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  Operation Overlord
     Invasion of the French coast June 6, 1944 -  D-Day

Prelude to cross channel attack
In 1940, after German forces began occupation of France, there was serious concern that the United
States might be drawn into the war. Although President Roosevelt, echoing the position of the congress,
was  pledging to keep American boys from fighting in a foreign war, military planners were preparing
for the worst. To this end, in mid 1940, an American naval officer, Rear Adimiral  Robert Ghormle, was
stationed in London to provide a channel  for exchange of information with British authorities. The
American presence, in observer status, changed  abruptly in the hours following the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor, and by Germany's declaration of war on the United States, which occured on
 December 11, 1941.

The first American combat troops arrived in England in mid 1942.  Through the early months of 1945, millions more took up station on  British soil.  They were joined by thousands of 
military personel from Allied countries. Military planners, in addition to the immense task of finding billeting for troops and supporting  supplies , had to prepare for  thousands of ships, planes, vehicles, tanks, fuel,  and other armaments of war that would be needed for a cross channel attack. By 1944 prep- arations had advanced sufficiently to set the invasion date!

                                 The Invasion Planners
Command: Gen. Bradley, Adm. Ramsey, Air Chief Tedder, Gen. Eisenhower, Gen. Montgomery,  Air Chief Mallory, Gen. Smith

Date for the Normandy landings was initially established when President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchil, and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, met to discuss war strategy at Terhan, in November 1943. The invasion was set for May 1944.

As the target date approached, it became evident that more time would be needed to assemble sufficient equipment, especially assault landing craft. D-Day was set for the morning of June 5th. On that day, with many troops already under way, storm clouds accumulated across the English Channel. General Eisenhower postponed the invasion for 24 hours. Finally, with assurance of a weather window the following morning, Eisenhower, meeting with his general staff, said” I don’t think we can postpone again, I don’t like it but there it is. We’ll go!” Within hours, paratroopers were in the air. It was just after midnight, June 6, 1944

 Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, President Roosevelt and British      Prime Minister Winston Churchill, meet at Teheran, Iran -  November 28, 1943

      General Dwight D. Eisenhower
      Supreme Commander of all Allied

               June 6, 1944
    Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!  

"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together toVictory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."

 SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

                                    Allied Expeditionary Forces

                            Supreme Commander: General Dwight D. Eisenhower

                    American                                                                      British
                    Western Task Force                                     Eastern Task Force
                                                              Air Forces
                    Eighth Air force                                    Second Tactical Air force
                    Ninth Air Force
                                                           Assault Forces
                     V Corps                                                            !st British Corps
                     VII Corps                                                       30th British Corps
                     1st Infantry Division                                      3rd Infantry Division
                     4th Infantry Division                                6th British Airborne Div.
                     29th Infantry Division                             50th British Airborne Div.
                     82nd Airborne Div.                               3rd Canadian Infantry Div.
                     101st Airborne Di
The attack commenced in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, as two American and one British Airborne Division dropped behind enemy lines. First assault waves touched down at 630 hours on five beaches, over a 59mile front, from the Orne River in the east to the Cotentin Peninsula at the western  end of the landing zone American Airborne troops landed behind Utah beach while British airborne secured the banks of the Orne River.

As dawn approached, looking out to sea from the enemy positions, German sentries saw an armada of over 5000 ships breaking over the horizon. Preparatory to troop landings, naval guns pounded beach defenses. Although Allied bombers were active along the beaches, clouds and fog hampered accuracy. As a result the softening up, that troops expected, was considerably diminished. At 6:30 a.m. the first of 150,000 troops began their assault. American troops landed at Omaha and Utah beaches while the British and Canadians landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches.

Ike  Arrived at the 101st assembly area unannounced . To minimize distractions, all insignias  on his command car were covered.

Omaha Beach
The landing by regiments of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions was much more difficult that expected. First elements of the 29th, landing in the vicinity of Vierville, came under a hail of gunfire from towering bluffs overlooking the beach. Since the Air strikes had not been fully successful due to heavy cloud cover, German troops had ample time to take up positions in concrete bunkers. On the 29th’s right, Rangers began to scale the steep cliffs at Point Du Hoc to eliminate the guns positioned there. Casualties mounted rapidly. The consentrated  fire all but stopped the 29th’s assault waves. Second wave reinforcements were diverted eastward where the initial waves from the 1st Division were landing near the village of Saint Laurent Sur Mur. By mid morning as, troops were still struggling to get across Omaha beach alive, Lt. General Omar Bradley, upon receiving very bleak reports in those early hours, considered abandoning Omaha and landing troops elsewhere along the beach. Then, aided by gunfire from navy ships steaming dangerously close to shore, individuals and small groups, many leaderless, finally  made it across the beach. The attack began to materialize. By days end the V Corps had a small lodgement area on Omaha beach.

First waves touch down at 6:30 hours amid a hail of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Most men were now  seasick from the rough seas. Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, first in,  was virtually destroyed in the first few minutes

Utah Beach
Further west, the VII Corps was landing at Utah beach. Here the beach was flat. This  beach was considerably deeper than Omaha, and was not as tightly defended.  The initial problem for VII troops, led by the 4th Infantry, was the extremely high waves and  strong winds which forced many landing craft over 2000 yards from their target zones. After assessing the situation Brigadier General General Theodore Roosevelt is reported to have said. “O.K. we’ll start the war right here”

In the meantime, further inland, in the Utah Beach sector the 82nd and 101st Airborne, who had jumped from planes that were dodging flak from enemy guns, were widely scattered, many  missing drop zones altogether. As daylight arrived small groups began to assemble.  Although unnerving to the troops, the scattered landings also made it impossible for the Germans to develop adequate response. The had no idea where to set up defenses.

Although the 4th Division’s casualties were light, compared to the misfortune at Omaha, they had not reached their first day objectives by nightfall. The lodgement was, however,  sufficient to resume the attack come daylight.

Point du Hoc between Omaha and Utah beaches.The  2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the cliffs to take out German guns that  covered a wide area, only to find the  guns had been moved inland.  This photo illustrates the reason why the guns were moved. To fulfill their mission, rangers slipped in,  located the guns and destroyed firing capability without arousing the enemy. These bomb craters remain on point du Hoc to this day.

Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches
Immediately to the left of Omaha, British and Canadian forces were landing on their assigned beaches. The British 50th Infantry Division and 8th Armored Brigade landing on gold beach encountered light resistance and by the end of the day had advanced to the outskirts of Bayeux.

To their left, the First Canadian Infantry, supported by the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade, came under heavy fire as they encountered a sea wall, much higher than that at Omaha. First waves suffered over 50 % casualties. By night fall, however, the Canadians had penetrated German defenses further than any of the other beaches.

At the Orne River, on the extreme left of the Overlord landings, the British 3rd Infantry Division and the 27th Armored Brigade landed quickly on Sword Beach  with light casualties. German defenses tightened however, as they moved inland, thus, blocking the British short of the City of Caen, their first day objective. By the end of the day, Operation Overlord had placed over 100,00 troops firmly on shore. The price had been high, as 9,000 American British and Canadian men lay dead or wounded. History records that it was the initative and  heroism of the indiividual soldier that ultimately secured the landings on that eventful day!

As D- Day assault forces were securing a foothold on “Hitler’s Fortress Europe,”hundreds of military units with thousands of GI’s were bivouacked along the English southern coast, awaiting call to join the battle. Among these was the American XIX Corps, and within that Corps, the 82nd Engineer Combat Battalion. Their call came 4 days later and on June 17th, first units of the battalion came ashore at Omaha.

As  first units of the 82nd came ashore, heavy weather was moving in. Within hours, all disembarkation was halted as the storm intensiified.  In succeding days, the storm wrecked docks, sunk ships and tore  up temporary shore installations. For over a week Operation Overlord was in virtual limbo. During this time troops struggled to hold ground already taken. As July approached the war was back on track.  St. Lo was captured on July 18th , breakout from the hedgerows took place on  on July 25th. Now, it was just a matter of time!


     British Troops  come ashore on Sword Beach 
                            June  6, 1944

Prime Minister Churchill inspects American Troops before embarkation -  1944

First temporary cemetary in Normandy  -  workers are German P.O.W's

Describing the Overlord Mission, in  summary fashion, as I have,  might convey the image of a simple military exercise to the reader. Quite to the contrary, combat forces would spend the next ten months living in the ground, constantly under fire from enemy guns, seeing the death of comrades daily, and most of the time dirty and hungry. Any combat soldier will attest to the misery of war!

The success of Overlord was a beginning!  Bringing the European campaign an end would require another 335 continuous days of fighting, with thousands more to be added to the casualty count!

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