HISTORY OF THE BATTLE OF NORMANDY
Why a landing ?
Recall of the international situation: during the second world war, the Axis troops control the major part of Europe, excepted England which always defends itself against the Nazi invader. The United States is powerfully rising and in 1944 they benefit from decisive military successes in the Pacific while the allied troops fight in North Africa.
Since 1941, the troops of the USSR suffer from the numerous Germans attacks, even if they are supported by the Americans who send them weapons and ammunition. Thus, the same year, Stalin wishes to see the creation of an operation carried out by the allied forces in western Europe in order to reduce the number of German divisions fighting in the Soviet Union territory: reinforcements would be sent to defend this second front. After some discussions, and in particular the decisive one at Teheran in 1943, allied leaders (Roosevelt:USA, Churchill:Great Britain, Stalin:the USSR) choose to open the second front in France, and more particularly in Normandy. It is decided that the invasion will be done from England. Then, hundreds of convoys cross the Atlantic coming from the United States to land in England thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tons of material. England becomes a huge military camp where thousands of soldiers are involved and where a maximum of material is stored.
In August 1942, an “test” landing is organized at Dieppe (northern France). Officially, it is an attack to install a beachhead in western Europe and to open this second front asked by the Soviets. Semi-officially, it is a test of the german defense system. Those soldiers will be sacrificed to make it possible for the allies to time the German reaction. Thus, in August 1942, Canadians, supported by tanks, take foot on the rollers of the French coast under an extremely heavy fire. The attack is a disaster: more than 3.378 men are left on the ground, killed or captive. Nevertheless this sacrifice will be used for allied in the preparation of the following landing, that one of Normandy.
Choice of Normandy
Why Normandy? Here are the reasons: the coasts of Britanny (western France) are too far away from England to be approached, the grounds in Holland are flooded and do not allow the installation of a beachhead. The currents of the Belgian coasts are very strong and thus dangerous. The Germans await the allies in the Pas-de-Calais (northern France) because the distance between England and France at this place is most reduced. The beaches of Normandy are sand beaches and on some places there are rollers. The composition of these beaches is close to those of western England. Thus, the soldiers will be able to train themselves and to test the resistance of the tanks on the British beaches.
Normandy is the place where the Germans await the less an allied landing. Nevertheless, the coast from Norway to norther Spain is defended by a series of concrete constructions armed with machineguns, barbed wires, minefields: the Atlantic Wall. The operation will be codenamed the Operation Overlord.
Preamble: whereas the order to let the allied fleet go to Normandy is given by general Eisenhower (commander in chief of Operation Overlord) on June 4, 1944 at the end of the afternoon, there is a terrible storm in the English Channel. The meteorologists are sure, it would be madness to send the warships through such a storm. The starting order is cancelled and delayed. The storm reassures the German officers who are persuaded that the Allies will not land with such a weather. But on June 5, a break is announced in the English Channel. Eisenhower, on whom rests all the responsibility for the operation, will have this sentence which remained famous: “O.K. we will go!”
- The airborne operations
Before the amphibious attack is held a massive airborne operation. Two attacks are set at each extremity of the invasion area: in the West, the planes will drop several hundreds of American parachutists belonging to the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions to control the road around Carentan and to slow down the German counter-attacks following the landing. In the East, the 6th british airborne division is charged to carry out the same work. Bridges, like the Pegasus Bridge at Bénouville, in the east of the invasion area, are crucial objectives and the parachutists must capture some of them intact to prevent the invasion from German counter-attacks. The Germans also have batteries able to open fire at very long range, like the Merville, Longues-sur-Mer, Maisy and Crisbecq batteries. Thus, shortly after midnight, on June 6, 1944, the paras jump in the night and achieve to capture their objectives. On 18.000 parachutists, about a half has been killed. But the Germans are disorientated and the communications do not pass any more. The landing can then start.
- The maritime operation
Approximately 5000 ships of all sizes are necessary to the transport of troops and material.
They traverse the way which separates England from Normandy during the night. It is the most important fleet of the History. The warships escort the transport ships and move in columns. They are protected by tethered balloons which prevent the fleet from very low planes attacks. Only one allied boat is sunk before the landing, the Svener (a Norwegian ship), torpedoed by a german fast patrol boat (E-boote) which patrolled in the English Channel and which fled immediately after.
The attack proceeds on Tuesday June 6, 1944 at dawn on 5 beaches codenamed Utah Beach and Omaha Beach (where the Americans land), Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach (where the English,Canadians and Free France soldiers land). These beaches are located between La Madelaine (Cotentin peninsula) and Ouistreham (in the Calvados region). After a bombardment during the night carried out by the allied aviation and a naval bombardment carried out by the fleet against the Atlantic Wall, the soldiers land on the Norman soil. At 08:00 a.m., all the first assault waves have landed.
All the beaches are conquered in the minutes which follow the attack, except on Omaha Beach where the American troops are nailed on the ground by intense shootings. It is only at the beginning of the afternoon that this beach is secured.
The allied losses reach 3.000 soldiers: killed, missing or captive, 2.500 just on Omaha Beach. Support from the air bombers of the naval artillery allowed to reach most of the objectives. Indeed, sailplanes go behind the enemy lines to land jeeps and various material as well as guns and small reco tanks.
After the military attack a race against the clock is set up: the troops have to be supplied as fast as possible in fuel, weapons, ammunitions, food and clothing. But how is it possible to land all this material without having captured a deep water harbor yet? The key of the solution is the Operation Mulberry which consists in building item by item an harbor and to move it piece by piece in front of the village of Arromanches by making it crossing the English Channel.
- French Participation
177 French landed Sword on June 6 at dawn. They were with the British troops during all the engagement and went to support the English parachutists at the beginning of the afternoon. French crews of strategic bombers took part in the bombardments during D-Day and the battle of Normandy. Free France Warships took part in the bombardment of the coast on June 6, 1944 and supplied the landed troops in the days which followed. Ten French soldiers were parachuted over Brittany to carry out sabotage actions.
It is obviously necessary to tell about the actions of the French resistance which made it possible to disturb the German transmissions so as the arrivals of German reinforcements. The role of the French Resistance was essential to win the battle of Normandy, according to Eisenhower.
- Immediate Consequences
The German army is surprised by landing in Normandy, whereas it awaited it in the Pas-de-Calais area. The allies benefit from this violent shock and they install a solid beachhead and land on the beaches hundreds of regiments in reinforcement. The Battle of Normandy begins. The harbors of Arromanches and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer are installed in the days which follow D-Day and the rhythm of materials landing never stopped increasing. An underwater pipeline is installed; it connects England to the coasts of Normandy and it supplies the allied troops with fuel. But a storm damages the two harbors and only that of Arromanches will be recoverable. The time of repair will prevent the landing of material and a British offensive is delayed. The needs for a deep water harbor as that of Cherbourg are huge, fightings are very difficult to capture the city.
- Consequences in the months which follow
The news of the Russian front are marked by the departure of some German divisions, sent in reinforcement against the allied troops in Normandy. The Soviets achieve to push bach the German soldiers. The Germans think that the Normandy landing is a diversion and that the real landing will take place in the Pas-de-Calais area. They leave 150.000 men on the spot. This error will be fatal to the German army. The liberation of France begins efficiently and rapidely, Paris is released in August and the allies reach the Rhine at the end of the winter 1944.
The landing of Normandy is a turning point of world war two.
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