D-Day, 70 years later
World War II had been going on in Europe since 1939. By 1944, things were changing. The Soviet Union was pushing the Axis forces back towards the German border. The Allies were taking over Italy from Benito Mussolini. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy, France. This was the largest seaborne invasion in history and began the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe.
The United States, Great Britain and Canada were among the major countries taking part in the Normandy landings. They would attack Germany and the Axis Powers led by Adolf Hitler.
Before the invasion, Operation Overlord was the name given to the establishment of this large-scale invasion on the continent. Also, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces. This meant he would have military command in Western Europe.
Before invading, the Allies undertook bombing missions that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies and airfields. These were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion. This would prevent the Germans from knowing the exact timing and location of the invasion.
The Allies also came up with a deception plan to confuse the Germans called Operation Bodyguard. Here, the Allies conducted operations that were designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings. The Allies also created a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton. When the invasion happened, the Germans thought the most likely landing spot would be at Calais.
When the Allies landed, they would at five specific beaches. British forces landed at Sword and Gold beach. Canada would land at Juno beach. America would land at Utah and Omaha beach.
Weather would play an important part to the success or failure of the mission. The invasion planners set forth a set of conditions regarding the phase of the moon, the tides and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed ideally suitable. A full moon was very much desirable on the landing. This would provide illumination for the 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 to the shoreline
Eisenhower had originally selected June 5 as the date for the initial assault. However, on the prior day, conditions were deemed 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.
Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met with Eisenhower and discussed other possible options. Stagg and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve sufficiently so that the invasion could take place on June 6. After many discussions, Eisenhower decided that the invasion would go ahead with the invasion on June 6.
If the Allies decided not to invade, the next available date would have been around June 19. During this time, they would have encountered a major storm that would have hampered the invasion.
Postponing the invasion would also mean recalling the troops and ships that were already in position to cross the English Channel. This would increase the chances of the invasion being detected by the Germans.
One hazard the Allies would face was the Atlantic Wall. This was the system of coastal fortifications built by Nazi Germany from 1942-1945 along the western coast of Europe. Adolf Hitler originally ordered naval and submarine bases to be heavily defended. Fortifications remained concentrated around ports until late in 1943 when defenses were increased in other areas. Thousands of forced laborers constructed these permanent fortifications along the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts facing the English Channel.
The landings were preceded by a naval bombardment of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30.
When D-Day took place, nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel. The Normandy landings were also the first successful opposed landings to cross the English Channel in over eight centuries.
Allied casualties on the first day of the attack were at least 12,000, with over 4,000 troops confirmed dead. The Germans lost approximately 1,000 men on D-Day.
This invasion led to the loss of the German position throughout most of France. The Normandy landings also helped the Soviets on the Eastern front, who were facing the majority of German forces. This may have contributed to shortening the conflict over in Europe.
It would be less than a year before war would be over in Europe. By May of 1945, the Allies would ultimately defeat Germany and end World War II in Europe.