Introduction June 6, 1944 will be remembered for many reasons. Some may think of it as a success and some as a failure. The pages following this could be used to prove either one. The only sure thing that I can tell you about D-Day is this: D-Day, June 6, 1944 was the focal point of the greatest and most planned out invasion of all time. The allied invasion of France was long awaited and tactfully thought out.
For months the allied forces of millions trained in Britain waiting for the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Eisenhower to set a date. June 6, 1944 was to be the day with the H-hour at 06:30. Aircraft bombed German installations and helped prepare the ground attack. The ground forces landed and made their push inland. Soon Operation Overlord was in full affect as the allied forces pushed the Germans back towards the Russian forces coming in from the east.
D-Day was the beginning and the key to the fight to take back Europe.
Preparations for D-Day Operation Overlord was in no way a last minute operation thrown together. When the plan was finalized in the spring of 1944 the world started work on preparing the hundreds of thousands of men for the greatest battle in history. By June of 1944 the landing forces were training hard, awaiting D-Day. 1,700,000 British, 1,500,000 Americans, 175,000 from Dominions (mostly Canada), and another 44,000 from other countries were going to take part.
Not only did men have to be recruited and trained but also equipment had to be built to transport and fight with the soldiers. 1,300 warships, 1,600 merchant ships, 4,000 landing craft and 13,000 aircraft including bombers, fighters and gliders were built. Also several new types of tanks and armoured vehicles were built.
Two examples would be the Sherman Crab flail tank and the Churchill Crocodile. On the ground Britain assembled three armoured divisions, eight infantry divisions, two airborne divisions and ten independent fighting brigades. The United States had six armoured divisions, thirteen infantry and two airborne divisions. With one armoured division and two infantry divisions Canada also contributed greatly with the war effort especially when you look at the size of the country at the time. In the air Britain’s one hundred RAF squadrons (1,200 aircraft) paled in comparison to the one hundred and sixty-five USAAF squadrons (2,000 aircraft). The entire Operation Overlord was supposed to go according to Montgomery’s Master Plan which was created by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery.
His plan was initiated by a command system which connected the U.S. and Britain and helped them jointly run the operation. His plan was to have five divisions act as a first wave land on the sixty-one mile long beach front. Four more divisions as well as some airborne landings would support the first wave. The beaches of Normandy would be separated into five beaches, codenamed, from west to east Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans would invade the two westernmost beaches, being Utah and Omaha and the British and it’s Dominions would take Gold, Juno and Sword. The Canadians were nearly the entire force to land on Juno beach. The operation was also coordinated with various French resistance groups called the “Secret Army.” The naval plans were to transport the allied expeditionary forces, help secure and defend a beachhead, and to help setup a method of constant resupplying of allied forces.
Operation Overlord, in short, was as follows: The airforce would be used to knock out German defences and immobilize their forces, blowup tanks and other dummies were used to fool Germans into thinking the invasion was coming at Pas de Calais, the navy would transport the troops while doing whatever it can to help them gain ground, and enough of France would be liberated and held by allied forces so that they would not be pushed back into the sea. Utah Beach Utah beach was a stretch of beachfront approximately five miles long and located in the dunes of Varreville. Like most beach attacks that day, the planned attack time was 06:30 or H hour. As early as 02:00 (H-4:30) the preparations for attack were being made as minesweepers started working at creating a safe path for allied battleships, frigates, corvettes, etc. At about 02:30 the flagship for Utah beach was in place and the order was given for the landing crafts to be loaded and placed into the water. The four waves of troops were ready to go and the German radar had not spotted any buildup of ships.
The first gunfire occurred at daybreak when some ships were spotted and fired upon by coastal guns. 276 planes, all B-26 Marauder’s flew in to drop their payload of 4400 bombs on the targets. Almost all missed and nearly a third fell onto the beaches and into the sea, far away from their targets. Although some guns were silenced the poor accuracy of the aircraft was costly and would turn out to be only one of the many errors made by the allied forces. At 06:30 the first of the troops landed, the 8th and 4th infantry missed the correct beach and landed 2,000 yards away on what turned out to be a less heavily defended beach. This mix up was blamed on smoke and rough seas.
These first troops were all part of the twenty landing craft, each carrying thirty men that made up the first wave. After the first wave came the 32 amphibious tanks. The second wave of troops consisted of 32 craft carrying combat engineers and a naval demolition team. Dozer tanks would make up the third wave. Long after the securing of the beach 2 engineer battalions arrived. This may sound like all the divisions made it easily to shore but that is not true. Many amphibious tanks were unable to make the trek on the rough seas and sank. Two out of the three control vessels for the beach hit land mines and sank and countless landing craft were shelled by German coastal guns.
There were also several drownings involving troops being weighed down by their equipment and drowning in water around six feet deep. If the soldiers managed to make it to shore they were still faced with German machine gun fire. Fortunately, the beach and it’s surroundings had become the victim of a large sea launched missile attack clearing most of the German defences. Once divisions had made it on the beach and secured it they had to start moving inland on their pre-planned missions. The divisions that landed on the wrong beach decided “to start the war from right here.” Most of the landed troops were supposed to secure the areas and push inland, eventually meeting up with the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions that had dropped behind the enemy in order to cut them off from escape and so that they could be attacked from two angles. In the Utah Beach attack there were six divisions involved.
The 4th and 8th divisions that landed on the wrong beaches still continued on with their missions. The 4th, which was originally supposed to land on the islands of St. Marcouf to destroy coastal guns thought to be there ended up moving inland and linking up with the 101st airborne division. The other division that landed in the wrong location was the 8th. Their mission was to reduce beach fortifications and to move inland. The last two divisions were the 12th and 22nd. Both divisions were to work together to secure the Northern region of the beach. The 22nd was to move northwest clearing beaches and the high ground overlooking them while the 12th moved inland on their left flank. Unfortunately the 22nd was unable to make it’s deep swing into the Northwest. By the end of the day the only infantry that was able to make it to it’s D-Day objective was the 8th infantry that had landed on the wrong beach. Most of the area was secure except for a pocket of Germans that controlled a small area shaped like a two mile finger on the ridges north of Les Forges.
The experimental idea of having two airborne divisions drop farther inland had helped make the Utah Beach attack a near success. Omaha Beach The Omaha beach area was the largest of all the Normandy beaches at approximately 34,500 yards in length. The beach itself had only five passable ways off, creating another difficulty for the landing troops and vehicles. Behind the beach were heavily defended bluffs and high cliffs. In order to invade the area, with it’s twelve German strongpoints over 34,000 troops and 3,300 vehicles would be involved in the Omaha Beach invasion. The large number was partly because of the fact that beginning in April of the same year German military had started to fortify the area in hopes of deterring any invasion from the area. The sandy beaches themselves were free of mines but three bands of obstacles were put into place in order to create impassable obstacles for landing sea craft. First large gate-like structures were built, simply to get in the way.
The second band were large posts and logs dug into the beach also creating obstacles. The third and final obstacle was farther up the beach, they were large “hedgehogs” which were mined obstacles that looked as though they were some sort of weird medieval art. Like the rest of the beaches, the planned attack time (H hour) was 06:30. Many would think that this would be when the death toll would first start to rise but this just wasn’t so. Many men died far from the beach. Two companies of amphibious DD tanks sank because of heavy seas. Included with the 27 tanks that sunk were 11 landing craft that tipped. Soldiers on these transports drowned because the weight of the equipment they were carrying held them under the water. Other craft hit mines, losing troops, supplies and weapons. Most of the landing craft were being fired upon by German machine gun fire even when the crafts were still over 1,000 yards away from the beach. Some even ran aground while still 100 feet from shore.
Attempts to improve the situation were made by groups such as the 29th division who decided to bring their tanks in on the landing craft. 8 of the 16 tanks made it to the beach. Other craft either missed their landing area or arrived too late. The lateral current dragged some infantry units 100’s of yards from their objectives and a few battalions, like the 2nd Ranger battalion arrived 40 minutes after they were scheduled to land. Once most of the craft had managed to make it to the beach the soldiers still faced many problems. Air strikes that were planned to knock out enemy machine gunners were not successful enough. Most of the troops were pinned behind the sea wall and other obstacles by machine gun fire ahead of them and the raising tides behind them. Tides rose four feet per hour, shrinking the beach by eighty feet in the same time period. Those soldiers who were too injured to walk or crawl drowned as the tide sped up on them. With soldiers pinned down and not enough vehicles being able to get off the beach other craft were unable to land due to the lack of room. For the first few hours at Omaha Beach things looked grim.
No major advances were being made. The real turnaround that day was when a few destroyers actually came in as close as eight hundred yards in order to fire at enemy strongpoints. The risk of grounding the destroyers took and the arrival of tanks lead to the eventual fall of the German beach defences. Once the groups could move inland their individual missions were put into place. One of the most important missions put upon any division was the destruction of six French-made 155mm naval guns at Pointe du Hoc. This responsibility was given to the 116th brigade and it’s two combat teams: US 5th Ranger and US 2nd Ranger teams. The 5th met the fate of many battalions as the landed on the wrong beach. Luckily the remaining two teams did manage to destroy the naval guns that were capable of attacking ships as far out as 25,000 yards (22km). This would prove to be one of the few missions that were completed that day. Because of the great break downs in planned assaults, the day started to look like a chaotic day with only individual missions of survival. Most divisions managed to stay organized and plan their survival and attack plans.
Col. George H. Taylor of the 16th regiment said, “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those about to die, not let’s get the hell out of here.” These sort of speeches sparked other soldiers to continue with their slightly revised missions. Originally it was planned for the area’s above the beaches to be taken by an advance up the heavily defended bluffs but the plan was changed to a less organized direct assault on the German gunners in the high cliffs. Other such companies that decided on newly created missions included the 16th infantry and the 29th division. These two groups decided on a joint mission to save their allies who were pinned on the beach. Also involved on the Omaha Beach invasion were the US 1 Infantry Division, and the US 18th and 115th Brigades.
By the end of D-Day on Omaha Beach the advance had gone barely one and a half miles inland. Several of the enemy strongpoints were intact and the beachhead was still under fire. Although this beaches day sounds like a disaster the major exits from the area were held, three villages were under allied control and hole in the German line about two and half kilometers long was made and the coastal guns were destroyed. The landing had been made, all the troops could do was secure the area and organize the beach for the introduction of reinforcements and supplies. Gold Beach Gold Beach was the second largest of the beaches of Normandy and was also the middle beach: Utah and Omaha to the west and Juno and Sword to the east. Gold beach was like most of the other beaches invaded on D-Day except it had one characteristic which was disadvantageous to the allies. Coral reefs, ranging from twenty to a hundred yards out could ground landing craft at low tide.
Because of this factor the Gold Beach was postponed almost an hour after most of the other attacks that day. H hour on this beach was to be 07:25. It turned out the this adverse condition would soon show to have it’s pro’s and con’s. The largest pro being that this left more time for bombardment of German defenses by RAF bombers and naval guns. The con’s were of course the fact that with the rising tides men landing on the beach would end up facing the fate of many soldiers on Omaha beach, being pinned behind a sea wall and being drowned by the advancing waves. It would also turn out that, along with beach obstacles, the rising tide would make it even harder for landing craft to make their transport runs. Not soon after the arrival of the first wave of landing crafts the problems started to mount.
Also, like at Omaha, regiments decided to bring their DD Sherman tanks on their LCD transports instead of floating them in. This was mainly because of the weather which created high seas. Unfortunately this sort of tactic left the tanks as sitting ducks and all but one of the tanks were disabled or destroyed. Soon one problem lead to another as those soldiers that landed on the beach were unable to advance and were without any tanks to bail them out of their predicament. Eventually with the help of the one tank that survived the landing the troops at Gold Beach were able to press forward. Not unlike any of the other beaches, Gold had a complicated battle plan including many divisions, regiments and even a commando group. The overall goal was to take the key points of the German defenses and secure the area. One such key point was Port-en-Bessin which was to be invaded by the British 47th Royal Marine Commando who would later meet up with an America regiment from Omaha. The problem was that not everything went according to plan and they were unable to take the city and Americans who were supposed to help in the fight inland by moving through the North-west flank of the area never showed up.
Another such joining of teams did go according to plans as the 50th division met up with a division of Canadians from Juno beach after coming within a mile of their D-day objective of the taking of Bayeux. The only two groups to succeed in their D-day objectives as Gold Beach were the 69th and 231st regiments. The 231st successfully took the city of Arromanches while the 69th took la Riviere even after they were forced to originally bypass the stronghold and return and destroy it later on. Other groups involved included the British 8th, 151st and 56th regiments who aided in the push inland and the clearing of the beaches of mines and obstacles. Although a lot of the operations planned for Gold Beach went array, a few great things did occur. A few of which, carried out by CSM Stanley Hollis, were so extraordinary that they enabled him to be awarded with the only Victoria Cross to be awarded the entire day of June 6, 1944.
Col. Hollis of the 6th company was ordered to check out some pillboxes(small German machine-gun bunkers). A few of his officers were sent in to investigate and “when they were twenty yards from the pillbox, a machine gun opened fire from the slit and CSM Hollis instantly rushed straight at the pillbox, recharged his magazine, threw a grenade in through the door and fired his Sten gun into it, killing two Germans and making the remainder prisoner. He then cleared several Germans from a neighbouring trench.” Then when his company was pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire Hollis managed to destroy the gun using a PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti-Tank) weapon and retreated his troops. After learning that some of his men were still cornered in a nearby house Hollis ran at the Germans with his gun firing allowing the men to escape. By the end of the day most of the D-day objectives had failed but three brigades were ready to push farther inland at sunlight. The beach was secured and ready for reinforcements.
Unfortunately Bayeux was not taken but most of the area’s hidden bunkers and trenches were. Some in fact were found to be manned by unwilling Asiatic conscripts from the southern Soviet republics who were put there by Germans. Juno Beach Juno beach was Canada’s beach with over 21,000 Canadians landing there. Not unlike other beaches Juno’s H-hour was delayed until 07:45. The reason was that air reconnaissance had spotted some underwater “shoals” (rocks/reefs) and they wanted to wait until the tide had gone in to make it safer for the landing craft. (Later on the “shoals” turned out to be masses of floating seaweed).
The beach itself was wide enough to land two brigades side by side, the Canadian 7th at Courseulles and the 8th at Bernieres. The decision to wait until 07:45 caused more problems than it solved. The rising tide hid most of the beach obstacles meaning two things: it was dangerous for the landing craft to come ashore and the demolition crews couldn’t get at the obstacles to make room for the landing craft. Thirty percent of all the landing craft at Juno beach on D-day were disabled in beach obstacle related incidents. One such example was when one craft started to disembark troops a wave threw the craft onto a mined beach obstacle. Like at most of the beaches that day, armoured divisions started to bring their tanks in on the landing craft but like on all the other beaches this caused problems. The Regina Rifles, one of the first groups to land, had to wait twenty minutes on the beach without the aid of any tanks or heavy artillery. Due to heavy seas and tanks coming in on the landing craft it “meant that people who should have been in front were behind.” The Canadians were smarter than most in the setup of their landing. They chose a position at sea which was only seven or eight miles out instead of the distance most other beach operations were using of about eleven miles. This greatly increased the speed and accuracy of the landings and the first Canadian wave was on the beach by 08:15. Once on the beach the amount of German defences surprised the allied forces, once again the air assault on the German gunneries were not as successful as planned.
However, like at Gold beach the Canadians did find out that the firepower of their tanks were the difference between being able to push inland and being pinned down at the beach. After the main beach defences of the Germans were taken the inland push became slower and slower the farther south they got. A few of the main objectives were successful. The 3rd division reach the Caen-Bayeux road and a lot of French towns were liberated. The French residents “were very welcoming and greeted us heartily in the midst of the ruins of their homes.” The one strongpoint that would become a problem for troops at Juno as well as Sword would be Caen. The Canadians found increased resistance the closer they got and in that aspect their D-day mission did not succeed.
As night fell the Canadians were still well short of a lot of objectives. They did get their tanks on the Caen-Bayeux road but that was about it. The British 3rd division from Sword beach was planned to meet up with the Canadians in order to close the gap between Juno and Sword beaches but they never showed. This left a two mile gap in the beaches and would be the area of the only German counterattack of the day. The other linkup between beaches was successful as Canadians met the 50th division from Gold beach. Overall the Canadians didn’t get all that far but were in a good position to move inland. Sword Beach Sword beach was the easternmost beach in Normandy. Like at Juno Beach H-hour was again postponed because of “shoals” until 07:25. The main objective at Sword beach was to advance and invade the German strongpoint of Caen. Four whole brigades of the 3rd division were sent to Caen. There were also airborne divisions that dropped behind lines using large gliders which could carry troops as well as other armoured vehicles. Those groups not supposed to head toward Caen were planned to reach the airborne divisions and secure the area’s bridges from counterattack.
Even as the Canadians moved inland trouble was developing back at the beach. Although all the DD tanks made it to the beach the tide was turning the already small beach into one with only ten yards from the seafront to the water’s edge. With only one road off the beach the overcrowding caused delay’s in most objective’s for that day. Some of the armoured divisions like the 27th armoured Brigade abandoned their objectives in order to bail out infantry pinned down on the crowded beaches. Those who did make it off the beach in time were quite successful in reaching their D-day objectives. By late afternoon the leading troops of the brigades heading for Caen had reached and liberated the towns of Beuville and Bieville which were only two or so miles short of Caen. Strongpoints like the one at La Breche were taken as early as 10:00.
Those troops that didn’t make it off the beach in time like the 185th Brigade had to leave all their heavy equipment behind in order to catch up with the forces already nearing Caen. The move inland was really looking quite promising until the Germans launched the only counterattack of the day. The 21st Panzer division was sent out from Caen, half to take on the southward allies and the other half to head right up between Juno and Sword beach where that two mile of beach was unoccupied by allied forces. Fifty German tanks faced the brigades heading for Caen. Luckily the British were ready with artillery, fighter-bombers and a special “Firefly” Sherman tank that was fitted with a seventeen pound anti-tank gun instead of the normal seventy-five mm. gun. Soon thirteen of the German tanks were destroyed with only one M-10 tank destroyer damaged. This just went to show that the British were “slow in advance but almost unbreakable in defence.” Still the Germans pressed forward until about 21:00 when the last wave of gliders of the 6th airborne divisions came in.
The Germans looked up and saw about two hundred and fifty gliders fly in and land behind them. The allies now were attacking from two directions and the only German counterattack ended quickly. By the end of the day the German resistance at Sword beach was almost obliterated other than at Caen. A lot of the success was because of the joint effort of airborne divisions and divisions landing on the beach. Of the 6,250 troops of the 6th airborne that landed there were only 650 casualties. Unfortunately Caen was not taken but it’s liberation was imminent. D-Day Air Battle D-day was not only a day of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy and moving inland liberating France. Without the aid of the thousands of planes Operation Overlord could not have gone as planned. As early as the spring of 1944 planes flew over German ruled France taking photographs of the defences.
During the ten week period before June 6 countless missions were flown with objectives of taking out German radar installations. There were also hundreds of attacks on the railways of the area in order to immobilize the forces. Of the 2,000 locomotives that were in the area the year before 1,500 of them were destroyed or disabled by allied bombings. By the eve of D-day the allies had 2,800 heavy bombers, 1,500 light bombers and 3,700 fighter planes and fighter-bombers. They also had 56 special night bombers. When June 6, 1944 came around all the squadrons of planes involved had their missions just as the landing infantry divisions had their’s. It took six squadrons of RAF Mosquitoes to patrol the huge armada of ships in the English Channel that day. Without whom there would have some serious repercussions on the entire operation. At all times there twenty anti-submarine planes patrolling the area and protecting the force who would have been sitting ducks for any German U-boats that would have gotten into the area. To aid the actual landings of the troops squadrons flew bombing missions on German pillboxes and other gunnery installations.
Flying at three hundred miles per hour straight in at German machine gun fire in order to clear the way for others to take the glory is what I call guts. In order to clear the three British beaches eighteen squadrons flew missions over a nearly continuous eight hour time period. When bombers weren’t destroying installations they were setting up smoke screens around the land based naval guns in order to once again protect the allied armada. Probably one of the most important things done by the fighters was to fly “phantom missions” in order to make the Germans think that the invasion would by at Pas de Calais. Without the use of air firepower as used on D-day I can say without a doubt that June 6, 1944 would be remembered as a day of complete disaster. Conclusion By the end of June 6, 1944 one of the most complicated and the most coordinated invasions had started.
On the beach codenamed Utah the American 1st army held a firm beachhead with several divisions already receiving the supplies they needed and would soon be ready to move inland. On Omaha the troops there had recovered from what had looked like an impending disaster in the first hours and started to break through the German defences. At the British run beaches of Juno, Gold and Sword the forces had averaged a push inland of six miles. Even with the amount of landing soldiers numbering about seventy-five thousand, the casualties between the three beaches were only approximately three thousand. D-Day was the beginning of the end for the Germans in Europe and the end of the beginning for the fight for Europe. I’m not saying that everything went according to plan on D-day and there wasn’t any errors. I am also not saying that it was a complete disaster. I am saying that D-Day was on paper, with objectives for each division and a craft for each infantry unit, the greatest battle of all time.
pg. 20 Bibliography D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon