The Battle of Normandy begins (June 6, 1944) - History Key

The Battle of Normandy begins (June 6, 1944)

This day in history is remembered as one of the largest invasion in history. More exactly, on June 6, 1944 at the dawn, over 5,000 ships transported the Allied troops along the coast of France, opening a new front in WWII. The invasion was demanded since 1942 by J. Stalin and discusses for the first time in detail between W. Churchill and F. D. Roosevelt in 1943. The two democratic leaders came to the conclusion that there were not enough resources to make the invasion. However, Lieutenant General Frederick Morgan, chief of staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) has been designated to make a plan.

United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and their advisors in Casablanca, 1943
United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and their advisors in Casablanca, 1943 © Image Source: Wikipedia

By August 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt approved the operation Overlord, which suggested a landing in Normandy on May 1, 1944. By the end of 1943, the American General Dwight Eisenhower was designated to lead the landings. He also contributed to the initial plan by adding two more divisions to participate in the main assault, one airborne and the other by sea. The date of invasion was postponed from May to June for another month of preparations.

The “unbreakable” wall

Overtime, the German defence has become more and more sophisticated. The German propaganda began to talk about the “Atlantic Wall” that would protect the “fortress of Europe” from any invasion. German Marshall Erwin Rommel reinforced the bunkers, the cannon positions and increased the number of machine guns and mortars. The Germans also installed on the beaches anti-tank ditches, trenches and shelters. What Rommel managed in six months stirred the respect of those who criticized him. He was convinced that in case of an invasion, the battle would be either won or lost on the beaches.

Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in yellow
Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in yellow © User: Uberstroker /CC BY-SA 3.0/ Image Source: Wikipedia

It all began with the airborne actions of the Allied paratroopers, infantry landings and massive aviation attacks. The first allied forces that entered the battle of Normandy were the Canadian, British and US troops. After the first wave, more forces from France, Poland, Belgium, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Norway and the Netherlands continued the invasion of Normandy. Crucial to the success of Operation Overlord was the support of aviation units. Therefore, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had a total of 1,380 heavy bombers and 134 light bombers. Also, the US Army had 2,578 bombers backed by 1,144 hunting jets. The strategic air forces were completed by tactical air forces consisting of two air armies with more than 2,500 hunting planes. Also, in reserve there were another 1,072 hunting jets that supported the invasion.

The French Poem

On the other side of the English Channel, the Germans were completely disoriented. The head of German Intelligence Service, heard in a BBC broadcast the second verse of “Chanson d’automne” (Autumn Song) by Paul Verlaine. He was sure that the invasion will happen sooner or later. However, the poem was signalled for the French Resistance.

“When a sighing begins

In the violins

Of the autumn-song

Wound my heart

With a monotonous

Languor”

The first three lines of the poem meant that the invasion was to start within two weeks after the poem was broadcasted on June 1, 1944. The next set of lines was broadcasted on June 5 at 11:15 PM. It meant that the invasion will start within 48 hours and the resistance should begin sabotage operations.

Because the weather conditions were very bad, the Germans thought that such an attack seemed inconceivable. Therefore, the German commanders “brightened” by absence. Meantime, the Allies were motivated by Eisenhower quoting “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower, 1945
General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower, 1945 © Image Source: Wikipedia

The hidden cannon

If the troops in the Anglo-Canadian landing area managed to break through the defensive line relatively easy, things didn’t go as planned in the American areas. At Pointe du Hoc, “protected” by a high-pitched cliff, the Germans installed 155 mm cannon capable of covering 19 km of the area. Therefore, before the main landings, a commando squad of 255 US soldiers received a dangerous mission to climb the peaks under fire to destroy the cannons.  

U.S. Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc
U.S. Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc © Image Source: Wikipedia

Finally, the commando troops escalated the peak with great effort, being supported only by the concentrated force of the American destroyer Satterlee. When they got to the top, they had the unpleasant surprise to find that the cannons were no longer there. To save them from aerial and naval bombings, the Germans had moved them to a safe place, 1.6 km inside. However, the American troops found them later.

The Hell of American troops

The bad weather made the Allied tanks got stuck. However, the biggest problem was the defence. The US intelligence service was convinced that a German battalion was located near Omaha Beach. But in fact, the battalion was moved from the area since March. When the 200 landing ships from the first wave descended the ramps, the hell has unleashed. Mortars and machine guns were reaping the Allied soldiers trying to get shelter behind the obstacles installed on the beach.

U.S. assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944
U.S. assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944 © Image Source: Wikipedia

The losses were terrible. The water was reddened by blood and the wounded soldiers were unable to get out of the water. Many of them drowned. The first assault wave had a terrible loss rate of 96%, almost without firing a single fire. The chance of the Americans was the inability of the 352 Division to counterattack, having less than 250 people per km in that area. Soon, the Americans managed to penetrate the defensive flanks and the landing continued.

Only the beginning

At the end of June 6, the Allies had landed over 150,000 fully equipped troops and conquered 207 km of the occupied France. Overall, the losses were low given the scale of the operation: around 9,000 Allied troops lost their life.

The Battle of Normandy continued for more than two months and the actions over there released Paris at the end of August 1944. The invasion was also described by Hitler quoting: “In the East, the vastness of the spaces will allow us for a loss of territory. Not the same thing happens in the West if the enemy succeeds here. There will be huge consequences in a very short time.”

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