The war in Europe had been raging for five bloody years. The Battle of Stalingrad had turned the war in the Allies favor and the Soviet Army was advancing through Eastern Europe. Italy had been liberated from German occupation. The time had come for the liberation of Western Europe. The Allied response was the largest amphibious assault in the history of war. On June 6, 1944, hundreds of Allied ships were used to transport the soldiers, vehicles, and supplies that were to invade German held territory across the English Channel to the shores of France.
To begin the invasion process three Allied airborne divisions were dropped in German territory just hours before the amphibious landings were to commence. These soldiers were to secure the flank and to protect the roads and bridges necessary to fan out after the troops were on the beach.
Back to The "World War II" Chronology
After securing the flanks it was necessary to clear a landing point for the troops coming in the transport ships. To do this a massive bombardment from both the air and sea was commenced. Between the hours of 0300 and 0500 on the morning of June 6, over 1,000 British aircraft dropped more than 5,000 tons of bombs on the German defenses and beaches. The result of this preliminary attack is described in the official British history like this: "Never has any coast suffered what a tortured strip of French coast suffered that morning: both naval and air bombardments were unparalleled."
H-Hour was the appointed time for the bombardment to stop and the amphibious ships to move towards the beach and deposit their cargo of men and vehicles. It was approximately 0700 when the first ships actually hit the five beachheads and over 86,000 soldiers began to swarm out.
The most resistance was found on OMAHA beach where the bombardment had been much less effective due to very rough terrain. Unlike most of the other landing areas which consisted mainly of sand dunes, OMAHA was overlooked by about four miles of steep bluffs and heavy defenses. These defenses were largely unscathed by the shorter bombardment due to bad weather. Heavy seas added problems to the already difficult assault on the well defended territory. Many men, including most of the much needed demolition crews, drown before reaching land.
The result of the unsuccessful bombardment was a death trap for the American soldiers who moved onto the small piece of sand. Colonel George A. Taylor, who lead his troops against a German machine gun emplacement, said, "Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are about to die." The fighting was brutal and more than 2,000 American lives were lost in the attempt to take OMAHA beach.
The result of the first two weeks of the Normandy invasion was a giant foothold for the Allied forces. Two ports were opened to the Allies providing a way for equipment and soldiers to move into France to back up the original Allied force. 57,000 prisoners were taken with only 4,000 French and 2,700 American lives being lost. This invasion was the beginning of the advance that eventually ended the war with Germany.
D'Este, Carlo. Decision in Normandy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1994.
Keegan, John. Six Armies In Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris. New York: The Viking Press, 1982.
Lucas, James, and James Barker. The Battle Of Normandy: The Falaise Gap. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc, 1978.
Photos from U.S. National Archives