Preparations for an attack on German-occupied France continued as did the campaigns in the Mediterranean. The defeat of the German U-boat threat, critical to the successful transport of men and materiel across the Atlantic, had been largely accomplished by the second half of 1943. The success of the war against the U-boats was immeasurably aided by secret intelligence, code-named ULTRA, garnered by Anglo-American breaking of German radio communications codes. Such information also proved valuable to the commanders of the ground campaign in Italy and France.
By early 1944 an Allied strategic bombing campaign so reduced German strength in fighters and trained pilots that the Allies effectively established complete air superiority over western Europe. Allied bombers now turned to systematic disruption of the transportation system in France in order to impede the enemy's ability to respond to the invasion. At the same time, American and British leaders orchestrated a tremendous buildup in the British Isles, transporting 1.6 million men and their equipment to England and providing them with shelter and training facilities. Detailed planning for the cross-Channel assault had begun in 1943 when the American and British Combined Chiefs of Staff appointed a British officer, Lt. Gen. Frederick E. Morgan, as Chief of Staff to the as yet unnamed Supreme Allied Commander. When General Eisenhower arrived in January 1944 to set up Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), Morgan's work served as the basis for the final plan of assault. The Allies would land in Normandy and seize the port of Cherbourg. They would establish an expanded lodgment area extending as far east as the Seine River. Having built up reserves there, they would then advance into Germany on a broad front. Ground commander for the invasion would be General Montgomery. The British Second Army would land on the left, while the American First Army, under Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, landed on the right. Intensive exercises and rehearsals occupied the last months before the invasion. An elaborate deception plan convinced the Germans that the Normandy landings were a feint, and that larger, more important landings would take place farther east, around the Pas de Calais. Here the Germans held most of their reserves, keeping their armored formations near Paris. Developments on the Eastern Front also aided the success of the invasion. In early 1943 the Russians destroyed a German army at Stalingrad. The Germans tried to regain the initiative in the summer of 1943, attacking a Soviet -held salient near the Russian city of Kursk. In the largest tank battle known to history, they suffered a resounding defeat. Henceforth, they remained on the defensive, in constant retreat, while the Soviets advanced westward, retaking major portions of the Ukraine and White Russia during the fall and winter and launching an offensive around Leningrad in January 1944. By March 1944 Soviet forces had reentered Polish territory, and a Soviet summer offensive had prevented the Germans from transferring troops to France. On June 5, 1944, General Eisenhower took advantage of a break in stormy weather to order the invasion of "fortress Europe." In the hours before dawn, June 6, 1944, one British and two U.S. airborne divisions dropped behind the beaches. After sunrise, British, Canadian, and U.S. troops began to move ashore. The British and Canadians met modest opposition. Units of the U.S. VII Corps quickly broke through defenses at a beach code-named UTAH and began moving inland, making contact with the airborne troops within twenty-four hours. But heavy German fire swept OMAHA, the other American landing area. Elements of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and the 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions clung precariously to a narrow stretch of stony beach until late in the day, when they were finally able to advance, outflanking the German positions. American and British beachheads linked up within days. While the Allies raced to build up supplies and reserves, American and British fighter aircraft and guerrillas of the French resistance blocked movement of German reinforcements. On the ground, Allied troops besieged Cherbourg and struggled to expand southward through the entangling Norman hedgerows. Earthen embankments hundreds of years old, matted with the roots of trees and shrubs, the hedgerows divided the countryside into thousands of tiny fields. The narrow roads, sunk beneath the level of the surrounding countryside, became deathtraps for tanks and vehicles. Crossroads villages were clusters of solidly built medieval stone buildings, ideal for defense. Small numbers of German infantry, dug into the embankments with machine guns and mortars and a tank or two or a few antitank guns for support, made advancing across each field costly. With time short and no room to maneuver, the struggle to break out became a battle of attrition. Allied troops advanced with agonizing slowness from hedgerow to hedgerow, in a seemingly endless series of small battles. Advances were measured in hundreds of yards. Requirements for fire support far exceeded preinvasion planning, resulting in a severe shortage of artillery shells. The British made several powerful attempts to break through to the open country beyond the town of Caen, but were stopped by the Germans, who concentrated most of their armor in this threatened area. By 18 July the U.S. First Army had clawed its way into St. Lo and, on 25 July, launched Operation COBRA. As heavy and medium bombers from England pummeled German frontline positions, infantry and armor finally punched through the defenses. Pouring through the gap, American troops advanced forty miles within a week. Rejecting his generals' advice, Hitler ordered a counterattack against the widening breakout by Germany's last available mobile forces in France. U.S. First Army forces stopped the Germans and joined Canadian, British, and Polish troops in catching the enemy in a giant pocket around the town of Falaise. Allied fighter-bombers and artillery now aided a massive destruction of twenty enemy divisions. Suddenly, it seemed the Allies might end the war before winter. Calling off a planned halt and logistical buildup, Eisenhower ordered the Allied forces to drive all-out for the German frontier. With enemy forces in full retreat, French and American troops rolled into Paris on 25 August 1944. Meanwhile, veteran U.S. and French divisions, pulled out of Italy, landed on the beaches of the French Riviera. While French forces liberated the ports, the U.S. Seventh Army drove northward in an effort to cut off withdrawing German troops. Moving rapidly through the cities of Lyon and Besançon, they joined up with Allied forces advancing from Normandy on 11 September. Victory seemed to be at hand. But by mid-September Allied communications were strained. Combat troops had outrun their supplies. British and Canadian forces advanced into the Netherlands, and American troops crossed Belgium and Luxembourg and entered German territory. Then both met strong resistance. Bad weather curtailed unloading of supplies directly across the Normandy invasion beaches, while the ports on the North Sea and the Mediterranean were in ruins. As logistical problems piled up, Eisenhower rejected as too dangerous British pleas to channel all available resources into one deep thrust into Germany. He did, however, sanction one last bold gamble: Operation MARKET-GARDEN. Two U.S. and one British airborne division were to open the way for a British armored thrust to seize a bridge across the lower Rhine at Arnhem in the Netherlands. The airborne troops took most of their objectives, but German resistance was much stronger than expected, and the operation failed to gain a bridgehead across the Rhine.
The Normandy Landings were the first operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, also known as Operation Neptune and Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 06:30 British Double Summer Time (H-Hour). In planning, D-Day was in reference to the day of actual landing, which was dependent on final approval. The assault was conducted in two phases: an air assault landing of American, British and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 06:30. The invasion required the transport of soldiers and material from the United Kingdom by troop carrying aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel and naval fire-support. There were also subsidiary 'attacks' mounted under the codenames Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable to distract the Kriegsmarine and the German army from the real landing areas.
The operation was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, with over 130,000 troops landed on 6 June 1944. 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel were involved. The landings took place along a stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The order of battle for the landings was approximately as follows, east to west:
British Second Army * 6th Airborne Division was delivered by parachute and glider to the east of the River Orne to protect the left flank. The division contained 7,900 men, including one Canadian battalion.[page number needed]
* 1st Special Service Brigade comprising No. 3, No. 4, No. 6 and No. 45 (RM) Commandos landed at Ouistreham in Queen Red sector (leftmost). No.4 Commando were augmented by 1 and 8 Troop (both French) of No. 10 (Inter Allied) Commando.
* I Corps, 3rd Infantry Division and the 27th Armoured Brigade on Sword Beach, from Ouistreham to Lion-sur-Mer.
* No. 41 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) landed on the far West of Sword Beach.
* 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and No.48 (RM) Commando on Juno Beach, from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to Courseulles-sur-Mer.
* No. 46 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) at Juno to scale the cliffs on the left side of the Orne River estuary and destroy a battery. (Battery fire proved negligible so No.46 were kept off-shore as a floating reserve and landed on D+1).
* XXX Corps, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade, consisting of 25,000 men landing on Gold Beach, from Courseulles to Arromanches.
* No. 47 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) on the West flank of Gold beach.
* 79th Armoured Division operated specialist armour ("Hobart's Funnies") for mine-clearing, recovery and assault tasks. These were distributed around the Anglo-Canadian beaches. Overall, the 2nd Army contingent consisted of 83,115 troops (61,715 of them British). In addition to the British and Canadian combat units, two troops of No. 10 Commando were employed, manned by Frenchmen, and eight Australian officers were attached to the British forces as observers. The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of crew from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by foreign flight crew.
U.S. First Army
* V Corps, 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division making up 34,250 troops for Omaha Beach, from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer.
* 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions at Pointe du Hoc (The 5th diverted to Omaha).
* VII Corps, 4th Infantry Division and the 359th RCT of the 90th Infantry Division comprising of 23,250 men landing on Utah Beach, around Pouppeville and La Madeleine.
* 101st Airborne Division by parachute around Vierville to support Utah Beach landings.
* 82nd Airborne Division by parachute around Sainte-Mère-Église, protecting the right flank. They had originally been tasked with dropping further west, in the middle part of the Cotentin, allowing the sea-landing forces to their east easier access across the peninsula, and preventing the Germans from reinforcing the north part of the peninsula. The plans were later changed to move them much closer to the beachhead, as at the last minute the German 91st Air Landing Division was determined to be in the area.
In total, the First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,500 from the airborne divisions.
German Order of Battle
The number of military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany reached its peak during 1944. By D-Day, 157 German divisions were stationed in the Soviet Union, 6 in Finland, 12 in Norway, 6 in Denmark, 9 in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, these statistics are somewhat misleading since a significant number of the divisions in the east were depleted due to intensity of fighting; German records indicate that the average personnel complement was at about 50% in the spring of 1944.
A map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in green. German Reich, allies and occupied zones Allies
Standing in the way of the Allies was the English Channel, a crossing which had eluded the Spanish Armada and Napoleon Bonaparte's Navy. Compounding the invasion efforts was the extensive Atlantic Wall, ordered by Hitler in his Directive 51. Believing that any forthcoming landings would be timed for high tide (this caused the landings to be timed for low tide), Rommel had the entire wall fortified with tank top turrets and extensive barbed wire, and laid a million mines to deter landing craft. The sector which was attacked was guarded by four divisions.
Divisional Areas * 716th Infantry Division (Static) defended the Eastern end of the landing zones, including most of the British and Canadian beaches. This division, as well as the 709th, included Germans who were not considered fit for active duty on the Eastern Front, usually for medical reasons, and soldiers of various other nationalities (from conquered countries, often drafted by force) and former Soviet prisoners-of-war who had agreed to fight for the Germans rather than endure the harsh conditions of German POW camps (among them so called hiwis). These "volunteers" were concentrated in "Ost-Bataillonen" (East Battalions) that were of dubious loyalty.
* 352nd Infantry Division was a well-trained and equipped formation defending the area between approximately Bayeux and Carentan, including Omaha beach. The division had been formed in November 1943 with the help of cadres from the disbanded 321st Division, which had been destroyed in the Soviet Union that same year. The 352nd had many troops who had seen action on the eastern front and on the 6th, had been carrying out anti-invasion exercises.
* 91st Air Landing Division (Luftlande–air transported) (Generalmajor Wilhelm Falley), comprising the 1057th Infantry Regiment and 1058th Infantry Regiment. This was a regular infantry division, trained, and equipped to be transported by air (i.e. transportable artillery, few heavy support weapons) located in the interior of the Cotentin Peninsula, including the drop zones of the American parachute landings. The attached 6th Parachute Regiment (Oberstleutnant Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte) had been rebuilt as a part of the 2nd Parachute Division stationed in Brittany.
* 709th Infantry Division (Static) (Generalleutnant Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben), comprising the 729th Infantry Regiment, 739th Infantry Regiment (both with four battalions, but the 729th 4th and the 739th 1st and 4th being Ost, these two regiments had no regimental support companies either), and 919th Infantry Regiment. This coastal defense division protected the eastern, and northern (including Cherbourg) coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, including the Utah beach landing zone. Like the 716th, this division comprised a number of "Ost" units who were provided with German leadership to manage them.
Adjacent Divisional Areas
Other divisions occupied the areas around the landing zones, including:
* 243rd Infantry Division (Static) (Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich), comprising the 920th Infantry Regiment (two battalions), 921st Infantry Regiment, and 922nd Infantry Regiment. This coastal defense division protected the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.
* 711th Infantry Division (Static), comprising the 731th Infantry Regiment, and 744th Infantry Regiment. This division defended the western part of the Pays de Caux.
* 30th Mobile Brigade (Oberstleutnant Freiherr von und zu Aufsess), comprising three bicycle battalions.
Rommel's defensive measures were also frustrated by a dispute over armoured doctrine. In addition to his two army groups, von Rundstedt also commanded the headquarters of Panzer Group West under General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (usually referred to as von Geyr). This formation was nominally an administrative HQ for von Rundstedt's armoured and mobile formations, but it was later to be renamed Fifth Panzer Army and brought into the line in Normandy. Von Geyr and Rommel disagreed over the deployment and use of the vital Panzer divisions.
Rommel recognised that the Allies would possess air superiority and would be able to harass his movements from the air. He therefore proposed that the armoured formations be deployed close to the invasion beaches. In his words, it was better to have one Panzer division facing the invaders on the first day, than three Panzer divisions three days later when the Allies would already have established a firm beachhead. Von Geyr argued for the standard doctrine that the Panzer formations should be concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen, and deployed en masse against the main Allied beachhead when this had been identified. The argument was eventually brought before Hitler for arbitration. He characteristically imposed an unworkable compromise solution. Only three Panzer divisions were given to Rommel, too few to cover all the threatened sectors. The remainder, nominally under Von Geyr's control, were actually designated as being in "OKW Reserve". Only three of these were deployed close enough to intervene immediately against any invasion of Northern France, the other four were dispersed in southern France and the Netherlands. Hitler reserved to himself the authority to move the divisions in OKW Reserve, or commit them to action. On 6 June, many Panzer division commanders were unable to move because Hitler had not given the necessary authorisation, and his staff refused to wake him upon news of the invasion.
* The 21st Panzer Division (Generalmajor Edgar Feuchtinger) was deployed near Caen as a mobile striking force as part of the Army Group B reserve. However, Rommel placed it so close to the coastal defenses that, under standing orders in case of invasion, several of its infantry and anti-aircraft units would come under the orders of the fortress divisions on the coast, reducing the effective strength of the division. The other mechanized divisions capable of intervening in Normandy were retained under the direct control of the German Armed Forces HQ (OKW) and were initially denied to Rommel.
Coordination with the French Resistance
The various factions and circuits of the French Resistance were included in the plan for Overlord. Through a London-based headquarters which supposedly embraced all resistance groups, Etat-major des Forces Françaises de l'Interieur (EMFFI), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage tasking the various Groups with attacking railway lines, ambushing roads, or destroying telephone exchanges or electrical substations. The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by means of the messages personnels, transmitted by the BBC in its French service from London. Several hundred of these were regularly transmitted, masking the few of them that were really significant.
Among the stream of apparently meaningless messages broadcast by the BBC at 21:00 CET on 5 June, were coded instructions such as Les carottes sont cuites ("The carrots are cooked") and Les dés sont jetés ("The dice have been thrown"). One famous pair of these messages is often mistakenly stated to be a general call to arms by the Resistance. A few days before D-Day, the (slightly misquoted) first line of Verlaine's poem, Chanson d'Automne, was transmitted. "Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne" (Long sobs of autumn violins) alerted the resistance of the Ventriloquist network in the Orléans region to attack rail targets within the next few days. The second line, "Bercent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone" ("soothe my heart with a monotonous languor"), transmitted late on 5 June, meant that the attack was to be mounted immediately. Josef Götz, the head of the signals section of the German intelligence service (the SD) in Paris, had discovered the meaning of the second line of Verlaine's poem, and no fewer than fourteen other executive orders they heard late on 5 June. His section rightly interpreted them to mean that invasion was imminent or underway, and they alerted their superiors and all Army commanders in France. However, they had issued a similar warning a month before, when the Allies had begun invasion preparations and alerted the Resistance, but then stood down because of a forecast of bad weather. The SD having given this false alarm, their genuine alarm was ignored or treated as merely routine. Fifteenth Army HQ passed the information on to its units; Seventh Army ignored it. In addition to the tasks given to the Resistance as part of the invasion effort, the Special Operations Executive planned to reinforce the Resistance with three-man liaison parties, under Operation Jedburgh. The Jedburgh parties would coordinate and arrange supply drops to the Maquis groups in the German rear areas. Also operating far behind German lines and frequently working closely with the Resistance, although not under SOE, were larger parties from the British, French and Belgian units of the Special Air Service brigade.
Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944.
The Invasion Fleet was drawn from 8 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 overall commander of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, providing close protection and bombardment at the beaches, was Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay who had been responsible for the planning of the invasion of North Africa in 1942 and one of the two fleets carrying troops for the invasion of Sicily in the following year. The Allied Naval Expeditionary Force was divided into two Naval Task Forces: Western (Rear-Admiral Alan G Kirk) and Eastern (Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Vian–another veteran of the Italian landings). The warships provided cover for the transports against the enemy whether in the form of surface warships, submarines or as an aerial attack and gave support to the landings through shore bombardment. These ships included the Allied Task Force "O". A small part of the naval operation was Operation Gambit, when British midget submarines supplied navigation beacons to guide landing craft.
An important part of Neptune was the isolation of the invasion routes and beaches from any intervention by the German Navy–the Kriegsmarine. The responsibility for this was assigned to the Royal Navy's Home Fleet. There were two principal perceived German naval threats. The first was surface attack by German capital ships from anchorages in Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea. This did not materialise since, by mid-1944, the battleships were damaged, the cruisers were used for training and the Kriegsmarine's fuel allocation had been cut by a third. The inactivity may also have resulted from Hitler's disillusion with the Kriegsmarine. In any case, the Royal Navy had strong forces available to repel any attempts, and the Kiel Canal area was mined (Operation Bravado) as a precaution.
The second perceived major threat was that of U-boats transferred from the Atlantic. Air surveillance from three escort carriers and RAF Coastal Command maintained a cordon well west of Land's End. Few U-boats were spotted, and most of the escort groups were moved nearer to the landings. Further efforts were made to seal the Western Approaches against German naval forces from Brittany and the Bay of Biscay. Minefields were laid (Operation Maple) to force enemy ships away from air protection where they could be attacked by Allied destroyer flotillas. Again, enemy activity was minor, but on 4 July four German destroyers were either sunk or forced back to Brest. The Straits of Dover were closed by minefields, naval and air patrols, radar, and effective bombing raids on enemy ports. Local German naval forces were small but could be reinforced from the Baltic. Their efforts, however, were concentrated on protecting the Pas de Calais against expected landings there, and no attempt was made to force the blockade. The screening operation destroyed few German ships, but the objective was achieved. There were no U-boat attacks against Allied shipping and few attempts by surface ships.
Warships provided supporting fire for the land forces. During Neptune, it was given a high importance, using ships from battleships to destroyers and landing craft. For example, the Canadians at Juno beach had fire support many times greater than they had had for the Dieppe Raid in 1942. The old battleships HMS Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts were used to suppress shore batteries east of the Orne; cruisers targeted shore batteries at Ver-sur-Mer and Moulineaux; eleven destroyers for local fire support. In addition, there were modified landing-craft: eight "Landing Craft Gun", each with two 4.7-inch guns; four "Landing Craft Support" with automatic cannon; eight Landing Craft Tank (Rocket), each with a single salvo of 1,100 5-inch rockets; eight Landing Craft Assault (Hedgerow), each with twenty-four bombs intended to detonate beach mines prematurely. Twenty-four Landing Craft Tank carried Priest self-propelled howitzers which also fired while they were on the run-in to the beach. Similar arrangements existed at other beaches.
Fire support went beyond the suppression of shore defences overlooking landing beaches and was also used to break up enemy concentrations as the troops moved inland. This was particularly noted in German reports: Field-Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt reported that
... The enemy had deployed very strong Naval forces off the shores of the bridgehead. These can be used as quickly mobile, constantly available artillery, at points where they are necessary as defence against our attacks or as support for enemy attacks. During the day their fire is skillfully directed by . . . plane observers, and by advanced ground fire spotters. Because of the high rapid-fire capacity of Naval guns they play an important part in the battle within their range. The movement of tanks by day, in open country, within the range of these naval guns is hardly possible. Just prior to the invasion, General Eisenhower transmitted a now-historic message to all members of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It read, in part, "You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months." In his pocket was an unused statement to be read in case the invasion failed.
Official U.S. Twelfth Army situation map for 2400 hours, 6 June 1944.
The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgment from which to expand the beachhead to allow the build up of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counterattacks before the build up of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy's ability to organize and launch counterattacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives, such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralize German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead. The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach. The British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to similar objectives on the eastern flank. 500 Free French paratroopers from the British Special Air Service Brigade (S.A.S.) were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 6 June to August.
British airborne landings
East of the landing area, the open, flat, floodplain between the Orne and Dives Rivers was ideal for counterattacks by German armour. However, the landing area and floodplain were separated by the Orne River, which flowed northeast from Caen into the bay of the Seine. The only crossing of the Orne River north of Caen was 7 kilometres (4.5 mi) from the coast, near Bénouville and Ranville. For the Germans, the crossing provided the only route for a flanking attack on the beaches from the east. For the Allies, the crossing also was vital for any attack on Caen from the east.
The tactical objectives of the British 6th Airborne Division were (a) to capture intact the bridges of the Bénouville-Ranville crossing, (b) to defend the crossing against the inevitable armoured counter-attacks, (c) to destroy German artillery at the Merville battery, which threatened Sword Beach, and (d) to destroy five bridges over the Dives River to further restrict movement of ground forces from the east. Airborne troops, mostly paratroopers of the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades, including the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, began landing after midnight, 6 June and immediately encountered elements of the German 716th Infantry Division. At dawn, the Battle Group von Luck of the 21st Panzer Division counterattacked from the south on both sides of the Orne River. By this time the paratroopers had established a defensive perimeter surrounding the bridgehead. Casualties were heavy on both sides, but the airborne troops held. Shortly after noon, they were reinforced by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade. By the end of D-Day, 6th Airborne had accomplished each of its objectives. For several days, both British and German forces took heavy casualties as they struggled for positions around the Orne bridgehead. For example, the German 346th Infantry Division broke through the eastern edge of the defensive line on 10 June. Finally, British paratroopers overwhelmed entrenched panzergrenadiers in the Battle of Bréville on 12 June. The Germans did not seriously threaten the bridgehead again. 6th Airborne remained on the line until it was evacuated in early September
American airborne landings
US troops of the 3rd Armored Division examine a knocked out German Sturmgeschütz III with a dead German crewman on the gun barrel.
The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering 13,000 paratroopers and delivered by 12 troop carrier groups of the IX Troop Carrier Command, were less fortunate in quickly completing their main objectives. To achieve surprise, the drops were routed to approach Normandy from the west. Numerous factors affected their performance, but the primary one was the decision to make a massive parachute drop at night (a tactic not used again for the rest of the war). As a result, 45% of units were widely scattered and unable to rally. Efforts of the early wave of pathfinder teams to mark the landing zones were largely ineffective, and the Rebecca/Eureka transponding radar beacons used to guide in the waves of C-47 Skytrains to the drop zones were a flawed system. Three regiments of 101st Airborne paratroopers were dropped first, between 00:48 and 01:40, followed by the 82nd Airborne's drops between 01:51 and 02:42. Each operation involved approximately 400 C-47 aircraft. Two pre-dawn glider landings brought in anti-tank guns and support troops for each division. On the evening of D-Day two additional glider landings brought in two battalions of artillery and 24 howitzers to the 82nd Airborne. Additional glider operations on 7 June delivered the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment to the 82nd Airborne, and two large supply parachute drops that date were ineffective. After 24 hours, only 2,500 troops of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd were under the control of their divisions, approximating a third of the force dropped. The dispersal of the American airborne troops, however, had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response. In addition, the Germans' defensive flooding, in the early stages, also helped to protect the Americans' southern flank. Paratroopers continued to roam and fight behind enemy lines for days. Many consolidated into small groups, rallied with NCOs or junior officers, and usually were a hodgepodge of men from different companies, battalions, regiments, or even divisions. The 82nd occupied the town of Sainte-Mère-Église early in the morning of 6 June, giving it the claim of the first town liberated in the invasion.
Amphibious landings Sword Beach
The assault on Sword Beach began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the DD tanks of 13th/18th Hussars followed closely by the infantry of 8th Brigade.
On Sword Beach, the regular British infantry came ashore with light casualties. They had advanced about 8 kilometres (5 mi) by the end of the day but failed to make some of the deliberately ambitious targets set by Montgomery. In particular, Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands by the end of D-Day, and would remain so until the Battle for Caen, 8 August. 1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No.4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The 1st Special Service Brigade's landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin. The British and French of No.4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham: the French a blockhouse and the Casino, and the two German batteries which overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.
The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced 11 heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75 mm guns, as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach. The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads. The use of armour was successful at Juno, in some instances actually landing ahead of the infantry as intended and helping clear a path inland. Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando "W" landing on Mike Beach, Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead. 6 June 1944.
Despite the obstacles, the Canadians were off the beach within hours and beginning their advance inland. The 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada achieved their 6 June objectives, when they crossed the Caen–Bayeux highway over 15 kilometres (9 mi) inland. The Canadians were the only units to reach their D-Day objectives, although most units fell back a few kilometres to stronger defensive positions. In particular, the Douvres Radar Station was still in German hands, and no link had been established with Sword Beach. By the end of D-Day, 15,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water's edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend(Hitler Youth) Panzer divisions on 7 June and 8 June.
At Gold Beach, the casualties were also quite heavy, partly because the swimming Sherman DD tanks were delayed, and the Germans had strongly fortified a village on the beach. However, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the Canadians at Juno Beach, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.
No.47 (RM) Commando was the last British Commando unit to land and came ashore on Gold east of Le Hamel. Their task was to proceed inland then turn right (west) and make a 16-kilometre (10 mi) march through enemy territory to attack the coastal harbour of Port en Bessin from the rear. This small port, on the British extreme right, was well sheltered in the chalk cliffs and significant in that it was to be a prime early harbour for supplies to be brought in including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore.
U.S. Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach during the landings, 6 June 1944. They were brought to the beach by a Coast Guard manned LCVP. Survivors of a sunken troop transport wade ashore on Omaha Beach.
Elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division faced the veteran German 352nd Infantry Division, one of the best trained on the beaches. Allied intelligence failed to realize that the relatively low-quality 716th Infantry Division (static) had been replaced by the 352nd the previous March. Omaha was also the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery, and the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors, and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only 2 survived the landing. The official record stated that "within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue". Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings. The heavily defended draws, the only vehicular routes off the beach, could not be taken and two hours after the first assault the beach was closed for all but infantry landings. Commanders (including General Omar Bradley) considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units of infantry, often forming ad hoc groups, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defenses by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.
Pointe du Hoc The massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by James Earl Rudder. The task was to scale the 30 metre (100 ft) cliffs under enemy fire with ropes and ladders, and then attack and destroy the German coastal defense guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. The infantry commanders did not know that the guns had been moved prior to the attack, and they had to press farther inland to find them but eventually destroyed them. However, fortifications themselves were still vital targets since a single artillery forward observer based there could have called down accurate fire on the U.S. beaches. The Rangers were eventually successful, and captured the fortifications. They then had to fight for two days to hold the location, losing more than 60% of their men.
Casualties on Utah Beach, the westernmost landing zone, were the lightest of any beach, with 197 out of the roughly 23,000 troops that landed. The 4th Infantry Division troops landing at Utah Beach found themselves in the wrong positions because of a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast. Instead of landing at Tare Green and Uncle Red sectors, they came ashore at Victor sector, which was lightly defended, and as a result, relatively little German opposition was encountered. The 4th Infantry Division was able to press inland relatively easily over beach exits that had been seized from the inland side by the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. This was partially by accident, because their planned landing was further down the beach (Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the Asst. Commander of 4th Division, upon discovering the landings were off course, was famous for stating "We will start the war from right here.") . By early afternoon, the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st. American casualties were light, and the troops were able to press inward much faster than expected, making it a near-complete success.
War memorials and tourism
The beaches at Normandy are still referred to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. There are several vast cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person's religious symbol and their unit insignia. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the La Cambe German war cemetery, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses. There is also a Polish cemetery.
Invasion of Normandy
The Invasion of Normandy was the invasion and establishment of Allied forces in Normandy, France, during Operation Overlord in World War II. This article covers from the initial landings on June 6, 1944, until the time of the Allied breakout in late-July.
Allied land forces that saw combat in Normandy on June 6 came from Canada, Free French Forces, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the weeks following the invasion, Polish forces also participated and there were also contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and the Netherlands. Most of the above countries also provided air and naval support, as did the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Royal Norwegian Navy.
The Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks, naval bombardments, an early morning amphibious landing and during the evening the remaining elements of the parachute divisions landed. The "D-Day" forces deployed from bases along the south coast of England, the most important of these being Portsmouth.
The objective of the operation was to create a lodgement that would be anchored in the city of Caen (and later Cherbourg when its deep-water port would be captured). As long as Normandy could be secured, the Western European campaign and the downfall of Nazi Germany could begin. About 6,900 vessels would be involved in the invasion, under the command of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay (who had been directly involved in the North African and Italian landings), including 4,100 landing craft. A total of 12,000 aircraft under Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory were to support the landings, including 1,000 transports to fly in the parachute troops; 10,000 tons of bombs would be dropped against the German defenses, and 14,000 attack sorties would be flown.
Some of the more unusual Allied preparations included armoured vehicles specially adapted for the assault. Developed under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Percy Hobart (Montgomery’s brother-in-law, and an armoured warfare specialist), these vehicles (nicknamed Hobart's Funnies) included "swimming" Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, the Churchill Crocodile flame throwing tank, mine-clearing tanks, bridge-laying tanks and road-laying tanks and the Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers (AVRE)–equipped with a large-caliber mortar for destroying concrete emplacements. Some prior testing of these vehicles had been undertaken at Kirkham Priory in Yorkshire, England. The majority would be operated by small teams from the British 79th Armoured Division attached to the various formations.
Planning of the Invasion
Allied forces rehearsed their roles for D-Day months before the invasion. On April 28, 1944, in south Devon on the English coast, 638 U.S. soldiers and sailors were killed when surprised one of these landing exercises, Exercise Tiger.
In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a deception operation, Operation Fortitude aimed at misleading the Germans regarding the date and place of the invasion.
There were several leaks prior to or on D-Day. One such leak was the crossword that came out in The Herald and Review six days before the beach landings were to take place. Some of the answers consisted of Overlord, Neptune, Gold and other key terms to the invasions; the US government later declared that this was just a coincidence. Through the Cicero affair, the Germans obtained documents containing references to Overlord, but these documents lacked all detail.
Double Cross agents, such as Juan Pujol (code named Garbo), played an important role in convincing the German High Command that Normandy was at best a diversionary attack. U.S. Major General Henry Miller, chief supply officer of the US 9th Air Force, during a party at Coleridge's Hotel in London complained to guests of the supply problems he was having but that after the invasion, which he told them would be before June 15th, supply would be easier. After being told, Eisenhower reduced Miller to Colonel and sent him back to the U.S. where he subsequently retired. Another such leak was Gen. Charles de Gaulle's radio message after D-Day. He, unlike all the other leaders, stated that this invasion was the real invasion. This had the potential to ruin the Allied deceptions Fortitude North and Fortitude South. For example, Gen. Eisenhower referred to the landings as the initial invasion.
The Allies assigned codenames to the various operations involved in the invasion. Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Neptune. According to the D-day museum:
- "The armed forces use codenames to refer to the planning and execution of specific military operations. Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Neptune. (...) Operation Neptune began on D-Day (6 June 1944) and ended on 30 June 1944. By this time, the Allies had established a firm foothold in Normandy. Operation Overlord also began on D-Day, and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on 19 August 1944."
Officers with knowledge of D-Day were not to be sent where there was the slightest danger of being captured. These officers were given the codename of "Bigot", derived from the words "To Gib" (To Gibralta) that was stamped on the papers of officers who took part in the North African invasion in 1942. On the night of april 27th, during Exercise Tiger, a pre invasion exercise off the coast of Slapton Sands beach, several American LSTs were attacked by German E boats and among the 638 Americans killed in the attack and a further 308 killed by friendly fire, ten "Bigots" were listed as missing. As the invasion would be cancelled if any were captured or unaccounted for their fate was given the highest priority and eventually all ten bodies were recovered.
Allied Order of Battle
The following major units were landed on D-Day. A much more detailed order of battle for D-Day itself can be found at Normandy landings.
- British I Corps, and the .
- British XXX Corps, and .
- 79th Armoured Division
- U.S. V Corps, U.S. 1st Infantry Division and .
- U.S. VII Corps, .
The total number of troops landed on D-Day was around 130,000
The total troops, vehicles and supplies landed over the period of the invasion were:
- By the end of 11 June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies.
- By June 30th (D+24) over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies.
- By July 4th one million men had been landed.
The Invasion Fleet was drawn from 8 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 overall commander of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, providing close protection and bombardment at the beaches, was Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. The Allied Naval Expeditionary Force was divided into two Naval Task Forces: Western (Rear-Admiral Alan G Kirk) and Eastern (Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Vian).
The warships provided cover for the transports against the enemy—whether in the form of surface warships, submarines, or as an aerial attack—and gave support to the landings through shore bombardment. These ships included the Allied Task Force "O".
German Order of Battle
The number of military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany reached its peak during 1944. Tanks on the east front peaked at 5,202 in November 1944, while total aircraft in the Luftwaffe inventory peaked at 5,041 in December 1944. By D-Day 157 German divisions were stationed in the Soviet Union, 6 in Finland, 12 in Norway, 6 in Denmark, 9 in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
However, these statistics are somewhat misleading since a significant number of the divisions in the east were depleted; German records indicate that the average personnel complement was at about 50% in the spring of 1944.
A more detailed order of battle for D-Day itself can be found at .
- Main articles: Atlantic Wall and English Channel
Standing in the way of the Allies was the English Channel, a crossing which had eluded the Spanish Armada and Napoleon Bonaparte's Navy. Compounding the invasion efforts was the extensive Atlantic Wall, ordered by in his Directive 51. Believing that any forthcoming landings would be timed for high tide (this caused the landings to be timed for low tide), Rommel had the entire wall fortified with tank top turrets and extensive barbed wire, and laid a million mines to deter landing craft. The sector which was attacked was guarded by four divisions.
The following units were deployed in a static defensive mode in the areas of the actual landings:
- 716th Infantry Division (Static) consisted mainly of those 'unfit for active duty' and released prisoners.
- , a well-trained unit containing combat veterans.
- (Luftlande – air transported), a regular infantry division, trained, and equipped to be transported by air.
- 709th Infantry Division (Static). Like the 716th, this division comprised a number of "Ost" units who were provided with German leadership to manage them.
Adjacent Divisional Areas
Other divisions occupied the areas around the landing zones, including:
- 243rd Infantry Division (Static) (Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich), comprising the (two battalions), , and . This coastal defense division protected the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.
- 711th Infantry Division (Static), comprising the , and . This division defended the western part of the Pays de Caux.
- (Oberstleutnant Freiherr von und zu Aufsess), comprising three bicycle battalions.
Rommel's defensive measures were also frustrated by a dispute over armoured doctrine. In addition to his two army groups, von Rundstedt also commanded the headquarters of Panzer Group West under General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (usually referred to as von Geyr). This formation was nominally an administrative HQ for von Rundstedt's armoured and mobile formations, but it was later to be renamed and brought into the line in Normandy. Von Geyr and Rommel disagreed over the deployment and use of the vital Panzer divisions.
Rommel recognised that the Allies would possess air superiority and would be able to harass his movements from the air. He therefore proposed that the armoured formations be deployed close to the invasion beaches. In his words, it was better to have one Panzer division facing the invaders on the first day, than three Panzer divisions three days later when the Allies would already have established a firm beachhead. Von Geyr argued for the standard doctrine that the Panzer formations should be concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen, and deployed en masse against the main Allied beachhead when this had been identified.
The argument was eventually brought before Hitler for arbitration. He characteristically imposed an unworkable compromise solution. Only three Panzer divisions were given to Rommel, too few to cover all the threatened sectors. The remainder, nominally under Von Geyr's control, were actually designated as being in "OKW Reserve". Only three of these were deployed close enough to intervene immediately against any invasion of Northern France, the other four were dispersed in southern France and the Netherlands. Hitler reserved to himself the authority to move the divisions in OKW Reserve, or commit them to action. On June 6, many Panzer division commanders were unable to move because Hitler had not given the necessary authorisation, and his staff refused to wake him upon news of the invasion.
Army Group B Reserve
- The (Generalmajor Edgar Feuchtinger) was deployed near Caen as a mobile striking force as part of the Army Group B reserve. However, Rommel placed it so close to the coastal defenses that, under standing orders in case of invasion, several of its infantry and anti-aircraft units would come under the orders of the fortress divisions on the coast, reducing the effective strength of the division.
The other two armoured divisions over which Rommel had operational control, the and , were deployed near the Pas de Calais in accordance with German views about the likely Allied landing sites. Neither was moved from the Pas de Calais for at least fourteen days after the invasion.
The other mechanized divisions capable of intervening in Normandy were retained under the direct control of the German Armed Forces HQ (OKW) and were initially denied to Rommel:
Four divisions were deployed to Normandy within seven days of the invasion:
- The (Brigadeführer Fritz Witt) was stationed to the southeast. Its officers and NCOs (this division had a very weak core of NCOs in Normandy with only slightly more than 50% of its authorised strength
) were long-serving veterans, but the junior soldiers had all been recruited directly from the movement at the age of seventeen in 1943. It was to acquire a reputation for ferocity and war crimes in the coming battle.
- Further to the southwest was the (General major Fritz Bayerlein), an elite unit originally formed by amalgamating the instructing staff at various training establishments. Not only were its personnel of high quality, but the division also had unusually high numbers of the latest and most capable armoured vehicles.
- was refitting in Belgium on the Netherlands border after being decimated on the Eastern Front.
- (General major Werner Ostendorff) was based on Thouars, south of the Loire River, and although equipped with Assault guns instead of tanks and lacking in other transport (such that one battalion each from the 37th and 38th Panzergrenadier Regiments moved by bicycle), it provided the first major counterattack against the American advance at Carentan on June 13.
Three other divisions (the , which had been refitting at Montauban in Southern France, and the and which had been in transit from the Eastern Front on June 6), were committed to battle in Normandy around twenty-one days after the first landings.
One more armoured division (the ) saw action only after the American breakout from the beachhead. Two other armoured divisions which had been in the west on June 6 (the and ) did not see action in Normandy.
Allied establishment in France
The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Saint-Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches linked except Utah, and Sword (the last linked with paratroopers) and a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6–10 mi) from the beaches. However practically none of these objectives had been achieved. Overall the casualties had not been as heavy as some had feared (around 10,000 compared to the 20,000 Churchill had estimated) and the bridgeheads had withstood the expected counterattacks.
Once the beachhead was established, two artificial Mulberry harbours were towed across the English Channel in segments and made operational around D+3 (June 9). One was constructed at Arromanches by British forces, the other at Omaha Beach by American forces. By June 19, when severe storms interrupted the landing of supplies for several days and destroyed the Omaha harbour, the British had landed 314,547 men, 54,000 vehicles, and 102,000 tons of supplies, while the Americans put ashore 314,504 men, 41,000 vehicles, and 116,000 tons of supplies.
Around 9,000 tons of materiel were landed daily at the Arromanches harbour until the end of August 1944, by which time the port of Cherbourg had been secured by the Allies and had begun to return to service.
Assessment of the battle
The Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel in nine centuries. They were costly in terms of men, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the campaign led to the loss of the German position in most of France and the secure establishment of a new major front. Allied material weight told heavily in Normandy, as did intelligence and deception plans. The general Allied concept of the battle was sound, drawing on the strengths of both Britain and the United States. German dispositions and leadership were often faulty, despite a credible showing on the ground by many German units. In larger context the Normandy landings helped the Soviets on the Eastern front, who were facing the bulk of the German forces and, to a certain extent, contributed to the shortening of the conflict there.
Although there was a shortage of artillery ammunition, at no time were the Allies critically short of any necessity. This was a remarkable achievement considering they did not hold a port until Cherbourg fell. By the time of the breakout the Allies also enjoyed a considerable superiority in numbers of troops (approximately 7:2) and armoured vehicles (approximately 4:1) which helped overcome the natural advantages the terrain gave to the German defenders.
Allied intelligence and counterintelligence efforts were successful beyond expectations. The deception before the invasion kept German attention focused on the Pas de Calais, and indeed high-quality German forces were kept in this area, away from Normandy, until July. Prior to the invasion, few German reconnaissance flights took place over Britain, and those that did saw only the dummy staging areas. Ultra decrypts of German communications had been helpful as well, exposing German dispositions and revealing their plans such as the Mortain counterattack.
Allied air operations also contributed significantly to the invasion, via close tactical support, interdiction of German lines of communication (preventing timely movement of supplies and reinforcements—particularly the critical Panzer units), and rendering the Luftwaffe ineffective in Normandy. Although the impact upon armoured vehicles was less than expected, air activity intimidated these units and cut their supplies.
Despite initial heavy losses in the assault phase, Allied morale remained high. Casualty rates among all the armies were tremendous, and the Commonwealth forces had to create a new category—Double Intense—to be able to describe them.
German commanders at all levels failed to react to the assault phase in a timely manner. Communications problems exacerbated the difficulties caused by Allied air and naval firepower. Local commanders also seemed unequal to the task of fighting an aggressive defense on the beach, as Rommel envisioned. For example, the commander of the German 352nd Infantry Division failed to capitalise on American difficulty at Omaha, committing his reserves elsewhere when they might have been more profitably used against the American beachhead.
The German High Command remained fixated on the Calais area, and von Rundstedt was not permitted to commit the armoured reserve. When it was finally released late in the day, any chance of success was much more difficult. Overall, despite considerable Allied material superiority, the Germans kept the Allies bottled up in a small beachhead for nearly two months, aided immeasurably by terrain factors.
Although there were several well-known disputes among the Allied commanders, their tactics and strategy were essentially determined by agreement between the main commanders. By contrast, the German leaders were bullied and their decisions interfered with by Hitler, controlling the battle from a distance with little knowledge of local conditions. Field Marshals von Rundstedt and Rommel repeatedly asked Hitler for more discretion but were refused. Von Rundstedt was removed from his command on June 29 after he bluntly told the Chief of Staff at Hitler's Armed Forces HQ (Field Marshal Keitel) to "Make peace, you idiots!" Rommel was severely injured by Allied aircraft on July 16.
The German commanders also suffered in the quality of the available troops. Sixty thousand of the 850,000 in Rundstedt's command were raised from the many prisoners of war captured on the Eastern Front. These "Ost" units had volunteered to fight against Stalin, but when instead unwisely used to defend France against the Western Allies, ended up being unreliable. Many surrendered or deserted at the first available opportunity.
Given the Soviets' later domination of Eastern Europe, if the Normandy invasion had not occurred there might conceivably have been a complete occupation of northern and western Europe by communist forces, a contention which is supported by Stalin's statement that the Allies introduced their social system as far as their armies could reach. This is an opinion heavily disputed by the fact that Stalin requested a prompt Western invasion several times during the Teheran Conference and accused Churchill of not supporting the operation.
Alternately, Hitler might have deployed more forces to the Eastern Front, conceivably delaying Soviet advance beyond their pre-war border.
In practice though, German troops remained in the West even in the absence of an invasion.
War memorials and tourism
The beaches at Normandy are still referred to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. There are several vast cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person's religious symbol and their unit insignia. The Bayeux War Cemetery, with 4,648 burials, is the largest British cemetery of the war. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the La Cambe German war cemetery, with 21,222 burials, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses. There is also a Polish cemetery.
Streets near the beaches are still named after the units that fought there, and occasional markers commemorate notable incidents. At significant points, such as Pointe du Hoc and Pegasus Bridge, there are plaques, memorials or small museums. The Mulberry harbour still sits in the sea at Arromanches. In Sainte-Mère-Église, a dummy paratrooper hangs from the church spire. On Juno Beach, the Canadian government has built the Juno Beach Information Centre, commemorating one of the most significant events in Canadian military history.
In England the most significant memorial is the D-Day Museum in Southsea, Hampshire. The Museum was opened in 1984 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of D-Day. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery commissioned by Lord Dulverton of Batsford (1915-92) as a tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of those men and women who took part in Operation Overlord.
June 5, 1994 a drumhead service was held on Southsea Common adjacent the D-Day Museum. This service was attended by US President Bill Clinton, HM Queen Elizabeth II and over 100,000 members of the public.