*** war and social upheaval: World War II campaigns -- D-Day

World War II Campaigns: D-Day (June 6, 1944)

D-Day St. Molo
Figure 1.--France escaped much of the devestation expeienced by other countries in World War II because the German invasion occurred so rapidly and there was little fighting except in northern France. The French Government declared Paris an open city. The D-Day invasion reopened France as a theater of the war and there considerable damage occurred in Normandy where the fighting was intense. This was the remains the St. Molo Church in Valognes, just north of St. Mere Eglise where the American 101st Airborne forst engaged the Germans.

It is "no exageration to say that all Amsterdam, all Holland,yes the whole west coast of Europe, right down to Spain, talk of the invasion day and night, debates about it, and make bets on it and -- hopes." -- Young Dutch girl hiding in an Amsterdam attic.

If they attack in the West, that attack will decide the war." -- Adolf Hitler.

The Western Allies on June 4, 1944 in a dareing amphibious and airborn operatrion opened the long awaited second front on the Normandy beaches which as become known as D-Day. The invasion of Normandy, code named Overlord, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. It was made possible by arguably the most successful military deception campaign in history. The opening of the second front finally releaved pressure on the Red army in the east. The D-Day invasion, however, meant much more. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevelt since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was in the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck withbthe largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this scope and magnitude.

The Stakes

D- Day, the invasion of Normandy code named Overlord, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history.

Soviet Demands for a Second Front

The opening of the second front finally releaved pressure on the Red army in the east. The Russians from the beginning of the forging of an alliance against NAZI Germany had demanded the Allies open a second front in Western Europe. Stlain had cooperarted with Hitler while he conquered France. Britain was forced to fight alone for a year. After Hitler turned the Wehrmacht again Russia in Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army was forced to face the bulk of the Wehrmacht virtually alone. What followed was the most massive military campaign in the history of warfare. After America entered the War, Stalin and other Soviet officials demanded the Allies open a second front. Soviet remonstrations were often bitter, suggesting that America and Britain were plotting to allow the NAZIs to bleed the red army in an effort to weaken the Soviet Union. (Unmentioned was the fact that this was Stalin's strategy in supporting the NAZIs through a Non-Agression Pact (August 1939), coordinate invasion of Poland (September 1939), and delivering vast quantities of raw materials to the NAZI war economy (1939-41). Not to menion Stalin's series of aggresions of his own.)

Political and Military Leaders

An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevelt and the American Army since the entry of America into the War (December 1941). The President was a strong proponent of retentering Europe through a cross-channel invasion at the earliest possible date and driving acrross the plain of northern Europe to Berlin. The Allies during 1942, 43, and early 44 argued heatedly over War strategy. The cross-channel invasion of France was one of the major issues. Much of the dispute was between the Allied War leaders and Stalin. Roosevelt and Churchill, however, were not in agreement ober the invasion of France. The relative weakness of the Allies made an invassion in 1942 impossible. Churchill and the British had a more realistic assessment of German capabilitids. He convinced President Roosevelt to shift the focus to the Mediterranean (1942) which further postponed the invasion, but enabled the new American Army to gain much needed combat experience. This was probably fortuitous as the Germans in 1943 may well have been strong enough to have defeated a cross channel invasion. Stalin was outraged the Allies did not invade in 1943 and raised major objections at Teheran. Roosevelt insisted on an invasion in 1944 and Churchill eventually was persuaded although still holding doubts about the Allied capabilities. German Stalin had complained that the Allies had not even chosen a commander for the operation. President Roosevelt in a suprise move chose General Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Commander. This was not just a prestigious title. Eisenhower was given control of the entire Aalied command, including naval and aurforces. Reich F�hrer Adolf Hitller after the Americans entered the War began preparing for an Allied invasion. He ordered the creation of a Festung Europa and huge resources were expended to fortify the coast from Norway to the Bay of Biscay. He brought veteran commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt out of etirement to command the German forces in the West. Hitler did not give him the authorirt Roosevelt and Churchill the same authority. He did not have operational control over major elements in German order if battle.

The Risk

Churchill's misgivings were not without firm basis. A cross-channel invasion of France was an enormous risk. Every Allied victory in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over-streached and often depleted German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until sufficently powerful land forces could be landed and deployed so that the overwealming supperior Allied resources could be exploited. Churchill was afraid of potentially enormous losses against the German defenses, brining back memories of World War I assaults. Also failure would mean that another invasion might not be possible until 1945 with potentially devestating consequences.

Arsenal of Democracy

President Roosevelt even before America had entered the War had proclaimed that America would be the Arsenal of Democracy for the democracies fighting NAZI totalitarianism. FDR was primarily concerned with Britain and France. After the fall of France (June 1940), FDR unveiled the Lend Lease program to provide Britain with war materials even if Britain did not have the money to pay for them. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), Lend Lease was extended to the Soviets. America even before it entered the War had a substantial capacity to produce war weapons and war material. After Pearl Harbor that capability was tremendously expanded to an extent beyond what the AXIS as well as the Allied partners ever anticipated. The output of America war production was truly staggering. When combined with the fact that the British and Soviets themselves were already outprodusing the Germans, the end of the strady series off early German victories can better be understood.

Dieppe (August 19, 1942)

Allied units on August 19, 1942 raided the French coastal port of Dieppe. The operation was called "Operation Jubilee". The raid proved to ba killing ground for the invasion force comprised primarily of Canadians with a smaller force of Ameriocan Rangers and British Comandos. The cliffs and high ground commanding landing zone provided perfect sites for German gun positions. The stony beach impeded the movement of tanks. The objectives of the raid was announced as to to gather intelligence, test the German defences, destroy German defenses, and demonstrate to the hard-pressed Russians on the Eastern front that the planning for a "second front" was making progress. The cost was high. About 3,000 of the 5,000 Canadians involved in the operation were killed or captured. About 120 mostly RAF pkanes were lost. While a sharp defeat, the lessons learned at Dieppe played a major role in the later Allied victory at Normandy. At Dieppe there had been no surprise and no softening of beach defenses by air strikes and naval gun fire. The Allies had not achieved air superority over yhe invasion beaches or the rear areas through which reinforcements flowed.

Early Plans

Allied planning for a cross-channel invasion began early despite the lack of forces needed to execute it. There were two early proposals. Operation Sledgehammer was a weak invasion in 1942. Operation Roundup was a stronger invasion for 1943. and the former for a stronger, 1943 invasion and the latter for a weaker, 1942 invasion. In April 1942, Operation Roundup was finally adopted. [Keegan] In the end Roundup had to be delayed because of Operation Torch (October-November 1942) and followup operations in Sicily and Italy.

Tehran (December 1943)

The Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) met in Tehran in December 1943 to plan war strategy. The meeting was notable because it was the only time Stalin ever left the Soviet Union, but not very far. Stalin virtually accused Churchill and Roosevelt of traechery as the Western Allies had not yet opened the second front in France with a cross-channel invasion. Stalin thought he had been double crossed. [Ambrose]. In part this was his suspicious mind and in part because he himself this had been his strategy earlier. Stalin was correct, however, that it was the Red Army sibe June 1941 that had carried the bulk of the struggle ahaonst the NAZIs. Unable to marshall the resources for a cross-channel invasion in 1943, the Western Allies at Tehran committed to an invasion by the summer of 1944. The date was tentaively set for May 1944 despite the fact that the plans were not yet drawn up. These conferences and the the extensive cooperation between the Allies achieved a level of coordinated action never even attempted by the Axis powers. Stalin demanded to know if a commannder had even been chosen. Although promissed earlier, the Allied at Tehran committed to opening a second front through a cross-channel invasion no later than Summer 1944. And as a result of Stalin's prodding a commander was chosen--General Dwight David Eisenhower.


The Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) was ordered to begin the planning even before the Supreme Commander was designated. COSSAC's first plan involved an attack along the Normandy coast by 3 divisions and 2 airborne brigades, followed by the landing of 11 more divisions. [Keegan]

Buildup and Preparations

The Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor finally brought Ameruca into gthe War (December 1941). President Roosevelt announced to Congress that he was authorizing the largest armaments production in the history of the United States (January 1942). American and their equipment began arriving in Britain within in weeks after Pearl Harbor (February 1942). the Americans were greeted with both relief and curiosity when they finally landed on British shores. Both America and Britian agreed that priority had to be given to Europe and defaetung the Germans first. The British accepted an American plan for a buildup of U.S. forces in the United Kingdom in preparation for a future trans-Channel invasion (April 1942). The plan was Operation Bolero and included construction of airfields from which to launch the bombing offensive, a small contingent of ground troops, and a force of 750,000 to participate in a cross-Channel invasion in early 1943. Detailed planning was underway (early May). Demands from other theaters caused a downward revision of the Bolero buildup (May 1942). General Marshall organized for an immediate buildup of American forces in Britain for an invasion of France. It soon became obvious that an invasion was not possible in 1942, but he pushed hard for an invasiin in 1943. Fortunately the British managed to delay the invasion until the Americans were more experienced and hige forces had been assembled. Many of the early arrivals were then commited to Operation Torch (November 1942). After this the D-Day buildup began. The British and Canadians were heavily deployed in Kent and Surrey where a German invasiin had been planned. The Americans thus were billeted to the west and north. This would determine the deployment of forces when the Allies finally invaded and the conduct of the Western camapign, nuch to President Roosevelt;s displeasure as he was more interested in northern Germany. The Americansservicemen were stationed from Scotland to Cornwall. The inexperienced U.S. Army was anxious to invade France and attack the Germans. The American military forces rapidly expanded as the country mobilized for war. The American military presence in Britain grew from a handful of men in early-1942 to over a million troops (February 1944). and another 0.5 million would pass through Britain. All this while, the Red Army coninued to wear the Germans down in the East. For over two years the Allies builtup a massive force in England. Months before the invasion, the millions of Allied soldiers (America, British, Candaians, Free French, and others) engaged in intensive training, often highly realistic exersises. Supply depots for the masive indertaking studed the British isles, especially the southern counties of England.

Channel Islands

Hitler insisted on fotifying the Channel Islands, west of Cherbourg. This was the only British territory seized by the NAZIs and Hitler liked the idea of occuphying part of Britain. Considerable effort was put into this effort. The islands were infact turned into some of the most formidable fortresses in Europe. The problem from the German point of view was that the islands were of not significant strategic importance. Organization Todt gave such a priority to this effort on Hitler's orders that for critical months the work on the French coast was delayed. It was meaningless. Had the work on the Channel Islands instead been made at Normandy, the result of the invasion might well had been very different.

Fortress Europe

NAZI propaganda trumpeted Festug Europa--Fortress Europa. This was the Atlantic Wall that the NAZIs bragged could necer be breached. The German focus in 1941 was on Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Whermacht was shifted east. Despite failing to achieve victory in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was also shifted east, reloeving pressure on hard-pressed Britain. At first during 1941-42 the NAZIs concentrated on protecting the harbors. German artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and armor were positioned beginning in 1942 along the French coast. German armored divisions are transferred to France. Only in late 1943, however, with defeats in Russia and North Africa and the increasing build up of Allied forces in Europe did Hitler give real priority to the Atlantic defenses. Hitler's Atlantic Wall is perhaps the most massive fortified position in history. more extensive even than France's Maginot Line. It was a formidable obstacle that Allied planners had to confront. Construction was ordered by Hitler in F�hrer Directive No. 405.

The Eastern Front

German reversals on the Eastern Front severly limited the Germans ability to amass in France the men and equipment needed to adequately man the Atlantic Wall and reserve forces. The losses in the Winter of 1941-42 had been enormous. The loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad even further weakened the Wehrmacht in the Winter of 1942-43. The crippling defeat at Kursk during the Summer of 1943 was yet another blow. Kirsk was the largest tank battle ever fought and the vaunted Panzers were for the first time defeated. No only were large numbers of men lost in these engagements, but enormous quantities of tanks, artillery, and equipment. Unlike the Allies, the Germans did not have the capability of fully replacing neither the men or the equipment. This and continuing Soviet offenses meant that the great bulk of the Wehrmacht was tied down on the Eastern Front. If this had not been the case, the D-Day landings could not have even been contemplated. The Allies faced 7 German divisions in Normany. The Soviets faced 50 divisions of Army Group s in Belorussia alone. The Allies unlike the Axis closely coordinated their operations. A few weeks after D-Day the Red Army launched Operation Bagration (June 22). This massive operation devestated the Wehrmacht's Any Group Central. This made it impossible for the Wehrmacht to move any major force west to reduce the Normandy bridgehead.

German Strategy

The Germans did not have a unified defense strategy which proved to be a major asset to the Allies. Commander of Army Grouop B, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, argued that the Allies had to be stopped at the beach. He reasoned that the Wehrmacht had been drained in Russia and did not have the strength to deal with the superior allied resources if they were allowed to establish a beach head. He argued further that the Alied air superority made it impossible to wage a mobil defense in indepth. He was convinced, "The first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive ... for the Allies, as well as for Germany, it will be the longest day." Rommel's answer was formidable static defenses, rather like World War I trenches and totally inappropriate to World War II weaponry, but necesitated by American air superiority. This was also in part due to Hitler's obsession with defending every inch of grounsd and the Allied air superiority. As a result, Rommel wanted the Panzers and other reserves near the beaches where they could react quickly to an Allied landing. He planned for many contingencies. One that he didn't consider that he would be absent taking his wife a new pair of shoes for her birthday. Rommel's nominal superior, Commander-in-Chief OB West, Field Marsahal Gerd Von Rundstedt, however, had a very different concept. He argued for a more traditional defense in depth. He insisted on holding the Panzers away fron the landing beaches until the location of the landinds were known. Von Rundstedt unlike Rommel had never fought a battle facing the increasingly powerful Allied air forces. He was not fully aware of the ability of air power to engage a panzer division attempting to rush to the front. As both Rommel and Von Rundstedt had access to Hitler, there was no agreed on definitive strategy. Hitler had to mediate--a recipie for disaster. This was not accidental or unusual, but part of Hitler's management style--to divide power so there was no possibility of a revolt within the Army or Party. It also is why the German war effort was so poorly managed until Speer was put in charge of armaments. Hitler's decision on the Atlantic Wall was a typical compromise. Half of the Panzers were assigned to the Army Groups defending the Atlantic Wall, but he would retain personal control over a powerful Panzer reserves himself--one of a continuing series of military blunders. (The Wehrmacht failed in Russia primarily because of Hitler's interference. Hitler blamed the generals and thus interfered even more, resulting in further disasters.) At Normandy, the result was that the immediate German resonse to the Allied landings was weak and indesisive. When Von Rundstedt requested release of the Panzer reserve Hitle who by this time of the War was taking powerful drugs was sleeping and his aids did not want to wake him. This and other delays, as Rommel had feared, time to establish a formidable lodgement. Aliied air chewed up German units moving toward Normandy. Some units placed only a few days from Normandy took a month to reach German lines and were considerably weakened when they got there. It is thus true that Hitler himself was the individual primarily responsible for the failure of his last real chance of survival--the fearsome Atlantic Wall on which he had lavished the Reich's rapidly dwindling resourcs.

Inteligence and Espionage

The Allied cross-Channel invasion could not be hidden. The Germabns knew it was coming. The invasion and inherent logic of such an opetation simply could not be hidden. What was not known, however, was when and where. The answer to these two questions became a top priority for Abwehr espionage operations. Only, unbenongst to the Abwehr, the British had penetrated the German spy network with their Double Cross operation. The result was that the informtion received and presented to Hitler was provided by MI-5 and carefully designed to deceive. The Allie were able to leaern a great deal about the German preprations to repell the invasion--the Atlantic Wall. This came from aerial reconisance, the French resistance, amd Ultra intercepts. The Germans were, however, to learn much less about Allies invasion preparationd. Allied conttol of the air was so overwealming that they could easily photograph the entire reach of the Atlntic Wal. The Germans on the other hand were very limited in their aerial surveilance activities. And measures were taken so that the aerrial reconisance findings condorned the missinformation fed to the Germans by the Double Cross opetation. And this was Operation Fortitude, the effort to concvuince the Germans that the Allies were massing a huge army in Kent for a cross-Channel invasion at the Pas de Calais, the most obvious location for the crossing.

Hobart's Funnies

A key to the success of the landings was to get tanks ahore as quickly as possibe to protect the infantry and to provide the fire power to break thtough the beach defenses. Here a very inovative British officer came up with some imaginatiove ideas--Major Genera; Percy C.S. Hobart. Interesting Hobart was an officer in the Home Army, retired from active duty because of his excentric ideas. Churchill [ersinally selected him to work with tanks. Hobart devised alterations to the basic tank that helped the tanks break throuh the beach defenses. Some tanks called "fascines" were equipped with front loaders so they could fill up tank traps with logs. One of the useful attachments were tanks was the "crab" with a front flail that opened a path through mine fields. Another tank called the "bobin" had a role of carpet to make sure that tanks and other heavy vehicles could pass over beaches where the sand was not firm. There were also flame throwing tanks and tanks with bulldozer plows. American commanders were dubious about these strange looking tanks and did not make as much use of them as the British. The Allies also equipped tanks that could come ashore in an amphibious operation. I'm not sure these were developed by Hobart. These tanks were called double drive (DD) tanks. They proved less effective than hoped, in part because of the heavy seas.

Strategic Air Campaign (1942-43)

The British RAF Bomber Command as early as 1940 and more powedully by 1942 were striking at targets in the Reich. One of their major targets was the industrial complex in Ruhr Valley. On several occassions in 1942 raids of over 1,000 bombers struck the Ruhr. One of the major targets was the massive Krupp industrial complex at Essen. The RAF in 1943 was joined by the American 8th Air Force, significantly enlarging the scope of the air offensive against Germany. The British bombed by night and the Americans by day, making possible an attempt at precission bombardment. The Allies during 1943 were routinely dispatching 700 bombers per day against Germany. Raids on Berlin began regularly in Summer of 1943 and continued until the end of the War. When the Russians arrived in April 1945, Berlin was in ruins. One impact of the bombing campaign was to engage the Luftwaffe. Large number of German planes were destroyed, at great cost to Allied bomber crews as until mid-1944 the bombers did not have fighter escorts on raids into the Reich. Not only did the Luftwaffe weakened, but it was forced back to the Reich to defend German cities. This also affected the Luftwaffe's ability to support the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.

D-Day Air Operations

The Allied air campaign against Germany in the months leading up to the Normandy invasion has to be cut back. Targets in France associated with the landings were given the highest priority. The strategic bombing camapign had, however, forced the Luftwaffe to esentially pull back to Germany. As a result, there was virtually no Luftwaffe operations to oppose the Allied landings on June 6. Allied operations prior to the invasion targeted the German airfields in France and the few remaining planes there. As a result, the Allies gained complete air mastery over the invasion beaches and rear areas. This denied units maning the beach defenses reinforcements and weakened the impact of German counterattacks.


The Allies after careful study selected the Normandy beaches which formed a 80-km cresent lying between Cherbourg and La Harve. They had the advantage of being within Allied fighter cover, but not as heavily defended as the Pas de Calsis beaches which were closer to England. This also offered the advantage of suprrise which was critical for the success of the operation, given the powerful German Panzer units that were in France and could be thrown against the invasion. Under Rommel's direction, beach obstles were constructed. They were designed on the premise that the Allies would stike at hightide. Because of the lethality of the obstacles, the Allies decided to land at low tide even though this exposed the landing force to fire from the beach defenses. The focus of the D-Dat plannrs were the beaches and shore defenses. Very little attention was given to what was behind the shore defenses and Normandy itelf. Thus the hedgerows were a comlpete surprise to the Allied soldeirs moving off the baches to Normandy itself.

Higgins Boats

General Eisenhower after the War wrote that the Allies could not haved invaded without Andrew Higgins' boats. e couild have added enry Kaiser's Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs). D-Day was schdeduled for Masy, but postpobed until a final shopmrnt of lsnding craftt arrived. Higgins was best known before the War for selling boats to rum runners. After Pear Harbor, Higgins industried expanded from 80 employees to 12,000 workers. Higgins genius was in building his boats largely out of plywood. Steel at the time was a critical commodity needed for larger ships, tanks, artilley and other weapons and items like trucks. Half the employees were women. Although based in Louisana, he insisted that blacks receive the same sallay as white workers. The factory operated 7 days a week. The result was landing craft that were not only used in Normany, but in other European and Pacific operations. Historian Stephen Ambrose has helped set up a World War II museum at the old Higgibns factory. Kaiser was better known for builfing Liberty Ships thjt hotv yhe massive output of American factories to Britain to equip the landing force.

The Date

The Allies in both the European and Pacific theaters conducted numerous amphibious operations. The D-Day invasion was by far the most important. It was also the most difficult. Part of that difficulty was that the winfdow of time in which the invasion could be conducted was extrodinarily limited. Part of the reason was that the northerly lattitude of the invasion. Almost all of the other invasions were conducted in southerly lattitudes and thus had wide time framnes. There were many factoirs which limited the timing of the invasion. First an invasion during most of the year was impossible or inappropriate. The Autiumn and Winter was out both because of generally rough conditions in the Channel. Weather conditions would also not permit the full use of Allied air power, the most important Allied asset at this stage of the War. Second, the invasion could only come at low tide. This was necessary so the German beach obstacles could be avoided. Third, moon light was needed for the airborn force. Thus at least a half moon was needed. Third, the invasion had to come early enough in the year that the Allies could exploit the Summer and early Authum for an offensive operatrion. These factors limited the invasion to only three times: 1) first week of May, first week of June, and third week of June. Eisenhower selected the first week of May to allow the maximum time for the ensuing campaign in France. This proved impossible as the landing craft were not yet available in adrquate numbers. Eisenhower decided to delay the invasion until the first week of June.

Embarking the Armada (June 1-5)

The initial assault force was six divisions, one for each of the five landing beaches except Omaha for which two divisions were allocated. Loading the men and equipment had to be done very quickly and just immediately before the invasion. So the camps had to be very close to to Channel coast. As it was the Americans were located toward the west. The Brits and Canadians in the center. In the far east (Kent) was the fictional American First Infantry Division (FUSAG) commanded by Gen. Patton. If the Germans had effective reconnaissance, this they could have easily deduced that the main invasion was not coming at the Pas de Calis, but at Normandy. Allied air superiority was, however, so dominant that German reconnaissance was virtually nonexistent. The Allies had British harbor infrastructure, but to get the men and equipment aboard the waiting ships there was temporary piers and wharves built just for D-Day to get the men out to deeper water so they could embark. This could not be done day sin advance because the men were so crammed aboard that there were no facilities for them. As D-Day unfolded, the men had to kept aboard a day (June 5) because of bad weather. As a result the invasion occured a day later (June 6). If there had not been a break in the weather, the ships would have had to be unloaded and the most precious secret of the war would have been out. While the existing harbor facilities were extensive for D-Day much more was needed to support the one day landing of six divisions. At all had to occur at once to overwhelm the German defenses. In addition the LSTs could not be loaded at a regular harbor. They had to be loaded at a beach. So some 75 concrete beaches were prepared, most along the Channel coast, but a few in Wales and East Anglia. A chocolate box prefabricated masts were developed, some of which can still be seen. Construction began in 1942. Some 75 in all were built. An improved road network had to be built to these concrete beaches, many in rural areas. Botyh concrete and tar-macadan. Britain did not have all that many improved highways at the time. Certainly not enough to accommodate the movement of six divisions in a few days. And as the loading began, the roads were closed off to the public. Somehow it all worked. The entire invasion armada was loaded in only 5 day with virtually no problems and with the Germans none the wiser. The armada sailed with all the correct units and equipment with only the one day weather delay.

D-Day Assault (June 6, 1944)

The Allies on June 6 unleased their massive forces on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The assault has been described a an immense ciled spring suddenly released. Eisenhower selected Normandy because of the massive German deployment at the Pas de Calais, the more obvious location. The operations were primarily conducted by the Americans, British, and Canadians, but the Free French and about 12 other countries participated in the landings. It was the largest and most crucial amphibious operation in the history of warfare. Much of the future history of Europe would be settled in the beaches of Normandy. Incredibly given the size of the operation and the fact that the Germans were expecting it, the time and location came as a complete surprise to the Germans. Rommel had even decided to visit Germant for his wife's birthday. The surprise played a key roll in the outcome of the battle. Three Divisions of American and British paratroops initiated the invasion. Eisenhower debated the use of the paratroops knowing that losses would be high. It was his most difficult decession. Next the Allies struck with the largest armada ever assembled. The invasion armada had 200 ships which pounded the German positions at five Normandt beach sites (Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha, and Utah).

German Response

A coordinated German response to the invasion did not occur. There were several reasons for this. Von Ruendstedt and Rommel did not agree about strategy. Rommel wanted the Panzers close to the coast. Von Ruendstedt wanted them further back, concerned about naval guns. Rommel was concerned that the further back they were that not only would it take longer to get to the coast, but they would be exposed to Allied air attack longer. And to further complicated the German response, Hitler insisted on reataining personal control of the Panzers. Thus they could not to be relaeased without his personal orders. As a result, these Panzers division spent critical hours in place with their engines running awaitng orders to move. And to make matters even worse for the Germans, Rommel had driven back to Germany for his wife's bithday. He did not receive a call from his headquaters until 6:30 am by which time the paratroopers had already seized many of their objectives and the beach landings were beginning. It would take several hours before he could drive back to his headquaters at La Roche-Guyon and take command of the German defense. (Allied air superiority made a flight too dangerous.) Few people contributed more to the success of D-Day than Adolf Hitler. Hitler's staff did not wake him until the landings were already inderway. The drugs he took may have been a factor here. At first surprised, Hitler then claimed that the landings were the result of an elaborate NAZI plan that he of course had mastermined to draw an Allied invasion to destroy them. "Those Dummkopfe, thank God they have finally made a landing." (This claim was quickly forgotten when it was clear that the Allies had succeeded.) For hours after awaken, however, Hitler refused to release the Panzers being held in reserve away from the coast. In addition, many other key German commanders were on leave or involved in a training exercize. This was because the poor weather and low tide convinced the Germans that any invasion was unlikely. As a result, the Allies were ashore and had established their beachhead before the Germans were able to plan a coherent counter attack. Another issue is the massive Panzer forces being held at the Pas de Calais where OKW (especially Jodl) and Hitler expected the Allies to land, in part because this was where they had planned Sea Lion in 1940. The Allied FUSAG and Double-Cross disinformation campaign was incredibly successful in incouraging this line of thought. And the double agent Garbo reportd to the Germans hours before the landings that Normandy was a diversion. As a result for critical weeks, the Germans kept powerful Panzer formatiins in the north defending the Pas de Calais. We are not sure when they were finally released, but OKW continued to act on the FUSAG ruse for several weeks.

The Resistance

The French Resistance was a key element in the succes of the D-Day landings. Actual attacks on the Germans were limited, in part by the viciouness of German reprisals. Instead in the months running up to D-Day, focused on developing intelligence on the German troop dispositions and on construction of the Atlantic Wall. The Resistance also atacked the French communications and transportation network--especially the raillines. German reprisals were not as severe if German troops were not killed. The Resistance had expanded greatly in 1943-44. In part because of the NAZI demands to conscript French workers for forced labor in the Reich and in part because it was becoming increasionly clear that the NAZIs were losing the War. Estimates suggest that there 60 intelligence cells solely devoted to collect intelligence. The Allies were collecting intelligence through aerial reconisance, but there are limitations to aerial reconisance. The Resistance helped to fill in the gaps. The Allies received 3,000 written reports as well as 700 radio reports during May 1944 alone. The Resistance succeeded in destroyed 1,800 railway engines, nearly as many as the 2,400 destroyed by Allied air operations. The combined impact of this, attacks on bridges, and other transport targets had by June 1944 virtually brought the French transport systen to a standstill. This made it very difficult for the Germans to move supplies to forward units manning the Atlantic Wall. The Resistance was also very active on the night preceedin D-Day as well as the following days. Not only did the Resistance play a key role, but French civilians not formally involved in the Resistance assisted the Allied troops by informing about directions and local German troop dispositions. Of course this occurred throughout the campaign in France, but D-Day was the time that the Allies were most vulnerable and the issue most in doubt.

German Attrocities

The German conduct of the War in the West was far different than its conduct in the East. There were, however several document attrocities. The most horifiv was an SS action at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The SS murdered almost all of the inhabitants. The Germans also murdered some captured Allied soldiers. The most notable incident was the shooging of Canadian POWs.


Why did the Allies succeed against the a well armed, entrenched, and professioinal enemy? There are several major reasons. One historians maintains that it was the character of the men who assaulted Hitler's Atlantic Wall. He maintains that the Wehrmacht soldiers imbued with NAZI ideology and brought up in the Hit;er Youth were followers unable to seize the iniative at the local command level. And it was the boys who grew up in the Boy Scouts and democracy who made the difference. [Ambrose] We would like this to be true, but doubt that it was. The Wehrmacht was thr most professional military of World War II. The Wehrmavht Wehrmacht soldiers were well armed, trained, and motivated. Junior officers and non-coms were indeed trained to take the initive at the local level when needed. Ambrose is on firmer ground at the higher levels of the Wehrmacht who were restrined by Hitler himself. We think that the Allied victory on DpDay was due to: 1) overweaming Allied material superiority, 2) air superiority, 3) naval superiority, 4) effective deception, and 5) effective technical innovation. Another key factor was the inherent inefficency of fixed defenses. The Germans were forced to build defenes over a huge streach of coast. When the Allies struck, however, all the defenses with their arms and fortifications would be useless except in the small area when the Allies chose to attack. Not only could the fixed defenses not be moved, but even mobil units were hard to move with Allied air supremecy.

V-1 Attacks

The V-1 was essentially a primitive cruise missle, but without a sophisticated targetting mechanism. The Germans begining June 13 used the V-1 to target London and other British cities after the D-Day landings. V stood foer "vengence", retribution for the Allied bombing of Germany. The Germans launched about 13,000 buzz bombs accross the Channel at England. Only about 2,500 of these hit the intended targets, primarily London. The V-1 could not be accurately targeted. They were lucky to hit a city, but even this was difficult because the Luftwaffe at this stage of the wae could not even manage air reconissance over Britain. The British were able to deal with the V-1 offensive in a number of ways. In accurate news reports mislead the Germans in how to target the weapns. Anti-aircraft guns were rushed to the Channel coast. The RAF intensified fighter patrols.

Fighting in Normandy

Fighting for several weeks was confined to the Normandy area. The most important inland objedtive for the D-Day invasion was Caen. This it was because Caen was a road junction with the most direct highway to Paris. Caen was the onjective of the British troops landing at Sword Beach. The Germans were well aware of the importance of Caen and it was well defended. The powerful German 21st Panzer Division was located near Caen. This division because of German confusion was not immeiately deployed against the landings and in the afternoon when it received orders to move toward the beeches it was engaged by Allied fighters. The division, however, played a key role in the defense of Caen, resisting repeated British and Canadians attacks. Thus the Allies under Montgomery in the east were heald up for weeks. Cherbourg at the tip of the Conteneau Peninsula was a key objective because of its important port. The Americans from Utah Beach cut off the Peninsula. The Germans in Cherbourg held out for a few weeks and did their best to destroy the port. The Germany thought that without a deepwater port that the Allies could not ammount a decisive military force in France. The Germans did not anticipate Mulberry. They also expected the German garrison to hold out longer than it did. General Sattler, deputy German commander, surendered June 27 bringing the end to directed German resistance on the Cotentin Peninsula, although some isolated German units around the city continued to hold out for a few days. Hitler ordered the garison to hold out to the last man. Few of the soldiers involved chose to do so. By July 1 all organized resistenced was ended. The Germans held the Allies at Normandy for several weeks, effectively using the hedgerows in the Bockage country to twart the American advances. After the fall of Cherbourg (June 27), the Normandy Bridgehead was complete. With Montgomery still stopped at Caen, Bradley began to focus on breaking out at the western end of the bridgehead on a line Carentan and Portbail. Bradley launched his offensive at the beginning of July with torrential rain in the middle of the Bockage country. Allied planners had failed to appreciate the potential tactical use of the fortress-like hedgerows in Normandy. The American offensive, however, soon bogged down.

Operation Bagration (June-August 1944)

The Soviets honoring Stalin's pledge at Teheran launched a massive offensive in Beylorusia targetting Army Group Central (June 22). This mae it impossible for the Wehrmacht to hift forces west to reduce the Normandy bridgehead. The Soviet offensive was much more, however, than a holding campaign. Operation Bagration destroyed Army Group Center, the most powerful formation in the Wehrmact order of battle. As a result of D-Day and Bagration the military situation in Europe was transformed. The NAZIs on June 1 were outnumbered, but still had powerful forces which held most of Europe in their grasp. After D-Day and Bagration in the space of 2 months the NAZIs suddently faced a two-front war and the most powerful formation in the Wehrmact was destroyed--Army Group Center.


The success of othe D-Day invasion was in large measure going to depend on the Allies ability to deploy their large supperority of man and material before the Germans could amass the force needed to reduce the bridgehead. Modern warfare requires huge quantities of supplies. This is especially true of the mechsanized units that the Allies were landing. German units could operate on smaller quantities of supplies, but Anerican, British, and Canadian units required enormous quantities of supplies. This was a critical weakness of any large-scale landing--the need to sequre a port through which supplies in large quantities could be funneled. One of the criterion that went into choosing Normandy as the invasion site was that two major ports were located in the Normandy area-- Cherbourg and Le Havre. In addition, success at Normandy offered good prospects for securing in good order ports further south (Brest, Nantes, L'Orient, and St. Nazaire). Of course the Germans fully understood the necessity for the Allies to secure ports and thus the major ports were heavily fortified. This would make it difficult for the Allies to seize them and would give the Germans the time needed to destroy the port facilities. The Allies, however, had plans of their own--a secret project known as Mulberry. Aliied planners hoped that Mulbeery could help supply the Normandy briidgehead until a deepwater port could be secured and repaired.

Breakout (July 24-25)

The Allies decided to use massed attacks of heavy bombers to finally break out of Normandy beachead. The British struck first with a 457 bomber raid near Caen where British and Canadian forces were stalled outside Caen (July 7, 1944). The attack so devasteated the city that vehichles had trouble moving through the ruble and bomb craters. Thus the Germans had time to regroub outside of the city. Next the Americans struck at Saint L� and P�riers (July 24-25). The area commanded a key highway. The 8th and 9th Air Forces targeted the area with a massive force. In just 1 day the Americans plastered the German positions with an incredible 1,900 bombers (July 25). The Germans created a new word--Bombenteppich. This meant "carpet bombing. One of the most powerful units in the German order of battle, the Panzer Lehr Division was devestated. A huge whole was ripped in the German front line. The carpet bombing succeeded, but in far because of friendly casualties, Eisenhower never ordered a comparable American attack during the rest of the War. The Americans were ready and Patton's 3rd Army poured through the newly opened gap and began a race through the German rear area into the French country side. Much of the Wehrmact force in the West would be destroyed or captured in a giant pinture movement. Those Germans that did escape were forced to leave behinf their armored vehicles and artillery. An American invasion in southern France further undemined the German position in France (August 15). This meant the liberation of France. The Allies reached Paris (August 25). The Wehrmacht was forced into a massive withdrawl back to the boundaries of the Reich where they were to make a stand.

Participating Countries

The two primary countries launching D-Day were America and Britain. America was already providing the bulk of the Allied equipoment well before D-Day. This included weaponry like planes, ships, tanks, artillery, landing craft, trucks and communications as well as basic supplies like food, oil, and all the mumdane supplies needed by the troops landing on the beach. D-Day was a turning point in termns of troop commitment. D-Day ended the phase of the War in which the British would be providing the bulk of the fighting men on the ground. British and American troops were about equal on D-Day. And as the reinforcements flowed into the Nomandy beachhead the American ground units soon became the dominant forces fighting the Germans in the West. Unlike the British, the Americans had a massive numnrr of replacements and reenfiorcements to commit to the fight. One of the invasion beaches was Canadian--Juno. It was situated between the two British beaches. The Canadians were at first the most important country after Britain and America, not only on D-Day, but Normandy combat and the the ensuing liberatoin of France. Eventually the revived French Army would outnumber the Canadians for the invasion of Germany. While America, Britain, and Cadada were the headline participants, several other countries were involved. They included the French, Poles, and others. Two French forces participated (the Free French and French Resistance) in D-Day. The The Resistance helped to bring down German communications. Free French Commandos landing on Sword Beach liberatedt Ouistreham, the western flank of the Normandy beachead. The Free French and Resistance were rapidly integrated to form a revived French Army which would enter Paris with comsiderable fanfare. The Poles who had fought in North Africa and Italy, also participated in a meaninful way--most prominently at Falaise. There was also some limited participation from Australia, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, and Norway.

Strategic Air Campaign (September 1944-April 1945)

Eisenhower in prearation for the D-Day Landings and to support the beach head had authority over both RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force. Neither Harris or Spaatz appreciated their limitations on their operations. They wsanted to as soon as possible resume the strategic aifr campaign against Germany which they both were convinced was the quickest way to end the War. German cities enjoyed a respite as the Allies prepared for D-Dayt and then the battle for France raged. After the liberation of France and with Allied armies moving through Belgium and approaching the bondary of the Reich, the foprtified Western Wall, Eisenhower released them (September 14). The 8th Air Force now had twice the strength of Bomber Command, but both commanders possed massive air armadas, more than 5,000 bombers. In addition, the Luftwaffe defenses had been devestated. Harris and Spaatz had different strategies to persue. More than half of the bombs that fell on Germany would fall in the next 6 months. German cities would be devestated and the goals of the strategic bombing campaign would be realized--the German capacity to make war would be destroyed.


The D-Day landings was made possible by arguably the most successful military deception campaign in history. Incredibly the massive NAZI Atlantic wall suceeded in holding back the invasion only during a few hours of the moring og June 6 and principally only at Omaha Beach. Given the enority of the NAZI effort this seems incredible. The success of the landings is even more astonishing given the poweful Panzer formations available to the Germans. Casualties were a fraction of what Allied commanders had anticipated. Even small cut off Japanese garisons with ineffectual armor and no support available from rear areas did better than the Germans. Montgomery's reputation is primarily based on his victory at El Alemain. We see his role in Overlord as his most important contribution to the War. How did Eisenhower and Montgomery carry off such a dazzeling success against such a competent, professional well armed and resolute an opponent. There were many reasons. Allied command of the air and sea were key factors. But the success on the land has to be attributed to a brilliant deception campaign. Not only Hitler was fooled but key German commanders like Von Ruenstet and Rommel. Not only were the Panzers held back from the beaches on June 6, but the bulk of the Panzer force remained uncommitted in the Pas de Calais long after it was patently obvious that Normandy was the principal Allied invasion site. This combined with Hitler's incompetence and restrictions on his commanders resulted in the dazzeling success of Overload.


American and British authors often describe D-Day as the battle that defeated Hitler or the largest or most important battle in the defeat of Hitler. Even respected historians make similar assments. [Gilbert, D-Day.] It was not. Hitler and the Wehrmact were defeated in the bloody battles of the Eastern Front and by the Allied strategic bombing campaign. We would be more likely to assess the Russian offensive in Front of Moscow and perhaps the most important battle of World War II. This is certainly not to say that D-Day was not important. It was in fact critical. It hastened the defeat of the NAZIs, but more important it prevented the Red Army from moving into Western Europe as establishing People's Republics as it did in Eastern Europe. As one historian explained, "If the American armies had been forced to leave Normandy bloodied and defeated" the United States might have left Europe "to its own devices". [Gilbert, D-Day.] This would have meant Soviet domination. We would be more inclined to agree with another historian that D-Day was the single most important day of the 20th century. [Ambrose] Not only was D-Day an important stepin the defeat of the NAZIs, but because it also prevented Soviet domination of Europe and layed the ground work for the victory of the West in the Cold war. Seldom has so much hinged on a single battle.


There are a variety of commemorations of D-Day in different countries. Some are heald at schools. France hosts an annual commemoration on the Normandy beaches to honor the brave men who fought there to liberate Europe. French President Jacques Chirac in 2004 has invited German Chancellor Schroeder to attend the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Allied D-Day landings. He will be the first Germn Chancellor invited to attend the commemoration. The French who organize the anniversary ceremonies did not invite Chancellor Kohl for the major 50th anniversary in 1994. The invition is a sign of the extent of the reconciliation between the two countries. Schroeder whose father was killed during Wold War II only 2 months after his birth has accepted the invitation. A French reader writes, "France has invited 100 Americain veterans to commemorate the historic D-Day landings in Normandy. They are expected this afternoon and will be received with greatest honor. They will be decorated by our President Chirac; who will award them the most prestigious French decoration--the " L�gion d'Honneur ". These veterans will be hosted in the most beautiful palace of Paris. Sunday in company of your President Bush an important ceremony will take place at the Normandy beaches in the same place when 60 years earlier, the Americans, British, and Canadians sacrificed their lives for the liberation our country. For all French these men are heros and have a place in our heart."

American Power

The United States at the time Hitler launched World War II had no army of any significance. The Romanian Army was larger and better equipped. Hisccalculation was that he could win the war in Europe before the United States could build a military forfce of any importance. And with the resources of the East, Germany could become a superpower. Thus the next German generation would deal with the Americans. President Roosevelt's Arsenl of Democracy astonished not only the Germans and Japanese, but America's Allies as well. By 1944 the United States not only had fielded a massive army, but thorougly armed and motiried that force as well as the forces of its allies. American Lend Lease assistabce was transfirming the Red army on the Eastern Front. The Germans were expecting a cross-channel invasion in the West, but were unprepared for the size of the invasion, both the naval armada that crossed the Channel or the size and scale of the Allied force. The amazing fact is such was the power of the United States that the Normandy was only one of two such massive invasions in June 1944. Only a week after the Normandy landings, another massive armada landed an invasion force on Saipan in the Marianas (June 15). The Saipan landings are today less publivized, but one of comparable scope to the Normandy landings. .


Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II (New York: Touchstone, 1995).

Gilbert, Martin. D-Day (Wiley, 2004). Gilbert's book is an excellent description of D-Day, especially the planning and preparaion. Like many American and British authors, however, he does not adequately put it in the context of what was happening on the Eastern Front.

Hanson, Victor Davis. Soul of Battle.

Holt, Thaddeus. The Deceivers: Allied Military Deceptionin the Second World War (Scribner, 2004), 1,148.

Keegan, John. "Normandy: 1944 -- Buildup," January 24, 1999.

U.S. Maritime Service Veterans. "Phoenixes, Mulberries, Whales, Lobnitzes, Corncobs and Role of Tugs at Normandy Harbor on D-Day June 6, 1944".


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Created: February 2, 2003
Last updated: 6:39 PM 10/2/2019