Normandy Campaign, Phase 1
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
With Germans fortified along the entire French coast, Hitler's highly boasted "Fortress Europe" seemed to be difficult to crack. While they fought side-by-side as comrades, the United Kingdom and the United States offered polar opposite views toward plans for Europe. While the British favored jabbing at the far reaches of the Axis Empire such as North Africa and Italy while bombing Germany into submission, the bolder Americans argued for a direct assault on Western Europe. In the earlier stages of the war the Americans settled with the British, landing in North Africa in Nov 1942 and Sicily in Jul 1943. In Nov 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill met at Tehran, Iran; Stalin requested a landing in France to open up a second front against Germany, and Churchill reluctantly agreed.
Site Selection and Invasion Planning
The Allied planners had long been studying the possible landing points on the French coast. By May 1943, four potential landing sites were being considered: Normandy in the Bay of the Seine between Cotentin Peninsula and the estuary of the River Orne, Pas-de-Calais, eastern and western coasts of the Contentin Peninsula, and the northern coast of Brittany. Brittany was ruled out rather quickly despite it possessing several excellent ports due to the distance the transports would have to travel and the potential ease for German forces to seal Allied forces on the Brittany peninsula. Pas-de-Calais was the closest point between the United Kingdom and France, thus it was an obvious choice evident with the strong German defenses in that region; the idea was abandoned as well (though a deceptive campaign continued to force the Germans to maintain a strong presence there). It was decided that Normandy would be the site of the invasion, and the western-most landing force would secure the Cotentin Peninsula. The original plans called for the landing of three divisions onto the beaches on the first wave, then two more divisions in the second wave to drive into the city of Caen; the second wave would be supported by paratroopers and glider troopers dropped in hours before the invasion. Later, the final first wave landing party grew to five divisions, two American, two British, and one Canadian. A carefully coordinated aerial and naval bombardment was also called for, while warships would bombard both known troop concentrations behind the beaches and beach defenses. Other aerial forces would also be employed to disrupt German lines of communications and transportation behind the beaches and to disable German air capabilities.
While preparing the landing, the planners also called for facilities to aid the subsequent logistical operations, code named "Gooseberries" and "Mulberries", which would be critical before a port city, such as Cherbourg, could be secured. Gooseberry was to consist of a line of sunken ships, placed stern to stern, to allow smaller ships to sail within the Gooseberry lines safely. Mulberry was preconstructed harbor modules towed in from Britain to Normandy. The design and deployment of such harbors were absolute engineering marvels.
While the planners were busy in the war rooms, soldiers prepared for the invasion as well. Thousands of American troops were placed into the Assault Training Center at Woolacombe, while American airborne troops trained at Camp Toccoa in Georgia, United States. On the British side, General Percy Hobart's "Funnies" tanks were studied closely to determine what types would be best to support a beach landing party (these tanks would make the British and Canadian landings just a bit easier at Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches). Four major practice landings were conducted by the troops at Slapton Sands on the Devon coast to familiarize the troops with the feel of rushing out of a Higgins landing craft. One of such practice landings would be attacked by lurking German E-boats, which would sink two LSTs and damage a third, resulting in the death of 639 American soldiers.
Commanders and Troops
American President Roosevelt favored General Dwight Eisenhower as the commander of Operation Overlord, who eventually got the job much to British Field Marshall Alan Brooke's disappointment; American General George Marshall was said to have wanted the position as well, but Marshall and Eisenhower both insisted that Marshall was happy to see Eisenhower's appointment. Many Allied leaders were worried that Eisenhower did not possess as much tactical battlefield experience as other front runners for the job, but his political capabilities made him a far more attractive candidate to lead a force consisted of many Allied nations. With an American in the role of the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, British commanders were chosen to lead the air, sea, and land forces. Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory was made Allied Expeditionary Air Force Commander, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was made the Allied naval commander, and General Sir Bernard Montgomery was named the commander of the 21st Army Group consisted of British, Canadian, and American troops.
While the Normandy operation was decidedly Anglo-American, Eisenhower felt gathering French support was important. Roosevelt, however, opposed the notion of giving French General Charles de Gaulle any kind of recognition as a French leader, for that he seized that title for himself without any democratic process among the French people. Nevertheless, Eisenhower approached him. De Gaulle, however, felt ridiculed that he was asked to support a landing operation led by an American. He refused to publicly announce his support for Overlord, and would not comply with any Allied request for his support.
Besides de Gaulle, another wartime leader gave Eisenhower headaches. Prime Minister Churchill, a veteran of WW1, requested to accompany the landing operations; the request was naturally denied immediately by Eisenhower. Churchill responded with his intent to overrule Eisenhower. "Since this is true it is not part of your responsibility, my dear General, to determine the exact composition of any ship's company in His Majesty's Fleet", he said to Eisenhower, "by shipping myself as a bona fide member of a ship's complement it would be beyond your authority to prevent my going." Eisenhower expressed that this would unnecessarily add to his personal burden, but the Prime Minister refused to budge. When King George VI heard of it, he cleverly noted that if Churchill felt compelled to accompany the landing force, then he, as the King of the United Kingdom, should share equal duty and privilege of leading the British and Commonwealth troops as well. After the King's comments were made known to Churchill, he withdrew his request to personally lead the landing forces.
With the exception of the US 1st Division, most American troops involved in the invasion were conscripts with little or no experience, but the lack of experience was to be made up by the high levels of mobility in American infantry doctrine. The British troops had more experience fighting in, for example, North Africa. British command structure was both a blessing and a curse: decisions were often made at the battalion level or below, therefore cooperation between units, even those in the same division, left something to be desired. The independent nature of command, however, gave low level junior officers in the field the ability to call in artillery to aid with taking down German defensive positions without having to wade through the divisional bureaucracy.
On the German side, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was the commander-in-chief of the West. Under him, Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle headed the air forces of Luftflotte 3 (including III Flak Corps and paratroopers) and Admiral Theodor Krancke commanded the Navy Group West, though Allied air superiority made air and naval forces insignificant in terms of defending against the coming invasion. Rundstedt's ground forces were led by local generals or local military governors, and beach defenses were largely built by men of the Organization Todt, which was a para-military group that answered to armament minister Albert Speer. A significant percentage of Rundstedt's troops in the region were either older (average age around mid-30s) or captured Soviet troops (with little loyalty for Germany). Furthermore, some of the troops had to take on construction duties for fortifications as Organization Todt could not handle the workload alone, which deprived valuable training time. In Oct 1943, Rundstedt sent a special report to Adolf Hitler as an attempt to raise alarm, and as a direct result, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was assigned to France on 3 Nov 1943 to lead the Army Group for Special Employment, which later became Army Group B. Instead of placing Rommel's forces under Rundstedt, however, the new army group remained directly under Berlin's control, which resulted in some redundancy of responsibility between Rommel and Rundstedt. In Mar 1944, Rommel requested total command of all German forces in the region under him, but Hitler refused, instead only granting him control of three armored divisions while retaining the control the other three armored division in the area to the German High Command in Berlin.
The German ground forces in the Normandy and Cotentin Peninsula region belonged to Colonel General Friedrich Dollman's 7th Army. The Normandy sector, in particular, fell under the control of General (der Artillerie) Erich Marcks. On paper the Germans fielded a large number of divisions in France, but the combination of the lack of mobility and the poor quality of certain units made the actual strength lower than appeared. Paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich von der Heydte once commented after an inspection that the
The Start of the Invasion
Due to bad weather, the original invasion date of 5 Jun was passed on by Eisenhower. He worried that if weather did not clear up in the next several days, the invasion would be delayed until 18 June when the right tide condition was to be seen again. However, reports indicated that the weather would be relatively good on Tuesday, 6 Jun 1944. Eisenhower gave the order to launch the operation with a simple "Okay, let's go" after spending 45 minutes to with his senior staff.
Naturally, the Germans took notice of the weather, too. Seeing the weather turning bad, they thought that even heavy aerial bombardments were unlikely, and a chance of invasion slim to none, thus a significant number of officers were sent to Rennes in Brittany for a map exercise. Rommel, too, was absent from the region; thinking that the Allies would not make any moves during such foul weather, he departed for Germany to see Hitler once more to make another argument for more men and resources; it was also his wife's birthday, and Rommel looked forward to time with her.
As the Allied transports sailed from ports across southern England, 822 C-47 transport aircraft carried over 13,000 paratroopers across the English Channel. These spearheads would secure key crossroads behind enemy lines and silence artillery guns. The use of airborne troops was a big unknown to Eisenhower, who feared the projected high casualty rates among the airborne would not be worth the potential successes. He feared that he "would carry to [his] grave the unbearable burden of a conscience justly accusing [him] of the stupid, blind sacrifice of thousands of flower of our youth", he noted in his memoirs. He finally gave the go-ahead for the airborne operation when he realized that without the operations behind enemy lines, the Utah and Omaha beach landings might be jeopardized.
6-30 Jun 1944
The naval side of the matter, including both transporting the amphibious forces and warship escorts, fell under the jurisdiction of Ramsay of the British Royal Navy. The Allies assembled a fleet of 1,213 various ships under Ramsay's command, including 4,000 landing craft. The eastern elements of the naval forces were assigned under the command of British Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, while the Western Task Force was under the American Rear Admiral Alan Kirk. Before the armada was a fleet of 287 minesweepers, which began clearing paths across the English Channel at 0030 hours on 6 Jun.
Operation Neptune's contribution after the landing operations was equally as important. In post-war interviews, Rundstedt spoke of the difficulties of moving men and supplies to the front because of the constant danger from naval bombardment. American infantry officer Lieutenant Charles Scheffel who arrived in Normandy three days after the initial landing witnessed some of the bombardment that frustrated Rundstedt.
At day break, we looked directly south [from a transport ship] at a coastline that curved around us to the eastern horizon. Ships were everywhere. Through my field glasses I watched a battleship firing toward shore. Its huge guns belched flames and reddish smoke that rushed downwind.
Closer to us, some destroyers and cruisers poured smaller shells inland. I could see no flashes of explosions on the beaches, but a deep rumbling came from wherever the shells were landing.
When Operation Neptune officially ended by the end of Jun 1944, the ships, mostly British, ferried a massive amount of supplies onto continental Europe: 850,279 men, 148,803 vehicles, and 570,505 tons of various supplies.
6 Jun 1944
The German defenses in what the Allies designated Utah Beach were placed under Lieutenant General Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, who held the position of the commander of the 709th Infantry Division since Dec 1943. Immediately to the west on the Cotentin Peninsula, the 243rd Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Heinz Hellmich and the newly arrived 91st Luftlande Division under Lieutenant General Wilhelm Falley were in relative proximity. Two of the three commanding officers, however, were at the war games at Rennes on the day of the Allied invasion, thus creating a vulnerability. Furthermore, German troops in this area were not of the highest caliber; over 2,000 German soldiers in this area were foreign troops (333 Georgian volunteers and 1,784 Soviet prisoners of war), who were expected to be less-than-effective under pressure, while the average age of German troops was 36 (ie., those not deemed fit for service on the demanding Eastern Front). Finally, German heavy equipment such as artillery pieces and anti-tank guns tend to be obsolete models or captured Czech, French, and Russian weapons of varied effectiveness. Despite all the disadvantages listed, however, the Germans had one thing on their side: many of the officers and non-commissioned officers were battle-hardened veterans from the Eastern Front, and their leadership would later prove worthy.
At Cherbourg, German Admiral Theodor Krancke had 16 S-boats in two torpedo flotillas, but Allied control of air and rough seas due to the storm made his force rather useless.
The first troops to invade Utah Beach actually arrived three days before D-Day. In the early hours of 3 Jun 1944, six mixed British-American teams were sent by the Office of Strategic Services to France. Their tasks were to mark airborne drop zones for the arriving airborne troops of the US 82nd Airborne Division under Major General Matthew Ridgway and the US 101st Airborne Division under Major General Maxwell Taylor, who arrived via 821 C-47 and C-54 transport aircraft in the night of 5 Jun. The pathfinder teams arrived first, with the tasks of dropping the first airborne troops into Normandy, who then would also mark drop zones for the remaining paratrooper transports. Due to unexpected clouds, many of the pathfinders were dropped away from the intended areas. When the main wave arrived, the dropping was further disrupted by heavy anti-aircraft fire; with the transports weaving to avoid being hit, it made a concentrated drop impossible. Many of the paratroopers were scattered, and with the tall hedgerows, some units were not able to gather until the beachhead had already been secured; by estimation, only about 10% of the paratroopers landed in the planned drop zones, and only 25% within a mile of the planned drop zones. Those who were able to gather, however, played their part well. Taking advantage of the surprise, units such as that led by Staff Sergeant Harrison Summers, for example, were able to very quickly kill or capture 150 German troops before the Germans figured out how to react. Ultimately, however, the paratroopers were not able to achieve their main objectives due to the inability to gather a strong force after landing.
German forces, not on high alert due to the bad weather and were without their divisional commanders, were first warned of a potential Allied operation around 2300-2400 hours on 5 Jun when aircraft warning stations at Cherbourg picked up the Allied transports. Paradrops were reported by 1030 hours on 6 Jun, and by 0300 towns such as Ste-Mère-Église were reporting enemy attacks. General Falley, the only divisional commander in the area, attempted to reach his headquarters, but his vehicle ran into paratroopers, and he was killed in the ensuing firefight near Picauville. Now truly without any top level officers, the German troops lost valuable time to react to the Allied attack. Although several counterattacks were made at various locations, the Allied airborne troops were largely able to achieve what they were sent to do.
From the sea, Major General Raymond Barton's US 4th Infantry Division arrived with armored support from the US 70th Tank Battalion, veterans of North Africa and Sicily. The first combat action at the beach began at 0505 hours when German coastal batteries fired on Allied ships as they were sighted on the horizon; most of these batteries remain active until later that afternoon. Allied naval bombardment began at 0550, aided by aerial bombardment by IX Bomber Command. Unlike the aerial bombardment at Omaha Beach, that at Utah Beach was much more effective, hitting costal batteries, bunkers, and other defenses. Actual German casualties inflicted by the naval and aerial bombardments were low, but the defending troops were stunned by the display of firepower. The landing troops quickly made a temporary beachhead, and soon after they were met with 28 (out of 32) duplex-drive tanks, which led them to breach the seawall. The landers actually were delivered to the wrong beach, which was to south of where the planned invasion site was located, but luckily this section of the beach had weaker defenses which made the landing easier. The second wave of 32 LCVP landing craft followed, which contained demolition parties to clear beach obstacles. The third wave that followed 15 minutes after the initial landing arrived with additional M4 Sherman tanks, dozer tanks, and other heavy equipment. The first senior level officer on the beach was General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the former president of the United States and fifth cousin of the current president. He went ashore with the first wave of landing troops, personally overseeing landing operations and contributed to adjusting the invasion plans to suit the new landing site. He later earned a Medal of Honor for his gallantry.
American troops reached Turqueville, north of the beach, by the evening without meeting serious resistance, while another regiment moved west and eliminated a platoon of German 75-millimeter anti-tank gun troops. A defensive perimeter was formed westward from St-Germain-de-Varreville toward Ste-Mère-Église while troops made contact with the airborne troops, whose rank continued to grow as gliders brought in more men and heavy weapons through out the day; the first glider wave alone consisted of 54 Horsa and 22 CG-4A gliders that delivered 437 men, 64 vehicles, 13 57-millimeter anti-tank guns, and 24 tons of various supplies. By midnight, Utah Beach was considered secure. The US 4th Infantry Division had achieved its primary objectives at a cost of only 197 casualties, which was much lighter when compared to the much higher 2,000 casualties at the neighboring and much more heavily defended Omaha Beach.
On 7 Jun, German forces in the immediate Utah Beach area were largely contained in pockets such as the one south of Ste-Mère-Église. Part of the German troops there were the 795th Georgian Battalion, which were easily convinced to surrender. The Germans there, however, put up a stronger defense, holding a ridge that covered the access road to Ste-Mère-Église while two battalions fought their way into the town, supported by StuG III assault guns. The German threat there was not eliminated in the Ste-Mère-Église area until the end of 7 Jun when the Germans withdrawn. Meanwhile, two regiments of the US 4th Infantry Division moved north up the Cotentin Peninsula and met German resistance at coastal gun positions near Azeville and Crisbecq. With naval gunfire support, the troops slowly moved along the coast up the Cotentin Peninsula.
6 Jun 1944
At 0100 hours on 6 Jun 1944, German LXXXIV Corps were alerted to the airborne attacks. These paratroopers were not meant to be dropped behind Omaha Beach, the four-mile stretch of sand between Pointe du Hoc and the town of Ste-Honorine-des-Petres; rather, they were dropped there due to the confusion of the night, further disrupted by intense German anti-aircraft fire. At 0300 hours, the Allied Task Force O arrived 25,000 yards off of Omaha Beach. Shortly after that, at about 0310, General Marcks ordered the corps reserve, Kampfgruppe Meyer, to start marching toward Montmartin-Deville to counter the paratropers; in retrospect this was a bad maneuver as later in the day these troops would be much needed in the east, the opposite direction. Some time around 0320 to 0340 hours, several German artillery positions behind the beaches came under attack by American paratroopers. At 0330 hours, Allied invasion troops were readied aboard their ships, and at 0415 they were loaded onto their landing craft. It was not until 0502 that German command received reports of Allied naval activity off Omaha Beach, and by 0520 visual contacts were made by German scouting looking over the horizon. At 0545, the naval bombardment from large warships began, lasting until 0625; some surprised German troops, clueless, reported them as aerial bombardments. Shortly after, the large warships switched their guns to target beach fortifications. At 0610, smaller ships such as LCG(L) craft added their firepower to the bombardment. A few moments before the landing craft dashed for the beaches, nine LCT(R) craft fired 9,000 rockets at German defensive positions, making a wonderful spectacle but ultimately useless as nearly all of them missed their intended targets.
By this stage, aside from the waste of 9,000 rockets, things seemed to be going well for the Allies. Part of it was due to luck. Noticing the foul weather, Colonel General Dollman lowered the alert status of the defenses of what Allies would call Omaha Beach, thinking that nothing would happen in the stormy weather. This lucky break allowed the airborne attack to be done in greater surprise, as well as some safe passage as the landing craft approached the beaches. However, the Allies made several great mistakes during the preparations, which would soon haunt them. One of the failures was that the Allied intelligence failed to detect the presence of German 352nd Division, thus grossly underestimating the defensive strength.
The first wave of landers consisted of 1,450 men in eight infantry companies. They reached the beach at 0631 hours. As soon as the ramps dropped, the landing craft were under intense machine gun and rifle fire. This gave light to the second mistake the Allies committed for the Omaha Beach operations. American did not think highly of British General Hobart's "funnies", which were modified tanks used for some of the other beaches on this day to provide additional cover, which were now realized as badly needed. The American did deploy tanks, in the form of duplex-drive tanks (DD tanks), but most of them were released too far out to sea that most of them sank in the choppy waters; only 5 out of the 32 DD tanks made it to land. The American soldiers on the beach could only find refuge behind German beach obstructions such as concrete cones and welded steel rails; they were promised craters made by aerial bombs immediately before the landing, but the bomber crews, fearful that they would hit friendly ships, delayed the bomb release by 30 seconds, so their bombs fell far inland (hitting American paratroopers in few instances), leaving the beach crater-less and coverless.
What resulted was a bloody scene central to so many Hollywood movies such as Saving Private Ryan. Troops waded in water while machine guns, rifles, mortars, and artillery shells from further inland cut them down. Several landing craft were unlucky enough to be hit directly by mortar fire, exploding and in some cases killing all men aboard. A few units lost all of their officers and non-commissioned officers, leaving the men confused and scared behind the beach obstructions; the 1/116 Infantry, for example, lost three of its four company commanders and 16 junior officers before most of the men even reached land. As the first wave of landing troops bogged down on the beach, the second landing wave which arrived shortly after 0700 hours found itself stuck in a great traffic jam, vulnerable to enemy fire. By this time, the ocean tide turned, and the rising water drowned many wounded men who were unable to move themselves inland. At one point, General Omar Bradley was so distressed that he considered withdrawing the Omaha landers, and instead moving his forces to Utah Beach. US Navy destroyer McCook's captain Lieutenant Commander Ralph Ramey, seeing the dangerous situation, ordered his ship against battle plans to sail closer to shore and bombard enemy defenses. As other destroyers followed suit, the naval fire was able to alleviate the pressure for landing troops. The destroyers' 5-inch guns destroyed several German gun emplacements and allowed the landing troops to advance.
At 0720 hours, the Americans made significant progress as a platoon-sized group of men breached German defenses while a M4A1 Sherman tank of the 741st Tank Battalion knocked out a 88-mm gun casemate that had been so deadly thus far. At about 0745, another M4A1 Sherman tank knocked out another casemate. A few American officers made their courage known during this time, such as Colonel George Taylor, who ran up and down the beach rallying the men, leaving the legacy of quotes such as "[t]wo kinds of people are staying on the beach, the dead and those who are going to die - now let's get the hell out of here!" At 0750, Kampfgruppe Meyer was ordered to reverse their march, but they were already so far west that they would not reach Omaha sector until the afternoon; had they been kept in place, they would have reached Omaha sector as early as 0930 hours. As more Americans landed and more German fortifications destroyed or disabled, the German defensive line was clearly faltering. German positions began falling at a rapid rate starting at 0900, with a great number of positions captured between 0930 and 1000 hours. With imperfect information that German defenses were still holding, plus the situation at Gold Beach was considered more dire, the local officer in command Lieutenant General Dietrich Kraiss of the 352nd Infantry Division decided to move his reserves toward that direction, thus sealing Omaha sector's doom.
Meanwhile, three companies of the US 2nd Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder landed at Pointe-du-Hoc, a rocky promontory, in an area of Omaha Beach that was far from the main combat action. A navigational error caused a 40 minute delay in the landing schedule and exposed the landing craft to unnecessary fire (two landing craft were sunk as they tried to return to the correct path), but shell fire from battleship USS Texas and destroyer Satterlee provided some cover fire for the Rangers. Within 5 minutes of their landing, they began scaling the cliffs with rocket-propelled grappling hooks, reaching the top very quickly. Their mission was to capture the large coastal guns deployed at the promontory, but to their disappointment, when they reached the top and captured the positions, they found either empty casemates or casemates with dummy guns made of timber. They continued to move southward, reaching the highway at about 0800 hours, and stumbled upon some of the guns they were originally sent out to destroy in an apple orchard 600 yards south of Pointe-du-Hoc in Criqueville-en-Bessin. The Rangers destroyed them with thermite grenades, possibly saving many of their comrades' lives on Utah Beach, as the guns were trained in that direction, with ammunition ready near the guns. The Rangers were isolated in the Pointe-du-Hoc area for most of the day, holding back German attempts to drive them back into the sea but at the cost of many casualties.
By the afternoon, American troops were reaching the villages behind the beaches. American control of the air played a critical role at this stage, as German reinforcements were harassed constantly. The 12 75-mm Marder III tank destroyers that Kraiss sent forth, for example, were detected from the onset, and the observation aircraft gave their coordinates for the naval guns to rain destruction on the German vehicles, destroying or disabling most of them before they reached American lines. At 2230 that night, more than 30,000 American troops had reached the beach. Omaha Beach was declared secure after the United States lost more than 2,000 men.
6 Jun 1944
Gold Beach was situated in the center of the Allied attack on Normandy. The UK 50th Division, veteran of Gazala and El Alamein battles in North Africa in 1942, was placed in charge of the assault; the division was commanded by Major General Douglas Graham, a veteran of the Italian campaign in 1943. Defending Gold Beach was part of Major General Wilhelm Richter's German 716th Infantry Division, supported by units made up of Eastern Europeans. Behind Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches was the city of Caen, which was a major objective for all three beaches.
At 0535 on 6 Jun, HMS Bulolo with naval operations commanding officer Commodore Douglas-Pennant dropped anchor 7 miles off of the beach, thus marking the start of the operation. Undetected, the Gold beach invasion achieved surprise, and the troops were able to board their landing craft without disruptions. As the sun rose, Allied aircraft and warships bombarded the coastline. Duplex-drive Sherman tanks aboard tank landing craft spearheaded the actual landing, followed by those carrying infantry. At 0730, the landing began as DD Sherman tanks were launched 5,000 yards from the beach. Shortly after, the landing operation became rather disorganized as the landing craft arrived all about the same time instead of being staggered, and they threatened to run in to each other as they maneuvered to avoid German fire and naval mines. Despite the spectacular aerial and naval bombardment, much of the German defenses were still in tact.
At the Jig Green sector of the beach, the British 231st Brigade waded ashore into a field of machine gun fire coming from the village of Le Hamel. Lacking armor protection as many of its tanks were slowed or turned back due to rough seas, the brigade became pinned down between the sea and a minefield. The most formidable obstacle in front of them was a concrete fortification housing a number of machine gun and mortar nests and a concrete casement with a 75-millimeter gun, which had already knocked out several tanks and landing craft by this time. Major Warren of the 1st Hampshires concluded that it was impossible to attack the fortification head-on, and he began the lead his men around it in search for a possible attack from the rear. Meanwhile, the Dorsets landed to the left of the 1st Hampshires; the Dorsets bypassed Le Hamel in favor of attacking German positions at Buhot and Puits d'Hérode. At 0815, the 2nd Devons landed under fire similar to those who landed before them; one company of the 2nd Devons joined the 1st Hampshires in attempt to take out the 75-millimeter gun, while the others moved toward the village of Ryes 2 miles inland. The 47 Royal Marine Commando landed next. After landing, the commandos moved toward the harbor of Port-en-Bessin in attempt to link up with the Americans landing at Omaha Beach; taking a wide detour around Le Hamel and running into several German strongpoints, it took them until the evening to reach Port-en-Bessin, losing many men en route.
At King Red sector, the UK 69th Brigade landed at 0730 hours, under fire from a concrete casemate-protected 88-millimeter gun. In this sector, the 5th East Yorks faced the toughest defensive fire, pinned down along the seawall for what it seemed to them like eternity until an AVRE vehicle could get close and fire at point blank range into the casemate, destroying the 88-millimeter gun. The 5th East Yorks spent that morning clearing out the town of La Rivière immediately behind the fortification. To the west, the 6th Green Howards had a slightly easier time with their landing, facing heavy machine gun and small arms fire, but spared of shelling. With the aid of AVRE vehicles, the 6th Green Howards directly assaulted the German machine gun positions and the concrete strongpoint beyond. With most of the beach defenses wiped out, the 6th Green Howards were joined by tanks of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards in the assault on a four-gun battery at Mont Fleury. The battery's defenders were already demoralized from the earlier bombardment by Allied aircraft and by the HMS Belfast, the battery had been relatively silent, and was taken by the British troops with relative ease. At 0815, the 7th Green Howards landed, completing the landings of the UK 69th Brigade. The troops of the 7th Green Howards attacked the German gun battery at Ver-sur-Mer first, and found its occupants to be demoralized, surrendering rather quickly.
By the end of the morning, the beach area had largely been secured with the exception of the Le Hamel fortification. A new attempt at assaulting this strongpoint began at 1345 hours, where infantrymen spent an hour to move to a rendezvous point south of the German fortification, and at 1500 moved in toward the fortification. As they were about to be halted by intense small arms fire, they found luck on their side as an AVRE vehicle traveled nearby. They persuaded the crew to help them attack the fortification, and the AVRE fired several rounds of petard charges, stopping the machine gun fire long enough for the troops to rush in. Through fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Germans were slowly pushed out of the fortification and the surrounding village. The 75-millimeter gun was destroyed by a petard charge fired through the rear door of the blockhouse. By 1600, Le Hamel was secured.
While the Le Hamel attack was underway, British troops moved west along the coast and cleared several German strongpoints and captured the German radar station on the cliffs to the east of the Arromanches. On the high ground opposite of the Arromanches, German troops were gathering, and naval gunfire was called in to prevent the Germans from staging a counter attack. Meanwhile, the Dorsets, having just cleared Ryes, moved toward a large gun battery at Longues, whose 152-millimeter coastal defense guns had been firing at Allied warships since the invasion began. Three out of its four guns had already been silenced by naval bombardment, but the fourth gun remained defiant, firing intermittently through the entire day. At 1900 hours, the gun fell silent, and the 184-men garrison surrendered peacefully the next morning to the 2nd Dorsets.
Overall, German response to the attack on Gold Beach was weak. The few attempts at concentrating troops in preparation for counter attacks were effectively disrupted by Allied naval gunfire and aerial attacks. By mid-day, the Germans knew the beach could not be defended, and tried to fall back to the town of Bayeux, which guarded the road to Caen.
6 Jun 1944
Juno Beach was attacked by 15,000 men of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, supported by 9,000 British troops. Canadian commanding officer Major General Rodney Keller took charge of this assault. Defending the 5.5-mile stretch of beach between La Rivière and St Aubin was part of Major General Wilhelm Richter's German 716th Infantry Division, supported by units made up of Eastern Europeans. Most of the German defense in the Juno Beach area was concentrated around the small port of Courseulles on the estuary of the River Seulles, located roughly in the center of Juno Beach. Behind Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches was the city of Caen, which was a major objective for all three beaches.
Due to the need for higher tide at Juno Beach to clear the offshore reef, the invasion began slightly later than Gold and Sword Beaches that flanked Juno Beach on either side. The first wave of attack landed at 0745 with Brigadier H. W. Foster's Canadian 7th Brigade landing on both sides of River Seulles. Previous aerial and naval bombardments failed to neutralize German coastal positions, thus the Canadians found themselves landing in a killing zone, and the lack of armor at the opening moments of the landing made matters worse. B Company of the Winnipegs, one of the two assault companies, landed at Mike Green sector and was immediately pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from concrete pillboxes and accurate fire from snipers and other infantrymen. The other assault company, D Company, landed on the left, and was forced to fight through a maze of concealed machine gun nests and Tobruk emplacements (underground concrete structures each with a small opening on top that was usually camouflaged). Great casualties were incurred to overtake these defensive structures, and once that was achieved, the Canadians charged inland at a region where the River Seulles curved. Men of the B Company crossed the river on a small bridge and spearheaded this part of the assault, while men of D Company crossed the minefield near La Vallette and advanced toward the village of Graye-sur-Mer. To the west, also at Mike Green sector, C Company of the Canadian Scottish Rifles, attached to the Winnipegs, landed with less opposition; their objective was a concrete casemate housing a 75-millimeter gun, which had already been knocked out by naval gunfire before the landing.
At about 0805, reserve companies landed on Juno Beach. They were spared of the worst of the direct-fire from German defensive structures, but they still had to land amidst mortar and artillery fire. With the incoming tide, the beach narrowed, and the small strip of land soon became crowded, particularly with all the combat vehicles arriving later than planned, and none of the beach exits had been cleared. At 0830 hours, the beach was less than 100 yards deep. Specialized Hobart's Funnies tanks, Crab vehicles, were dispatched to clear one of the exits. The first two struck mines and became disabled, but the third Crab vehicle was able to clear a single track 150 yards inland before being bogged down in a flooded area, and the Churchill AVRE that came to the rescue also became stuck, thus the crews had to abandon the vehicles, incurring three deaths and three injuries from small arms fire. Shortly after, a bridge was laid over the flooded area, using the two stuck vehicles as support. This exit was cleared by 0915. The other exit was cleared with less drama, and was open to traffic at about 0930 hours.
on the other side of the mouth of the River Seulles, the Regina Rifle Regiment landed at Nan Green sector near the town of Courseulles. A Company landed right in front of a German 75-millimeter gun and a 88-millimeter gun, both in concrete casemates, fired on them, supported by machine gun nests and four Tobruk emplacements; B Company landed further to the east; C Company landed right in front of Courseulles. The beached offered little cover, thus all the troops dashed for the base of the German defensive fortifications as soon as they reached land, while a few DD Sherman tanks were on hand to provide some cover fire. The 75-millimeter gun fired about 200 shells before an armor piercing tank shell penetrated the gun shield and killed the crew, and the 88-millimeter gun was likewise disabled by close-range tank gun fire. By the time the Hobart's Funnies vehicles arrived at the Nan Green sector, 40 minutes behind schedule, the Canadian troops had already cleared German defenses in the immediate beach area. The flail tanks, bulldozers, and bridge layers cleared up two lanes inland by 0900 hours. Meanwhile, men of the C Company rushed into the town of Courseulles and performed house-to-house fighting to clear the beach town of German defenders. While the troops cleared each house, sniper fire from neighboring buildings and mortar and machine gun fire from a nearby German strongpoint with height advantage made the task extremely difficult. It took until the early afternoon for Courseulles to become secured, and the strongpoint near the town was taken shortly after.
To the west, the 8th Brigade of the Canadian 3rd Division landed between Bernières and St Aubin, supported by Canadian and British duplex-drive Sherman tanks. The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada landed at Nan White sector at 0755 hours and had a tough time establishing their positions for the first 15 minutes of the landing, especially with the tanks arriving later than expected. B Company of Queen's Own Rifles of Canada landed directly in front of a German strongpoint, suffering 65 casualties in the opening few minutes of the landing, but the men slowly worked from pillbox to pillbox to silence the machine guns. To the right, A Company men were able to dash across the beach, but were soon held down by machine gun and mortar fire in the field immediately beyond the beach. The arrival of tanks and shortly after the reserve companies alleviated the situation. Between 0910 and 0930, self-propelled guns of the 14th and 19th Field Regiments of the Royal Canadian Artillery landed onto a narrow, crowded, and chaotic beach. Once the beach defenses were knocked out, the troops gathered to take their first objective, the village of Bény-sur-Mer, but it was not until noon they received the order to advance toward the village, and it would not be taken until mid-afternoon.
The Canadian North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment landed at Nan Red sector at 0800 hours, west of St Aubin. The men of A Company faced relatively light opposition, but the B Company men landed right in front of a strongpoint with a 50-millimeter gun, which knocked out the first two duplex-drive Sherman tanks with ease, followed by the first two AVRE vehicles. It would take the B Company men until 1115 hours to silence the strongpoint with two duplex-drive Sherman tank guns, one AVRE gun, and many petard charges launched by another AVRE vehicle. C and D Companies landed a short while after A and B Companies landed; C Company men took the village of Tailleville, two miles away from St Aubin, in the late afternoon.
In the Nan Red sector, British marines of the 48 Royal Marine Commando landed after suffering great casualties from destroyed landing craft on the way to the beach and heavy small arms fire after making landfall. They were supposed to capture the strongpoint at Langrune and then link up with marines from the 41 Royal Marine Commando from Sword Beach, but they achieve neither on D-Day as Langrune proved to be much more difficult to conquer than originally thought. Two concrete emplacements, one housing a 75-millimeter gun and the other a 50-millimeter anti-tank gun, held up the British marines' advance; their concrete walls were so well constructed that tanks shells essentially bounced off of them. By the end of the first day of the Normandy invasion, the 48 Royal Marine Commando suffered 50% casualties without taking Langrune.
6 Jun 1944
Situated around the estuary of the River Orne, the 21-mile wide area that the Allies designated as Sword and Juno Beaches was defended by the German 716th Infantry Division commanded by artillery officer Major General Wilhelm Richter, an officer since WW1 and a veteran of campaigns in Poland, Belgium, and Russia in the European War. The German 716th Infantry Division was raised in Münster, Germany, and consisted mainly of older men from Rhineland and Westphalia regions; they had been stationed in Normandy, France since Jun 1942 and had been trained specifically for coastal defense and occupation duties. Some of the division's strength was syphoned away as replacements for losses on the Russian front; about 1,000 soldiers from occupied Soviet territories were sent in to replace some of the men transferred away. Several miles inland, about 20 miles southeast of Caen, was the German 21st Panzer Division commanded by Major General Edgar Feuchtinger, who reported to Rommel's Army Group B. Feuchtinger was not a respected commander; though a veteran of many campaigns, he was promoted to a high rank largely because of political connections in the Nazi Party, thus he was not respected by all of his peers. Additionally, some units of the 21st Panzer Division were consisted of men previously rejected by other units; in fact, it was the only panzer division to be rejected for the campaign in Russia in early 1944. Behind the beach's formidable fortifications were artillery pieces not unlike other invasion beaches; heavy guns of 150 to 381-millimeter calibers were deployed as far east as Le Havre, and closer to the beach at Merville, Ouistreham, Riva Bella, and Colleville were smaller guns with calibers of 104 to 150-millimeters.
The Allies commander for invading Sword Beach was Major General Tom Rennie of the UK 3rd Division, supported behind enemy lines by Major General Richard Gale's airborne troopers of the UK 6th Airborne Division. Also in assistance of the UK 3rd Division was the 5th Assault Regiment from Major General Percy Hobart's UK 79th Armored Division, which operated specialized tanks, "Hobart's Funnies", to counter beach obstacles. The troops of the 3rd Division were trained since Dec 1943 for the specific purpose of the cross-Channel invasion. Rear Admiral A. G. Talbot of the Royal Navy was placed in charge for the seaborne element of the Sword Beach assault, operating British and Commonwealth ships under his command.
The invasion of Sword Beach launched at 2256 hours in the night of 5 Jun 1944 when six Horsa gliders were pulled airborne at Tarrant Rushton airfield in England, United Kingdom. These glider troops of the 6th Airlanding Brigade of the UK 6th Airborne Division landed in landing Zone X close by the bridges at Orne at about 0015 hours on 6 Jun. Within minutes, 90 glider troops gathered within 100 yards of the bridges, which were their primary objectives. Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and his platoon dashed across the first bridge, Pegasus Bridge, killing one sentry (the other had ran away at the first sight of the troops), but not before he sounded the alarm. Brotheridge dashed toward a nearby machine gun pit, throwing a grenade into it as he ran, but unfortunately for him, the grenade did not take out the crew, and he was cut down by the machine gun. Troops following Brotheridge silenced the gun pit. On the other side of the bridge, Lieutenant Wood and his platoon had already taken out several defenses, including a machine gun position and a anti-tunk gun crew. The two platoon quickly took control of the first bridge. The second bridge, several hundred yards to the east, were attacked by two platoons of glider troopers. They captured the bridge with relative ease. The glider troopers now dug in to hold the bridge until the arrival of friendly paratroopers. The pathfinders of the UK 22nd Independent Parachute Company landed minutes after the bridges were secured, but they took a while to rally as they were widely scattered. At 0045, transports began dropping the main body of paratroopers, who were also dispersed. By daybreak, only about 200 men gathered for the defense of the bridges, now under the responsibility of paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Pine Collins.
Near Merville, British paratroopers were scattered widely like their pathfinder comrades. Many of the battalions were forced to begin their operations at about 60% strength as many of their men were unable to find their way to the rally points. The UK 9th Parachute Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, was of no exception. The 9th Parachute Battalion was charged with taking the gun battery at Merville, which was regarded a critical operation. They were ordered to take the battery by 0500, or cruiser HMS Arethusa would fire her guns in attempt to do the same, which might risk hitting the paratroopers. Otway was only about to gather 150 out of his total of 750 men before he began his attack, meanwhile the Germans were well fortified with barbed wires, minefields, and steel and earth bunkers. Shortly before he commenced his attack, he met up with Major George Smith and his party, who landed near the battery and had mapped out routes through the minefield without being detected, and Otway's men made use of two of the mapped routes for their attack. Otway timed his attack to coincide with glider landings near the battery so to take advantage of the confusion the attack would cause. Nevertheless, their assault was still detected, and they soon attracted machine gun fire. The gliders were under intense fire but tried to keep on track, but ultimately they were unable to locate the exact location of the battery, and landed too far away to take part in the combat. Without the additional support from glider troops, Otway's men slowly moved forward on their own, receiving fire from all sides. They cleared trenches one by one, some by hand-to-hand combat. Though the fighting was brutal, the German morale was low due to being taken by surprise; additionally, after discovering they were being assaulted by paratroopers, some of the Germans began falling back as they thought they could not defend against hostile elite forces in darkness. With much of the German defenses melting away, Otway's men moved from gun position to gun position, destroying the 75-millimeter guns (they had originally thought 150-millimeter guns were deployed here) one by one, completing the mission before the 0500 deadline. Of the 150 men that launched the attack, 70 were killed or wounded by the time the mission was completed.
The mission to destroy the two bridges over the River Dives was given to Lieutenant Colonel George Bradbrooke's men of the Canadian 1st Parachute Battalion. Also dispersed, only a fraction of the strength gathered. They were successful in destroying the bridges. The destruction of the bridge near the village of Troarn was among the most difficult. A small group of paratroopers drove a jeep in high speed through the German-defended town, men hanging on to the railings as the vehicle slid left and right as it sped down the main street to avoid gunfire (one men fell off and became missing), and reached the unguarded road bridge. They were successful in destroying the bridge with demolition charges, escaping by foot afterwards.
Learning of the attacks, Major General Richter called Major General Feuchtinger, requesting the major general to send in all of his tanks of the 21st Panzer Division in anticipation of a major assault to arrive in the morning. Feuchtinger hesitated, unsure whether the airborne attacks were diversionary or not, and he opted to pass the decision up the chain of command, thus losing valuable time. Meanwhile, some of Feuchtinger's men were already engaged in combat, largely because British and Canadian paratroopers had landed near their positions.
At 0300, the Allied air forces bombarded the German beach defenses for the final time before the amphibious invasion. A few hours later, British warships bombarded German gun batteries and other strongpoints along Sword Beach. After daybreak, British destroyers closed in and fired at short range. At 0510 hours, Royal Air Force aircraft laid a smoke screen to shield the invasion force, but the smokescreen was used by boats of the German 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla to attack, firing 15 torpedoes and scoring one hit, sinking destroyer Svenner with few lives lost. At 0530, soldiers began embarking landing craft. At 0600, LCA landing craft began sailing for Queen Red and Queen White sectors, joined by waves of various landing craft every few minutes. As the landing craft closed, LCT(R) vessels fired a total of 1,064 5-inch rockets, knocking out some beach obstacles and creating a smoke screen. Shortly after, at the range of 7,000 yards, self-propelled guns of the UK 3rd Division began to fire from their vessels to knock out beach obstacles. At the distance of 5,000 yard to the beach, 40 duplex-drive Sherman tanks of the UK 13th/18th Hussars were launched; 31 of them would make it to the beach successfully. By this point, all German guns were firing at the landing craft, and the Allied formation began to break up. At 0725 hours, the infantry arrived on the beach, which quickly attracted fire from machine guns and other small arms. The UK 2nd East Yorks, which landed on Queen Red sector, experienced a tough fight as they attempted to dash across an area bombarded by 88-millimeter and 75-millimeter guns inland, while being raked by machine gun fire. However, the use of specialized tanks such as the Hobart's Funnies provided the Sword Beach landers a slightly easier time than their American counterparts in Omaha and Utah Beaches, as vehicles such as the flail tanks and bridging tanks cleared obstacles and provided bridges to cross anti-tank ditches, all the while provided just a bit more cover for the infantry against small arms fire.
Shortly behind the initial wave were 24 landing craft carrying British Royal Marine commandos. The commandos landed on the extreme western end of Queen White sector and moved toward the German strongpoint at Lion-sur-Mer, which would serve as the link-up between Sword and Juno Beaches. The first target of the commandos was the demolished casino at Riva Bella, which had been turned into a formidable fortress of interlocking bunkers, trenches, wire entanglements, and minefields. Leading the attack on Riva Bella was French Captain Phillippe Kieffer, commanding officer of two groups of French commandos attached to the British Royal Marines, thus making this attack a purely French effort. Kieffer attacked Riva Bella at two locations from the rear with small arms, personal anti-tank weapons, and grenades, but the commandos were soon stalled by two German positions, a bunker and a water tower, both proved to be difficult for Allied weapons to penetrate. The bunker in particular was a difficulty for the French troops, as it housed a 50-millimeter gun that fired through concrete embrasures. Instead of ordering his men to charge, Kieffer alone moved toward the beach, found a duplex-drive Sherman medium tank, and persuaded the tank to assist the assault on Riva Bella. The Sherman tank knocked out both of the water tower and the concrete bunker, allowing the commandos to move in and take over the German strongpoint. To the east, British commandos attacked the German gun battery at the mouth of River Orne from the rear. Machine gun nests, 50-millimeter anti-tank guns, and minefields protected the battery. In the center of the battery was a 56-foot high concrete tower that housed the control and ranging equipment for the costal guns; though not a defensive structure, German troops made effective use of the tower's height to observe British movements to relay down to the defenders on the ground, meanwhile throwing grenades down at close-by British commandos as opportunities presented. To the commandos' disappointment, they found most of the gun positions empty, as they had already been moved further inland. With this new knowledge, the commandos moved out of the battery to regroup. This gun battery, with its concrete tower, would remain in German control for a few more days to come.
Another group of commandos, led by Brigadier Lord Lovat, marched inland with bagpiper Bill Millin playing without stoppage. They met up with Colonel Pine Coffin's paratroopers later that day.
As the beach front began to be cleared, due to the rising tide, the beach narrowed, and the small strip of land soon became a chaotic scene of troops, supplies, vehicles, and landing craft coming and going. Traffic jams became a serious issue at the exits, and this slowed the Allied momentum especially as tanks waited on the beaches for their opportunities to move inland.
The German forces suffered relative light casualties from the pre-invasion aerial and naval bombardment. Though somewhat shell-shocked, they sprang to action quickly, and even the volunteer units from Eastern Europe fought reasonably well. As the result, most of the strongpoints were fiercely defended, forcing the Allies to seize just about every single one by force. As soon as Gerd von Rundstedt realized that the attack was a major Allied invasion attempt, he contacted Adolf Hitler for permission to release all tanks for a counter attack, but permission was slow in the coming as Berlin still considered the possibility that the invasion was merely a diversionary attack. Therefore, the only tanks available were those of Feuchtinger's 21st Panzer Division located south of Caen. By the time those tanks moved, it was already mid-morning, and Allied fighters and fighter-bombers had already established tight patrols in the air, making vehicular movement very difficult for the Germans. Nevertheless, a counter attack by armor materialized under the leadership of young German Colonel Oppeln-Bronikowski, leading a group of Panzer IV tanks. The German tanks were met with anti-tank weapons and Sherman Firefly tanks of the UK Staffordshire Yeomantry, and the counter attack was immediately halted. Oppeln-Bronikowski called off the attack after losing 13 of his tanks. A second prong of the counter attack by infantrymen of the 192nd Panzergrenadiers fared a bit better being able to penetrate Allied lines and making contact with isolated German beach defenders of the 736th Infantry Regiment near Lion-sur-Mer. These infantrymen were later joined by a few tanks. Instead of exploiting further, however, Feuchtinger was forced to recall the 192nd Panzergrenadiers to Caen after observing 250 gliders full of British airborne troops land near St Aubin. The appearance of German armor and the German's ability to reach the sea made the Allied field commanders at Sword Beach a bit weary, thus a decision was made to regroup at the beach, thus delaying the objective to take Caen by the end of 6 Jun. Nevertheless, British troops still moved toward Caen, albeit a very slow pace, so that the city could be taken in the following few days. Along the way, they encountered the unexperienced but fierce troops of the 12th SS-Panzer Division "Hitlerjugent", who held the lines so that, behind them, German tanks could gather in preparation for a counter offensive.
Sword Beach was effectively secured by the Allies at the end of 7 Jun.
Conclusion of D-Day
By the night of 6 Jun, Allied powers had taken control of all five beachheads. Although the Allies failed to take Caen and Bayeux, two main objectives for the first day of the invasion, the Allies were nevertheless able to hold beachheads from which they began to solidify their precarious positions. Very soon, the Allies began building the Mulberry ports that would allow vehicles, supplies, and more men to arrive. Without much rest, the troops moved forward again; Allied troops needed to hold territory far enough from the beaches to prevent German artillery attacks on the newly established supply dumps. German General Rundstedt attempted to counterattack on several occasions, but none achieved any significance as Allied superiority generally overwhelmed German tanks.
The next stage of the campaign for the Allied forces was amongst the hedgerows: cris-crossing walls averaging five feet in height. The German infantry made great use of the hedgerows, practically turning every hedgerow wall into a fortress wall. Skirmishes at the hedgerows reminded historian Stephen Ambrose of the trench warfare of WW1, while to Bob Bearden, an American paratrooper, hedgerows were simply physical representations of the unknown. "You discover what is beyond each hedgerow as you step through at the end of each one", he recalled, never knowing whether there would be a German machine gun nest on the other side. Because the hedgerows, German prisoners suffered, too. Bearden noted in his memoir that German prisoners were usually gathered in the open field between hedgerows so that they could be guarded against escape, but when the German mortar and artillery shells came down, they became most vulnerable to the flying shrapnel. "It was one hell of a situation for those poor Germans."
On 7 and 8 Jun, the German 12th SS Panzer Division, comprised of Hitler Youth personnel, counterattacked between Juno and Sword beaches. Although this attack inflicted heavy losses on the Canadians, stiff Canadian resistance broke the counterattack after losing only short ground.
After the landings, Utah Beach and its Mulberries were a busy seaport. When Captain Richard Winters of the American 101st Paratroopers reached Utah Beach on 10 Jul along with his unit to return to England to rest and train for the next mission, he called "seeing the beach for the first time, with that armada of ships as far as the eye could see in every direction, and seeing the American flag on the beach, left me feeling weak in the knees and for a few moments and brought tears to my eyes".
10-14 Jun 1944
The Allied forces fighting northward toward Cotentin Peninsula was headed by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe of the US 101st Airborne Division, whose first step was to take the port city of Carentan which was at the base of the peninsula. The first engagement for Carentan took place at the town of St-Côme-du-Mont, which was located on the highway to Carentan. The town was defended by Lieutenant Colonel von der Heydte, who was also an airborne officer, commanding the German 6th Parachute Regiment, along with various companies he could gather from the surrounding areas, including two Eastern European battalions of questionable capability or loyalty. Von der Heydt was ordered by Rommel to defend Carentan "to the last man". In the morning of 8 Jun, four American airborne battalions attacked, quickly driving German troops out of the town toward the west into troops of the US 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, and by the end of that day the Americans were beyond of St-Côme-du-Mont. Because the Germans had flooded the marshlands nearby, the Allies were forced to advance via roads.
When troops of the 3rd Battalion, US 502nd Parachute Infantry Division arrived at Bridge No. 2 over the Douve River, they found it blown up by the retreating Germans, and the engineers had a difficult time repairing the bridge under fire by an 88-millimeter gun. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cole, commander of the assault, sent a patrol across the river in a small boat, which found another bridge blocked by a Belgian gate. The patrol was able to open the gate 18-inches wide to let one man pass at a time. They discovered that the Germans seemed to be concentrated at a well-built farmhouse nearby.
Meanwhile, the 327th Glider Infantry crossed the Douve River around the same time in the morning of 10 Jun, captured Brévands, and then was joined by men of Company A of the US 401st Glider Infantry Regiment; they seized roads at the base of the peninsula including the bridges spanning the Vire-Taute Canal east of Carentan by the evening.
Shortly after noon of 10 Jun, as the bridge over the Douve River had not been repaired, the men of 3/502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked over an improved bridge. They reached Bridge No. 4 by 1600 hours after suffering heavy casualties, and were halted by the combination sniper fire, artillery fire, and the unlikely (due to Allied air superiority) Ju 87 Stuka aircraft strafing. In the early hours of 11 Jun, an American company quietly sneaked through the Belgian gate previously found for the farmhouse that seemed to house the main German defenses. Discovered, the company was pinned down by unrelenting German fire that would not cease even in the face of American artillery bombardment. Cole ordered a smokescreen to be laid, in which the men would charge out with bayonets. In close hand-to-hand combat, the first wave of 20 men and the second wave of 50 men fought with the German savagely, taking the farmhouse. Casualties were so heavy on both sides that a brief respite was observed by both sides to take care of the wounded. That afternoon was marked by a series of engagements, including German counterattacks that nearly broke through American lines, halted only by a heavy artillery barrage.
On 11 Jun, McAuliffe prepared for a main assault at Carentan to take place in the next day or two, while at the same time the Germans, dangerously low on ammunition, quietly fell back during that night, leaving only a small rear guard. Meanwhile, a German air re-supply paradrop operation commenced, delivering ammunition about 11 kilometers to the southwest, but that was too late to make a difference as the German troops were already leaving. Von der Heydt was later criticized for prematurely abandoning Carentan; Lieutenant General Max Pemsel, the chief of staff of the German 7th Army, was among those who thought von der Heydt broke down mentally and physically during the battle for Carentan. To his own defense von der Heydt claimed that his troops were in dire straits, and he had no idea that the German 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division was already en route to reinforce Carentan.
At 0200 on 12 Jun, two battalions of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment began to attack a hill designated Hill 30, and took that position by 0500 hours. The Americans were reinforced in the following two hours. At 0600 hours, Carentan was attacked by Americans from the north and south, which wiped out the German rear guard and reached the center of the town by 0730. In the afternoon of 12 Jun, the German 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division planned a counter-attack, but it never took place as their assault guns were held up in the assembly areas due to Allied air attacks.
At about 0700 hours on 13 Jun, the German counterattack finally began under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Werner Ostendorf. Two battalions of the German 37th Panzergrenadier Regiment, supported by tanks of the 17th Panzer Battalion and 48 StuG IV assault guns, pushed back the left side of the American front lines immediately as the Americans were surprised to see a concentration of German heavy weapons. Lieutenant Richard Winters' troops of Company E of US 506th Parachute Infantry Battalion held the right side, however. By 0900 hours, the leading assault guns were within 875 yards of the southwestern side of Carentan. The American paratroopers were able to slow the German advance by taking advantage of the hedgerows. By noon, the Germans were only about 500 yards from Carentan, but by that time the German momentum had already began to shake. At about 1400 hours, tanks of the US 2nd Armored Division arrived; they were ordered to the area by General Bradley at 1030 earlier that day, a decision based upon the interception and timely deciphering of German communications. The tanks, supported by self-propelled howitzers of the US 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, attacked down the Carentan-Baupte road, threatening to cut off the German spearhead elements. The offensive was called off by von der Heydt after suffering several hundred casualties, seven assault guns lost, and thirteen assault guns damaged. Furious with yet another withdraw ordered by von der Heydt, Ostendorf arrested von der Heydt and sent him to a SS military judge that night, who concluded von der Heydt made the proper decisions at Carentan and released him shortly after. This German failed counterattack were later nicknamed the battle of Bloody Gulch by the Americans.
To the east of Carentan, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment advanced to Mesnil on the afternoon of 12 Jun, then attacked south as far Rouxeville and Montmartin-en-Graignes. The 2nd Battalion rescued a pocket of 29th Division troops that included its deputy division commanding officer, Brigadier General Norman D. Cota. On 13 Jun, the regiment was pulled back to form a defensive line against a possible German counterattack that never took place.
On 14 Jun, the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments established a defensive line along the highway from Baupte to Auverville, thus linking up with men of the US 82nd Airborne Division, ending the actions for Carentan.
18-29 Jun 1944
Cherbourg was a major port on the Cotentin Penninsula, with waters deep enough for large Allied transports to dock and transport in large amounts of supplies. By 18 Jun, Major General Collins of the US Army led his VII Corps and took control of all major roads leading into Cherbourg, starting the siege on the German defenders in that port city. Despite the stubborn bravery and the effective use of pillboxes and artillery positions on the part of the Germans, the Americans made slow progress. On 19 Jul, German General Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben pulled back all his forces into the city itself to concentrate his remaining forces. The German forces were well-dug in along a series of hills, field fortifications, bunkers, and former V-1 rocket launching sites. To soften the defenses, the Allies bombarded the area heavily. Starting at 1240 hours 22 Jun, Typhoon and Mustang aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force of the Royal Air Force conducted 25 minutes of intense rocket and strafing attacks, followed by 55 minutes of bombing and strafing by 562 American P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang aircraft, and then 11 groups of B-26 Marauder bombers of the US 9th Air Force bombed the general area at 1400 hours. The ground troops advanced during the air attack, and they reported that the Germans were so well dug in that the aerial bombardment seemed to have done little to loosen the defenses. It took two days of hard fighting for the Americans to breach the outer defenses.
On 25 Jun, a German medical officer accompanied by a captured American pilot came out under a white flag to request that the German naval hospital be spared from shelling, and he also asked for a supply of plasma to treat the wounded. The officer was allowed to return with the plasma he requested, and he also brought back into Cherbourg a letter demanding immediate surrender. At this time, although besieged, Schlieben believed that his men could hold up for at least another month or two due to the terrain and fortifications that favored the defenders. However, even as Schlieben was reading the demands, Americans had begun another assault, and the German defenses suddenly crumbled. German officers ordered port facilities burned, and the fires lit up the skies. On 26 Jun, men of the US 9th and 79th Divisions silenced the German artillery positions at Fort de Roule after a tough fight. On the same day, street fighting within Cherbourg began. Adding to the frustration of house-to-house urban fighting was the presence of coastal guns that were still firing on American positions. As the Americans learned from captured German soldiers that Schlieben was commanding the defense from a bunker in St Sauveur, the Americans focused their attacks at that direction. As they reached near the tunnel entrance to the bunker, the Americans sent a German prisoner into the bunker to demand surrender, which was refused. M-10 tank destroyers were brought forward to fire high explosive rounds at the bunker, which finally broke the German spirit. 800 German officers and men surrendered, including Schlieben, Admiral Hennecke, and their staff officers. The remaining German forces around the city gradually gave up as they learned the news of Schlieben's surrender. Cherbourg fell under Allied control on 29 Jun, capturing 10,000 German prisoners in the final days of combat in that city.
Though the city was targeted for its deep water ports, the capture did not provide immediately benefits due to the extensive damage caused by German sabotage that began during the night of 25-26 Jun. It would take Allied engineers three to four weeks before small ships could make use of the docks, and two months before larger ships could enter. The waters were also ridden ridden with German naval mines, requiring deep-sea divers to clear. "The work of the mine sweepers and the deep-sea divers in Cherbourg Harbor was dramatic and courageous", Eisenhower later said of the operations to restore the usefulness of the harbor for Allied causes.
9 Jun-9 Jul 1944
Although Caen was a target for 6 June, it was not achieved by the British troops landing on the beaches that day. Since very early on in the campaign, British and German troops held a stalemate at Caen (Montgomery had launched three separate strikes at Caen before 1 July, to no avail). On 9 July, Montgomery ordered a massive air strike against that city with the goal of clearing the city's defenses. 450 aircraft were ordered to drop 2500 tons of bombs on Caen, however the pilots feared friendly fire against troops that held lines very close to the city, and delayed several seconds before releasing the bombs. That resulted in heavy damage on the city without actually weakening the German defenses by much. British troops advanced after the air strike, though suffering heavy casualties (average of 25% casualty rate for infantry battalions). Fierce German defenses, including a major German tank counterattack, stalled advancing British troops once again when the British held about half of the city. British troops held on to Caen, forcing the German 12th SS Panzer Division and Army engineers (acting as infantry) to commit to the Caen area, allowing American VIII Corps to reach Coutances, which in turn allowed General Patton's US Third Army to sweep through northwestern France.
15-18 Jul 1944
Bradley's troops marched through the treacherous hedgerows onward to St. Lo, suffering over 5,000 casualties during the advance. However, American tanks and infantry slowly learned how to work with each other to cover each others' weaknesses. An innovative American sergeant named Culin took the steel rails Germans used on the beaches, cut them down to the right size, and welded them in front of tanks. These make-shift heavy bulldozers began to force their way through the hedgerows. This invention allowed US troops to advance several hedgerow walls in a matter of hours, instead of entire days as seen in previous days of hedgerow fighting. This innovation also prevented tanks from exposing their weak underbelly to enemy fire when they climbed the hedgerows.
Since the early days of the campaign, Allied bombers had already rained devastation upon St. Lo. As a prisoner of war, when Bearden traveled through the town on 10 Jun, he recalled that the town appeared "as if a gargantuan machine had just picked up the city, put it in a bag, shook it real good, and emptied it out onto the ground like a huge pile of rubbish." When the American troops arrived on 15 Jul, they grew tired of the slow advances through the hedgerows, and sought more aggressive results. Instead of conducting house-to-house fighting among the ruins where "dead animals and human body parts lay jumbled", they simply attempted to fight through them. On one occasion, American troops drove a bulldozer into a German-held house, burying the three German soldiers inside. By 18 Jul, the Americans had taken control of the little that was left of the town.
Conclusion of the Campaign
Allied superiority especially in the first few weeks of the Normandy campaign for a large part secured the Allied foothold in France. The German defenders fought fiercely, but they were limited by limited reinforcements as German trucks were constantly strafed by opposing aircraft. General Fritz Bayerlein of the German 12th SS Panzer Division wrote of the destruction caused by Allied fighter-bombers right at the start of the campaign.
On the Allied side, columns of trucks and other vehicles streamed from the beaches to the supply dumps and the front lines with relatively minimal interference from German aircraft, greatly contrasting the German experience. Lieutenant John Eisenhower, newly commissioned son of the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, commented to his father "[y]ou would never get away with this if you didn't have air supremacy" shortly after the Normandy campaign commenced; General Eisenhower responded: "If I didn't have air supremacy, I wouldn't be here!"
The Allied success right from the start of the invasion did not take away hints that the cost of progress thus far had been tremendous, however. In the morning of 28 Jun, when pilots of the US Army Air Force 365th Fighter Group flew their P-47 Thunderbolt fighters over the Normandy beaches, they saw American bodies still drifting in the water. It was a sobering sight for the airmen as they looked look beyond and saw "long lines of German prisoners plodding towards the barbed wire stockades on the beach".
Though the Normandy Campaign officially ended on 24 Jul 1944 as defined by the US Army Center of Military History, German forces would not be cleared from the Normandy region until 22 Aug at the conclusion of the Falaise pocket operation.
Sources: Band of Brothers, Crack! and Thump, Crusade in Europe, D-Day: 24 Hours that Saved the World, Hell Hawks, Overlord, the Second World War, To D-Day and Back, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Wikipedia.
Normandy Campaign, Phase 1 Timeline
|6 Mar 1944||The RAF Bomber Command began a major offensive over France to prepare for the Normandy invasion.|
|17 Apr 1944||British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Bomber Command commenced minelaying in the approaches of the English Channel in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Europe.|
|2 May 1944||54-year-old Leonard Dawe, a teacher, compiled a cross-puzzle which was published in the Daily Telegraph on this date. He was put under MI5 investigation as the crossword puzzle contained the code names of the American landing beaches in Normandy, France.|
|8 May 1944||Eisenhower set the date for the cross-Channel invasion at 5 Jun 1944.|
|9 May 1944||The Allies began an aerial campaign against airfields and rail lines in France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion.|
|20 May 1944||Eisenhower addressed French Resistance groups via a broadcast in preparation for the planned cross-Channel invasion. On the same day, 5,000 Allied bombers conducted coordinated strikes against many rail targets and 9 airfields in France and Belgium.|
|23 May 1944||General Hans Cramer, last commander of the German Afrika Korps, was repatriated due to ill health; before he departed Britain, he was shown evidence of the massive Allied build-up, but was misinformed as to the location of these forces; when he was later debriefed in Berlin, Germany, this misinformation helped deceive the Germans as to the actual target of the invasion. On the same day Cramer was repatriated, a single USAAF B-24 bomber ("Lorelei" 41-29300), escorted by eight P-51 fighters, loaded with the new top-secret Azon bombs successfully destroyed four bridges leading into Normandie, France; Lieutenant Colonel F. M. O'Neil (commanding officer of 753rd Squadron) and Captain Fred DeNeffe were the mission pilots; the entire crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.|
|24 May 1944||British Prime Minister Churchill formally announced that Spain would not be a target of the forthcoming Allied invasion on continental western Europe.|
|3 Jun 1944||RAF aircraft conducted raids in the Pas-de-Calais and Cherbourg areas of France.|
|4 Jun 1944||Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, was postponed due to weather. Meanwhile, RAF bombers struck German coastal fortifications along the French coast.|
|5 Jun 1944||Erwin Rommel noted to Gerd von Rundstedt that there was no sign of an Allied invasion on the French coast.|
|6 Jun 1944||130,000 to 150,000 Allied troops, roughly half American and half British and Commonwealth, invaded the beaches of Normandy, France; it was the largest amphibious operation.|
|7 Jun 1944||British troops captured Bayeux, France.|
|9 Jun 1944||US troops captured St. Mére-Eglise, France, cutting major road and rail links to the Cherbourg Peninsula.|
|12 Jun 1944||US and British forces linked up near Carentan, France, forming a solid 50-mile battle line, with 326,000 men and 54,000 vehicles on the beachhead.|
|13 Jun 1944||German troops launched a counter attack on Carentan, France. Meanwhile, near Villers-Bocage, Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann's lone Tiger tank destroyed 25 tanks and vehicles of the British 7th Armoured Division.|
|14 Jun 1944||American troops captured Carentan, France.|
|15 Jun 1944||RAF bombers struck Boulogne and Le Havre, France.|
|17 Jun 1944||Adolf Hitler met with Erwin Rommel and Hans Speidel in France; Hitler agreed to visit the front lines in France, but ultimately this would not take place.|
|18 Jun 1944||US First Army isolated Cherbourg, France.|
|19 Jun 1944||The US Mulberry Harbor at Omaha Beach off Normandy, France was wrecked by a storm. By this date, however, the Allies had 20 divisions ashore in France, while the Germans fielded only 16 in the region.|
|20 Jun 1944||The Americans launched their first attack on Cherbourg, France.|
|22 Jun 1944||The Americans launched a major attack on Cherbourg, France. Allied aircraft dropped over 1,000 tons of bombs on the city during the attack.|
|25 Jun 1944||Operation Epsom began with British Second Army's offensive near Caen, France. To the west, with naval gunfire support, American ground forces engaged in street fighting in Cherbourg.|
|26 Jun 1944||General von Schlieben, commander of the German garrison in Cherbourg, France, was captured by US troops.|
|27 Jun 1944||In France, US troops captured Cherbourg while British forces took Hill 112 near Caen.|
|28 Jun 1944||German defenses halted Operation Epsom near Caen, France.|
|29 Jun 1944||The last harbor fort at Cherbourg, France was captured by US troops. Meanwhile, a planned German offensive by the 2nd and 9th Panzer Divisions at Villers-Bocage, west of Caen, was abandoned when their armored columns were blasted by 260 RAF heavy bombers.|
|30 Jun 1944||The final 6,000 German troops in Cherbourg, France surrendered. At Caen, German troops recaptured Hill 112.|
|3 Jul 1944||US VIII Corps advanced toward Coutances, France.|
|7 Jul 1944||American attacks near Carentan, France were held off by German counterattacks. In support of ground troops and to prepare for a new offensive to be launched on the next day, RAF bombers dropped 2,300 tons of explosives on the Germans in and around Caen, France.|
|8 Jul 1944||British Second Army launched Operation Charnwood against Caen, France.|
|9 Jul 1944||British and Canadian forces entered the rubble that was Caen, France. Meanwhile, US XIX Corps began advancing toward Saint-Lô, France.|
|11 Jul 1944||US VII Corps met resistance attacking toward Saint-Lô, France.|
|12 Jul 1944||US VII Corps made limited progress toward Saint-Lô, France.|
|14 Jul 1944||The US Eighth Air Force based in Britain flew several missions over France, with 319 B-17 bombers dropping 3,700 containers to supply Allied forces fighting in southern France, 131 B-24 bombers attacking Montdidier and Peronne airfields, and 94 P-38 fighter-bombers attacking targets near Paris (1 P-38 aircraft lost). Meanwhile, other Allied aircraft attacked targets in the French railway system in or near Bourth, Merey, Periers, Chateaudun, and other locations; some of these attacks were conducted using Oboe, a British aerial blind bombing targeting technology.|
|15 Jul 1944||The US Eighth Air Force based in Britain launched two missions over France, with 169 P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers attacking German transportation southeast of Paris (3 aircraft lost) and 6 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers dropping propaganda leaflets over French cities after sundown. Four B-26 Marauder bombers of the US Ninth Air Force hit the L'Aigle rail bridge in the afternoon, while fighters also of the Ninth Air Force attacked various targets at Saint-Lô, Argentan, and Falaise.|
|16 Jul 1944||During the day, about 375 USAAF Ninth Air Force aircraft attacked German positions in the Saint-Lô and Rennes areas in France throughout the day. After dark, 5 B-17 bombers were launched to drop propaganda leaflets over France and another group of 24 B-17 bombers flew in support of French resistance groups.|
|17 Jul 1944||In the morning, 670 B-17 and B-24 bombers of the US Eighth Air Force, escorted by 433 fighters, attacked targets in France (1 B-17 bomber and 1 P-47 fighter were lost); in diversion, B-26B bombers of the US VIII Air Support Command attacked Cayeux, France to draw away German fighters. At Coutances, napalm was used for the first time. On the ground, American troops entered Saint-Lô. In the evening, 34 B-17 and 106 B-24 bombers, escorted by 209 P-51 fighters, attacked 12 German V-weapon launching sites in the Pas de Calais, France area. After sundown, 5 B-17 bombers dropped propagadan leaflets in France and the Netherlands while 16 B-24 bombers flew in support of French resistance activities.|
|18 Jul 1944||US XIX Corps troops entered Saint-Lô, France. British troops launched Operation Goodwood against Caen with Allied 2,200 aircraft supporting the ground assault, but stubborn German defense cost the British VIII Corps 200 tanks and 1,500 men, while just over 100 Panzers were destroyed. After sundown, 25 American B-24 bombers flew in support of resistance activities.|
|19 Jul 1944||In France, Canadian troops cleared Caen's southern suburbs, capturing Vaucelles, Louvigny, and Flery-sur-Orne, while British 11th Armoured Division captured Bras and Hubert-Follie. In the afternoon, 262 US 9th Air Force B-26 Marauder and A-20 Havoc aircraft attacked bridges on the Loire River and Seine River and a fuel dump at Bruz, France.|
|20 Jul 1944||The British Operation Goodwood in France was stalled by heavy weather; thus far, over 400 tanks were lost.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945