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Utah Beach, 6 June 1944
The landings on Utah Beach were the most westerly and perhaps the easiest of the D-Day landings, due in part to the actions of the American airborne divisions operating inland from the beach and partly to a strong tide which swept the landing craft a kilometre to the south of their intended landing point (Operation Overlord).
Utah Beach was located on the eastern coast of the Cotentin peninsula. It was the landing area for General J. Lawton Collin's US VII Corps, and had been selected as an invasion beach after the scale of the initial landings was increased from three to five divisions.
A large area inland from the beach had been flooded by the Germans, and was crossed by a limited number of causeways, which in theory would have been easy to defend. Despite this natural disadvantage the Allied believed that the landing at Utah Beach was essential for the long-term success of the invasion, for it led to the most direct routes to the port of Cherbourg, at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula. Before the invasion the Allied believed that they would need a major port to ensure that enough supplies and reinforcements could reach the front. Fortunately this was not the case, for by the time the Americans finally captured Cherbourg the port had been comprehensively destroyed.
The landing at Utah Beach was planned in great detail. First to land, at 6.30am, would be 32 DD tanks in eight LCTs. They would be followed closely by the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, in twenty Higgins boats, each carrying a 30 man assault team. Ten were to land on Tare Green Beach opposite the German strong point at Les-Dunes-de-Varreville, with the other ten further to the south on Uncle Red Beach. The second wave of infantry would follow 5 minutes later and was to consist of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, along with combat engineers and naval demolition teams, all carried in 32 Higgins boats. The third wave was to include a number of bulldozer and regular Sherman tanks and the fourth wave, 2 minutes later, was to include detachments from the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions.
The solution to the large-scale flooding was to drop the 101st Airborne Division at the inland end of the causeways, with orders to capture them and prevent the Germans from organising any counterattacks or using the exits from the causeways to hold up the American advance. Despite some inaccurate drops, the scattered 101st successfully achieved this objective, and the two forces were able to link up fully on D-Day+1.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the elaborate timing didn't quite work out, with the four waves becoming mixed up and the entire attack went in about one kilometre to the south of the intended landing point. The confusion was caused by the only effective German naval weapon of D-Day – their minefields – which claimed three of the four control craft (LCCs) allocated to Utah beach. In the confusion this caused, one of the eight LCTs in the first wave was lost and only the quick thinking of Lts. Howard Vander Beek and Sims Gauthier on LCC 60 prevented a disaster. They took command of the remaining tank-carrying LCTs and led them towards the nearest beach. The prevailing tidal currents, running from north-to-south, meant that this beach was about half a kilometre to the south of the official beaches. Vander Beek and Gauthier also decided to take their LCTs much closer to the shore than planned – three kilometres rather than the original five. As a result 28 of the 32 DD tanks safely reached the beach.
The tanks were beaten to the beach by the first wave of infantry in their Higgins boats, which proved to be too fast to linger behind the slow moving DD tanks. As a result General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the former President's eldest son, was one of the first American troops to land on the Normandy beaches, accompanying E Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Division.
The new landing area was not as well defended as the original target. The German fixed fortifications at exit 3 (Les-Dunes-de-Varreville) were still largely intact, while those at exit 2 (La Madeleine) had been badly damaged by B-26 Marauders and the area was defended by one of the weaker German units – the 919th Regiment, 709th Division. The original landing area had been chosen to avoid a sand bar in front of exit 2, which did cause some problems on the way in, but not as much as the Navy had feared.
The majority of the German defenders at exit 2 were too stunned by the aerial and naval bombardment and by the unexpected appearance of the DD Tanks to offer any resistance. By the end of the day the Americans had suffered less than 250 casualties on Utah Beach, and had captured all of their objectives.
The American commanders on the beach – Roosevelt and Colonel Van Fleet, CO of the 8th Infantry Regiment – had a choice of two options: either move up the beach to the correct landing area; or to attack inland from their current location. They chose the second option, Roosevelt become famous for allegedly saying 'We'll start the war from right here'.
Over the next few hours the American engineers blasted a way through the fixed defences, and at 11.10, only four and a half hours after the first landings, the troops on the beach joined up with the 101st Airborne on the western side of the flooded area behind the beach. By the end of the day the Americans had advanced up to five miles from their initial landing point, and had captured many of their D-Day objectives. 23,000 men and 1,700 vehicles had been landed on the beach and this part of the Allied beachhead was secure.
D-Day – A Look at All 5 Beaches with Original Footage and Photos
76 years ago, in Northern France, one of the most essential operations of World War II took place. As a part of Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings were code-named Operation Neptune. It was the biggest seaborne invasion in history and the opening stage of the Western Front of the war.
Preparations for D-Day took some time as the Western Allies,especially W. Churchill, knew they had only one chance and that a second attempt wouldn’t happen again anytime soon. They planned every detail as precisely as possible in order to avoid a second Dunkirk.
Noteworthy is Operation Bodyguard which preceded the Normandy landings and had a significant impact on the forthcoming success of D-Day landings. It was a masterpiece of deception that caused chaos in the German HQ, effectively misleading the enemy as to the location of the invasion and delaying any possible German reinforcements to the Normandy landings.Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder General Dwight D. Eisenhower General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley Admiral Bertram Ramsay Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith.
In Italy, US forces captured Rome only two days earlier and were preparing for an advance towards the heavily guarded Gothic Line. In the East, the Soviet Union was planning one of the biggest operations of the Eastern Front, Operation Bagration, which would drive the Germans out of Soviet territory. The third major front was initially planned a month earlier, in early May 1944. Now scheduled on June 5, 1944, Normandy was divided into five sectors, but due to unfavorable weather conditions the invasion was delayed by yet another day.
The tension in the Allied camp could be smelled in the air. After intense bombing of the area days before, the go-ahead for D-Day was finally given for June 6, 1944. On June 6 alone, over 10,000 total tons of bombs were dropped on Normandy.
Over 500 landing crafts, almost 300 escort vessels and 300 minesweepers were in service of 132,000 soldiers set to land on the beaches in several waves. Additionally, over 20,000 paratroopers would land behind the beaches to help secure key bridges and objectives. With over 7,000 vessels in total, it was the largest invasion fleet in history.
Map of the invasion area showing channels cleared of mines, location of vessels engaged in bombardment, and targets on shore.
The landing zones were divided into 5 beaches. The British contingent were responsible for the Northern most beach designated Sword and the most central beach designated Gold. The Canadians would land at Juno, which lay in between the two British landing zones. The American forces were responsible for the 2 Southernmost beaches designated as Omaha and Utah.
On the first day, Allied and German losses were each estimated above 10,000. However, by the end of the month, almost a million troops had disembarked and Operation Overlord was in full swing.
After the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing his new allies for the creation of a second front in western Europe.  In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and the United States made a joint announcement that a ". full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942."  However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill persuaded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with US help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such an activity. 
Instead of an immediate return to France, the western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943 the campaign in North Africa had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and subsequently invaded the Italian mainland in September the same year. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.  Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.  At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944. 
The Allies considered four sites for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and the Pas-de-Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.  With the Pas-de-Calais being the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.  But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,  whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.  The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours.  A series of modified tanks, nicknamed Hobart's Funnies, dealt with specific requirements expected for the Normandy Campaign such as mine clearing, demolishing bunkers, and mobile bridging. 
The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.  The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).  General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all land forces involved in the invasion.  On 31 December 1943 Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and to hasten the capture of Cherbourg.  The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.  Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two US, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops  all under overall British command. 
Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.  To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields.  Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion. 
The landings were to be preceded by airborne operations near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lô the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword and Gold Beaches and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the US flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen on the first day.   (A sixth beach, code-named "Band", was considered to the east of the Orne.  ) A secure lodgement would be established with all invading forces linked together, and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the Avranches-Falaise line within the first three weeks.   Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the River Seine. 
Under the overall umbrella of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted several subsidiary operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings.  Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,  and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the main attack would take place at Calais.   Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give the Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.  Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais. 
Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.  In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of "window", metal foil that caused a radar return which was mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy near Le Havre. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small vessels towing barrage balloons. A similar deception was undertaken near Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area by No. 218 Squadron RAF in Operation Glimmer.  
The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfactory on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open.  Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing: high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets. 
Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June.  The next available dates with the required tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would have required recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel and would have increased the chance that the invasion plans would be detected.  After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead on the 6th.  A major storm battered the Normandy coast from 19 to 22 June, which would have made the beach landings impossible. 
Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists had less information than the Allies on incoming weather patterns.  As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife's birthday and to meet with Hitler to try to obtain more Panzers. 
Nazi Germany had at its disposal fifty divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another eighteen stationed in Denmark and Norway. Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany.  Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant that the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions)—conscripts and volunteers from Russia, Mongolia, and other areas of the Soviet Union. They were provided mainly with unreliable captured equipment and lacked motorised transport.   Many German units were under strength. 
In early 1944, the German Western Front (OB West) was significantly weakened by personnel and materiel transfers to the Eastern Front. During the Soviet Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive (24 December 1943 – 17 April 1944), the German High Command was forced to transfer the entire II SS Panzer Corps from France, consisting of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, as well as the 349th Infantry Division, 507th Heavy Panzer Battalion and the 311th and 322nd StuG Assault Gun Brigades. All told, the German forces stationed in France were deprived of 45,827 troops and 363 tanks, assault guns, and self-propelled anti-tank guns.  It was the first major transfer of forces from France to the east since the creation of Führer Directive 51, which no longer allowed any transfers from the west to the east. 
The 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", 9th, 11th, 19th and 116th Panzer divisions, alongside the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", had only arrived in March–May 1944 to France for extensive refit after being badly damaged during Dnieper-Carpathian operation. Seven of the eleven panzer or panzergrenadier divisions stationed in France were still not fully operational or only partially mobile in early June 1944. 
- Oberbefehlshaber West (Supreme Commander West OB West): Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
- (Panzer Group West: General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg)
- : Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
- LXXXIV Corps under General der ArtillerieErich Marcks
- 729th Grenadier Regiment 
- 739th Grenadier Regiment 
- 919th Grenadier Regiment 
- 914th Grenadier Regiment 
- 915th Grenadier Regiment (as reserves) 
- 916th Grenadier Regiment 
- 726th Infantry Regiment (from 716th Infantry Division) 
- 352nd Artillery Regiment 
- 914th Grenadier Regiment 
- 915th Grenadier Regiment 
- 916th Grenadier Regiment 
- 352nd Artillery Regiment 
- 736th Infantry Regiment 
- 1716th Artillery Regiment 
- 100th Panzer Regiment  (at Falaise under Hermann von Oppeln-Bronikowski renamed 22nd Panzer Regiment in May 1944 to avoid confusion with 100th Panzer Battalion) 
- 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment  (under Hans von Luck from April 1944) 
- 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiment 
- 155th Panzer Artillery Regiment 
- Plan Vert was a 15-day operation to sabotage the rail system.
- Plan Bleu dealt with destroying electrical facilities.
- Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed at the enemy forces that would potentially reinforce Axis forces at Normandy.
- Plan Violet dealt with cutting underground telephone and teleprinter cables. 
- : GeneraloberstFriedrich Dollmann
Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced the following German units stationed on the Cotentin Peninsula:
- 709th Static Infantry Division under GeneralleutnantKarl-Wilhelm von Schlieben numbered 12,320 men, many of them Ostlegionen (non-German conscripts recruited from Soviet prisoners of war, Georgians and Poles). 
Americans assaulting Omaha Beach faced the following troops:
- 352nd Infantry Division under GeneralleutnantDietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments. 
Allied forces at Gold and Juno faced the following elements of the 352nd Infantry Division:
Forces around Caen
Allied forces attacking Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches faced the following German units:
- 716th Static Infantry Division under GeneralleutnantWilhelm Richter. At 7,000 troops, the division was significantly understrength. 
Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler had ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, meant that most of the strongpoints were never built.  As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, the Pas de Calais was heavily defended.  In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.  Rommel was assigned to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg,   and was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. Reserves for this group included the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions.  
Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beaches to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.  Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high water mark.  Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.  On Rommel's order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.  The Allied air offensive over Germany had crippled the Luftwaffe and established air supremacy over western Europe, so Rommel knew he could not expect effective air support.  The Luftwaffe could muster only 815 aircraft  over Normandy in comparison to the Allies' 9,543.  Rommel arranged for booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) to be installed in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings. 
Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer notes in his 1969 autobiography that the German high command, concerned about the susceptibility of the airports and port facilities along the North Sea coast, held a conference on 6–8 June 1944 to discuss reinforcing defenses in that area.  Speer wrote:
In Germany itself we scarcely had any troop units at our disposal. If the airports at Hamburg and Bremen could be taken by parachute units and the ports of these cities seized by small forces, invasion armies debarking from ships would, I feared, meet no resistance and would be occupying Berlin and all of Germany within a few days. 
Rommel believed that Germany's best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore. He requested that the mobile reserves, especially tanks, be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, Geyr, and other senior commanders objected. They believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. He also noted that in the Italian Campaign, the armoured units stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel's opinion was that because of Allied air supremacy, the large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was under way. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three Panzer divisions under Geyr's command and give Rommel operational control of three more as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.   
Commander, SHAEF: General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Commander, 21st Army Group: General Bernard Montgomery 
Commander, First Army (United States): Lieutenant General Omar Bradley 
The First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions. 
- VII Corps, commanded by Major General J. Lawton Collins
- 4th Infantry Division: Major General Raymond O. Barton82nd Airborne Division: Major General Matthew Ridgway90th Infantry Division: Brigadier General Jay W. MacKelvie101st Airborne Division: Major General Maxwell D. Taylor
- V Corps, commanded by Major General Leonard T. Gerow, making up 34,250 men 
- 1st Infantry Division: Major General Clarence R. Huebner29th Infantry Division: Major General Charles H. Gerhardt
British and Canadian zones
Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey 
Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British.  The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, 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 RAF supplied two-thirds of the aircraft involved in the invasion. 
- British I Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General John Crocker
- 3rd Canadian Division: Major General Rod Keller
- British I Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General John Crocker 
- 3rd Infantry Division: Major General Tom Rennie6th Airborne Division: Major General R.N. Gale
79th Armoured Division: Major General Percy Hobart  provided specialised armoured vehicles which supported the landings on all beaches in Second Army's sector.
Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D-Day and the following days:
The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by messages personnels transmitted by the BBC's French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which might be snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to resistance groups.  An increase in radio activity on 5 June was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most units ignored the warning.  
A 1965 report from the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center details the results of the French Resistance's sabotage efforts: "In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June." 
Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett as a "never surpassed masterpiece of planning".  In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had served as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation 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 the following year. 
The invasion fleet, which was drawn from eight different navies, comprised 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.  The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK, which provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft.  In total there were 195,700 naval personnel involved of these 112,824 were from the Royal Navy with another 25,000 from the Merchant Navy, 52,889 were American, and 4,998 sailors from other allied countries.   The invasion fleet was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the US sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.   Available to the fleet were five battleships, 20 cruisers, 65 destroyers, and two monitors.  German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, 29 fast attack craft, 36 R boats, and 36 minesweepers and patrol boats.  The Germans also had several U-boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined. 
At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the British battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After attacking, the German vessels turned away and fled east into a smoke screen that had been laid by the RAF to shield the fleet from the long-range battery at Le Havre.  Allied losses to mines included the American destroyer USS Corry off Utah and submarine chaser USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol craft.  In addition, many landing craft were lost. 
Bombing of Normandy began around midnight with more than 2,200 British, Canadian, and US bombers attacking targets along the coast and further inland.  The coastal bombing attack was largely ineffective at Omaha, because low cloud cover made the assigned targets difficult to see. Concerned about inflicting casualties on their own troops, many bombers delayed their attacks too long and failed to hit the beach defences.  The Germans had 570 aircraft stationed in Normandy and the Low Countries on D-Day, and another 964 in Germany. 
Minesweepers began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn without encountering the enemy.  The Western Task Force included the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, plus eight cruisers, 28 destroyers, and one monitor.  The Eastern Task Force included the battleships Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor Roberts, twelve cruisers, and thirty-seven destroyers.  Naval bombardment of areas behind the beach commenced at 05:45, while it was still dark, with the gunners switching to pre-assigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50.  Since troops were scheduled to land at Utah and Omaha starting at 06:30 (an hour earlier than the British beaches), these areas received only about 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault troops began to land on the shore. 
The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the buildup of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the arrival of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy's ability to organise and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, 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 neutralise German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.  
The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach, where they hoped to capture and control the few narrow causeways through terrain that had been intentionally flooded by the Germans. Reports from Allied intelligence in mid-May of the arrival of the German 91st Infantry Division meant the intended drop zones had to be shifted eastward and to the south.  The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east, and destroy the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach.  Free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June until August in Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.  
BBC war correspondent Robert Barr described the scene as paratroopers prepared to board their aircraft:
Their faces were darkened with cocoa sheathed knives were strapped to their ankles tommy guns strapped to their waists bandoliers and hand grenades, coils of rope, pick handles, spades, rubber dinghies hung around them, and a few personal oddments, like the lad who was taking a newspaper to read on the plane . There was an easy familiar touch about the way they were getting ready, as though they had done it often before. Well, yes, they had kitted up and climbed aboard often just like this—twenty, thirty, forty times some of them, but it had never been quite like this before. This was the first combat jump for every one of them. 
The US airborne landings began with the arrival of pathfinders at 00:15. Navigation was difficult because of a bank of thick cloud, and as a result, only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately marked with radar signals and Aldis lamps.  Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 Skytrains of the IX Troop Carrier Command.  To avoid flying over the invasion fleet, the planes arrived from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited over Utah Beach.  
Paratroops from 101st Airborne were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River.  The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine-gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their parachutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields.  Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.   Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach. 
Troops of the 82nd Airborne began arriving around 02:30, with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve.  On the east side of the river, 75 per cent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone, and within two hours they captured the important crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église (the first town liberated in the invasion  ) and began working to protect the western flank.  Because of the failure of the pathfinders to accurately mark their drop zone, the two regiments dropped on the west side of the Merderet were extremely scattered, with only four per cent landing in the target area.  Many landed in nearby swamps, with much loss of life.  Paratroopers consolidated into small groups, usually a combination of men of various ranks from different units, and attempted to concentrate on nearby objectives.  They captured but failed to hold the Merderet River bridge at La Fière, and fighting for the crossing continued for several days. 
Reinforcements arrived by glider around 04:00 (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit), and 21:00 (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), bringing additional troops and heavy equipment. Like the paratroopers, many landed far from their drop zones.  Even those that landed on target experienced difficulty, with heavy cargo such as Jeeps shifting during landing, crashing through the wooden fuselage, and in some cases crushing personnel on board. 
After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd Airborne were under the control of their divisions, approximately a third of the force dropped. This wide dispersal had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.  The 7th Army received notification of the parachute drops at 01:20, but Rundstedt did not initially believe that a major invasion was underway. The destruction of radar stations along the Normandy coast in the week before the invasion meant that the Germans did not detect the approaching fleet until 02:00. 
British and Canadian
The first Allied action of D-Day was the capture of the Caen canal and Orne river bridges via a glider assault at 00:16 (since renamed Pegasus Bridge and Horsa Bridge). Both bridges were quickly captured intact, with light casualties by the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment. They were then reinforced by members of the 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.   The five bridges over the Dives were destroyed with minimal difficulty by the 3rd Parachute Brigade.   Meanwhile, the pathfinders tasked with setting up radar beacons and lights for further paratroopers (scheduled to begin arriving at 00:50 to clear the landing zone north of Ranville) were blown off course and had to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers, also blown too far east, landed far from their intended drop zones some took hours or even days to be reunited with their units.   Major General Richard Gale arrived in the third wave of gliders at 03:30, along with equipment, such as antitank guns and jeeps, and more troops to help secure the area from counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate vicinity of the landings.  At 02:00, the commander of the German 716th Infantry Division ordered Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzer Division into position to counter-attack. However, as the division was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger was obliged to seek clearance from OKW before he could commit his formation.  Feuchtinger did not receive orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meantime on his own initiative he put together a battle group (including tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne. 
Only 160 men out of the 600 members of the 9th Battalion tasked with eliminating the enemy battery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous point. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, in charge of the operation, decided to proceed regardless, as the emplacement had to be destroyed by 06:00 to prevent it firing on the invasion fleet and the troops arriving on Sword Beach. In the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied forces disabled the guns with plastic explosives at a cost of 75 casualties. The emplacement was found to contain 75 mm guns rather than the expected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery. Otway's remaining force withdrew with the assistance of a few members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. 
With this action, the last of the D-Day goals of the British 6th Airborne Division was achieved.  They were reinforced at 12:00 by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach, and by the 6th Airlanding Brigade, who arrived in gliders at 21:00 in Operation Mallard. 
Some of the landing craft had been modified to provide close support fire, and self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks), specially designed for the Normandy landings, were to land shortly before the infantry to provide covering fire. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.  
Utah Beach was in the area defended by two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment.  Members of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division were the first to land, arriving at 06:30. Their landing craft were pushed to the south by strong currents, and they found themselves about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zone. This site turned out to be better, as there was only one strongpoint nearby rather than two, and bombers of IX Bomber Command had bombed the defences from lower than their prescribed altitude, inflicting considerable damage. In addition, the strong currents had washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles. The assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the first senior officer ashore, made the decision to "start the war from right here", and ordered further landings to be re-routed.  
The initial assault battalions were quickly followed by 28 DD tanks and several waves of engineer and demolition teams to remove beach obstacles and clear the area directly behind the beach of obstacles and mines. Gaps were blown in the sea wall to allow quicker access for troops and tanks. Combat teams began to exit the beach at around 09:00, with some infantry wading through the flooded fields rather than travelling on the single road. They skirmished throughout the day with elements of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, who were armed with antitank guns and rifles. The main strongpoint in the area and another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south were disabled by noon.  The 4th Infantry Division did not meet all of their D-Day objectives at Utah Beach, partly because they had arrived too far to the south, but they landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties.  
Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc, a prominent headland situated between Utah and Omaha, was assigned to two hundred men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Their task was to scale the 30 m (98 ft) cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. The cliffs were defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division and French collaborators firing from above.  Allied destroyers Satterlee and Talybont provided fire support. After scaling the cliffs, the Rangers discovered that the guns had already been withdrawn. They located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them with explosives. 
The now-isolated Rangers fended off numerous counter-attacks from the German 914th Grenadier Regiment. The men at the point became isolated and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not arrive until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others arrived.   By then, Rudder's men had run out of ammunition and were using captured German weapons. Several men were killed as a result, because the German weapons made a distinctive noise, and the men were mistaken for the enemy.  By the end of the battle, the Rangers casualties were 135 dead and wounded, while German casualties were 50 killed and 40 captured. An unknown number of French collaborators were executed.  
Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division.  They faced the 352nd Infantry Division rather than the expected single regiment.  Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed.  For fear of hitting the landing craft, US bombers delayed releasing their loads and, as a result, most of the beach obstacles at Omaha remained undamaged when the men came ashore.  Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50–100m in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach.  In spite of the rough seas, DD tanks of two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 m) from shore however, 27 of the 32 flooded and sank, with the loss of 33 crew.  Some tanks, disabled on the beach, continued to provide covering fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swamped by the rising tide. 
Casualties were around 2,000, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.  Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to provide fire support so landings could resume.  Exit from the beach was possible only via five heavily defended gullies, and by late morning barely 600 men had reached the higher ground.  By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the gullies of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach.  The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives for Omaha were accomplished by D+3. 
The first landings on Gold beach were set for 07:25 due to the differences in the tide between there and the US beaches.  High winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were released close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned.  Three of the four guns in a large emplacement at the Longues-sur-Mer battery were disabled by direct hits from the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut at 06:20. The fourth gun resumed firing intermittently in the afternoon, and its garrison surrendered on 7 June.  Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint, which had its embrasure facing east to provide enfilade fire along the beach and had a thick concrete wall on the seaward side.  Its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00, when a modified Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank fired a large petard charge into its rear entrance.   A second casemated emplacement at La Rivière containing an 88 mm gun was neutralised by a tank at 07:30. 
Meanwhile, infantry began clearing the heavily fortified houses along the shore and advanced on targets further inland.  The No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando moved toward the small port at Port-en-Bessin and captured it the following day in the Battle of Port-en-Bessin.  Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis received the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day for his actions while attacking two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury high point.  On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry "B"), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.  Bayeux was not captured the first day due to stiff resistance from the 352nd Infantry Division.  Allied casualties at Gold Beach are estimated at 1,000. 
The landing at Juno was delayed because of choppy seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences.  Several exits from the beach were created, but not without difficulty. At Mike Beach on the western flank, a large crater was filled using an abandoned AVRE tank and several rolls of fascine, which were then covered by a temporary bridge. The tank remained in place until 1972 when it was removed and restored by members of the Royal Engineers.  The beach and nearby streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day, making it difficult to move inland. 
Major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns, machine-gun nests, concrete fortifications, barbed wire, and mines were located at Courseulles-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer.  The towns themselves also had to be cleared in house-to-house fighting.  Soldiers on their way to Bény-sur-Mer, 3 miles (5 km) inland, discovered that the road was well covered by machine gun emplacements that had to be outflanked before the advance could proceed.  Elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade advanced to within sight of the Carpiquet airfield late in the afternoon, but by this time their supporting armour was low on ammunition so the Canadians dug in for the night. The airfield was not captured until a month later as the area became the scene of fierce fighting.  By nightfall, the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.  Casualties at Juno were 961 men. 
On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks of the first wave were successful in getting safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30.  The beach was heavily mined and peppered with obstacles, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous.  In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, so manoeuvring the armour was difficult. The beach quickly became congested.  Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and his 1st Special Service Brigade arrived in the second wave, piped ashore by Private Bill Millin, Lovat's personal piper.  Members of No. 4 Commando moved through Ouistreham to attack from the rear a German gun battery on the shore. A concrete observation and control tower at this emplacement had to be bypassed and was not captured until several days later.  French forces under Commander Philippe Kieffer (the first French soldiers to arrive in Normandy) attacked and cleared the heavily fortified strongpoint at the casino at Riva Bella, with the aid of one of the DD tanks. 
The 'Morris' strongpoint near Colleville-sur-Orne was captured after about an hour of fighting.  The nearby 'Hillman' strongpoint, headquarters of the 736th Infantry Regiment, was a large complex defensive work that had come through the morning's bombardment essentially undamaged. It was not captured until 20:15.  The 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry began advancing to Caen on foot, coming within a few kilometres of the town, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support.  At 16:00, the 21st Panzer Division mounted a counter-attack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the Channel. It met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Division and was soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.   Estimates of Allied casualties on Sword Beach are as high as 1,000. 
The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.  Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,  with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.  Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.  The Germans lost 1,000 men.  The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches none of these objectives were achieved.  The five beachheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep.  Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.  The Germans had ordered French civilians other than those deemed essential to the war effort to leave potential combat zones in Normandy.  Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000. 
The Allied victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.  The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obliged to defend a huge stretch of coastline.  The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.  Infrastructure for transport in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies.  Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact,  but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches.  Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success. 
At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbour are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. A memorial to the US National Guard sits at the location of a former German strongpoint. Pointe du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is nearby, in Colleville-sur-Mer.  A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the US airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby. 
Pegasus Bridge, a target of the British 6th Airborne, was the site of some of the earliest action of the Normandy landings. The bridge was replaced in 1994 by one similar in appearance, and the original is now housed on the grounds of a nearby museum complex.  Sections of Mulberry Harbour B still sit in the sea at Arromanches, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery is nearby.  The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003, was funded by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans.  The British Normandy Memorial above Gold Beach was designed by the architect Liam O'Connor and opened in 2021. 
D-Day Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944
June 6, 1944:
Allied forces land on the beaches of Normandy, France, marking D-Day.Soldiers wade ashore on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.Members of Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division drive and march down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Aug. 29, 1944.
Allies Opened Second Front in France After Normandy Landings
World War II involved combatants from most of the world’s nations and was considered the deadliest war in history. Around 85 million military and civilians died as a result. The end finally came on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese officials signed the surrender documents aboard the battleship USS Missouri at Tokyo Bay, Japan.
Significant Events of World War II by David Vergun DOD
Sept. 1, 1939:
Germany invades Poland, marking what many regard as the start of the war, though Japan invaded China on July 7, 1937. Two days later, France and the United Kingdom declare war on Germany. German planes fly over Poland, Sept. 1939. A Frenchman weeps as German soldiers march into Paris on June 14, 1940, after the Allied armies had been driven back across France.
April 9 to June 22, 1940:
Germany takes control of much of Western Europe, including France.
July 10, 1940:
Germany launches an air war, known as the Battle of Britain, against the United Kingdom. Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London is seen as the city burns around it during the great fire raid, one of the most destructive Nazi bombings of London, Dec. 29, 1940. Leaders of the Axis powers, Japan, Italy and Germany, sign the Tripartite Pact, creating an alliance between the three countries, Sept. 1940.
The Few Battle of Britain RAF Copyright
Sept. 22, 1940:
Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact.Dec. 7, 1941:
Japan’s naval air force attacks military bases on Oahu, Hawaii. The USS Arizona burns after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Japan, Dec. 8, 1941.
Dec. 8, 1941:
The United States declares war against Japan.
VJ Day 75 – The end of World War 2 This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In May, the nation commemorated victory in Europe, this week it will remember the end of the War against Japan.
Dec. 11, 1941:
The United States declares war on Germany and Italy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Germany, Dec. 11, 1941. A Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter takes off from the USS Yorktown on combat air patrol during the Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942.
June 4 to 7, 1942:
The U.S. Navy defeats the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway.
July 9, 1942:
Allied forces invade Sicily. Army Gen. George S. Patton, left, speaks with Army Lt. Col. Lyle B. Bernard on the outskirts of Messina, Sicily, Aug. 17, 1943. The front view of an American 240mm howitzer just before it fires into German held territory in Italy, Jan. 30, 1944.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower (left) accepted Patton’s apologies for the hospital incidents. CREDIT: U.S. Army. “General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, walking away from airplane, with Lt. Gen. Lucius Clay, after Gen. Eisenhower’s arrival for Berlin Conference, at Potsdam.” 1945. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Sept. 8, 1943:
Italy surrenders to the Allies, but German forces occupy northern Italy.
June 6, 1944:
Allied forces land on the beaches of Normandy, France, marking D-Day. Soldiers wade ashore on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Members of Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division drive and march down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Aug. 29, 1944.
Aug. 25, 1944:
Allies take control of Paris.
Dec. 16, 1944:
Germans counterattack in northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg, known as the Battle of the Bulge. Army engineers emerge from defensive positions in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Marines land on Iwo Jima, Feb. 19, 1945.
Marines land on Iwo Jima, Feb. 19, 1945.
Feb. 19, 1945:
U.S. Marines land on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
U.S. soldiers cross the Rhine River in Germany in assault vessels on March 23, 1945, at St. Goar, Germany. They are hunkered down because the Germans are firing on them.
March 22, 1945:
The U.S. 3rd Army crosses the Rhine River in Germany. U.S. troops cross the Rhine River in Germany under enemy fire, March, 1945. A Marine assigned to the 1st Marine Division aims his gun at a Japanese sniper during fighting on Okinawa, June 22, 1945.
April 1, 1945:
U.S. soldiers and Marines invade Okinawa, Japan.
Japanese sign surrender
April 25, 1945:
The Soviet army encircles Berlin and links up with the Americans on the Elbe River. A U.S. and Russian soldier smile together after the historic meeting of their respective armies near Torgau, Germany, April 25, 1945. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, third from left, stands with other top military officials holding the pen with which the unconditional surrender of Germany was signed in Reims, France, May 7, 1945.
There were two surrender signings. The first was on May 7, 1945, when German Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s surrender on all fronts in Reims, France.
May 8, 1945:
Germany surrenders to the Allies, marking V-E Day.
Aug. 6, 1945:
The U.S. drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Air Force Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., the pilot of the Enola Gay, waves from his cockpit before takeoff on the flight that would drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6. 1945. A dense column of smoke rises thousands of feet in the air after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, 1945.
A Douglas SBD-5 scout bomber en route to strike enemy targets, 21 April 1944. Hollandia air field is directly below, with Sentani airfield in the middle distance and Lake Sentani at top. Wrecked Japanese planes litter Hollandia field, largely the victims of USAAF attacks earlier in the month (80-G-325109).
Aug. 9, 1945:
The U.S. drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
Fat Man Detonated Over Nagasaki
Sept. 2, 1945:
Japan formally surrenders to the Allies, marking V-J Day, although the initial announcement of surrender was made Aug. 15, 1945. Supreme Allied Commander Army General Douglas MacArthur signs the formal Japanese surrender during ceremonies on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan, Sept. 2, 1945.
A Marine assigned to the 1st Marine Division aims his gun at a Japanese sniper during fighting on Okinawa, June 22, 1945.
WWII D-Day Invasion June 6, 1944
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Allied troops departed England on planes and ships, made the trip across the English Channel and attacked the beaches of Normandy in an attempt to break through Hitler&rsquos &ldquoAtlantic Wall&rdquo and break his grip on Europe. Some 215,000 Allied soldiers, and roughly as many Germans, were killed or wounded during D-Day and the ensuing nearly three months it took to secure the Allied capture of Normandy. Commemoration events, from re-enactments to school concerts, were being held in seaside towns and along the five landing beaches that stretch across 50 miles (80 kilometers) of Normandy coastline for the 65th anniversary in 2009. (AP) These 56 photos were published on the Denver Post Photo Blog.
American Soldiers equipped with full pack and extra allotments of ammunition, march down an English street to their invasion craft for embarkation on June 6, 1944.(AP Photo)
Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower gives the order of the day "Full victory - Nothing else" to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at the Royal Air Force base in Greenham Common, England, three hours before the men board their planes to participate in the first assault wave of the invasion of the continent of Europe, June 5, 1944. (AP Photo)
Lieutenant Harrie W. James, USNR, of New York, N.Y., briefs officers and men who participated in landing operations during the invasion of Southern France June 5, 1944 on the day before D-Day. (AP Photo)
Airborne troops prepare for the descent on Europe of D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
American paratroopers, heavily armed, sit inside a military plane as they soar over the English Channel en route to the Normandy French coast for the Allied D-Day invasion of the German stronghold during World War II, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
U.S. paratroopers fix their static lines before a jump before dawn over Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944, in France. The decision to launch the airborne attack in darkness instead of waiting for first light was probably one of the few Allied missteps on June 6, and there was much to criticize both in the training and equipment given to paratroopers and glider-borne troops of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions. Improvements were called for after the invasion the hard-won knowledge would be used to advantage later. (AP Photo/Army Signal Corps)
U.S. serviceman attend a Protestant service aboard a landing craft before the D-Day invasion on the coast of France, June 5, 1944. (AP Photo/Pete Carroll)
U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf from a landing craft in the days following D-Day and the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France at Normandy in June 1944 during World War II. (AP Photo/Bert Brandt)
Sight of a low-flying Allied plane sends Nazi soldiers rushing for shelter on a beach in France, before D-Day June 1944. Their fears were premature the fliers were taking photos of German coastal barriers in preparation for the invasion, which took place June 6. (AP Photo)
After landing at the shore, these British troops wait for the signal to move forward, during the initial Allied landing operations in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
Invasion forces as far as the eye could see
This June 6, 1944 photo released by Nathan Kline, shows a B-26 Marauder flying toward France during the D-Day invasion. (AP Photo/ Courtesy of Nathan Kline)
U.S. Army medical personnel administer a plasma transfusion to a wounded comrade, who survived when his landing craft went down off the coast of Normandy, France, in the early days of the Allied landing operations in June 1944. (AP Photo)
Wounded British troops from the South Lancashire and Middlesex regiments are being helped ashore at Sword Beach, June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion of German occupied France during World War II. (AP Photo)
American soldiers and supplies arrive on the shore of the French coast of German-occupied Normandy during the Allied D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 in World War II. (AP Photo)
Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto a beachhead code-named Omaha Beach, on the northern coast of France on June 6, 1944, during the Allied invasion of the Normandy coast. (AP Photo)
Sitting in the cover of their foxholes, American soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force secure a beachhead during initial landing operations at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. In the background amphibious tanks and other equipment crowd the beach, while landing craft bring more troops and material ashore. (AP Photo/Weston Hayes)
Canadian troops in landing crafts approach a stretch of coastline code-named Juno Beach, near Bernieres-sur-mer, as the Allied Normandy invasion gets under way, on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
Members of an American landing unit help their exhausted comrades ashore during the Normandy invasion, June 6, 1944. The men reached the zone code-named Utah Beach, near Sainte Mere Eglise, on a life raft after their landing craft was hit and sunk by German coastal defenses. (AP Photo)
A U.S. Coast Guard LCI, heavily listing to port, moves alongside a transport ship to evacuate her troops, during the initial Normandy landing operations in France, on June 6, 1944. Moments later the craft will capsize and sink. Note that helmeted infantrymen, with full packs, are all standing to starboard side of the ship. (AP Photo)
Men and assault vehicles storm the Normandy Beach of France, as allied landing craft arrive at their destination on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Note men coming ashore in surf and vehicles starting inland. (AP Photo)
Out of the open bow doors of a Landing Craft, American troops and jeeps go ashore on the beach of the Normandy coast of France, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
Briefing the men on where they were headed.(AP Photo)
Under the cover of naval shell fire, American infantrymen wade ashore from their landing craft during the initial Normandy landing operations in France, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo/Peter Carroll)
A U.S. Coast Guard landing barge, tightly packed with helmeted soldiers, approaches the shore at Normandy, France, during initial Allied landing operations, June 6, 1944. These barges ride back and forth across the English Channel, bringing wave after wave of reinforcement troops to the Allied beachheads. (AP Photo)
Under heavy German machine gun fire, American infantrymen wade ashore off the ramp of a Coast Guard landing craft on June 8, 1944, during the invasion of the French coast of Normandy in World War II. (AP Photo)
US assault troops approach Utah Beach in a barge, 06 June 1944 as Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day. D-Day, is still one of the world's most gut-wrenching and consequential battles, as the Allied landing in Normandy led to the liberation of France which marked the turning point in the Western theater of World War II. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
A tribute to an unknown American soldier, who lost his life fighting in the landing operations of the Allied Forces, marks the sand of Normandy's shore, in June 1944. (AP Photo)
(Note: Although this photograph was in an Associated Collection on D-Day, it is most likely a photo from Iwo Jima. We've left it in the collection because so many have commented on it.)
German prisoners of war are led away by Allied forces from Utah Beach, on June 6, 1944, during landing operations at the Normandy coast, France. (AP Photo)
U.S. doughboys are brought ashore on the Northern Coast of France following the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II on June 13, 1944. The exhausted soldiers on the rubber life raft are being pulled by a group of comrades. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Allied forces camp out in fox holes, caves and tents on this hillside overlooking the beach at Normandy, France, during the D-Day invasion in World War II. (AP Photo/Bede Irvin)
One year after the D-Day landings in Normandy, a lone U.S. soldier guards a knocked out German gun position on "Utah" Beach, France, May 28, 1945. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll)
One year after the D-Day landings in Normandy, German prisoners landscape the area around a former German pill box at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, France, near "Omaha" Beach, May 28, 1945. The pill box, with a knocked out gun still visible, will be made into a monument dedicated to U.S. assault forces. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll)
One year after the D-Day landings in Normandy, German prisoners landscape the first U.S. cemetery at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, France, near "Omaha" Beach, May 28, 1945. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll)
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stands on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast in France as he makes an anniversary visit to the scene of the 1945 D-Day landing of the Allied troops, June 9, 1951. (AP Photo)
Pointe du Hoc. Omaha Beach, pocked by D-Day bombardment. On June 6th. 1944, five Normandy beaches were stormed by British, Canadian and American troops to free Europe from the German occupation. Ever since, each year on June 6th, Normandy coast lures veterans and pilgrims. (Ph: Alexandra BOULAT)
Pebbles with poppies painted on are seen on the beach of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer on June 5, 2009 during a ceremony in memory of Canadian troops which landed in 1944 at the Nan Red point on Saint-Aubin beach. Each poppy painted by students represents a soldier killed here during World War II. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Normandy veterans Frank Allen (R), 85, and Cyril Askew, 92, both from Liverpool, England, look at the French coastline on a cross channel ferry on June 4, 2009 from Portsmouth, England to Caen, France. Several hundred of the remaining veterans of the Normandy campaign are traveling to France to take part in commemorations to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1944. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
BAYEUX, FRANCE - JUNE 05: The sun shines on headstones in the British Cemetery on June 5 2009 in Bayeux, France. Several hundred of the remaining veterans of the Normandy campaign are traveling to France to take part in commemorations to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1944. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
ASNELLES, FRANCE - JUNE 05: British school children help to place 4000 Union Jack flags bearing messages on Gold Beach on June 5, 2009 in Asnelles, France. The Royal British Legion has raised Å1.8 million for veterans and tomorrow on the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings a further 6000 flags will be placed on Gold beach, the location where British forces landed on 6th June 1944. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
A US jeep drives by Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer beach, Normandy, western France on June 4, 2009 during preparations for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
A US veteran wears his medals during a commemoration ceremony on June 5, 2009 at the German Military Cemetery of La Cambe, Normandy. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
France-Longues-sur-Mer, The German artillery battery situated at Longues-sur-Mer is a classic example of the Atlantic Wall fortification. The actual guns are still in place, the west of Arromanches, installed by the Germans in September, 1943. The Battery is in an ideal position, 215 feet above sea level and was well able to threaten the Invasion fleet. It consists of 4 Krupp 150mm, TbtsK C/36 (L/45) cannons from a de-commissioned destroyer, in type M272 Casemates with a range of 12.5 miles and a large, range-finding and observation post type M262. From late 1943 onwards, the site was bombed several times including two heavy raids in the week before D-Day when 1500 tons of bombs were dropped on it. France will be celebrating the 60th anniversary if the D-DAY landing of allied forces to liberate Europe from Germany.
A child plays with a map of the landing beaches in the American Cemetery of Colleville, western France, Thursday, June 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A US veteran takes pictures of German soldiers tombs during a commemoration ceremony on June 5, 2009 at the German Military Cemetery of La Cambe, Normandy. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images) Captured Blog: D-Day
A remembrance cross left by British Royal Navy veteran, Harry Buckley, 84, is pictured on the beach of Colleville-Montgomery on June 5, 2009 where he landed during the 1944 allied operations in France. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images)
British veteran John Lang, 90, visits the American cemetery on June 5, 2009 in Colleville-sur-Mer. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
The broad sands of Utah Beach lead to a country side scarred by remains of German fortification. On June 6th, 1944, five Normandy beaches were stormed by British, Canadian and American troops to free Europe from the German occupation. Ever since, each year on June 6th, Normandy coast lures veterans and pilgrims. (Ph: Alexandra BOULAT)
A bird is seen at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, western France, on June 4, 2009 as take place the preparations of the ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
The remains of the World War II Mulberry dock at Arromanches in Normandy. The Mulberry dock consisted of a huge pre-fabricated steel and concrete landing system, built in England and towed by ship across the Channel, greatly aiding the allied landings at Arromanches in 1944.
65th Anniversary of D-Day landings. D-Day veteran George Taylor (left), 86, a Sapper in the Royal Engineers during World War Two, with Percy Lewis of the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, walk along the beach in Arromanches, France, ahead of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on Saturday. Picture date: Thursday June 4, 2009. Thousands of Second World War veterans landed in Normandy in a peaceful invasion of the beaches where they fought for the greatest victory in naval history on D-Day 65 years ago. (Gareth Fuller)
65th Anniversary of D-Day landings. Eric Toylon (right), a 6th Airbourne glider pilot during World War Two shares his memories with war enthusiasts during a wreath laying ceremony at the Bayeux Military Cemetery in Normandy, France, ahead of tomorrows 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Picture date: Friday June 5, 2009. (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)
British paratroopers from the 3rd Parachute Battalion, England, land in a wheat field outside the village of Ranville, near Caen, Western France, Friday, June 5, 2009, as troops re-enact part of the bloody allied landings of D-Day, the Allied armada which fought its way inland in the unfolding World War II Battle of Normandy, France. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
British Royal Navy veteran, Harry Buckley, 84, wipes his tears on the beach of Colleville-Montgomery on June 5, 2009 where he landed during the 1944 allied operations in France. Preparations are underway for the upcoming D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in France, then occupied by Nazi Germany. (MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images)
France-Omaha beach. American War Cemetery, Arial view of the landing beaches.
Utah Beach - June 6, 1944 - D Day
The objective at Utah was to secure a beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula, the location of important port facilities at Cherbourg. The amphibious assault, primarily by the US 4th Infantry Division and 70th Tank Battalion, was supported by airborne landings of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division. The intention was to rapidly seal off the Cotentin Peninsula, prevent the Germans from reinforcing Cherbourg, and capture the port as quickly as possible. Utah, along with Sword Beach on the eastern flank, was added to the invasion plan in December 1943. These changes doubled the frontage of the invasion and necessitated a month-long delay so that additional landing craft and personnel could be assembled in England. Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, part of the 709th Static Infantry Division. While improvements to fortifications had been undertaken under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel beginning in October 1943, the troops assigned to defend the area were mostly poorly equipped non-German conscripts.
The 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah at the cost of only 197 casualties. Airborne troops arriving by parachute and glider numbered an additional 14,000 men, with 2,500 casualties. Around 750 men were lost in engineering units, 70th Tank Battalion, and seaborne vessels sunk by the enemy. German losses are unknown.
Utah Beach, 6 June 1944 - History
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Built on the very beach where the first American troops landed on June 6, 1944, the Utah Beach Museum recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. This comprehensive chronological journey immerses visitors in the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.
Admire an original B26 bomber, one of only six remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide, and relive the epic experience of American soldiers through the film “VICTORY IN THE SAND,” winner of a CINE GOLDEN EAGLE AWARD 2012 and the 2013 CINE SPECIAL JURY AWARD for best museum documentary.
By the end of your visit, you will understand the strategic choices for the Allied invasion of Normandy and the reasons for the success at Utah Beach. Thanks to your visit, you will also have contributed to the safeguard of the site and the preservation of the memory of the Allied soldiers’ extraordinary sacrifices.
The landing beach
The largest of the D-Day assault areas, Omaha Beach stretched over 10 km (6 miles) between the fishing port of Port-en-Bessin on the east and the mouth of the Vire River on the west. The western third of the beach was backed by a seawall 3 metres (10 feet) high, and the whole beach was overlooked by cliffs 30 metres high. There were five exits from the sand and shingle beach the best was a paved road in a ravine leading to the resort village of Vierville-sur-Mer, two were only dirt paths, and two were dirt roads leading to the villages of Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.
The Germans under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had built formidable defenses to protect this enclosed battlefield. The waters and beach were heavily mined, and there were 13 strongpoints called Widerstandsnester (“resistance nests”). Numerous other fighting positions dotted the area, supported by an extensive trench system. The defending forces consisted of three battalions of the veteran 352nd Infantry Division. Their weapons were fixed to cover the beach with grazing enfilade fire as well as plunging fire from the cliffs. Omaha was a killing zone.
Omaha Beach was part of the invasion area assigned to the U.S. First Army, under Lieutenant General Omar Bradley. The assault sectors at Omaha were code-named (from west to east) Charlie, Dog (consisting of Green, White, and Red sections), Easy (Green and Red sections), and Fox (Green and Red sections). The beach was to be assaulted at 0630 hours by the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, with the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division attached for D-Day only. Omaha was wide enough to land two regiments side by side with armour in front, and so the 116th Regiment was to land at Dog (Green, White, and Red) and Easy Green, while the 16th Regiment, 1st Division, was to land at Easy Red and Fox Green.
The objectives of the 1st Division were ambitious. First it was to capture the villages of Vierville, Saint-Laurent, and Colleville then it was to push through and cut the Bayeux-Isigny road and then it was to attack south toward Trévières and west toward the Pointe du Hoc. Elements of the 16th Regiment were to link up at Port-en-Bessin with British units from Gold Beach to the east.
From the beginning everything went wrong at Omaha. Special “DD” tanks (amphibious Sherman tanks fitted with flotation screens) that were supposed to support the 116th Regiment sank in the choppy waters of the Channel. Only 2 of the 29 launched made it to the beach. With the exception of Company A, no unit of the 116th landed where it was planned. Strong winds and tidal currents carried the landing craft from right to left. The 16th Regiment on the east half of the beach did not fare much better, landing in a state of confusion with units badly intermingled.
Throughout the landing, German gunners poured deadly fire into the ranks of the invading Americans. Bodies lay on the beach or floated in the water. Men sought refuge behind beach obstacles, pondering the deadly sprint across the beach to the seawall, which offered some safety at the base of the cliff. Destroyed craft and vehicles littered the water’s edge and beach, and at 0830 hours all landing ceased at Omaha. The troops on the beach were left on their own and realized that the exits were not the way off. Slowly, and in small groups, they scaled the cliffs. Meanwhile, navy destroyers steamed in and, scraping their bottoms in the shallow water, blasted the German fortifications at point-blank range. By 1200 hours German fire had noticeably decreased as the defensive positions were taken from the rear. Then one by one the exits were opened.
By nightfall the 1st and 29th divisions held positions around Vierville, Saint-Laurent, and Colleville—nowhere near the planned objectives, but they had a toehold. The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties at Omaha on June 6, but by the end of the day they had landed 34,000 troops. The German 352nd Division lost 20 percent of its strength, with 1,200 casualties, but it had no reserves coming to continue the fight.
Aftermath of the D-Day Landings
At the end of the day on 6 June 1944, the Allies had prevailed on all the Normandy beaches. British and Canadian forces established themselves well ashore, although they failed to seize Caen because the Germans pulled together a defense of the city, including their only available armored division. The Americans were still vulnerable to enemy artillery within range of supply dumps and unloading points along the invasion beaches. Yet more than 100,000 men had come ashore on the five beachheads, the first of millions who would follow.
German reinforcements were prevented from reaching the area in strength, and within days Allied troops besieged Cherbourg and slowly expanded southward through the entangling Norman hedgerows. St. Lo was reached by 18 July, well behind schedule. On 25 July Operation COBRA used massed bombers from England against German positions and armored infantry finally broke the German defensive line. Pouring through the gap, American troops advanced forty miles within a week. U.S., Canadian, British, and Polish troops encircled the Germans in a giant pocket around Falaise where Allied fighter-bombers and artillery destroyed twenty German divisions. The Second Front was well under way.
See also the linked page for a description of the M4 Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tanks employed on D-Day for the assault from the sea.
Find additional photos and hi-res versions of the D-Day invasion of France at the Olive-Drab Military Mashup.
What you Need to Know about the D-Day Beaches
On 6 June 1944 – ‘D-Day’ – Allied forces launched the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare . Codenamed Operation ‘Overlord’, the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy marked the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north-west Europe from Nazi occupation. On the morning of D-Day, ground troops landed across five assault beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, the Allies had established themselves on shore and could begin the advance into France.
Over 23,000 men of the US 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah beach, the westernmost of the assault beaches. Strong currents swept the first wave of troops into a more lightly defended sector of the assault area – 2,000 yards south of their original target. Airborne troops had dropped into the area behind Utah in the early hours of 6 June. After periods of intense fighting, the paratroopers secured the causeways across the flooded lowlands, providing a route for troops on the beach to move further inland. By the end of the day, the 4th Infantry Division had advanced approximately four miles at a cost of about 200 killed, wounded or missing.
Troops from the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions landed on Omaha beach on 6 June. Omaha was the most heavily defended of the assault areas and casualties were higher than on any other beach. Preliminary Allied air and naval bombardments failed to knock out strong defence points along the coast and the Americans had difficulties clearing the beach obstacles. The experienced German 352nd Infantry Division was taking part in anti-invasion training in the area and was able to reinforce coastal defence units. Despite these challenges, the Americans were able to gain a small foothold on the beach by the end of the day. At the nearby Pointe du Hoc, US Rangers completed a costly assault on German gun emplacements at the top of the cliff.
Nearly 25,000 men of the British 50th Division landed on Gold beach on D-Day. Their objectives were to capture the town of Bayeux and the Caen-Bayeux road, and to link up with the Americans at Omaha. High winds caused the tide to rise more quickly than expected, concealing the beach obstacles underwater. But unlike on Omaha, the air and naval bombardment had succeeded in softening German coastal defences. By the end of the day, British troops had advanced about six miles inland and joined with troops from the Canadian 3rd Division, who had landed on Juno beach to the east.
The Canadian 3rd Division’s objective was to secure Juno beach and link up with British forces on Gold to the west and Sword to the east. Rough seas delayed the landing and the rising tide reduced the width of the beach, which eventually became jammed with incoming vehicles and equipment. Juno was heavily defended and casualties were high, especially among the first wave of landing infantry. By midnight, the Canadians had yet to link up with the British at Sword but had cleared exits off the beach, advanced several miles inland and joined up with the British at Gold.
Bad weather and strong German resistance hindered the British 3rd Division's assault on Sword beach, the easternmost of the beaches. Rising tides and the geography of the assault area created a narrow front, causing congestion and delays and making it difficult to land the armoured support needed for the advance inland. Although the 3rd Division successfully repelled a German counter-attack, it failed to take the strategically important city of Caen - its key objective for D-Day. The capture of Caen became a focal point of British strategy in the weeks after D-Day and the city was not fully occupied until mid-July.