THE INVASION OF NORMANDY Essay Research Paper

THE INVASION OF NORMANDY Essay, Research Paper 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

THE INVASION OF NORMANDY Essay, Research Paper

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 of soldiers trained in Britain waiting for the Supreme

Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Eisenhower to set a date. June

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5, 1944 was to be the day with the H-hour at 06:30. The vast power of an Allied Army

2.5 million strong lay coiled in England, ready to spring across the channel into

German occupied France. Some of the more than 5000 strong armada of ships and

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small craft of the invasion fleet had already put to sea. On that June morning screaming

winds and a downpour of rain threatened to cancel the invasion. General Eisenhower had

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to make a decision and make it soon. He postponed the attack 24 hours and waited for

the weather to clear. If he was to cancel it one more time it would be another month

before the tide and moonlight conditions would be once again favorable for both a

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Seaborne and Airborne attack. Predictions by the staff meteorologist cautiously

predicted clearing skies for the next day, 6 June. General Eisenhower conferred with his

generals and admirals. He then thought for a minute, then stood up ?Okl? he said ?lets

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go.? 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.

The thesis of this paper is that the Allied Invasion of Normandy was the beginning

of the end of Nazi Germany.

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

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also equipment had to be built to transport and fight with the soldiers. More than 1,300

warships, 1,600 merchant ships, 4,000 landing craft and 13,000 aircraft including

bombers, fighters and gliders were built. Several new types of tanks and Armored

vehicles were built. Two examples are the Sherman Crab flail tank and the Churchill

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Crocodile. On the ground, Britain assembled three Armored Divisions, eight Infantry

Divisions, two Airborne Divisions and ten independent fighting Brigades. The United

States had six Armored Divisions, thirteen Infantry and two Airborne Divisions. With

one Armored 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

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hundred and sixty-five USAAF squadrons (2,000 aircraft). 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

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connected the U.S. and Britain and helped them jointly run the operation. This plan was

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to have five Divisions act as a first wave, landing 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

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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 defenses and immobilize their forces. Blowup tanks

and other misinformation was used to fool Germans into thinking the invasion was

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coming at Pas de Calais. The navy would transport the troops while doing whatever it

could to help them gain ground, and enough of France would be liberated and held by

the Allied forces so that they would not fail by being pushed back into the sea.

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 was being made

as minesweepers started working at creating a safe path for Allied battleships, frigates,

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and corvettes. 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

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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

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spotted and fired upon by coastal guns. A group of 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 short 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

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to be only one of the many errors made by the Allied forces. At 06:30 the first of the

troops landed, the 4th Infantry Division and the 8th Infantry Regiment missed the correct

beach and landed 2,000 yards away on what turned out to luckily be a less heavily

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defended beach. This mix up was blamed on tides, 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

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troops consisted of 32 craft carrying Combat Engineers and Naval Demolition Teams.

Dozer tanks would make up the third wave. Shortly 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 of the amphibious tanks were unable to swim through the rough

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surf and sank. Two out of the three control vessels for the beach hit sea mines and sank

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and countless landing craft were shelled by German coastal guns. There were also

numerous drownings involving troops that were so weighed down by the equipment that

they wore that they were drowned in water only six feet deep. If the soldiers managed to

make it to shore they were still faced with devastating German machine gun fire.

Fortunately, the beach and much of it?s surroundings had become the victim of a large

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sea launched rocket attack clearing some of the German defenses. Once the Division

had made it on the beach and secured it they had to start moving inland on their pre-

planned missions. The units that landed on the wrong beach decided ? to start the war

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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 on the western flank by St. Mere Eglise in order to work their

way to the beach and secure the major crossroads and so that they could be attacked

from two angles. The 4th Infantry Division and 8th Infantry Regiment 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

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there ended up moving inland and linking up with the 101st Airborne Division. The other

Unit that unfortunately landed in the wrong location was the 8th Infantry. Their mission

was to reduce beach fortifications and to move inland. The last two Infantry Regiments

were the 12th and 22nd. Both units 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 unit that was able to achieve it?s objective was the 8th Infantry, and they 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

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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 a challenge for the landing troops and vehicles. Behind the beach were heavily

defended bluffs and high cliffs. In order to invade the area, which was defended by

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 called Belgian Gates were

built, simply to get in the way of landing craft. The second band of obstacles were large

posts and logs dug into the beach at an angle towards the sea and topped off with a

waterproofed landmine also creating a deadly obstacle. The third and final obstacle was

farther up the beach, they were large ?hedgehogs? which were mined steel I beams

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shaped in an X to impede the movement of armored vehicles . 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 over by rough

seas. Most soldiers on these transports drowned because of the weight of the equipment

they were carrying held them under the water, and their inflatable lifesavers failed to

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inflate. Other craft hit mines, losing valuable troops, supplies and weapons. Most of the

landing craft hitting the beach were being fired upon by deadly accurate German

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machine gun fire even when the craft 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. Only 8 of the 16 tanks made it to the beach. Other landing craft either

missed their landing area or arrived too late. The lateral current dragged some Infantry

units hundreds of yards from their objectives and a few battalions, like the 2nd Ranger

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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

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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

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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 four hundred yards in order to fire at enemy

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strongpoints. The risk of grounding the destroyers took and the arrival of tanks, lead to

the eventual fall of the German beach defenses. Once the units could move inland their

individual missions were put into place. One of the most important missions put upon

any division was the destruction of five French-made 155mm naval guns at Pointe du

Hoc. This responsibility was given to the 116th Brigade and it?s two combat teams: The

5th Ranger and 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) as

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well as soldiers on both Utah and Omaha beaches. These guns were not in the

concrete bunkers, as aerial reconvenes had observed, but were actually located inland

several hundred yards. This would prove to be one of the few missions that the Rangers

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completed that day. Because of the great break downs in planned assaults, the day

started to look like a chaotic day with the only missions being that of individual 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

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beach, the dead and those about to die.? 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 units decided on a joint mission to save their

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buddies who were pinned on the beach. Also involved on the Omaha Beach invasion

were the 1st Infantry Division, and the 18th and 115th Brigades. 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

hectic day sounds like a disaster, the major exits from the area were held, three villages

were under Allied control and a 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

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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

transport runs. Not soon after the arrival of the first wave of landing crafts the problems

started to mount. Also, regiments decided to bring their DD Sherman tanks on their LCD

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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

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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

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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. The 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

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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. 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

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southern Soviet republics who were put there by Germans.

Juno beach was Canada?s beach with over 21,000 Canadians

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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 the Canadians 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

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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 obstacle. Like at most of the beaches that day, Armored

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

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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 defenses

surprised the Allied forces, once again the air assault on the German gunneries was not

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as successful as planned. However, like at Gold beach, the Canadians did find out that

the firepower of their tanks was the difference between being able to push inland and

being pinned down at the beach. After the main beach defenses of the Germans were

taken the inland push became slower and slower the farther south they got. A few of the

main objectives were successful. The 3rd Division reach the Caen-Bayeux road and a

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lot of French towns were liberated. 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

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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.

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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-

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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

Armored vehicles. Those groups not supposed to head toward Caen were planned to

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reach the Airborne Divisions and secure the area?s bridges from counterattack. 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 delays in most objectives for that day. Some of the Armored

Divisions like the 27th Armored Brigade abandoned their objectives in order to bail out

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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

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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

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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 75mm gun. Soon, thirteen of the German tanks were destroyed with only one M-

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10 tank destroyer damaged. This just went to show that the British were slow in advance

but almost unbreakable in defense. Still the Germans pressed forward until about 21:00

when the last wave of gliders of the 6th Airborne Divisions came in. The Germans

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looked up and saw about 250 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

that 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.

By the end of June 6, 1944 one of the most complicated and the most coordinated

invasions the world would ever witness had started. On Utah Beach, 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 Beach, the troops there

had recovered from what had looked like an impending disaster in the first hours and

started to break through the stiff German defenses. At the British run beaches of Juno,

Gold and Sword the forces had managed to push inland an average of six miles. Even

with the amount of soldiers numbering about seventy-five thousand, the casualties

between the three U.S. beaches were only approximately three thousand. Overlooking

the Omaha beach landing site is the Normandy American Cemetery. Under headstones

of white Italian marble lie 9386 American soldiers, airmen and sailors. Of these men

whom are buried here are 307 whose names are known but to God. Their valiant

soldiers unselfishly gave their lives in landing operations, the establishment of the

beachheads and the drive inland towards Paris. The remains of 14,000 others had

originally been buried here but had been returned home at the request of their next of

kin. This was the price paid for a foothold on Europe. D-Day was the beginning of the

end for the Germans in Europe and the end of the beginning for the fight for Europe.

SOURCES USED

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II, ( New York New York, Simon and Schuster 1994)

Golstein, Donald M. Katherine V. Dillon, and Michael Wenger, D-DAY NORMANDY: The Story and The Photographs, ( Washington, New York, London, Bassey?s 1994)

Young, Brigadeir Peter D-DAY, ( London England, Bison Books Limited, 1981)

The American Battle Monuments Commission, Normandy American Cemetary and Memorial, ( A Handout; The American Battle Monuments Commission 1987)