Today is the Anniversary of The Normandy Landings which took place on June 6th 1944. Codenamed Operation Neptune, they were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings were conducted in two phases: an airborne assault landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France. There were also decoy operations under the codenames Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable to distract the German forces from the real landing areas. Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was General Dwight Eisenhower while overall command of ground forces (21st Army Group) was given to General Bernard Montgomery.
The operation, planned by a team under Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan, was the largest amphibious invasion in world history and was executed by land, sea, and air under direct British command with over 160,000 troops landing on 6 June 1944 – 73,000 American troops, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadian. 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved as well as troop-laden aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction and naval fire-support.The landings took place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Neptune, which began on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and ended on June 30, 1944. Operation Overlord also began on D-Day, and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on August 19, 1944.
Only 10 days each month were suitable for launching the operation: a day near the full Moon was needed both for illumination during the hours of darkness and for the spring tide, the former to illuminate navigational landmarks for the crews of aircraft, gliders and landing craft, and the latter to provide the deepest possible water to help safe navigation. A full moon occurred on 6 June. Allied Expeditionary Force Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However the weather deteriorated in early June. On 4 June, and conditions were clearly unsuitable. The first landing occurred on Sword Beach When the 6th Airborne Division of the British Second Army Commanded by Major-General R.N. Gale was delivered by parachute and glider to the east of the River Orne And included one Canadian battalion.The British 2nd Army landed three divisions. Two were from I Corps and one from XXX Corps on Sword Beach, Gold Beach, and Juno Beach.
Towards Sword Beach 1st Special Service Brigade comprising No. 3, No. 4, No. 6 and No. 45 (RM) Commandos landed at Ouistreham, augmented by 1 and 8 Troop (both French) of No. 10 (Inter Allied) Commando. I Corps, 3rd Infantry Division and the 27th Armoured Brigade, No. 41 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) landed on the far West of Sword Beach. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and No.48 (RM) Commando No. 46 (RM) Commando landed at Juno.Assault troops of the 3rd battalion 16th RCT also landed at Omaha Beach. The XXX Corps, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade, consisting of 25,000. No. 47 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) and the 79th Armoured Division landed on Gold beach. The U.S. First Army comprised of Omaha Beach V Corps, 1st Infantry Division, 29th Infantry Division. 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. The VII Corps, 4th Infantry Division and the 359th RCT of the 90th Infantry Division,101st Airbourne Division, 82nd Airbourne division landed in and around Utah Beach comprising 23,250 men. In total, the First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions
Ranged against them were The military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany which had reached its numerical 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. The German defences used an interlocking firing style, so they could protect areas that were receiving heavy fire. They had large bunkers, sometimes intricate concrete ones containing machine guns and large-calibre weapons. Their defence also integrated the cliffs and hills overlooking the beaches. The defences were all built and refined over a four year period. The Germans’ first line of defense was the English Channel, a crossing which had confounded both the Spanish Armada and Napoleon Bonaparte’s Navy. Multiplying the invasion obstacles was the extensive Atlantic Wall, ordered by Hitler in his Directive 51 which stretched from Belgium to Spain in varying degrees, but was most elaborate facing the English channel. Believing that any forthcoming landings would be timed for high tide, Rommel had the entire wall fortified with pill boxes, artillery, machine gun positions and extensive barbed wire as well as laying hundreds of thousands of mines to deter landing craft.The Allies chose not to attack at Calais but at the more distant beaches of Normandy which was also the sector boundary between the 7th and 15th German armies, on the extreme eastern flank of the former, to maximize the possible confusion of command responsibility during German reaction. The landings sector which was attacked was occupied by four German divisions. The attacks were timed for low tide because it minimized the effectiveness of landing obstacles which were likely to have resulted in drowned troops; many landing craft would have been hulled and sunk during the final approach. However, this stratagem exposed the infantry to defensive fire over a greater distance of beach sand.
Neptune, the naval part of the D-Day, was commanded by Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Who had also overseen the evacuation of over 300,000 troops from Dunkirk four years earlier, the navel invasion of North Africa in 1942 And the invasion of Sicily in the following year.The invasion fleet was drawn from eight 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. Out of the 2,468 major landing vessels in the two task forces deployed on 6 June 1944 only 346 were American. Of the 23 cruisers covering the landings 17 were Royal Navy. In fact of the 16 warships covering the American Western beaches (Utah and Omaha) 50% were British and Allied ships. There were 195,700 naval personnel involved; 112,824 (58%) were British (Royal Navy), 52,889 (30%) US and 4,988 Allied countries.Warships also provided supporting fire for the land forces.
Many ships ranging from battleships to destroyers and landing craft were used. 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.
Airborne operations were also 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. 530 Free French paratroopers, from the British Special Air Service Brigade, were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June to August. The Royal Air Force flew and supplied half of the aircraft deployed. Nearly half of the UK gliders were the larger Airspeed Horsa, as they carried twice as much as the US equivalent. The RAF created a new command, the 2nd Tactical Air Force flying low level missions especially to support operations on the ground. As Eisenhower reported: “The chief credit in smashing the enemy’s spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Hawker Typhoon planes of the Second Tactical Air Force.
The Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel in over eight 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. 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. However Despite initial heavy losses in the assault phase, Allied morale remained high.