D-Day Essay, Research Paper
June 6, 1944 will be remembered for many reasons. Some may think of it as a
success and some as a failure. The pages following this could be used to prove
either one. The only sure thing that I can tell you about D-Day is this: D-Day,
June 6, 1944 was the focal point of the greatest and most planned out invasion
of all time. The allied invasion of France was long awaited and tactfully
thought out. For months the allied forces of millions trained in Britain
waiting for the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General
Eisenhower to set a date. June 6, 1944 was to be the day with the H-hour at
06:30. Aircraft bombed German installations and helped prepare the ground
attack. The ground forces landed and made their push inland. Soon Operation
Overlord was in full affect as the allied forces pushed the Germans back towards
the Russian forces coming in from the east. D-Day was the beginning and the key
to the fight to take back Europe.
Preparations for D-Day
Operation Overlord was in no way a last minute operation thrown together. When
the plan was finalized in the spring of 1944 the world started work on preparing
the hundreds of thousands of men for the greatest battle in history.
By June of 1944 the landing forces were training hard, awaiting D-Day.
1,700,000 British, 1,500,000 Americans, 175,000 from Dominions (mostly Canada),
and another 44,000 from other countries were going to take part.
Not only did men have to be recruited and trained but also equipment had to be
built to transport and fight with the soldiers. 1,300 warships, 1,600 merchant
ships, 4,000 landing craft and 13,000 aircraft including bombers, fighters and
gliders were built. Also several new types of tanks and armoured vehicles were
built. Two examples would be the Sherman Crab flail tank and the Churchill
On the ground Britain assembled three armoured divisions, eight infantry
divisions, two airborne divisions and ten independent fighting brigades. The
United States had six armoured divisions, thirteen infantry and two airborne
divisions. With one armoured division and two infantry divisions Canada also
contributed greatly with the war effort especially when you look at the size of
the country at the time. In the air Britain’s one hundred RAF squadrons (1,200
aircraft) paled in comparison to the one hundred and sixty-five USAAF squadrons
The entire Operation Overlord was supposed to go according to Montgomery’s
Master Plan which was created by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. His plan
was initiated by a command system which connected the U.S. and Britain and
helped them jointly run the operation. His plan was to have five divisions act
as a first wave land on the sixty-one mile long beach front. Four more
divisions as well as some airborne landings would support the first wave. The
beaches of Normandy would be separated into five beaches, codenamed, from west
to east Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans would invade the two
westernmost beaches, being Utah and Omaha and the British and it’s Dominions
would take Gold, Juno and Sword. The Canadians were nearly the entire force to
land on Juno beach. The operation was also coordinated with various French
resistance groups called the ?Secret Army.?
The naval plans were to transport the allied expeditionary forces, help secure
and defend a beachhead, and to help setup a method of constant resupplying of
allied forces. Operation Overlord, in short, was as follows: The airforce
would be used to knock out German defences and immobilize their forces, blowup
tanks and other dummies were used to fool Germans into thinking the invasion was
coming at Pas de Calais, the navy would transport the troops while doing
whatever it can to help them gain ground, and enough of France would be
liberated and held by allied forces so that they would not be pushed back into
Utah beach was a stretch of beachfront approximately five miles long and located
in the dunes of Varreville. Like most beach attacks that day, the planned
attack time was 06:30 or H hour. As early as 02:00 (H-4:30) the preparations
for attack were being made as minesweepers started working at creating a safe
path for allied battleships, frigates, corvettes, etc. At about 02:30 the
flagship for Utah beach was in place and the order was given for the landing
crafts to be loaded and placed into the water. The four waves of troops were
ready to go and the German radar had not spotted any buildup of ships. The
first gunfire occurred at daybreak when some ships were spotted and fired upon
by coastal guns. 276 planes, all B-26 Marauder’s flew in to drop their payload
of 4400 bombs on the targets. Almost all missed and nearly a third fell onto
the beaches and into the sea, far away from their targets. Although some guns
were silenced the poor accuracy of the aircraft was costly and would turn out to
be only one of the many errors made by the allied forces.
At 06:30 the first of the troops landed, the 8th and 4th infantry missed the
correct beach and landed 2,000 yards away on what turned out to be a less
heavily defended beach. This mix up was blamed on smoke and rough seas. These
first troops were all part of the twenty landing craft, each carrying thirty men
that made up the first wave. After the first wave came the 32 amphibious tanks.
The second wave of troops consisted of 32 craft carrying combat engineers and a
naval demolition team. Dozer tanks would make up the third wave. Long after
the securing of the beach 2 engineer battalions arrived. This may sound like
all the divisions made it easily to shore but that is not true. Many amphibious
tanks were unable to make the trek on the rough seas and sank. Two out of the
three control vessels for the beach hit land mines and sank and countless
landing craft were shelled by German coastal guns. There were also several
drownings involving troops being weighed down by their equipment and drowning in
water around six feet deep.
If the soldiers managed to make it to shore they were still faced with German
machine gun fire. Fortunately, the beach and it’s surroundings had become the
victim of a large sea launched missile attack clearing most of the German
defences. Once divisions had made it on the beach and secured it they had to
start moving inland on their pre-planned missions. The divisions that landed on
the wrong beach decided ?to start the war from right here.? Most of the landed
troops were supposed to secure the areas and push inland, eventually meeting up
with the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions that had dropped behind the enemy in
order to cut them off from escape and so that they could be attacked from two
In the Utah Beach attack there were six divisions involved. The 4th and 8th
divisions that landed on the wrong beaches still continued on with their
missions. The 4th, which was originally supposed to land on the islands of St.
Marcouf to destroy coastal guns thought to be there ended up moving inland and
linking up with the 101st airborne division. The other division that landed in
the wrong location was the 8th. Their mission was to reduce beach
fortifications and to move inland. The last two divisions were the 12th and
22nd. Both divisions were to work together to secure the Northern region of the
beach. The 22nd was to move northwest clearing beaches and the high ground
overlooking them while the 12th moved inland on their left flank. Unfortunately
the 22nd was unable to make it’s deep swing into the Northwest.
By the end of the day the only infantry that was able to make it to it’s D-Day
objective was the 8th infantry that had landed on the wrong beach. Most of the
area was secure except for a pocket of Germans that controlled a small area
shaped like a two mile finger on the ridges north of Les Forges. The
experimental idea of having two airborne divisions drop farther inland had
helped make the Utah Beach attack a near success.
The Omaha beach area was the largest of all the Normandy beaches at
approximately 34,500 yards in length. The beach itself had only five passable
ways off, creating another difficulty for the landing troops and vehicles.
Behind the beach were heavily defended bluffs and high cliffs.
In order to invade the area, with it’s twelve German strongpoints over 34,000
troops and 3,300 vehicles would be involved in the Omaha Beach invasion. The
large number was partly because of the fact that beginning in April of the same
year German military had started to fortify the area in hopes of deterring any
invasion from the area. The sandy beaches themselves were free of mines but
three bands of obstacles were put into place in order to create impassable
obstacles for landing sea craft. First large gate-like structures were built,
simply to get in the way. The second band were large posts and logs dug into
the beach also creating obstacles. The third and final obstacle was farther up
the beach, they were large ?hedgehogs? which were mined obstacles that looked as
though they were some sort of weird medieval art.
Like the rest of the beaches, the planned attack time (H hour) was 06:30. Many
would think that this would be when the death toll would first start to rise but
this just wasn’t so. Many men died far from the beach. Two companies of
amphibious DD tanks sank because of heavy seas. Included with the 27 tanks that
sunk were 11 landing craft that tipped. Soldiers on these transports drowned
because the weight of the equipment they were carrying held them under the water.
Other craft hit mines, losing troops, supplies and weapons. Most of the
landing craft were being fired upon by German machine gun fire even when the
crafts were still over 1,000 yards away from the beach. Some even ran aground
while still 100 feet from shore. Attempts to improve the situation were made by
groups such as the 29th division who decided to bring their tanks in on the
landing craft. 8 of the 16 tanks made it to the beach. Other craft either
missed their landing area or arrived too late. The lateral current dragged some
infantry units 100’s of yards from their objectives and a few battalions, like
the 2nd Ranger battalion arrived 40 minutes after they were scheduled to land.
Once most of the craft had managed to make it to the beach the soldiers still
faced many problems. Air strikes that were planned to knock out enemy machine
gunners were not successful enough. Most of the troops were pinned behind the
sea wall and other obstacles by machine gun fire ahead of them and the raising
tides behind them. Tides rose four feet per hour, shrinking the beach by eighty
feet in the same time period. Those soldiers who were too injured to walk or
crawl drowned as the tide sped up on them. With soldiers pinned down and not
enough vehicles being able to get off the beach other craft were unable to land
due to the lack of room.
For the first few hours at Omaha Beach things looked grim. No major advances
were being made. The real turnaround that day was when a few destroyers
actually came in as close as eight hundred yards in order to fire at enemy
strongpoints. The risk of grounding the destroyers took and the arrival of
tanks lead to the eventual fall of the German beach defences. Once the groups
could move inland their individual missions were put into place.
One of the most important missions put upon any division was the destruction of
six French-made 155mm naval guns at Pointe du Hoc. This responsibility was
given to the 116th brigade and it’s two combat teams: US 5th Ranger and US 2nd
Ranger teams. The 5th met the fate of many battalions as the landed on the
wrong beach. Luckily the remaining two teams did manage to destroy the naval
guns that were capable of attacking ships as far out as 25,000 yards (22km).
This would prove to be one of the few missions that were completed that day.
Because of the great break downs in planned assaults, the day started to look
like a chaotic day with only individual missions of survival. Most divisions
managed to stay organized and plan their survival and attack plans. Col. George
H. Taylor of the 16th regiment said, ?Two kinds of people are staying on this
beach, the dead and those about to die, not let’s get the hell out of here.?
These sort of speeches sparked other soldiers to continue with their slightly
revised missions. Originally it was planned for the area’s above the beaches to
be taken by an advance up the heavily defended bluffs but the plan was changed
to a less organized direct assault on the German gunners in the high cliffs.
Other such companies that decided on newly created missions included the 16th
infantry and the 29th division. These two groups decided on a joint mission to
save their allies who were pinned on the beach. Also involved on the Omaha
Beach invasion were the US 1 Infantry Division, and the US 18th and 115th
By the end of D-Day on Omaha Beach the advance had gone barely one and a half
miles inland. Several of the enemy strongpoints were intact and the beachhead
was still under fire. Although this beaches day sounds like a disaster the
major exits from the area were held, three villages were under allied control
and hole in the German line about two and half kilometers long was made and the
coastal guns were destroyed. The landing had been made, all the troops could do
was secure the area and organize the beach for the introduction of
reinforcements and supplies.
Gold Beach was the second largest of the beaches of Normandy and was also the
middle beach: Utah and Omaha to the west and Juno and Sword to the east. Gold
beach was like most of the other beaches invaded on D-Day except it had one
characteristic which was disadvantageous to the allies. Coral reefs, ranging
from twenty to a hundred yards out could ground landing craft at low tide.
Because of this factor the Gold Beach was postponed almost an hour after most of
the other attacks that day. H hour on this beach was to be 07:25.
It turned out the this adverse condition would soon show to have it’s pro’s and
con’s. The largest pro being that this left more time for bombardment of German
defenses by RAF bombers and naval guns. The con’s were of course the fact that
with the rising tides men landing on the beach would end up facing the fate of
many soldiers on Omaha beach, being pinned behind a sea wall and being drowned
by the advancing waves. It would also turn out that, along with beach obstacles,
the rising tide would make it even harder for landing craft to make their
Not soon after the arrival of the first wave of landing crafts the problems
started to mount. Also, like at Omaha, regiments decided to bring their DD
Sherman tanks on their LCD transports instead of floating them in. This was
mainly because of the weather which created high seas. Unfortunately this sort
of tactic left the tanks as sitting ducks and all but one of the tanks were
disabled or destroyed. Soon one problem lead to another as those soldiers that
landed on the beach were unable to advance and were without any tanks to bail
them out of their predicament. Eventually with the help of the one tank that
survived the landing the troops at Gold Beach were able to press forward.
Not unlike any of the other beaches, Gold had a complicated battle plan
including many divisions, regiments and even a commando group. The overall goal
was to take the key points of the German defenses and secure the area. One such
key point was Port-en-Bessin which was to be invaded by the British 47th Royal
Marine Commando who would later meet up with an America regiment from Omaha.
The problem was that not everything went according to plan and they were unable
to take the city and Americans who were supposed to help in the fight inland by
moving through the North-west flank of the area never showed up. Another such
joining of teams did go according to plans as the 50th division met up with a
division of Canadians from Juno beach after coming within a mile of their D-day
objective of the taking of Bayeux. The only two groups to succeed in their D-
day objectives as Gold Beach were the 69th and 231st regiments. The 231st
successfully took the city of Arromanches while the 69th took la Riviere even
after they were forced to originally bypass the stronghold and return and
destroy it later on. Other groups involved included the British 8th, 151st and
56th regiments who aided in the push inland and the clearing of the beaches of
mines and obstacles.
Although a lot of the operations planned for Gold Beach went array, a few great
things did occur. A few of which, carried out by CSM Stanley Hollis, were so
extraordinary that they enabled him to be awarded with the only Victoria Cross
to be awarded the entire day of June 6, 1944. Col. Hollis of the 6th company
was ordered to check out some pillboxes(small German machine-gun bunkers). A
few of his officers were sent in to investigate and ?when they were twenty yards
from the pillbox, a machine gun opened fire from the slit and CSM Hollis
instantly rushed straight at the pillbox, recharged his magazine, threw a
grenade in through the door and fired his Sten gun into it, killing two Germans
and making the remainder prisoner. He then cleared several Germans from a
neighbouring trench.? Then when his company was pinned down by heavy machine-
gun fire Hollis managed to destroy the gun using a PIAT (Projector Infantry
Anti-Tank) weapon and retreated his troops. After learning that some of his men
were still cornered in a nearby house Hollis ran at the Germans with his gun
firing allowing the men to escape. By the end of the day most of the D-day
objectives had failed but three brigades were ready to push farther inland at
sunlight. The beach was secured and ready for reinforcements. Unfortunately
Bayeux was not taken but most of the area’s hidden bunkers and trenches were.
Some in fact were found to be manned by unwilling Asiatic conscripts from the
southern Soviet republics who were put there by Germans.
Juno beach was Canada’s beach with over 21,000 Canadians landing there. Not
unlike other beaches Juno’s H-hour was delayed until 07:45. The reason was that
air reconnaissance had spotted some underwater ?shoals? (rocks/reefs) and they
wanted to wait until the tide had gone in to make it safer for the landing craft.
(Later on the ?shoals? turned out to be masses of floating seaweed). The beach
itself was wide enough to land two brigades side by side, the Canadian 7th at
Courseulles and the 8th at Bernieres. The decision to wait until 07:45 caused
more problems than it solved. The rising tide hid most of the beach obstacles
meaning two things: it was dangerous for the landing craft to come ashore and
the demolition crews couldn’t get at the obstacles to make room for the landing
craft. Thirty percent of all the landing craft at Juno beach on D-day were
disabled in beach obstacle related incidents. One such example was when one
craft started to disembark troops a wave threw the craft onto a mined beach
Like at most of the beaches that day, armoured divisions started to bring their
tanks in on the landing craft but like on all the other beaches this caused
problems. The Regina Rifles, one of the first groups to land, had to wait
twenty minutes on the beach without the aid of any tanks or heavy artillery.
Due to heavy seas and tanks coming in on the landing craft it ?meant that people
who should have been in front were behind.? The Canadians were smarter than
most in the setup of their landing. They chose a position at sea which was only
seven or eight miles out instead of the distance most other beach operations
were using of about eleven miles. This greatly increased the speed and accuracy
of the landings and the first Canadian wave was on the beach by 08:15.
Once on the beach the amount of German defences surprised the allied forces,
once again the air assault on the German gunneries were not as successful as
planned. However, like at Gold beach the Canadians did find out that the
firepower of their tanks were the difference between being able to push inland
and being pinned down at the beach. After the main beach defences of the
Germans were taken the inland push became slower and slower the farther south
A few of the main objectives were successful. The 3rd division reach the Caen-
Bayeux road and a lot of French towns were liberated. The French residents ?
were very welcoming and greeted us heartily in the midst of the ruins of their
homes.? The one strongpoint that would become a problem for troops at Juno as
well as Sword would be Caen. The Canadians found increased resistance the
closer they got and in that aspect their D-day mission did not succeed.
As night fell the Canadians were still well short of a lot of objectives. They
did get their tanks on the Caen-Bayeux road but that was about it. The British
3rd division from Sword beach was planned to meet up with the Canadians in order
to close the gap between Juno and Sword beaches but they never showed. This
left a two mile gap in the beaches and would be the area of the only German
counterattack of the day. The other linkup between beaches was successful as
Canadians met the 50th division from Gold beach. Overall the Canadians didn’t
get all that far but were in a good position to move inland.
Sword beach was the easternmost beach in Normandy. Like at Juno Beach H-hour
was again postponed because of ?shoals? until 07:25. The main objective at
Sword beach was to advance and invade the German strongpoint of Caen. Four
whole brigades of the 3rd division were sent to Caen. There were also airborne
divisions that dropped behind lines using large gliders which could carry troops
as well as other armoured vehicles. Those groups not supposed to head toward
Caen were planned to reach the airborne divisions and secure the area’s bridges
Even as the Canadians moved inland trouble was developing back at the beach.
Although all the DD tanks made it to the beach the tide was turning the already
small beach into one with only ten yards from the seafront to the water’s edge.
With only one road off the beach the overcrowding caused delay’s in most
objective’s for that day. Some of the armoured divisions like the 27th armoured
Brigade abandoned their objectives in order to bail out infantry pinned down on
the crowded beaches.
Those who did make it off the beach in time were quite successful in reaching
their D-day objectives. By late afternoon the leading troops of the brigades
heading for Caen had reached and liberated the towns of Beuville and Bieville
which were only two or so miles short of Caen. Strongpoints like the one at La
Breche were taken as early as 10:00. Those troops that didn’t make it off the
beach in time like the 185th Brigade had to leave all their heavy equipment
behind in order to catch up with the forces already nearing Caen.
The move inland was really looking quite promising until the Germans launched
the only counterattack of the day. The 21st Panzer division was sent out from
Caen, half to take on the southward allies and the other half to head right up
between Juno and Sword beach where that two mile of beach was unoccupied by
allied forces. Fifty German tanks faced the brigades heading for Caen. Luckily
the British were ready with artillery, fighter-bombers and a special ?Firefly?
Sherman tank that was fitted with a seventeen pound anti-tank gun instead of the
normal seventy-five mm. gun. Soon thirteen of the German tanks were destroyed
with only one M-10 tank destroyer damaged. This just went to show that the
British were ?slow in advance but almost unbreakable in defence.? Still the
Germans pressed forward until about 21:00 when the last wave of gliders of the
6th airborne divisions came in. The Germans looked up and saw about two hundred
and fifty gliders fly in and land behind them. The allies now were attacking
from two directions and the only German counterattack ended quickly.
By the end of the day the German resistance at Sword beach was almost
obliterated other than at Caen. A lot of the success was because of the joint
effort of airborne divisions and divisions landing on the beach. Of the 6,250
troops of the 6th airborne that landed there were only 650 casualties.
Unfortunately Caen was not taken but it’s liberation was imminent.
D-Day Air Battle
D-day was not only a day of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy and moving
inland liberating France. Without the aid of the thousands of planes Operation
Overlord could not have gone as planned. As early as the spring of 1944 planes
flew over German ruled France taking photographs of the defences. During the
ten week period before June 6 countless missions were flown with objectives of
taking out German radar installations. There were also hundreds of attacks on
the railways of the area in order to immobilize the forces. Of the 2,000
locomotives that were in the area the year before 1,500 of them were destroyed
or disabled by allied bombings.
By the eve of D-day the allies had 2,800 heavy bombers, 1,500 light bombers and
3,700 fighter planes and fighter-bombers. They also had 56 special night
bombers. When June 6, 1944 came around all the squadrons of planes involved
had their missions just as the landing infantry divisions had their’s. It took
six squadrons of RAF Mosquitoes to patrol the huge armada of ships in the
English Channel that day. Without whom there would have some serious
repercussions on the entire operation. At all times there twenty anti-submarine
planes patrolling the area and protecting the force who would have been sitting
ducks for any German U-boats that would have gotten into the area. To aid the
actual landings of the troops squadrons flew bombing missions on German
pillboxes and other gunnery installations. Flying at three hundred miles per
hour straight in at German machine gun fire in order to clear the way for others
to take the glory is what I call guts. In order to clear the three British
beaches eighteen squadrons flew missions over a nearly continuous eight hour
time period. When bombers weren’t destroying installations they were setting up
smoke screens around the land based naval guns in order to once again protect
the allied armada.
Probably one of the most important things done by the fighters was to fly ?
phantom missions? in order to make the Germans think that the invasion would by
at Pas de Calais. Without the use of air firepower as used on D-day I can say
without a doubt that June 6, 1944 would be remembered as a day of complete
By the end of June 6, 1944 one of the most complicated and the most coordinated
invasions had started. On the beach codenamed Utah the American 1st army held a
firm beachhead with several divisions already receiving the supplies they needed
and would soon be ready to move inland. On Omaha the troops there had recovered
from what had looked like an impending disaster in the first hours and started
to break through the German defences. At the British run beaches of Juno, Gold
and Sword the forces had averaged a push inland of six miles. Even with the
amount of landing soldiers numbering about seventy-five thousand, the casualties
between the three beaches were only approximately three thousand.
D-Day was the beginning of the end for the Germans in Europe and the end of the
beginning for the fight for Europe. I’m not saying that everything went
according to plan on D-day and there wasn’t any errors. I am also not saying
that it was a complete disaster. I am saying that D-Day was on paper, with
objectives for each division and a craft for each infantry unit, the greatest
battle of all time.
Table of Contents
I. Introduction pg. 1
II. Preperation for D-Day pg. 2
A. Utah Beach pg. 4,5
B. Omaha Beach pg. 7,8
C. Gold Beach pg. 10, 11
D. Juno Beach pg. 13
E. Sword Beach pg. 15
IV. D-Day Air Battle pg. 17
V. Conclusion pg. 19
VI. Bibliography pg. 20
D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II Stephen E. Ambrose,
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