Exactly 68 years ago, the largest amphibious invasion took place on June 6th, 1944. 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landed on five different beaches in Northern France. This is Operation Overlord.
Talk about openening a second front began months before 1944. As the Soviets were trying to stop the German onslaught, Stalin demanded that the British and the Americans open a second front so it would remove some pressure of the battered Soviet Army. But before they could do that, they had to defeat the last sources of German resistance in Tunisia. After they invaded Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, and then moved on towards Italy. Unfortunately fierce fighting at Monte Cassino as well as the Gustav and Gothic Line stopped Allied efforts in Italy, and have begun planning to invade German-occupied France.
Hitler believed that an invasion in France would happen as well. For the invasion to work, the Allies needed to deceive the German forces into believing they would land somewhere else. Many actions were taken, including making George Patton lead a fake Army Group ready to attack Calais. Soon Hitler believed the deception, and ordered von Rundstedt, the Commander in the West to put troops in the Calais. Since most of the heavy Panzer and infantry divisions were centered in Calais, few Germans were positioned in Normandy. The 716th Infantry Division, the 91st Air Landing Division, 709th Infantry Divison, and the battle-hardened 352nd Divison. Rommel had also placed huge naval guns along with bunkers and pillboxes bristled with MGs and snipers. He had also placed sharpened pieces of metal dubbed “Rommelspargus”. These obstacles would shred any paratroopers or gliders attempting to land. The fearsome “Atlantic Wall” stood in the way of the Allied troops landing in Normandy.
On the Allied side, is the entire Allied Expeditionary Force commanded by Dwight Eisenhower. The 21st Army Group will land on Normandy commanded by British commander Bernard Montgomery. Two armies comprise of the army group: the US First Army commanded by Omar Bradley, and the British Second Army commanded by Dempsey. The armies are then split into the US VII Corps, US V Corps, Br XXX Corps, and Br I Corps. Three airborne divisions would leave before the landing force to secure vital bridges. The US 101st Airborne and the US 82nd Airborne will land behind Utah beach, and the British 6th Airborne Division will land behind Sword Beach. There would also be gliders that would land behind the German lines. The troops were waiting in Southern England, preparing for the moment. There were also the navy, mainly thanks to the British Royal Navy. The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels.
The plan was to let waves of bombers go and bomb the German defenses. Then the airborne troops landing at behind enemy lines. Then the Invasion force would land. There had been thoughts of it being on June 4 and June 5, but bad weather postponed it. The bad weather almost postponed it on June 6, but Eisenhower decided to move along with the plans. On the early dawn of June 6th, the troops went on their landing craft and waited as the vessels slowly crossed the English Channel.
Most of the beaches were successful, as few of the Germans were there to protect the Normandy Beaches. Juno, Sword, Gold, and Utah were quickly occupied and troops advancing to the mainland. Only one beach was having trouble: Omaha. There were no bomb craters for the troops to take shelter in, of the tanks that were to provide shelter, only 2 managed to avoid sinking. Behind the defenses, were the 352nd Division. The 352nd were battle-hardened veterans, and many have experienced the brutal fighting in the east. As the troops began to land on the beaches, the large naval guns opened up, blowing up landing craft. Machine guns mowed down the soldiers in droves. But after a couple of hours, support managed to come, with the help of the navy. The ships fired their heavy guns at the defenses, eventually clearing a path for the battered GIs. Now all five beaches were secure, and the German Army was retreating from the beachheads, and into the fortified cites of Cherbourg, St. Lo, and Caen.
The D-Day landings were an overall success for the Allies. Now that they had a foothold in German-occupied France, they would eventually push the Germans away. Cherbourg, Caen, St. Lo, and other cities would eventually fall to Allied hands through heavy fighting. A second invasion from southern France, linked up with the northern forces, and they drove away the battered Armies of the Third Reich.