D-Day: Operations & Aftermath

by Ankit Lakhmani

Following the German attack on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin started urging the Allied powers for the formation of a second front in western Europe.


In May 1942, the USSR and the United States of America made a joint declaration stating that a full agreement was reached concerning the dire assignments of forming a second front in Europe.


In any case, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill managed to convince the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to postpone the attack, given the military strength of the Allied powers, or, what remained of it, at that point in time.


So, rather than an immediate return to France, the Western partners arranged offensives in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, where the English soldiers were positioned.


By mid-1943, the Allies emerged victorious in the North African Campaign.


The Allies further propelled the attack of Sicily in July 1943 and in this manner attacked the Italian terrain in September.


At the same time, the USSR achieved a significant victory in the Battle of Stalingrad, driving the Germans out of their territory, who had invaded in 1941. This is considered by many historians to be one of the turning points of the Second World War.


The choice to embrace a cross-channel invasion the following year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington, D.C in May 1943. Primary plans were put on hold due to the number of accessible landing crafts. Moreover, the greater part of the Allied fleet was engaged in the Mediterranean and Pacific.


At the Tehran Meeting in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill guaranteed Stalin that they would open the long-overdue second front in May 1944. This second front involved an incursion into France, which was at that time under German control.


Operations Overlord & Neptune



Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that saw a successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe.



The Battle of Normandy was successfully launched with the Normandy landings, otherwise better known as D-Day or Operation Neptune. To ensure a smooth and effective operation, the Allies embarked on a bombarding effort (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that was targeted at weakening German aircraft fighter strength.


A deception plan, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, was also employed by the Allies to mislead the Germans, to provide the Allies with a tactical advantage.


Decoy Stratagems


Under Operation Bodyguard, the Allies’ deception plan sought to deceive the Germans concerning the time and location of the invasion.


Operation Fortitude, which involved the creation of phantom field armies, was also employed to divert German attention away from Normandy. It comprised two sub-plans - Fortitude North and Fortitude South.


Fortitude North involved a decoy battle utilizing counterfeit radio traffic to mislead the Germans into anticipating an assault on Norway and Fortitude South.


Radio messages from 21st Armed Force Gathering were directed to Kent to mislead the Germans that the vast majority of the Allied soldiers were positioned there.


Fortitude South aimed to delude the Germans into accepting that the fundamental assault would occur at Calais.


Lieutenant General George S. Patton was tasked to be in command of an imaginary First US Army Group, so as to fool the Germans into accepting a subsequent assault would happen at Calais.


Besides Operation Fortitude, Operation Taxable and Glimmer were several other naval deceptions conducted to support the Allied landings in Normandy.


Special Air Service (SAS) administrators have sent sham paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny a night before the intrusion, which drove the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had happened.


Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) similarly dropped portions of "window", which consisted of metal foil that caused a radar return which was erroneously deciphered by German radar administrators as a maritime escort close to Le Havre.


Small boats towing radar reflector balloons, which paralleled the radio traffic of a large naval fleet, also created an illusion of a large Allied fleet on German coastal radar screens.


The main operation was carried out in five sectors of the Normandy beaches, codenamed:

  • Utah,

  • Omaha,

  • Gold,

  • Juno,

  • and Sword.

Utah



D-Day at Utah started at 01:30. The first of the airborne units were entrusted with defending the key junction at Sainte-Mère-Église and controlling the boulevards through the overflowed farmland behind Utah, to allow the infantry to progress inland.


While some airborne targets were immediately met, numerous paratroopers failed to accomplish their mission on the same day.


On the beach, infantry and tanks arrived in four waves starting at 06:30 and successfully protected the prompt zone with negligible losses.


Allied engineers have also, by the end of D-Day, successfully countered German defense fortifications, hence securing a foothold despite only capturing a portion of Utah from the Germans.


The 4th Infantry Division didn't meet all their D-Day targets at Utah, mostly in light of the fact that they were deployed too far towards the south.


Compared to the Germans, the Allies endured heavy casualties, with tanks destroyed and vessels sunk by the adversary in the process.


Forces arriving in Utah cleared the territory in under an hour and penetrated 9.7 km inland by the end of D-Day. While the 82nd Airborne Division managed to seize the significant junction at Sainte-Mère-Église in two hours, it neglected to kill the line of safeguards along the Merderet.


Regardless, the Utah operation managed to unwittingly befuddle the German safeguards, who were delayed to respond.


Given that the best German soldiers were dispatched to the Eastern Front, the 4th Division confronted an unremarkable German unit made out of recruits and were able to sustain its air prevalence, hence preventing the Germans from dispatching airborne counterassaults.


Apart from the relative strength of the 4th Division, the success of the Allies at Utah could also be attributed to uncertainty and an overcomplicated order structure within the German central leadership.


Omaha



The goal at Omaha was to establish an Allied foothold between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, so as to connect the British troops arriving from Gold toward the east, and the zone of Isigny toward the west, to the VII Corps arriving at Utah.


Restricting Allied arrivals was the German 352nd Infantry Division. Of its 12,020 men, 6,800 were experienced battle troops, itemized to shield a 53-kilometer front. The German had barriers set in strongpoints along the coast and its procedure depended on overcoming any seaborne ambush at the waterline.


The American 29th Infantry Division, alongside nine organizations of the U.S. Armed force Rangers, diverted from Pointe du Hoc and attacked the western portion of the seashore.


The American 1st Infantry Division was deployed to the eastern portion of Omaha, which was arguably more difficult to capture.


The Allied arrangement also called for an influx of tanks, infantry, and battle engineer powers to decrease the beachfront barriers in order to allow bigger vessels to dock in follow-up waves.


The allies eventually only succeeded at clearing a couple of channels as the German fortifications were startlingly solid and were able to inflict substantial damage on landing U.S. troops.


Despite the inability to clear the German beachfront barriers, which undeniably brought on additional issues and delays, infiltrations were in the long run accomplished by gatherings of survivors making extemporized ambushes, who managed to establish two solid footings on the shore, together with more vulnerable safeguards further inland.


Gold



The Allies had multiple objectives at Gold. Other than to establish a stronghold, Allied forces hoped to seize Arromanches and build up contact with the Americans at Omaha.


The Allies also sought to seize Bayeux and the little port at Port-en-Bessin, to reconvene with the Canadians at Juno toward the east.


The Allies at Gold confronted around 2,000 men from the German 352nd Infantry Division and German 716th Infantry Division.


Enhancements to the fortresses along the Normandy coast were underway under the administration of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel starting in October 1943.


At the Gold Beach, maritime barrages began at 05:30, and amphibious arrivals initiated at 07:25. High breezes made conditions hard for the arrival of aircrafts, and the amphibious DD tanks were discharged on the seashore rather than farther out as planned.


Three of the four heavy guns at the Longues-Sur-Mer battery by the Germans were destroyed by direct hits from the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut, of the Royal Navy, at 06:20. The fourth and last firearm continued to attack the Allied forces until the German platoon surrendered on 7 June.


Aerial assaults failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint. Its 75 mm weapon continued to do sustained damage to the Allied forces until 16:00 when an altered Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank shot a huge Petard bomb into its back passage. A second casemated emplacement at La Rivière containing a 88 mm firearm was killed by a tank at 07:30.


In the meantime, infantry started clearing the fortified houses along the shore and progressed on targets further inland. The No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando captured the Port-en-Bessin region on 7 June in the Battle of Port-en-Bessin.


On the western flank, the First Battalion, Hampshire Regiment caught Arromanches, which became a site of one of the counterfeit Mulberry harbors. The 69th Infantry Brigade on the eastern flank reached the Canadian powers at Juno.


Organization Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis was awarded the main Victoria Cross granted on D-Day for his activities while assaulting two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury battery. Because of hardened opposition from the German 352nd Infantry Division, Bayeux was not caught until the following day.


English losses at Gold are estimated at 1,000–1,100. The losses sustained by the Germans are unknown.


Juno



The Allied plan in Juno called for two detachments of the 3rd Canadian Division to arrive on two seashore parts—Mike and Nan—concentrating on Courseulles, Bernières, and Saint-Aubin.


It was trusted that the fundamental maritime and air bombardments would mollify the seashore barriers and pulverize waterfront strongholds. The 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade and 79th British Armored Division were tasked to assist Allied forces on the beach.


The arrangement required the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade to land hold regiments and send inland, the Royal Marine commandos, to establish contact with the British third Infantry Division on Sword.


It also required the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade to reconvene with the British 50th Infantry Division on Gold. The 3rd Canadian Division's goals were to catch Carpiquet Airfield and arrive at the Caen–Bayeux railroad line by sunset.


The arrivals initially met with overwhelming obstruction from the German 716th Division. The first assault was less successful than expected, moreover, harsh climate further constrained the principal wave, which was postponed until 07:35.


A few ambush organizations—strikingly those of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada—took substantial losses in the initial minutes of the primary wave.


Quality of numbers facilitated fire support from gunnery, and reinforced groups freed most from the beachfront safeguards within two hours of landing.


The ensuing push inland towards Carpiquet and the Caen–Bayeux railroad line resulted in mixed outcomes. The sheer quantities of men and vehicles on the beach delayed the arrival of the 9th Brigade and the start of Allied assaults toward the south.


The 7th Brigade experienced substantial initial resistance before pushing south and reaching the British 50th Division at Creully.


The 8th Brigade experienced overwhelming opposition from the Germans at Tailleville, while the 9th Brigade headed towards Carpiquet at night.


Germans in Saint-Aubin prevented the Royal Marines from establishing contact with the British 3rd Division at Sword. At 21:00, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the third Canadian Infantry Division were able to achieve their objectives and managed to push farther inland beyond Juno beach.


Sword



Among the five beaches, Sword is the closest to Caen and is situated around 15 kilometers from the objective of the 3rd Infantry Division.


Though Allied objectives were successfully achieved, the process of doing so, against the Germans, was not straightforward. Challenges obstructing the Allies’ further advancement to Caen include a counter-assault mounted by the German 21st Panzer Division.


By the end of D-Day, 28,845 men from the I Corps have landed on Sword.


British Historian, L. F. Ellis, composed that:

"in spite of the Atlantic Wall, over 156,000 men had landed in France, on the first day of the campaign."

The British and Canadians had the option to continue advancing onto Caen, but chose to terminate the campaign three days into the attack.


On 7 June, Operation Perch, a pincer assault by the 51st Highland Infantry Division and XXX Corps was propelled to circle Caen from the east and west flanks.


The 21st Panzer Division ended the 51st Division advance and the XXX Corps assault brought about the Battle of Villers-Bocage and the swift withdrawal of the main components of the 7th Armored Division.


Operation Epsom was propelled by VIII Corps on 26 June, to envelop Caen from the west. German powers figured out how to contain the hostile however to do as such, they were obliged to submit all their available strength and resources.


On 27 June, the 3rd Infantry Division and its supporting tanks propelled Operation Mitten. The goal was to maintain its stranglehold over two German-occupied châteaux, la Londe and le Landel.


The operation destroyed three tanks and led to 268 deaths. In 2003 Copp noted that Operation Mitten made the zone the "bloodiest square mile in Normandy".


Scarfe wrote in 1947 that, had the Operation saw more success, Allied forces would have launched Operation Aberlour, so as to seize a few more towns north of Caen.


North of Caen was officially under Allied control after the I Corps launched codenamed Operation Charnwood. The Southern portion of Caen was seized 12 days after, by Canadian infantry during Operation Atlantic.


Conclusion


The Normandy Landings were the biggest seaborne intrusion, with almost 5,000 carrier vehicles, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers involved.


About 160,000 soldiers crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men landing by the end of June.


Around 10,000 Allied soldiers were injured, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans, too, had lost many of their soldiers, with confirmed deaths of 1,000 men.


The Allies planned to capture Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the main day; however, none of these goals were accomplished.


The five footholds were not secured until 12 June, of which the Allies had secured a front around 24 kilometers deep.


Caen, a significant asset, was still in German hands towards the end of D-Day. This territory would not be captured until 21 July, later that year.


Although the Germans had commanded the French citizens to leave potential battle zones, the death toll for civilians is estimated to be around 3,000.


The Allied triumph in Normandy stemmed from a few elements. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only halfway done, with Rommel suggesting that the development of the Atlantic Wall was just 18 percent complete in certain territories.


The deceptions employed were effective, leaving the Germans obliged to protect a tremendous stretch of coastline. The Allies prevailed in an air battle, preventing the Germans from interfering with its defeat in Normandy.


Two transportation networks in France were also derailed by Allied aircraft attacks and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to enhance fortifications and transport supplies.


Hesitation and an excessively confused order structure in the German central leadership were additional factors in the Allied victory.


Friedrich Nietzche has famously argued for the merits of war and how conflict is necessary for human development, many say that he has argued well and that his line of reasoning has historical backing.


However, I do not think this is the case.


What Nietzsche talks about is the urge within human beings to outdo each other in times of conflict, but what he failed to add was that the urge he refers to stems from a need to survive.


This need for survival is nothing but a realization that occurs after a taste of ‘fear’. Fear for the survival of not only oneself but of everything an individual holds dear.


I refuse to acknowledge such an environment as a catalyst for human development; for if the conflict was a machine then the fuel which powered it would be human lives - to which paying such a high price is unacceptable to me.


The Normandy Landings proved to be one of the most bloody battles in the Second World War, and through that, all of recorded human history.


All that we read about serves as a warning to the present generation, to ensure that humanity never sees such a time again.



Sources

  1. Ford, Ken; Zaloga, Steven J. (2009). Overlord: The D-Day Landings. Oxford; New York: Osprey.

  2. Wilmot, Chester (1997) [1952]. The Struggle For Europe. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.

  3. Beevor, Antony (2009). D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

  4. Whitmarsh, Andrew (2009). D-Day in Photographs. Stroud: History Press

  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy landings

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