Today In History: D-Day
Today in 1944 was D-Day, the day when Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, marking the beginning of the end of Germany’s occupation of Western Europe. After three months of fighting, northern France was liberated and the Allied troops were orchestrating an invasion of Germany.
D-Day was one of the most pivotal moments in the War. The Nazis were in control of the majority of Europe. An unsuccessful first assault on their dominance could have been disastrous. Hitler anticipated the Allied push, and hoped that he could repel the coastal invasion with enough force to deter any follow-up attempts, allowing him to redirect forces and supplies to the Eastern front, where the Nazis were fighting the Soviet Union. Hitler believed that if he could hold both fronts, his victory would be ensured.
The Allied invasion was called Operation Overlord, and was the largest amphibious military op in the history of warfare. It was overseen by future president, then general, Dwight Eisenhower. Six thousand landing craft and other vessels embarked from England on June 5. 822 aircraft loaded with paratroopers headed for Normandy to meet the landing boats, attended by a detail of 13,000 fighter planes.
As the sun rose on June 6, the paratroopers had already landed. The amphibious invasion began at 6:30 am. Gold, Juno, Sword and Utah beaches were captured with relatively light Allied casualties. Two thousand troops were killed during the push to capture Omaha beach, however. By the day’s close, Normandy was under the control of 155,000 Allied soldiers.
The Nazi response to the invasion was bungled. Hitler believed that it was meant to be a distraction before the real push came from north of the Seine. He erroneously decided not to send nearby troops to reinforce the beaches and launch a counterattack. The Nazi soldiers at Normandy were also rendered confused and ineffective by the absence of Erwin Rommel, the famed Field Marshal, who was then on leave.
Not to say that the Allied victory was won only due to German incompetence. The air assault was extremely effective at crippling Nazi defenses, destroying important bridges to delay German reinforcements. The troops on the beaches were also served well by naval support.
The Allied effort was also hampered by logistical challenges, primarily unforeseen difficulty in unloading supplies and vehicles, most of which had to remain on the boats. Nevertheless, Operation Overlord was a success. The Allied forces were able to hold Normandy until they were ready to continue their campaign towards Germany.
D-Day is one of the most important moments in the history of American arms. It was also a major turning point in World War II.