel to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion-front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg. [104] [106] Rommel was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. [107] [108] Nazi Germany's tangled command structure made it difficult for Rommel to achieve his task. He was not allowed to give orders to the Organisation Todt, which was commanded by armaments minister Albert Speer, so in some places he had to assign soldiers to do construction work. [105]

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun-emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beach to delay the approach of landing craft and to impede the movement of tanks. [109] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high-tide mark. [88] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry. [109] On Rommel's order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled. [105] Given the Allied air supremacy (4,029 Allied aircraft assigned to operations in Normandy plus 5,514 aircraft assigned to bombing and defence, versus 570 Luftwaffe planes stationed in France and the Low Countries [88] ), booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) were set up in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings. [105]

Mobile reserves Edit

Rommel, believing that the Germans' best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore, requested that mobile reserves—especially tanks—be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (commander of Panzer Group West), and other senior commanders believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. Geyr also noted that in the Italian Campaign the armour stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel's opinion was that because of the overwhelming Allied air superiority, large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was underway. Hitler made the final decision: he left three divisions under Geyr's command and gave Rommel operational control of three tank-divisions as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders. [110] [111] [112]

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

By May 1944, 1.5 million American troops had arrived in the United Kingdom. [57] Most were housed in temporary camps in the south-west of England, ready to move across the Channel to the western section of the landing zone. British and Canadian troops were billeted in accommodation further east, spread from Southampton to Newhaven, and even on the east coast for men who would be coming across in later waves. A complex system called Movement Control assured that the men and vehicles left on schedule from twenty departure points. [85] Some men had to board their craft nearly a week before departure. [114] The ships met at a rendezvous point (nicknamed "Piccadilly Circus") south-east of the Isle of Wight to assemble into convoys to cross the Channel. [115] Minesweepers began clearing lanes on the evening of 5 June, [89] and a thousand bombers left before dawn to attack the coastal defences. [116] Some 1,200 aircraft departed England just before midnight to transport three airborne divisions to their drop zones behind enemy lines several hours before the beach landings. [117] The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned objectives on the Cotentin Peninsula west of Utah. The British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne. [118] The Free French 4th SAS battalion of 538 men was assigned objectives in Brittany (Operation Dingson, Operation Samwest). [119] [120] Some 132,000 men were transported by sea on D-Day, and a further 24,000 came by air. [85] Preliminary naval bombardment commenced at 05:45 and continued until 06:25 from five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors. [85] [121] Infantry began arriving on the beaches at around 06:30. [122]

Beaches Edit

The craft bearing the U.S. 4th Infantry Division assaulting Utah were pushed by the current to a spot about 1,800 metres (2,000 yd) south of their intended landing zone. The troops met light resistance, suffering fewer than 200 casualties. [123] [124] Their efforts to push inland fell far short of their targets for the first day, but they were able to advance about 4 miles (6.4 km), making contact with the 101st Airborne Division. [48] [125] The airborne landings west of Utah were not very successful, as only ten per cent of the paratroopers landed in their drop zones. Gathering the men together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls and marshes. [126] [127] The 82nd Airborne Division captured its primary objective at Sainte-Mère-Église and worked to protect the western flank. [128] Its failure to capture the river crossings at the River Merderet resulted in a delay in sealing off the Cotentin Peninsula. [129] The 101st Airborne Division helped protect the southern flank and captured the lock on the River Douve at La Barquette, [127] but did not capture the assigned nearby bridges on the first day. [130]

At Pointe du Hoc, the task for the two hundred men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder, was to scale the 30 metres (98 ft) cliffs with ropes and ladders to destroy the gun battery located there. While under fire from above, the men scaled the cliff, only to discover that the guns had already been withdrawn. The Rangers located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them. Under attack, the men at the point became isolated, and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not come until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion arrived. [131]

Omaha, the most heavily defended sector, was assigned to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, supplemented by troops from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division. [124] [132] They faced the 352nd Infantry Division, rather than the expected single regiment. [133] Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or delayed them. Casualties were heavier than all the other landings combined, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above. [134] Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to offer supporting artillery fire. [135] Exit from Omaha was possible only via five gullies, and by late morning barely six hundred men had reached the higher ground. By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the draws of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach. [136] The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3. [137]

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were landed close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned. [138] Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint, and its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00. On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry "B"), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno. [139]

Landings of infantry at Juno were delayed because of rough seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences. In spite of these difficulties, the Canadians quickly cleared the beach and created two exits to the villages above. Delays in taking Bény-sur-Mer led to congestion on the beach, but by nightfall, the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep. [140] Casualties at Juno were 961 men. [141]

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks succeeded in getting safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30. They quickly cleared the beach and created several exits for the tanks. In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, making manoeuvring the armour difficult. [142] The 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry advanced on foot to within a few kilometres of Caen, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support. [143] At 16:00, the German 21st Panzer Division mounted a counterattack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the coast. They met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Infantry Division and were soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux. [144] [145]

The first components of the Mulberry harbours were brought across on D+1 and the structures were in use for unloading by mid-June. [61] One was constructed at Arromanches by the British, the other at Omaha by the Americans. Severe storms on 19 June interrupted the landing of supplies and destroyed the Omaha harbour. [146] The repaired Arromanches harbour was able to receive around 6,000 tons of materiel daily and was in continuous use for the next ten months, but most shipments were brought in over the beaches until the port of Cherbourg was cleared of mines and obstructions on 16 July. [147] [148]

Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. [149] The Germans lost 1,000 men. [150] The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah), linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches none of these objectives were achieved. [48] The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep. [151] Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July. [152] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August. [153]

Cherbourg Edit

In the western part of the lodgement, US troops were to occupy the Cotentin Peninsula, especially Cherbourg, which would provide the Allies with a deep water harbour. The terrain behind Utah and Omaha was characterised by bocage, with thorny hedgerows on embankments 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.2 m) high with a ditch on either side. [154] Many areas were additionally protected by rifle pits and machine-gun emplacements. [155] Most of the roads were too narrow for tanks. [154] The Germans had flooded the fields behind Utah with sea water for up to 2 miles (3.2 km) from the coast. [156] German forces on the peninsula included the 91st Infantry Division and the 243rd and 709th Static Infantry Divisions. [157] By D+3 the Allied commanders realised that Cherbourg would not quickly be taken, and decided to cut off the peninsula to prevent any further reinforcements from being brought in. [158] After failed attempts by the inexperienced 90th Infantry Division, Major General J. Lawton Collins, the VII Corps commander, assigned the veteran 9th Infantry Division to the task. They reached the west coast of the Cotentin on 17 June, cutting off Cherbourg. [159] The 9th Division, joined by the 4th and 79th Infantry Divisions, took control of the peninsula in fierce fighting from 19 June Cherbourg was captured on 26 June. By this time, the Germans had destroyed the port facilities, which were not brought back into full operation until September. [160]

Caen Edit

Fighting in the Caen area versus the 21st Panzer, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and other units soon reached a stalemate. [161] During Operation Perch, XXX Corps attempted to advance south towards Mont Pinçon but soon abandoned the direct approach in favour of a pincer attack to encircle Caen. XXX Corps made a flanking move from Tilly-sur-Seulles towards Villers-Bocage with part of the 7th Armoured Division, while I Corps tried to pass Caen to the east. The attack by I Corps was quickly halted and XXX Corps briefly captured Villers-Bocage. Advanced elements of the British force were ambushed, initiating a day-long Battle of Villers-Bocage and then the Battle of the Box. The British were forced to withdraw to Tilly-sur-Seulles. [162] [163] After a delay because of storms from 17 to 23 June, Operation Epsom began on 26 June, an attempt by VIII Corps to swing around and attack Caen from the south-west and establish a bridgehead south of the Odon. [164] Although the operation failed to take Caen, the Germans suffered many tank losses after committing every available Panzer unit to the operation. [165] Rundstedt was dismissed on 1 July and replaced as OB West by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge after remarking that the war was now lost. [166] The northern suburbs of Caen were bombed on the evening of 7 July and then occupied north of the River Orne in Operation Charnwood on 8–9 July. [167] [168] Operation Atlantic and Operation Goodwood captured the rest of Caen and the high ground to the south from 18 to 21 July, by when the city was nearly destroyed. [169] Hitler survived an assassination attempt on 20 July. [170]

Breakout from the beachhead Edit

After securing territory in the Cotentin Peninsula south as far as Saint-Lô, the U.S. First Army launched Operation Cobra on 25 July and advanced further south to Avranches by 1 August. [171] The British launched Operation Bluecoat on 30 July to secure Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon. [172] Lieutenant General Patton's U.S. Third Army, activated on 1 August, quickly took most of Brittany and territory as far south as the Loire, while the First Army maintained pressure eastward toward Le Mans to protect their flank. By 3 August, Patton and the Third Army were able to leave a small force in Brittany and drive eastward towards the main concentration of German forces south of Caen. [173] Over Kluge's objections, on 4 August Hitler ordered a counter-offensive (Operation Lüttich) from Vire towards Avranches. [174]

While II Canadian Corps pushed south from Caen toward Falaise in Operation Totalize on 8 August, [175] Bradley and Montgomery realised that there was an opportunity for the bulk of the German forces to be trapped at Falaise. The Third Army continued the encirclement from the south, reaching Alençon on 11 August. Although Hitler continued to insist until 14 August that his forces should counter-attack, Kluge and his officers began planning a retreat eastward. [176] The German forces were severely hampered by Hitler's insistence on making all major decisions himself, which left his forces without orders for periods as long as 24 hours while information was sent back and forth to the Führer's residence at Obersalzberg in Bavaria. [177] On the evening of 12 August, Patton asked Bradley if his forces should continue northward to close the gap and encircle the German forces. Bradley refused because Montgomery had already assigned the First Canadian Army to take the territory from the north. [178] [179] The Canadians met heavy resistance and captured Falaise on 16 August. The gap was closed on 21 August, trapping 50,000 German troops but more than a third of the German 7th Army and the remnants of nine of the eleven Panzer divisions had escaped to the east. [180] Montgomery's decision-making regarding the Falaise Gap was criticised at the time by American commanders, especially Patton, although Bradley was more sympathetic and believed Patton would not have been able to close the gap. [181] The issue has been the subject of much discussion among historians, criticism being levelled at American, British and Canadian forces. [182] [183] [184] Hitler relieved Kluge of his command of OB West on 15 August and replaced him with Field Marshal Walter Model. Kluge committed suicide on 19 August after Hitler became aware of his involvement in the 20 July plot. [185] [186] An invasion in southern France (Operation Dragoon) was launched on 15 August. [187]

The French Resistance in Paris rose against the Germans on 19 August. [188] Eisenhower initially wanted to bypass the city to pursue other targets, but amid reports that the citizens were going hungry and Hitler's stated intention to destroy it, de Gaulle insisted that it should be taken immediately. [189] French forces of the 2nd Armoured Division under General Philippe Leclerc arrived from the west on 24 August, while the U.S. 4th Infantry Division pressed up from the south. Scattered fighting continued throughout the night, and by the morning of 25 August Paris was liberated. [190]

Operations continued in the British and Canadian sectors until the end of the month. On 25 August, the U.S. 2nd Armored Division fought its way into Elbeuf, making contact with British and Canadian armoured divisions. [191] The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division advanced into the Forêt de la Londe on the morning of 27 August. The area was strongly held the 4th and 6th Canadian brigades suffered many casualties over the course of three days as the Germans fought a delaying action in terrain well suited to defence. The Germans pulled back on 29 August, withdrawing over the Seine the next day. [191] On the afternoon of 30 August, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division crossed the Seine near Elbeuf and entered Rouen to a jubilant welcome. [192]

Eisenhower took direct command of all Allied ground forces on 1 September. Concerned about German counter-attacks and the limited materiel arriving in France, he decided to continue operations on a broad front rather than attempting narrow thrusts. [193] The linkup of the Normandy forces with the Allied forces in southern France occurred on 12 September as part of the drive to the Siegfried Line. [194] On 17 September, Montgomery launched Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt by Anglo-American airborne troops to capture bridges in the Netherlands to allow ground forces to cross the Rhine into Germany. [193] The Allied advance slowed due to German resistance and the lack of supplies (especially fuel). On 16 December the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Bulge, their last major offensive of the war on the Western Front. A series of successful Soviet actions began with the Vistula–Oder Offensive on 12 January. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April as Soviet troops neared his Führerbunker in Berlin, and Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945. [195]

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers. [115] They hastened the end of the war in Europe, drawing large forces away from the Eastern Front that might otherwise have slowed the Soviet advance. The opening of another front in western Europe was a tremendous psychological blow for Germany's military, who feared a repetition of the two-front war of World War I. The Normandy landings also heralded the start of the "race for Europe" between the Soviet forces and the Western powers, which some historians consider to be the start of the Cold War. [196]

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere. [197] The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obliged to defend a huge stretch of coastline. [198] The Allies achieved and maintained air superiority, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks. [199] Transport infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies. [200] Much of the opening artillery barrage was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact, [201] but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches. [202] The indecisiveness and overly complicated command structure of the German high command was also a factor in the Allied success. [203]

Allies Edit

From D-Day to 21 August, the Allies landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The cost of the Normandy campaign was high for both sides. [13] Between 6 June and the end of August, the American armies suffered 124,394 casualties, of whom 20,668 were killed. [g] The American armies suffered 10,128 soldiers missing. [13] Casualties within the First Canadian and Second British Armies are placed at 83,045: 15,995 killed, 57,996 wounded, and 9,054 missing. [h] Of these, Canadian losses amounted to 18,444, with 5,021 killed in action. [204] The Allied air forces, having flown 480,317 sorties in support of the invasion, lost 4,101 aircraft and 16,714 airmen (8,536 members of the USAAF, and 8,178 flying under the command of the RAF). [13] [205] The Free French SAS paratroopers suffered 77 killed, with 197 wounded and missing. [206] Allied tank losses have been estimated at around 4,000, with losses split evenly between the American and British/Canadian armies. [14] Historians slightly differ on overall casualties during the campaign, with the lowest losses totaling 225,606 [207] [208] and the highest at 226,386. [209] [210]

Germany Edit

German forces in France reported losses of 158,930 men between D-Day and 14 August, just before the start of Operation Dragoon in Southern France. [211] In action at the Falaise pocket, 50,000 men were lost, of whom 10,000 were killed and 40,000 captured. [14] Sources vary on the total German casualties. Niklas Zetterling, on examining German records, places the total German casualties suffered in Normandy and facing the Dragoon landings to be 288,695. [15] Other sources arrive at higher estimates: 400,000 (200,000 killed or wounded and a further 200,000 captured), [195] 500,000 (290,000 killed or wounded, 210,000 captured), [11] to 530,000 in total. [16]

There are no exact figures regarding German tank losses in Normandy. Approximately 2,300 tanks and assault guns were committed to the battle, [i] of which only 100 to 120 crossed the Seine at the end of the campaign. [11] While German forces reported only 481 tanks destroyed between D-day and 31 July, [211] research conducted by No. 2 Operational Research Section of 21st Army Group indicates that the Allies destroyed around 550 tanks in June and July [212] and another 500 in August, [213] for a total of 1,050 tanks destroyed, including 100 destroyed by aircraft. [214] Luftwaffe losses amounted to 2,127 aircraft. [17] By the end of the Normandy campaign, 55 German divisions (42 infantry and 13 panzer) had been rendered combat ineffective seven of these were disbanded. By September, OB West had only 13 infantry divisions, 3 panzer divisions, and 2 panzer brigades rated as combat effective. [215]

Civilians and French heritage buildings Edit

During the liberation of Normandy, between 13,632 and 19,890 French civilians were killed, [20] and more were seriously wounded. [19] In addition to those who died during the campaign, 11,000 to 19,000 Normans are estimated to have been killed during pre-invasion bombing. [19] A total of 70,000 French civilians were killed throughout the course of the war. [19] Land mines and unexploded ordnance continued to inflict casualties upon the Norman population following the end of the campaign. [216]

Prior to the invasion, SHAEF issued instructions (later the basis for the 1954 Hague Convention Protocol I) emphasising the need to limit the destruction to French heritage sites. These sites, named in the Official Civil Affairs Lists of Monuments, were not to be used by troops unless permission was received from the upper echelons of the chain of command. [217] Nevertheless, church spires and other stone buildings throughout the area were damaged or destroyed to prevent them being used by the Germans. [218] Efforts were made to prevent reconstruction workers from using rubble from important ruins to repair roads, and to search for artefacts. [219] The Bayeux tapestry and other important cultural treasures had been stored at the Château de Sourches near Le Mans from the start of the war, and survived intact. [220] The occupying German forces also kept a list of protected buildings, but their intent was to keep the facilities in good condition for use as accommodation by German troops. [219]

Many cities and towns in Normandy were totally devastated by the fighting and bombings. By the end of the Battle of Caen there remained only 8,000 liveable quarters for a population of over 60,000. [218] Of the 18 listed churches in Caen, four were seriously damaged and five were destroyed, along with 66 other listed monuments. [220] In the Calvados department (location of the Normandy beachhead), 76,000 citizens were rendered homeless. Of Caen's 210 pre-war Jewish population, only one survived the war. [221]

Looting was a concern, with all sides taking part—the retreating Germans, the invading Allies, and the local French population taking advantage of the chaos. [219] Looting was never condoned by Allied forces, and any perpetrators who were found to be looting were punished. [222]

The beaches of Normandy are still known by their invasion code names. Significant places have plaques, memorials, or small museums, and guide books and maps are available. Some of the German strong points remain preserved Pointe du Hoc, in particular, is little changed from 1944. The remains of Mulberry harbour B still sits in the sea at Arromanches. Several large cemeteries in the area serve as the final resting place for many of the Allied and German soldiers killed in the Normandy campaign. [223]

Above the English channel on a bluff at Omaha Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial has hosted numerous visitors each year. The site covers 172.5 acres and contains the remains of 9,388 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. Included are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942 and four American women. [224]

Utah Beach Casualties

Total casualty figures were not recorded at the time, so the exact numbers are impossible to confirm. But some sources report 197 Allied deaths out of as many as 23,000 troops that landed by sea at Utah Beach. Given that 10,000 Allied soldiers were either killed, wounded, or went missing on D-Day, Utah Beach is widely considered a military success.

German losses are unknown.

U.S. Army Europe Utah Beach, D-Day commemorations. June 6, 2017.

Roosevelt monitored reports from the D-Day invasion during the tense early hours. Later that evening, he went on national radio and addressed the nation about the Normandy invasion the night of June 6, 1944. His speech took the form of a prayer.

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity,” he began.

“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest, until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame….They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people.”

Long-term impact

Operation Overlord, D-Day, was ultimately successful. By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, marking the beginning of the liberation of western Europe from Nazi control.

D-Day also served to convince the German High Command that their total defeat was now inevitable. Losing control of France also denied Germany the ability to further exploit France’s economic resources and manpower, whilst gaining a stronghold on the European mainland enabled America’s rapidly expanding army to be fully deployed, enhancing the Allies strength.

The Allied forces were then able to advance into Germany, where they could join-up with Soviet troops moving in from the east. The Normandy landings and resulting advance into the European mainland had also successfully prevented Hitler from re-directing troops from France to build up the Eastern Front against the advancing Soviet Army.

By Spring 1945, the Allies had defeated the Germans. The Normandy landings on D-Day have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe, but this came at great human cost: around 10,500 Allied troops are estimated to have been killed, wounded or reported missing.

Product description


Holborn's wonderfully researched monograph illustrates the extent to which the story of the British and Canadian landings on D-Day has been overshadowed by the tragedy of Omaha Beach, and that our understanding of the Normandy landings has to be re-evaluated as a series of separate combats on five very different beaches. Holborn's book is a must for scholars of D-Day and amphibious warfare. ― G. H. Bennett, Plymouth University, UK

Holborn offers a fresh and detailed account of the landing on Gold Beach. His well-researched study adds a new dimension to our understanding of one of the most important campaigns of the Second World War. ― Robert von Maier, Editor-in-Chief, Global War Studies

Andy Holborn’s study of the Allied landings on Gold Beach makes an important contribution to Second World War historiography. By shining the light on Gold Beach and the 50th Infantry Division, he provides a detailed examination, from planning to execution, of the operation, which adds another layer to our understanding of the Normandy landings. Integrating firsthand accounts with documentary evidence, Dr Holborn presents an interesting, engaging narrative that is a “must read” for D-Day scholars and all those interested in the Allied landings in Normandy. ― M. Kathryn Barbier, Mississippi State University, USA

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Normandy Commemorates D-Day With Small Crowds, But A Big Heart

A D-Day veteran arrives to watch the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in France via a live feed, during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, England, on Sunday. Jacob King/AP hide caption

A D-Day veteran arrives to watch the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in France via a live feed, during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, England, on Sunday.

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — When the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand extending toward distant cliffs, one starts to grasp the immensity of the task faced by Allied soldiers on June 6, 1944, landing on the Nazi-occupied Normandy shore.

Several ceremonies were being held Sunday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and western Europe from Nazi control, and honor those who fell.


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"These are the men who enabled liberty to regain a foothold on the European continent, and who in the days and weeks that followed lifted the shackles of tyranny, hedgerow by Normandy hedgerow, mile by bloody mile," Britain's ambassador to France, Lord Edward Llewelyn, said at the inauguration of a new British monument to D-Day's heroes.

On D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. This year on June 6, the beaches stood vast and nearly empty as the sun emerged, exactly 77 years since the dawn invasion.

Coronavirus restrictions again keep veterans, families from attending ceremonies

For the second year in a row, anniversary commemorations are marked by virus travel restrictions that prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other Allied countries from making the trip to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.

At the U.K. ceremony near the village of Ver-sur-Mer, bagpipes played memorial tunes and warplanes zipped overhead trailing red-white-and-blue smoke. Socially distanced participants stood in awe at the solemnity and serenity of the site, providing a spectacular and poignant view over Gold Beach and the English Channel.

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The new monument pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy. Visitors stood to salute the more than 22,000 men and women, mostly British soldiers, whose names are etched on its stone columns. Giant screens showed D-Day veterans gathered simultaneously at Britain's National Memorial Aboretum to watch the Normandy event remotely. Prince Charles, speaking via video link, expressed regret that he couldn't attend in person.

On June 6, 1944, "In the heart of the mist that enveloped the Normandy Coast . was a lightning bolt of freedom," French Defense Minister Florence Parly told the ceremony. "France does not forget. France is forever grateful."

Charles Shay, a Penobscot Native American who landed as an U.S. army medic in 1944 and now calls Normandy home, was the only surviving D-Day veteran at the Ver-sur-Mer ceremony. He was also expected to be the only veteran taking part in a commemoration at the American memorial cemetery later in the day.


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Most public events have been canceled, and the official ceremonies are limited to a small number of selected guests and dignitaries.

Denis van den Brink, a WWII expert working for the town of Carentan, site of a strategic battle near Utah Beach, acknowledged the "big loss, the big absence is all the veterans who couldn't travel."

"That really hurts us very much because they are all around 95, 100 years old, and we hope they're going to last forever. But, you know. " he said.

"At least we remain in a certain spirit of commemoration, which is the most important," he told The Associated Press.

Over the anniversary weekend, many local residents have come out to visit the monuments marking the key moments of the fight and show their gratitude to the soldiers. French World War II history enthusiasts, and a few travelers from neighboring European countries, could also be seen in jeeps and military vehicles on the small roads of Normandy.

World War II reenactors gather on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, on Sunday, the day of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. David Vincent/AP hide caption

World War II reenactors gather on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, on Sunday, the day of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II.

Some reenactors came to Omaha Beach in the early hours of the day to pay tribute to those who fell that day, bringing flowers and American flags.

On D-Day, 4,414 Allied troops lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

Later on Sunday, another ceremony will take place at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overseeing Omaha Beach, to be broadcast on social media.

Photos: D-Day remembered – A look at the invasion 77 years ago in Normandy

On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded German-occupied western Europe by way of Normandy, France, during World War II. It would become the turning point of the war, and the largest sea, land and air invasion in history.

From D-Day through August 21, the Allies sent more than two million soldiers into northern France and suffered more than 226,386 casualties. The Allied countries included the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia and China.

There are numerous monuments across Normandy’s beaches and inland to honor those who lost their lives. There is also the Normandy American Cemetery.

More than 160,000 Allied troops landed along the 50-mile stretch of French coastline on D-Day to fight Nazi Germany on the Normandy beaches.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion.

By the end of the day, the Allies had gained a foothold in Europe.

But it came at a high price.

More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded.

Although thousands died, that day paved the way for more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the trek across Europe and ultimately defeat Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.

The U.S. Army Divisions involved in D-Day were the 1st Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 29th Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division, as well as other non-divisional units.

U.S. Allies included the 3rd Infantry Division (U.K.), 50th Infantry Division (U.K.), 6th Airborne division (U.K.), elements of the 79th Armoured Division (U.K.), elements of the 8th Armoured Brigade (U.K.) and the 3rd Canadian Division.

The beaches of Normandy were selected for the invasion because they were within range of air cover and were less heavily defended than the obvious objective, which was the Pas de Calais – the shortest distance between Great Britain and the continent.

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France (American Military News)

Airborne drops took place at both ends of the beachheads to protect the flanks and open up roadways to the interior.

Six divisions – three U.S., two U.K. and one Canadian – landed the first day, and they were later joined by two more U.K. divisions and another American division.

The airborne landings were badly scattered, and the initial wave of units that took the beaches was also rather chaotic. But the troops adapted and fought hard, and the objective was ultimately achieved.

In addition to the airborne assault, assaults took place on Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach.

A U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division monument stands at Omaha Beach today, at the top of the green hills overlooking the beach:

Omaha Beach (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A look in the opposite direction:

1st Infantry Division Monument, Normandy, France. (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

There is a 5th Engineer Special Brigade monument at Omaha Beach:

Fifth Engineer Special Brigade Monument, Normandy, France (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

The monument reads, “For exceptional services of war rendered in the course of the operation of liberation of France.” It also lists the “valiant Americans of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade who gave their lives in the assault on this beach on 6 June 1944.”

Omaha Beach (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A monument to the 29th Infantry Division:

Monument to the 29th Infantry Division. (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A monument to the U.S. National Guard units that responded on D-Day:

National Guard Association Monument, Normandy, France (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

There is a stone laid to remember those Rangers who took Pointe du Hoc:

Memorial plaque for Pointe du Hoc (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A monument to the 90th Infantry Division:

Monument to the 90th Infantry Division (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A monument for the 1st Engineer Special Brigade:

A monument to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

A monument for the 101st Airborne:

A monument for the 101st Airborne Division (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

Editor’s Note: This story has been published previously on American Military News.

Watch the video: Die DDay Invasion in der Normandie (August 2022).