Invasion of Normandy: Summary, Significance & Images
A little more than one year before the close of WWII, Allied Forces – Britain, France, Canada, and America – launched an attack on Nazi Germany on the coast of Normandy, Northern France. The combined strength of the Allied Forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was in the region of 150,000. Their heroic efforts against about 50,000 German troops were what helped turn the tides in favor of the Allied countries. Ultimately, the invasion of Normandy was particularly significant in securing victory for them during WWII.
Below are the summary, significance and key facts about the Normandy Landings.
Events that transpired shortly before D-Day
A year into WWII, German führer Adolf Hitler had successfully overrun France, putting France under Nazi occupation beginning in 1940. However, there were still underground pockets of resistance from the French. Although they were ill-equipped and few, the French Resistance were a thorn in the flesh of the Nazis. They were responsible for weakening several Nazi stations, paving the way for D-Day.
Prior to D-Day, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army had been on the back foot for a number of months. Kind courtesy to the gallant efforts of Britain and the United States, German advances into other parts of Europe had been largely truncated. The Allied Forces were in the ascendancy, hence, the invasion was given the green light.
In terms of logistics, the Allied Forces used Britain as the central location to launch the attack. Troops from across the Atlantic were moved, so were the equipment needed for the invasion. A staggering 7 millions tons of supplies came from America into Britain. America also shipped about 450,000 ammunition. Amidst all of that buildup, the Allied Forces continued to pound several German held areas in France.
Prior to the invasion, an estimated 1,000 bombers were used to hit several targets in Germany. Those bombers sought to cripple Germany’s logistics and transportation network. Hitler’s infrastructure such as roads, railroads, bridges, warehouses, airfields, etc, suffered immensely. The attacks were very crucial as they slowed down Nazi troops’ advancement quite considerably.
Hitler and his commanders were fully aware that the Allies intended to hit them massively. They could tell by all the military buildup that was taking place in Britain. What they could not predict was where and when the invasion was going to occur.
Planning of D-Day
The actual planning of the D-Day invasion took several years. Starting around 1942, the Allied forces left nothing to chance. The weather was even taken into consideration.
U.S. General Dwight D Eisenhower (later 34th President of the United States) was the supreme commander of the Allied forces stationed in Britain. He was assisted by British general Bernard Montgomery, commander of the land troops. The code name of the entire operation was Operation Overload. It was kept top secret, away from all public scrutiny.
In the lead up to June 6, more than 3,200 Allied reconnaissance missions were carried out. Those missions were vital to the planning process of D-Day. Agents snapped aerial shots of several locations in and around France. The generals also received crucial bits of information from the French Resistance in France.
Why Normandy beach?
Some generals intentionally sent misleading communication (knowing full well that the messages will be intercepted by the enemy) to make it appear as if the attack was going to happen at Pas de Calais (i.e. North of Normandy). Allies even used fake military movements and deployments to deceive the Germans.
Why did the Allies select Normandy? The place was chosen because it gave the Allied forces the biggest element of surprise. The Germans did not know what hit them until the invasion was ongoing.
The Day of the Normandy Invasion
And on the day of the invasion, there were some top commanders that wanted to postpone the invasion owing to bad weather conditions. However, General Eisenhower – Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces – stuck to the plans and gave out the order for the invasion to begin.
The invasion started with attacks from paratroopers that landed behind Nazi lines. Those soldiers landed under the cover of night. A large part of the invasion’s success depended on those brave paratroopers. They were tasked to neutralize certain targets and commandeer key infrastructures in the enemy’s zone.
The Allies also deceived the Germans by using dummy paratroopers. Over 1000 of those dummies were used on that day.
After the paratroopers, the Allies dispatched over 1000 war planes to overwhelm the Nazis with bombs. Many of the bombs were aimed at crippling Germany’s defense system. The next operation came in the form of Allied warships. The worships bombed locations along Normandy beach. Their goal was to clear the area, making it a bit more hospitable for the troops to land on the beach.
The Allied Forces had also instructed French resistance that was still in France to disable communication systems of the Nazis operating in the region. Many of those brave men and women engaged in guerrilla warfare, bombing several railroads and warehouses in France.
Troop numbers on D-Day
Once all the preliminary preparations were made, the ships came pouring in on Normandy beach. There were more than 6,000 ships. Each of those ships had on board troops and military gear. There were about 150,000 troops that touched down in Normandy.
As at June 17, Allied Forces had sent a combined total of about 500,000 troops to Normandy. Slowly and painstakingly, the troops drove the Germans out of France.
At Utah alone, about 24,000 American troops touched the shores on D-Day. At Omaha Beach, the number was in the region of 34,000. Additionally, the Americans had about 16,000 troops flying aircrafts in the air and giving aerial support to the ground troops.
As for the British, their troops were around 84,000 in number. This included Canadian soldiers as well. The airbone British troops were close to 8,000.
All in all, the Allies deployed about 6,939 ships and landing crafts. There were 2,395 aircrafts and 867 gliders. After the Allies had secured all 5 beaches on June 11, the engineers proceeded to set up two huge temporary harbors, allowing the disembarking of about 2.5 million troops. Also at the harbors, about 50,000 vehicles and tanks rolled into the beach from the warships. Throughout the Battle of Normandy, it was estimated that about 4 million tons of supplies were unloaded at the beach.
Generals and military leaders
The general put in charge of the Allied Forces was General Dwight D. Eisenhower from the United States. Another top commander of the operation was Omar Bradley from the U.S. Britain was represented by Generals Bernard Montgomery and Trafford Leigh-Mallory.
On the opposing side, the German military commanders during the invasion were Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt.
The first day of Normandy saw about 10,000 troops killed, wounded or missing. Many of the casualties from both sides occurred at Omaha and Utah beaches. Utah was a bit successful for the Allies; however, at Omaha, great chunk American troops perished. It has been estimated that more than two thousand American troops died at Omaha beach on D-Day. Similarly, the British deaths were in the region of 2,000 at Sword beach. The Canadians suffered about 574 deaths at Juno beach.
Did you know that in the first hour or so of the landings over 100 Allied aircrafts were brought down by enemy forces?
The Germans stationed on the beach had far greater casualties. Between 4,500 and 8,000 German soldiers and defenders died, got wounded or missing during the first landing. The large German casualties came as a result of the surprising nature of the Allied forces’ attacks. The Allies also had relatively better military gear. For example, over 2,000 Allied aircrafts gave the Allies superior aerial firepower. Those aircrafts destroyed several German forces stationed along the beach.
Where was Adolf Hitler at the time of Attack?
Another very interesting fact about the D-Day is that as at the time the Allies landed, the German führer was in bed. Adolf Hitler’s top generals were aware but they dared not wake him up, fearing his wrath. Many historians and military analysts have stated that the outcome of the landings might have been different had Hitler’s generals informed him at the start. The German chancellor would have called on his SS Panzer troops to shore up support at Normandy. Those German troops could/would have dealt a huge blow to the Allies.
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How Important was the Invasion of Normandy?
Up to this day, the Normandy Invasion is generally considered as one of the most crucial events of the 20th century. It had a huge impact in determining who the eventual victor of WWII was going to be. It was absolutely vital that Allies recaptured France in order to stand a better chance of unshackling the whole of Europe from the bondage that it was under Adolf Hitler and his Nazi forces.
By taking back France, the Allies opened a western corridor to launch attack against Hitler. This corridor combined brilliantly with the one in the east, which was available to the Soviets. The corridor in the west also relieved the pressure on the Soviets. This came much to the pleasure of Joseph Stalin and his red Soviet army.
Why was the Invasion named D-Day?
Contrary to popular opinion, the “D” in the name does not stand for Decision or Doomsday. The “D” simply means “day”. In military language, “D” carried the connotation of an important date for when an attack or invasion is scheduled to go down. In that vein, the day after the first landing would be called D+1. And the previous day, i.e. June 5, would be called D-1.
The allied forces used a host of code names to communicate. For example the entire operation was called ‘Operation Overload’. The actual landing in Normandy was called ‘Operation Neptune’.
The name “Omaha Beach” was a code name used by the Allies to refer to one of 5 zones in the Normandy Landings. Omaha encompassed about 8 kilometers (5 mi) of Normandy. The U.S. Army was responsible for taking Omaha. They also received some aerial firepower and U.S. Coast Guard support. The British, Canadian and French navies also joined in taking Omaha.
Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword were the other code names used for the remaining 4 sections in Normandy. The entire target area in Normandy stretched about 80 km (50 mi).
Interesting Facts about the Invasion of Normandy
- The Allies, particularly the paratroopers, used the full moon as light to find their way on the beach. It was absolutely crucial for the Allies. And the full moon only lasted for few days.
- There have been some claims that the original date for D-Day was June 5. It got moved to June 6 because of bad weather. A stormy weather could have resulted in fatigue among the troops, only for the Germans to pick them off one by one. The stormy weather subsided on June 6, but it still didn’t mean that the troops did not have to battle the strong and cold shore lines of the beach.
- The Allies were up against sophisticated fortifications (called the Atlantic Wall) built by Nazi General Erwin Rommel. Kind courtesy to the aerial power and shelling, those fortifications (which stretched about 2400 mile) were destroyed in time to allow troops move past the beach.
- Ever since Normandy, never has the United States Coast Guard assembled an operation (code named “Neptune”) as the one that was seen in June 1944.
- According to the Discovery Channel, a paratrooper had about 25% chances of surviving D-Day. Many of those paratroopers landed and suffered a painful and agonizing death. Some drowned, others just got taken out mid air by German snipers.
- Throughout history, never has there been a larger amphibious invasion than the one that took place during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
- Canadian troops at Juno Beach captured the largest territory relative to the remaining Allied troops. The Canadians did however suffer about 50% casualty rate.
- By the close of the Battle of Normandy in August, 1944, the Allied troops had about 230,000 casualties – 73,000 killed or missing and 156,000 wounded. The number of German POWs (prisoners of war) taken by the Americans were around 200,000. The Germans suffered about 240,000 casualties.