June 6 is the Anniversary of The Normandy Landings which took place on June 6th 1944. The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 am British Double Summer Time (GMT+2). In planning, D-Day was the term used for the day of actual landing, which was dependent on final approval. 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 starting at 6:30 am. 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 elements 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. The invasion required the transport of soldiers and material from the United Kingdom by troop-laden aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel 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.
The Allied invasion was detailed in several overlapping operational plans: The armed forces used 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 (June 6, 1944) and ended on June 30, 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 August 19, 1944.” 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 a statement, never used, to be read in case the invasion failed.
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 over defensive obstacles placed by the Germans in the surf on the seaward approaches to the beaches. 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. The weather was fine during most of May, but deteriorated in early June. On 4 June, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing, and It seemed possible that everything would have to be cancelled and the troops returned to their embarkation camps.
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 to protect the left flank. including 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. Sword Beach 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 from Ouistreham to Lion-sur-Mer. No. 41 (RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) landed on the far West of Sword Beach
On Juno Beach I Corps, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and No.48 (RM) Commando 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).Assault troops of the 3rd battalion 16th RCT also landed at Omaha Beach
Meanwhile XXX Corps, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade landed on Gold Beach, consisting of 25,000. 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, eight Australian officers were attached to the British forces as eyewitnesses. 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 overseas air-crew. For instance, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships.
The U.S. First Army comprised of Omaha Beach V Corps, 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division making up 34,250 troops from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer. 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions at Pointe du Hoc (The 5th BN and A, B, C Co 2nd BN diverted to Omaha). Meanwhile Those landing at Utah Beach comprised VII Corps, 4th Infantry Division and the 359th RCT of the 90th Infantry Division comprising 23,250 men landing, 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 15,600 from the airborne divisions.
However The military forces of Nazi Germany had reached its numerical peak during 1944 and 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 were able to protect areas that were receiving heavy fire. They had large bunkers, including intricate concrete ones containing machine guns and large-calibre weapons. Their defence also integrated the cliffs and hills overlooking the beaches. The Germans’ first line of defense was the English Channel, Multiplying the invasion obstacles was the Atlantic Wall, ordered by Hitler 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; with many landing craft being sunk during the final approach. However, this exposed the infantry to enemy fire over a greater distance.
Operation Neptune, as the naval part of the D-Day invasion was known primarily as a Royal Navy affair, both in planning and execution. In overall command was Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who as Flag Officer Dover had controlled the evacuation of over 300,000 troops from Dunkirk four years earlier. He had also been responsible for the naval 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 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 were British (Royal Navy), 52,889 US and 4,988 Allied countries.
Warships also provided supporting fire for the land forces, using ships from battleships to destroyers and landing craft. 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.
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. 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 US 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.