D-Day - 6th June 1944

Planning the Operation

In the months building up to June 1944, a major plan evolved to take back Europe, begining with the landings in Normandy, France. First the top brains of England came together and made a decoy. They fooled the Germans that the invasion would happen at Calais, further up the coast. This would make sense as it was and still is the narrowest crossing point (from Dover) on the English Channel. The decision was made before this that they would use five beaches for the invasion at Normandy: Sword and Gold (British), Juno (Canadian) and Omaha and Utah (American). Men were trained and they even found a beach to rehearse on. It was called Slapton Sands, on the coast of Devon. The local area was cleared as they were going to use live ammo and shells! Unfortunatley this was a failure as when the soldiers were sailing in, they were attacked by E-boats, a fearsome German patrol boat. This attack sunk most of the landing crafts and there were few survivors. Every detail needed to be found out about the beaches , so to check the sand was OK for veichles to drive on, Commandos were sent to the beaches to check. Operation Overlord was now ready to be put into action!

Leaders and Commanders

The Briitish Prime Minister at the time was Winston Churchill, he was very keen on the operation. President F.D. Roosevelt, in charge of the US, was also keen. They both selected a commander up to the job of planning and putting D-Day into action. The British chose Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery who was put in charge of the British land and sea forces. The US chose Genral Omar Bradley. But someone more important than either of them was Genral Eisenhower, as he was in charge of D-Day altogether! The same was happening on the other side of the channel - Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, had chosen Field Marshal Erwin Rommel be in charge of the defences along the coast. This was a huge responsibility, knowing where to strengthen defences would take a lot of planning. Rommel grew slightly suspicious, this made him put strong defences at Normandy, especially on Omaha beach. Another huge deciision hade to be made by the Allied commanders - what divisions and regiments would be sent in? (Find out in paragraph 5.) After deciding, the brains figured out another way to trick the Germans that they'd arrive at Calais, a mass build began to make an "inflatable army" which would fool German reconaissance aircraft as the blow up tanks, jeeps and outposts looked real from above. These models were placed in south-east England, where Dover is, this is where the Germans thought they were crossing at. The inflatable replicas represented an invasion force, in command of this clever decoy was the feared Genral George Patton. Now that the Germans knew of the invasion it was just a waiting matter...

Gliders and Paratroopers´╗┐

The Airborne had a large part to play on D-Day, although many US paratroopers were killed. The first "D-Day troops" to touch French soil were the British 6th Airborne lead by Major John Howard. They guided
themselves in with nothing except maps and stopwatches, which was later described by Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory as "The finest piece of airmanship in the war!" The three gliders landed at 00:16 but the troops were knocked unconcious momentarly, but they were soon fit enough to fight, although one man drowned in a nearby pond. The actual objective was to take a bridge, later named Pegasus bridge after the Airborne's logo. The gliders landed about 50 meters from their target, which was even more suprising as the German guards didn't notice! They thought it was a bit of plane wreckage, this mistake cost them their lives. There were actually six gliders but the other three were set a mission to go to the Orne bridge, on a nearby river. Pegasus bridge is in a town called Benouville, there was, and still is, a cafe at the end of the bridge called Cafe Gondree, when the mass counter attacks had ceased on the town, the cafe owners came out and served champagne to the troops! The name "6th Airborne" was another trick for the Germans - the trick is the '6' as the Germans would think the British had another five "Airbornes" dropping around France. Another well-known Airborne regiment was 101st Airborne, this was an American unit. Their most famous drop zone was St Mere Eglise, this is where John Steele caught his parachute on the local church spire when he was landed. He was captured after two hours of "hanging around" but managed to escape and rejoin his platoon! There is a model of this incedent on the top of the church today. Anoter not so famous US group was the 82nd Airborne, nicknamed the "All Americans" as the division contained troops from each of the 48 states. These American Airborne divisions would have jumped, with all 45 kilos of equipment, weapons and parachute, from the C-47 Dakota, also used as a transport plane.
Pegasus Bridge after liberation

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc was an area of land 30m high on a cliff face, stretching out to sea. It lies four miles from Omaha beach, it had to be attacked or the field guns would be able to fire onto the beaches. The strength of this German gun battery was unbelievable - it consisted of 200 troops, 4 machine gun emplacements, an observation bunker, 20 fighter aircraft and six captured French field guns! The men set the task of executing this dangerous raid were the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, both US. The plan was to land at the face of the cliff in landing craft then fire grapples from tubes under enemy fire. Another way they used was DUKWs fitted with ladders but the DUKWs got stuck in the sand so it didn't work. They would continue to climb up the perilous cliff face and breach the enemy line, hopeful to secure the equipment. Unfortunately the Germans removed the guns (the whole purpose of the operation) to a nearby field, to the great dissapointment of the Rangers. Once this major undertaking had ocurred, the 2nd Ranger Battalion had lost approximately 135 troops of over 225. A flare was set at the edge of the cliff to signal that the 5th Ranger Battalion could now come. But due to the late arrival of the 2nd Rangers, the 5th Rangers had sailed to Omaha beach instead as the signal was also late. The Rangers later found the guns using tracks. The Ranger Battalion suffered many dead and wounded on D-Day but they had shown great courage and got the job done.

Defences and the Beaches

As mentioned before, Rommel was put in charge of the defences, a concrete barrier of slaughter, known as the Atlantic Wall. The Atlantic Wall was made up of MG (machine gun) pillboxes, tank traps, artillery gun batteries but mainly bunkers. Bunker walls were over 1ft thick therefore impenetratable to bullets and grenades, even accurate ones! They were armed with up to six deadly machines guns, usually the MG42 - one of the quickest and most brutal guns at the time. It fired twice as quickly as a standard US .30 cal MG. The bunkers were built with a narrow slit for firing through, which caused havoc for the allied troops as they couldn't shoot back. The MGs roared the soldiers down as soon as their landing craft ramp came down, it was just a case of "use anything for cover and get to the shingle ASAP". The shingle was a narrow bank near the foot of the bunkers, this is where men would regroup. In the whole of D-Day, including Airborne troops, around 156,000 took part. The strongest German defences were at Omaha beach, this resulted in a total of 2500 dead (of a total around 34,500 that landed) and the least amount of ground gained of all the beaches. The units set for Omaha were the 29th Infantary Division, the 1st infantary Division and because of a mistake at Pointe du Hoc, the 5th Ranger Batalion. Troops on Omaha had to use bangalore torpedoes to breach the barbed wire and other obstacles. Another thing that happened at Omaha was that the Mulberry Harbour was positioned there (read on to find out).Utah was the second US beach and was far more successful. Much more tank support arrived providing heavy weaponry. US soldiers kept their gas masks in a waterproof black pouch when landing as if their gas mask got wet it would be damaged and wouldn't work. Over 60 landing craft touch downs occured in 4 different waves on Utah. Juno was the Canadians beach with approximatly 322 different veichles landing throughout June 6th, of which 142 were average landing craft. The Canadians landed 21,400 troops, 1000 died. Canadian troops wore the same uniform as a British soldier, although they had a different insignia. Sword beach was one of the two British beaches. Seven different military units landed on Sword (one of them was 3rd infantry division which had 33 units inside of it) of which two were Special Service units led by Lord Lovat closely followed by his brave piper, Bill Millin, armed only with bagpipes and a small knife! Bill played tunes all the way up Sword beach and carried on playing on their way to relieve troops at Pegasus bridge. When Lord Lovat's team reached the bridge he was reported to have said, "Sorry we're a bit late!" The other British beach was named Gold, which was to be assulted by 50th Division, this Division had 43 different units in it. The plan was to form a beachhead (a line of troops that have invaded a beach from sea, defending an area on the beach) from Arromanches to Ver-sur-Mer. This area was needed because this is where the Mulberry Harbour would be as well as at Omaha. The Mulberry was a temporary harbour, built to make it easier and quicker to unload veichles and more troops. Each harbour (one at Omaha, the other at Gold) consisted of 6 miles of steel road for trucks and other reinforment veichles to drive along, able of carrying 7112 tonnes (or 7000 tons) per day! But on 19th June 1944 (13 days after D-Day) a storm occured meaning by that three days later, the Omaha mulberry was wrecked. Pieces were salvaged from the wreckage to repair the harbour at Gold beach, which stayed in action for ten more months. The whole of D-Day meant over 10,000 were killed, wounded, captured or missing. Overall, it was a heavy loss due to the treachorous defences but they got there in the end, won D-Day and went on to take back Europe. But they could't of done it without veichle support...

Map of the beaches

Transport and Ships

The transport for Operation Overlord was vital otherwise it would of been a failure. Soldiers would board the ships along the coast of south England, at places like Portsmouth. This means the US would sail from the U.S.A. before hand then sail to Normandy on a different trip. When the big ships were around half an hour from the beaches, the troops onboard would leave the ship, climb down a large rope net on the side of the boat and board a landing craft that had been towed all the way from the U.K. Landing craft were the main way of getting from the ship to the beach on D-Day, they could hold up to 30 men though some held jeeps while larger LC (landing craft) could hold tanks. Many LC were blown up before they got to the beaches, some would manage to go back to the ship and drop off another goup of soldiers. As soon as the ramp came down at the front of the LC they just had to dart to the nearest piece of cover and fight their way up the beach. Most US landing craft would be driven by a British sailor as the LC had came from Britain where the Royal Navy were based. Another common way of transporting tanks to the beaches was by using landing ships - just like a deep based cargo ship with a ramp at the front. This allowed much more tanks (instead of 1 in a landing craft) to fit in or any other type of veichle used and even troops. The ramp on this ship could be dropped not only onto the edge of the beach but it could be dropped in shallowish water as well. This meant amphibious vehicles like the DUKW or the DD tank could sail in, making it easier for the ship to turn around. The DUKW was an amphibious veichle mainly used by the US although other allies used it as well. They gave it a nick-name called the "Duck" because of it's amphibious capabilitys. It looked like the hull of a boat and the body of a truck. Some DUKWs would have a canvas roof but most were open. The DUKW could carry 2.3 tonnes (2.5 tons) of goods of upto 20 men. Approximatly 21,000 were made, 1/4 of which were fitted with a .50 cal MG. Horbart's Funnies were a range of specially modified tanks fitted with "funny" attachments to clear different obstacles. These included the mine clearing tank - a tank with a drum with many chains attached, which would detonate the mines before the tank ran over them. There was also a flame thrower tank which towed a trailer of an oil/petrol mix to fuel the flame thrower. Another clever tank had a bulldozing scoop that could clear obstacles, hedges or mounds of earth or sand. There was also a canvas laying tank which made a firm track for veichles to drive up and a bridge building tank to get across narrow rivers. The most famous though is the Duplex Drive (DD) tank which could drive in water due to a large white screen blocking water from seeping in. To stop water from going in the exhaust, two large pipes/air vents were added to the back. Every veichle was important, even the trucks carrying goods and troops.
Duplex Drive tank, note the water proof screen

Moving on

Every troop had to go some where, and that somewhere was the road to victory. From the 3rd Infantry Division taking Caen, to the 101st Airborne taking Carentan (a bloody battle). The US, British, Polish and Canadian land forces moved on clearing Normandy then came to the famous battle at Falaise Gap where the Germans were surrounded by the Allies and forced through a small gap where they were almost wiped out completely. Now the rush to liberate Paris began followed by the move across the River Rhine. This led to the defeat of the Germans in Berlin (by the Russians, click here for more information) World War 2 had cost over 60,000,000 lives were lost, everyone had shown honour to their country and suffered dreadful things. Finally 6 years of hell had ended.