D-Day Essay, Research Paper
D-Day D-day is the term for a secret date on which a military operation is to begin. Peacetime planning of military operations is also based on supposed D-days. Terms such as D-plus-3 (three days after initial attack) and H-hour (the hour of an attack) are used to plan the sequence of operations. The term D-day became current during World War II., when it defined dates set for Allied landings on enemy-held coasts. The most famous D-Day is June 6, l944, when the Allies invaded Normandy. (World Book ). World War II took place in 1939-1945. It killed more people, destroyed more property, disrupted more lives, and probably had more far-reaching consequences than any other war in history. It brought about the downfall of Western Europe as the center of world power and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The development of the atomic bomb during the war opened the nuclear age. The end of the second world war began on June 6, l944. That was the day American, British and Canadian troops, who had sailed across the Channel from England, invaded the continent of Europe. They attacked a fifty-mile strip of the coast of Normandy in German-held France. It was the greatest amphibious, or waterborne, assault in the history of warfare. If you talk about “D-Day,” most people assume that this is the D-Day you mean, although the term is used by the army to mean the day of any attack. June 6, 1944, outranks all the other D-Days there have been, and the chances are that the world will never again see an amphibious assault on such a huge scale. In the future, no one is going to think what the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, thought, that the whole coast of a continent can be defended by building a concrete and barbed-wire barrier along its seashore. The growth of air power and the development of guided and ballistic missiles have made Hitler’s idea ridiculous. (Bliven, pg. 4). It wasn’t ridiculous in 1944. At that time the use of airborne troops who dropped to the battlefield in parachutes and gliders, and who could fly over fortifications, was brand new. Parts of three airborne divisions were used in the Normandy assault, but theirs was an assisting job. They delivered the first jab. The main effort the knockout punch was to be made by six divisions of infantrymen who traveled to the battlefield by boat. For D-Day, the day when the Allied armies would set out from southern England to invade and liberate the German-occupied continent of Europe, had to be a total secret. The preparations for the great assault had been going on at full speed for two years. The invasion plan received the code name “Operation Overlord.” The Allies assembled huge amounts of equipment and great numbers of troops for Overlord in southern England. Their size and complexity were almost more than any man could grasp. Even at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force), the brain center of the attack, only a few officers were in positions to appreciate everything that had been and was going on. (Hamlyn, pg. 426) At their head was the quiet, confident General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had come to England in 1942 as commanding general of all American forces in European areas. For months, “Ike,” as he was called, and “Monty,” Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, his British second-in-command, had been planning for D-Day. (Bliven, pg. 8) Strangely, at this most important moment in the story of the war, everything depended upon the weather. Among other things, a later-rising full moon was needed to allow airborne forces to approach the invasion zone on the coast of northern France in darkness, and then to give them moonlight to help identify their dropping zones. And the tides had to be right for the seaborne artillery, taking the bulk of the infantry who would storm the beaches. In June, the generals put all the facts together and decided that the invasion of Europe had to be between the fifth and seventh of June. This was not just because of the tides and the moon. It was known that the Germans were about to launch secret weapons on London – the V1 “flying bombs” and V2 rockets – and their bases had to be captured and destroyed. It was vital, too, for the invading army to break out from the invasion zones and set out for Berlin, the German capital, long before the winter came. (Hamlyn. pg. 427). On June 4th, the weather was terrible. Eisenhower decided that the invasion must be postponed for 24 hours. It was a terrible strain on the waiting troops. The next correct tides after June 7th were not for a fortnight, so everything now pointed to June 6th as D-Day. On June 5th, it was raining heavily and a gale was blowing when Eisenhower asked Group Captain Stagg for a new weather report. The reply was that there would be a fair period which would last until the afternoon of the sixth. Now it was up to Eisenhower. He had to be sure of something as uncertain as a weather report to make one of the most dramatic decisions in history. Quietly, he spoke the momentous words of the war: “O.K. We’ll go.” That Captain Stagg was correct was later history. Some days afterwards a violent storm hit the beachheads in the invasion zone, but by then it didn’t matter. The Allies had made no secret of their intention to invade Europe. When the blow eventually came, the Germans had been preparing their defenses for almost four years. The job of repelling the invasion fell to Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, who was called from retirement for the second time in March 1942 and appointed Commander in Chief, West. His responsibilities included the defense of France, Belgium and Holland, the countries where the Allies were expected to launch their assault. He was answerable only to the Fuhrer himself. (Young, pg. 7) At the tactical level the task of defending the Channel coast fell to Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, an officer of outstanding tactical skill. Rommel felt that “the war will be won or lost on the beaches. The first 24 hours will be decisive.” Unfortunately for the Germans his ideas did not entirely coincide with those of von Rundstedt, upon whom the ultimate responsibility rested. The Germans expected an invasion along the north coast of France in 1944. But they were unsure where. A chain of fortifications, which the Germans called the Atlantic Wall, ran along the coast. There was a network of obstacles placed in the water to rip the bottoms out of small boats. There were more than a half-million of them. Some were made of steel and some were made of concrete. Others were made with wood, and practically all were topped by mines that would explode on touch. On land, mines, pillboxes, forts, gun emplacements, and machine gun nests were built and connected by trenches and protected by barbed wire barriers. The Nazis sowed mines on the beach like seeds. There were more than five million of them. These were the death traps the British and American demolition units would have to destroy if the great invasion was to be a success. Hitler thought the Atlantic Wall strong enough to stop any invasion force. Hitler placed Rommel in charge of strengthening these German defenses along the coast. Rommel built reinforced concrete bunkers from which cannon and machine guns and mortars could sweep both the beaches and the sea. (Blassingame, pg. 45) The Germans concentrated their troops near Calais, at the narrowest part of the English Channel. But the Allies planned to land farther west, in a region of northern France called Normandy. The secret of where the invasion would take place was one of the best kept secrets of the war. The area of Calais was the nearest to the invaders, but it was also the most obvious place. But Allied strategy lay in making the Germans think that the Calais area was the chosen spot. A much greater weight of bombs was deliberately dropped on this area, and on D-Day itself two squadrons of bombers circled over the Channel off Calais, dropping tons of long, thin aluminum strips called windows” to fool the enemy radar that a fleet of ships was approaching Calais. (Young, pg. 14.) The actual location of Normandy was chosen for many reasons. First, because it was considered one of the weakest points of the German defense. The elite German Fifteenth Army had been pulled from the area and moved to Calais and the defending Seventh Army had been stripped of its armor reserves by the Fifteenth Army. (Welsh, pg. 51). Once the Allies decided on the invasion site, the naval aspects of the invasion had to be planned in detail. The invasion fleet would be divided between fighting and transport vessels. More than 1200 ships from seven countries would provide escort and support for the invasion forces. The United States would contribute to this fleet three battleships, three cruisers, thirty-four destroyers and nine minesweepers. Transport vessels would number more than 4000 and would be commanded by the British Admiral Ramsay. Infantrymen would be brought ashore on transport vehicles. One such vehicle was the assault boat called the LCVP, which stood for Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel. They were the smallest of the many different kinds of landing craft that had been designed by the Allies during World War II. They were built to run right onto the shore, or, at least, into quite shallow water, where their square bows could be lowered, like small draw bridges, to become unloading ramps. An LCVP could carry 32 men. The men got into their LCVP’s by climbing over the rails and down the sides of the transport ships, using huge rope cargo nets as ladders. It was not easy to do in the dark, carrying heavy and awkward equipment, and with the boats waiting at the bottom of the nets tossing in the choppy water. There were no seats in the LCVP’s. The men took positions in three rows. Those in front would be the first to rush ashore. As the LCVP’s pulled away from the big transports, they began to rock and pitch. Waves hit them and before long everyone was soaked. (Bliven, pg. 12.) A typical boatload in the first wave of the assault carried, standing in the bow, the boat section leader (a junior officer) with five riflemen. The riflemen carried semiautomatic Garand rifles (called M-l’s) and each had 96 bullets in clips of eight with him. He also carried five hand grenades and four smoke grenades. Also, in one of the big pockets in his special assault jacket, he had a half-pound block of TNT and the fuse to set it off. (Bliven, pg. 14) Next came four men, also armed with rifles, who made up a special wire-cutting team. Their job was to open gaps through barbed wire with the big cutters they carried. Behind them were two Browning Automatic Rifle teams with two men to a team. A BAR, as the gun was called, is more like a machine gun than a rifle. Each team carried nine hundred pounds of ammunition. Next came two men with bazookas. Each one had an assistant to load the device and carry the extra rockets. He was armed with a carbine, a light rifle. Next, a four-man light mortar team came. They carried a 60mm mortar and twenty shells. Many men thought the mortar was the infantry’s most effective weapon. It is a tubular device that lobs its shell high into the air, so that it can reach over walls or hills. It is accurate. When it explodes, it shatters into thousands of fragments that go off in every direction with the force of bullets. (Bliven, pg. 15) A flamethrower team of two men followed the mortar section. Their flamethrower spurted jellied gasoline through the air. It was set on fire as it left the nozzle and burned for some time after it hit. These flamethrowers were to be used against the concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements in the German fortifications. The burning jelly kept the men inside the pillbox from shooting, at least until the fire burned out. In the last section of the boat, the demolitions team of five men, was to perform its special job, perhaps the most daring of all. They carried TNT. They were to advance all the way across the beach and plant their TNT against the concrete walls of the German pillboxes, gun emplacements, or whatever the strong point might be. They were to set down the TNT where it would do the most damage, set off the fuse, and in a few seconds time, hurl themselves back out of the way.
The assistant section leader, second in command, brought up the rear. He had with him one or two medical-aid men with first-aid supplies, who wore big red crosses painted on their helmets for easy identification. There were six such boat sections, a total of about 192 men, in each assault infantry company. And each of the first-wave companies was to attack a piece approximately 1,000 yards wide of one of the five main beaches. The final invasion plans were approved. Three airborne divisions, two American and one British, would be dropped into the area to hold the flanks and secure crucial areas in preparation for the landings. The invasion fleet would enter the Bay of Seine where the beaches had been divided into an American and a British zone. The American westernmost zone had two designated beaches, Utah and Omaha, which were the responsibility of the US First Army, General Omar Bradley commanding. The eastern British zone had three beach sites, Gold, Juno and Sword. The beaches Gold and Sword would be the responsibility of the British Second Army, while the Canadian 3rd Division would be the first to land at Juno. The Allies had assembled a force for the invasion and liberation of approximately 3,000,000 men. The initial invasion force of 15 divisions would be landed in the first days of the operation. Another 30 divisions would follow from England once the beachheads were secured and the march to recapture France was in progress. (Welsh, pg. 52) On Tuesday, June 6, l944, Gen. Eisenhower gave the go-ahead. Operation Overlord was underway. The airborne assault was a vital part of Operation Overlord. The Allies sent in three airborne divisions, two American and one British, to prepare for the main assault by taking certain strategic points and by disrupting German communications. The paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions went first. The paratroopers began dropping out of the night sky at l:30a.m., five hours before the seaborne attack started. They were the larger of the two drops on the west, on the Cotentin peninsula, behind Utah beach. There were a total of 12,000 parachutists jumping out of 925 troop carrier planes and then, later, 4,000 men in 500 gliders. They were to seize key roads and bridges far behind Utah. One of their most important jobs was to control several built-up causeways that led from the beach across a large swamp just behind it. Those causeways, and all the exits from the beaches had to be taken. They were the routes that the invasion, once ashore, would have to follow on its way inland. (Bliven, pg. 5l) British paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division were dropped on the east end of the invasion front, behind Sword beach. They were supposed to hold the bridges across the Orne River and the Caen Canal, which the Allies hoped to use. They were also to blow up the bridges over the Dines River, farther east, so the Germans could not bring reinforcements across them. They were to capture a large German gun battery at a town called Merville. The paratroopers were supposed to take an area of twenty-four square miles. (Welsh, pg. 52) American airdrops resulted in chaos and near disaster. Cloud cover made navigation and target location difficult. Because of this, the drops were widely scattered. They had to find their equipment, find each other and assemble into a sizable fighting unit. The scattering was so bad that some units were to spend all of D-Day just trying to find one another and get organized. Men in the 101st Division came down as far away as twenty miles from where they were suppose to. More than half of their weapons and ammunition was lost because it fell into swamps or into fields that the Germans controlled. And the 82nd Division’s drop was more badly scattered than the 101st’s. As a result, instead of one large battle, they found themselves fighting small separate battles. And instead of fighting in their regular units, many of the soldiers fought in groups that had put themselves together and the men had never seen one another before. Casualties were heavy. Every fifth man was wounded, killed, or taken prisoner before the end of D-Day. After the Normandy invasion, we never again dropped parachute troops at night. And yet, in spite of all that went wrong, the air drop behind Utah beach was a success. In spite of the fact that the paratroopers were scattered over the surrounding countryside and unnecessary accidental casualties were taken, they succeeded in achieving almost all of their initial objectives. For although the paratroopers were confused, they confused the Germans even more. (Bliven, pg. 55). At 0630 hours on June 6th the first assault waves made their way to the beaches of Normandy. General Omar Bradley’s Army, composed of the V and VII Corps, approached Utah and Omaha. Utah proved to be the easiest landing, and Omaha the most difficult of the whole Allied assault. The Americans had decided to go in an hour earlier than the British owing to the differences in tides. Another major difference between the American and British plans was the choice of the lowering positions (transport areas), where the troops transferred from ships into landing craft. The American lowering position was 11 miles from the coast, the British only 7 miles. The American soldiers running into Utah and Omaha had to put up with three hours in small craft in rougher conditions than any they had met with during training. For those approaching Utah this was not so bad for their run in was sheltered under the lee of the Cotentin peninsula. (Welsh, pg. 52) The 4th Infantry Division of General J. L. Collins would be the first to land at Utah beach. The 4th Division, whose landing craft were to be launched eight miles offshore, was forced by the relentless range of German shore batteries to set out while still twelve miles out to sea. The rough waters made most of the men seasick before they were halfway to shore. As the coast drew near, several of the larger landing craft, one of which carried the vital tanks, struck mines and sank. Other tanks, known as Duplex Drive or DD Tanks, which were equipped with flotation devices to let them “swim” ashore, were having difficulty gaining headway to shore. By mistake the landings all took place on the southern part of the beach which happened to be less well defended. The error would prove to be a blessing. If they have landed at its proper position, it would have walked directly into machine gun fire from the fortified bunkers which were concentrated on that section of the shore. The 28 DD tanks still available swam in 3000 yards and landed safely some minutes behind the infantry. The engineers and naval demolition parties set to work to destroy the beach obstacles, and cleared them within an hour, giving landing craft a clear run in. This was an achievement which could not be paralleled anywhere else on the whole front. (Welsh, pg. 52) The landing craft plowing toward Omaha were buffeted by a stronger wind and rougher seas than Force U had encountered off Utah. Of a 30-tank battalion of DD tanks only two ever reached the shore. The land behind the sand dunes at Utah is only a few feet above sea level, but the Omaha beaches are overlooked by bluffs which rise in place to 150 feet and command the beaches. Whereas the Utah defenses had been well and truly battered from air and sea, those at Omaha had been missed by the bombers. They were protected from seaward and the 40-minute naval bombardment had been unable to silence the guns. To make matters worse the German troops at Omaha, the 352nd Infantry Division, were not only more numerous than those of the static 709th Division defending Utah, they were also better soldiers. And, their defensive position, naturally strong, had been skillfully fortified. (Miller, pg. 424) As the first wave of troops landed, they were immediately pinned down by murderous machine gun fire. Twenty-five minutes later the second wave landed, only to find the advance troops huddled at the very edge of the shore. Within ten minutes casualties had reduced most units by 25 to 50 percent. Special Army-Navy engineers sent in to destroy the beach defense works could not perform their missions as the German defenses were the only place for the American troops to shelter. Successive waves continued to land with nowhere to go once they reached the shore. Finally General Huebner, the local assault commander, succeeded in halting further landing parties. Navy destroyers maneuvered to within 1000 yards of the shore and began to bombard the German positions. The situation was so desperate that at one point General Bradley considered aborting the Omaha operation and the German defensive units had reported to their headquarters that the invasion in their sector had been repulsed. (Welsh, pg. 53) By the evening of June 6th despite the loss of 3000 men, 50 tanks, 20 artillery pieces, 50 infantry landing craft and ten larger naval vessels, lead elements of the V Corps had moved two miles inland from Omaha along a front four miles wide. The 2nd Ranger Battalion had also managed to climb the cliffs between Utah and Omaha and silenced the German guns that were creating chaos on the beaches. The 101st Airborne and elements of the VII Corps continued to move inland and secured the surrounding area. The British, though faced with difficult odds, had secured their beaches. D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy, was a success and the liberation of France had begun. Why did the Allies win the battle of D-Day? Was Montgomery a greater general than von Rundstedt: Why did the Germans, with some 40 divisions at their disposal, get so many of them in the wrong places that the Allies were able to fight their way ashore and stay there? It must be remembered that in the first place the Allies had complete command in the air. In the second they had absolute command at sea. In the third, though Montgomery was not without fault, he was probably a much better general than von Rundstedt, besides being more than a match for Rommel. Field Marshall von Rundstedt, for all his service and experience, was baffled by the complexities of amphibious warfare. One key point is that for one reason or another the German commanders were of two minds as to the significance of the reports that reached their headquarters. VonRundstedt remained convinced that the main attack must come at Calais and that therefore the Normandy attack was not a major operation. (Welsh, pg. 54). The greatest amphibious assault in the history of the world was a success. Everywhere along the fifty-mile front the assault sections had done what Hitler thought couldn’t be done: They had smashed huge holes in the Atlantic Wall. And through those holes, according to plan, poured the great weight of the invasion force. It took eleven more months – from June 6, l944 to May 8, l945 – for the Allies to bring the German war machine to its final defeat. But the D-Day victory had marked the beginning of that end. Many years have passed since the Allies won this astonishing victory. It is not likely that the world will see such another, for a single nuclear weapon in the assault area might suffice to bring the whole amphibious machine to a disastrous halt. Yet, if it is not longer possible to contemplate an operation of this kind, it is worth pausing for a moment to recall the magnitude of the effort which the Allies put forth on June 6, l944. Allied aircraft flew 14,000 sorties during the night of June 5th and on D-Day. In these operations 127 aircraft were lost and 63 damaged. More than 195,000 men were engaged in the ships and craft taking part in the naval operations. More than 23,000 airborne troops, about 8,000 British and 15,500 American, were landed from the air. Total American casualties were 6,000. (Young, pg. 61) In the British Sector the airborne troops and commandos had about 1300 casualties. Casualties among the seaborne troops were some 3,000, of whom about 1,000 were Canadians. Thus 156,215 troops were landed, from sea and air, in Normandy, and at a cost of some 10,300 casualties, broke Hitler’s Atlantic Wall in a single day. In four years, the Allies had invented and mastered the intricate techniques of amphibious warfare. Operation Overlord was a complete success.