The WW11 Campaign in Europe
D-Day - June 6, 1944
Note, smoke from naval bombardment ahead of the troops
|World War 11 in Europe June 6, 1944 - May 8 1945|
June 1944 was a major turning point of World War II, particularly in Europe. Although the initiative had been seized from the Germans some months before, so far the western Allies had been unable to mass sufficient men and material to risk an attack in northern Europe. But by mid-1944 early mobilization of manpower and resources in America was beginning to pay off. Millions of American men had been trained, equipped, and welded into fighting and service units.
American industrial production had reached its wartime peak late in 1943. While there were still critical shortages in landing craft for instance, production problems were largely solved, and the Battle of the Atlantic had been won. Ever increasing streams of supplies from the United States were reaching anti-Axis fighting forces throughout the world. By the beginning of June 1944, the United States and Great Britain had accumulated, in the British Isles, the largest number of men and the greatest amount of material ever assembled to launch and sustain an amphibious attack.
Strategic bombing of Germany was reaching its peak. In May 1943 the Combined Chiefs of Staff had given high priority to a Combined Bomber Offensive to be waged by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces. By late summer 1943 Allied bombers were conducting round-the-clock bombardment of German industry and communications. In general, British planes bombed by night and American planes bombed by day. Whereas an air raid by 200 planes had been considered large in June 1943, the average strike a year later contained 1,000 heavy bombers.
Although 100 miles of rough water separated England from the Normandy coast, strategists determined to make the cross-Channel attack on the beaches east of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Early objectives of the operation were the deep-water ports at Cherbourg and at Brest in Brittany. Three months before D-day, a strategic air campaign was inaugurated to pave the way for invasion by restricting the enemy's ability to shift reserves. French and Belgian railways were crippled, bridges demolished in northwestern France, and enemy airfields within a 130-mile radius of the landing beaches put under heavy attack. Special attention was given to isolating the part of northwestern France bounded roughly by the Seine and Loire Rivers. The Allies also put into effect a deception plan to lead the Germans to believe that landings would take place farther north along the Pas de Calais.
Opposed to the Allies was the so-called Army Group B of the German Army, consisting of the Seventh Army in Nor- mandy and Brittany, the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais and Flanders, and the LXXXVIII Corps in Holland—all under command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Commander of all German forces in western Europe was Field Marshal von Rundstedt who, in addition to Group B. also had at his disposal Group G composed of the First and Nineteenth Armies. In all, Von Rundstedt commanded approximately fifty infantry and ten Panzer divisions in France and the Low Countries.
we'll go !
The Invasion of Normandy (Operation OVERLORD)
The attack on the beache of Normandy was scheduled for the morning of 5 June1944. Although much of the invasion fleet was already at sea, stormy weather forced a postponement of the landings. After day long weather briefings General Eisenhower made the decision to attack the next morning 6 June.
At 0200 that morning one British and two American airborne divisions were dropped behind the beaches in order to secure routes of egress from the beaches for the seaborne forces. After an intensive air and naval bombardment, assault waves of troops began landing at 0630. More than 5,000 ships and 4,000 ship-to-shore craft were employed in the landings. British forces on the left flank and U.S. forces on the right had comparatively easy going, but U.S. forces in the center (Omaha Beach met determined opposition. Nevertheless, by nightfall of the first day, large contingents of three British, one Canadian, and three American infantry divisions, plus three airborne divisions, had a firm foothold on Hitler's "fortress Europe." By 9 June the allies were ashore with over 6ooo vehicles and 300 tanks!
At the end of June, British forces made an attempt to break into the open country near Caen. Heavy bombers were used in close support to facilitate this breakout, but the destruction they wrought served to impede rather than to assist the British ground forces and German armored units blocked an advance in that sector. General Montgomery now adopted the strategy of attracting German armor to the British sector while American units continued to attack in the vicinity of St. Lo . The City of St. Lo was captured on July 18th.
The Allied strategic plan was to take over Breton ports and then to secure a lodgment area as far east as the Seine River, to provide ample room for air and supply bases. It was then intended to advance into Germany on a broad front. The principal thrust east was to be north of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium with General Montgomery's British 21st Army Group. A subsidiary thrust by General Bradley's newly formed U.S. 12th Army Group, comprising the U.S. First and Third Armies, was to be made south of the Ardennes. This northern rout was chosen because it led directly into the Ruhr area where Germany's industrial power was concentrated.
The Allied strategic plan underwent considerable modification early in August to seize upon the advantages of the break- out and exploit the principle of maneuver. When the Germans counter-attacked with the intention of restoring a stable front and cutting off U.S. forces moving toward Brittany, they unwittingly offered the Allies an opportunity to encircle them. British forces on the left moved toward Falaise and U.S. troops to the right executed a wide circling maneuver toward Argentan, roughly halfway be tween St. Lo and Paris. Caught in a giant pocket, the Germans nevertheless ex- tricated many troops before the Argentan-Falaise gap was closed on 20 August, though losing more than 70,000. Mean- while, other First Army units, swinging around the Argentan pocket, raced, in a northeasterly direction, toward the Seine River. On the First Army’s right flank, General Patton's Third Army also circled eastward, crossed the Seine, encircling and destroying Germans who had escaped the Argentan-Falaise pocket. The Germans lost almost all of two field armies in Normandy. Up to this time the attack had been directed south, away from the beach. Just west of the Argentan pocket, the city of Vire became the pivot point as British and American forces began a swing eastward toward Paris and the Seine River.
Cherbourg remained the only major port supplying Allied forces in northern France, and advances to the east had been so rapid that the supply services simply could not keep up. The drive eastward began to grind to a halt for lack of supplies, chiefly gasoline. The British took Le Havre and several Channel ports and on 4 September 1944 they captured Antwerp, its port intact. But Antwerp could not yet be used to relieve a growing logistical crisis because the Germans denied access to the sea by retaining control of the Schelde Estuary. The newly activated U.S. Ninth Army (Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson commanding) in Brittany took Brest late in September, but the port had been completely destroyed, and in any event its location so far from the scene of action precluded its usefulness in solving logistical problems.
Invasion of Southern France (Operation DRAGOON).
With the release of shipping and landing craft from OVERLORD, it became possible to stage the long-planned invasion of southern France, the so-called Operation DRAGOON. While the battle of Argentan-Falaise pocket was still raging, on 15 August 1944, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch's U.S. Seventh Army invaded the Mediterranean shores of France southwest of Cannes. The attacking force comprised contingents of three U.S. infantry divisions plus an airborne task force and French commandos, and it was assisted by Free French forces after the landing had been made.Basic objectives were to prevent the reinforcement of German forces in Normandy with troops from southern France and to provide the Allies a supple- mentary line of communications through Mediterranean ports. Resistance was comparatively light. Advances north were rapid, and by 11 September patrols from the southern and northern Allied forces met near Dijon. On 15 September the U.S. 6th Army Group became operational under command of Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers and, with the U.S. Seventh Army and the First French Army, passed from control of Allied Force Headquarters to the control of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Ex - peditionary Force (SHAEF). Thereafter forces from the south continued toward Germany in contact with the U.S. Third Army.
West Wall (Germany)
On the western front logistical problems had become acute by the autumn of 1944. Although the U.S. First Army under Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges had penetrated the so-called West Wall in several places, lack of supplies prevented exploitation of the breaks. Bad weather, terrain that restricted maneuver, and the dense fortifications along the German border com- bined to create obstacles of major proportions.
To two of General Eisenhower's subordinate commanders, Montgomery and Patton, Eisenhower's decision to advance into Germany on a broad front seemed like a mistake in light of the logistical limitations. Each wanted all resources put behind his part of the front to support one major drive into Germany, in the hope that German disorganization could be exploited to produce capitulation. The debate continued through the late summer and into the fall of 1944, but General Eisenhower, with by the advice of his logisticians, stuck to his original plan of advancing with all armies abreast, though with greater emphasis in the north.
the logistal crisis, General Eisenhower
assigned first priority, in the autumn of 1944 to
clearing the seaward approaches to Antwerp. At the same time he decided
to make a bold stroke inm an effort to exploit German disorganization
before logistical problems brought the allied offensive to a full stop.Eisenhower authorized the employment of the First Allied Airborne Army (one British, two U.S. airborne divisions under Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton) in support of the British Second Army. They were to attempt to get across the three major water obstacles in the Netherlands (the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine), to outflank the West Wall, and to put the British in position for a subsequent drive into Germany along the relatively open north German plain.The airborne attack was called Operation MARKET; the corollary ground attack, Oper- ation GARDEN. Complete surprise was achieved by the airdrop, which took place on 17 September 1944, but the Germans were not as disorganized as had been hoped. Unexpectedly strong resistance limited the gains to a 50-mile salient into Holland - far short of the objective of securing a workable bridgehead across the Rhine.
Following Operation MARKET-GARDEN, British forces concentrated on opening the approaches to Antwerp, but it was November 16 before the way was cleared for the first Allied ship to enter the port.
Battle of the Bulge.
In December 1944 Adolph Hitler directed an ambitious counteroffensive with the object of regaining the initiative in the west and compelling the Allies to settle for a negotiated peace. Hitler's generals were opposed to the plan, but the Fuhrer's will prevailed and the counteroffensive was launched on 16 December by some 30 German divisions against Allied lines in the Ardennes region. Allied defenses there had been thinned to provide troops for the autumn defensive. Hitler's intention was to drive through Antwerp and cut off and annihilate the British 21st Army Group and the U.S. First and Ninth Armies north of the Ardennes.
Aided by stormy weather which grounded Allied planes and restricted observation, the Germans achieved surprise and made rapid gains at first, but firm resistance by various isolated units provided time for the U.S. First and Ninth Armies to shift against the northern flank of the penetration, for the British to send reserves to secure the line to the Meuse, and for Patton's Third Army to hit the salient from the south. Denied vital roads and hampered by air attack when the weather cleared, the German attack resulted only in a large bulge in the Allied lines which did not even extend to the Meuse River, the Germans' first objective. The Americans suffered some 75,000 casualties in the Battle of the Bulge, but the Germans lost 80,000 to l00,000. German strength had been irredeemably impaired. By the end of January 1945, American units had retaken all ground they had lost, and the defeat of Germany was clearly only a matter of time. In the east the Red Army had opened a winter offensive that was to carry, eventually, to and beyond Berlin.
|At the Rhine
Exhausted by the over-ambitious counter-offensive and further weakened by transfers of troops to meet the new Soviet threat in the east, German forces in the west could no longer halt a new Allied drive to the Rhine on a broad front. On 7 March 1945 elements of the U.S. 9th Armored Division seized an opportunity to cross a bridge at Remagen which the Germans had somehow left undestroyed, and Allied forces gained a firm foothold at last on the eastern bank of the Rhine. Two weeks later troops of the U.S. Third Army to the south of Remagen staged a surprise crossing of the Rhine in assault boats. At the same time, in the north, British and American troops crossed the Rhine in an operation involving an airborne assault almost as large as Operation MARKET. During the last week of March both the U.S. Seventh and First French Armies crossed the Rhine. The stage was set for the final act.
In the northern reaches, following the Rhine crossings in March 1945, the Allies fanned out with massive columns of armor and motor-borne infantry and soon were making spectacular advances. Resistance was staunch at some points, but Allied strength was by this time overwhelming. The U.S. Ninth and First Armies, with the help of the new U.S. Fifteenth Army, encircled the Ruhr and took more than 325,000 prisoners. Allied forces in the north and center made rapid advances against slight opposition, and by mid-April had reached the Elbe and Mulde Rivers where they waited for the approaching Red Army. In the south other Allied columns penetrated into Czechoslovakia and Austria. The German military machine became completely disorganized and wholesale surrenders took place. Up to this time the objective of American and British forces was to reach Berlin. Most commanders were making plans for the final push. After crossing the Elbe River, the last major obstacle before the German capital, Allied forces were ordered to hold their positions. Since the Soviets had reached the outskirts of Berlin, and to avoid further allied casualities, Eisenhower decided to wait for the Soviet link up.
In the east the Soviets began their final drive on Berlin on 17 April. By 25 April the Red Army had completely encircled Berlin, and on the same day advance elements of the Soviet forces came in contact with American troops at Torgau on the Elbe River. Fierce street fighting broke out in Berlin. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April, and what remained of the German garrison in Berlin surrendered two days later. Mussolini had been killed by Italian partisans on 28 April 1945 while attempt- ing to escape into Switzerland. The European partners of the Tripartite Pact had been defeated.
In the 11 months since D-Day the Allied armies had covered some 475 to 700 miles from the beaches of Normandy. As the war ended the 900 mile Allied front included 91 Divisions, several brigades, and cavalry units, 61 Divisions were American. Supporting the ground troops the allies had over 28,000 combat aircraft, of which, half were American.
On 8 May 1945 General Eisenhower conducted formal unconditional surrender ceremonies in a schoolhouse in Rehims France, not only ending the European campaign which had lasted for 336 days, but bringing to a close the six year World War which Adolf Hitler had initiated in May 1939 .
The cost of the war had been staggering. From D-Day to the war’s end nearly five and one-half million troops had entered the European continent. Casualties reached over three quarters of a million, with American losses totaling 568,628 including 135,576 killed in action.
As the fighting in Europe ceased, the United States and it’s Allies could now turn their full attention to the defeat of Japan, the occupation of Hitler's Third Reich, and the rebuilding of the War ravaged countries of Europe.