The History of D-Day

D-Day_on_the_beachIt is hard to exaggerate the level of bravery, determination and cooperation demonstrated during the surrounding weeks of June 6th 1944.  Even Stalin was impressed saying “never before has such a military manoeuvre been undertaken”.  It was quite literally and still is the biggest military operation the world has ever seen.  One of the biggest problems prior to D-Day was keeping the date and location of the attack and the number of soldiers involved a secret.  Everyone in Britain knew that D-day was imminent and so did the Germans, but the enemy had to be prevented from knowing where and exactly when.  The most complex form of espionage including double agents were utilised to feed the Germans with false information.  German spotter planes took pictures of hundreds and thousands of cardboard trucks and boats stationed in Dover.  Hitler was convinced that Calais would be the main location for attack.  The Normandy beaches were chosen as they were more lightly guarded than the deep water ports of northern France and yet Normandy was still within sailing range of southern England.  On the night of June 5th 1944, three airborne divisions embarked on the first phase of operation Overlord.  American parachutists accompanied British Halifax bombers which towed gliders.  The gliders silently landed in Norman fields while parachutists floated down onto the unsuspecting enemy; Germans stationed in Norman villages.  Their mission was to secure bridges, destroy German communication lines, relieve villages of their German garrisons and generally offer defensive support to the task force that was arriving on June 6th at the five beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

At roughly 6am the first battleships were spotted by German sentries stationed along the Normandy coastline.  Behind them thousands of ships carrying troops, tanks, artillery and general supplies steamed towards the five beaches.  By 6.30am the Germans, unable to believe their eyes, were now waiting at their machine gun posts ready to open fire on the Allied soldiers arriving in their landing crafts.  There are plenty of movies, such as “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Longest Day”, that graphically depict what happened next.  Omaha beach lost the most casualties in the first day.  Utah, the second American beach, lost the least casualties and Sword, a Canadian and British beach, lost hundreds of soldiers within the first few hours, second only to Omaha beach with its casualty rate.  Eventually, however, by the end of the day the first American infantry (or the big red one) had managed to gain a foothold on Omaha beach and thus there was no going back.  Along the British beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword the invaders had managed to penetrate seven miles inland after the first day.  Utah held several pockets of inland villages by the end of the day and had a secure beach front.

Scottish infantry patrollingJune 6th 1944 saw the arrival of thousands of Allied aircraft and shipping as well as hundreds of thousands of soldiers.  The day witnessed hundreds of separate battles as the German defenders fought tenaciously to hold every hill, every hedgerow and every farm building, while the Allies literally hurled every valiant effort they possibly could at them.  The Allies knew there was no going back.  Americans landing on Utah beach

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