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The events culminating to the normandy invasion

Omaha Beach, where thousands of acts of individual valor and initiative transformed an impending disaster into a bloody triumph, is as sacred a piece of ground to Americans as any place on earth, including Gettysburg or Plymouth Rock. Just two hours after the initial landings at 6: Most of the specially designed amphibious behemoths, along with other combat vehicles and heavy weapons, had sunk in the rough surf en route to the beach.

D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations culminate on Ouistreham beach

Many infantry in the first waves drowned, having disembarked from their landing craft in water over their heads. The preliminary naval and air bombardments had utterly failed to reduce the German strongpoints.

On their own initiative, a dozen destroyers sallied forth into dangerously shallow waters in front of the beach—so close they took fire from German rifle rounds. The infantry on the beach rallied. Improvised squads and platoons, some led by mere PFCs or corporals, began to move off the beach, sometimes using the corpses of their comrades as cover from the raking fire of the German guns, and cleared all five draws through the bluffs leading to the towns beyond.

Much of the combat was hand-to-hand.

  • That night 822 aircraft, carrying parachutists or towing gliders, roared overhead to the Normandy landing zones;
  • Besides, in retrospect, it seems doubtful American industry could have produced the sealift or the landing craft to have launched the invasion much earlier than it actually occurred.

The landings resumed, and the tide of battle shifted to the Americans. Army was on Omaha to stay.

D-Day Was The Largest And One Of The Bloodiest Invasions In History

Three thousand alone fell in the near-disaster on Omaha—more than on all the other beaches combined. Soldiers have crossed the seas in ships for several thousand years to assail their enemies on foreign shores, but in terms of scale and intention, the amphibious assault on the Normandy coast was—is—unprecedented.

More than 6,000 vessels of a bewildering variety of types, at least 10,000 aircraft, 2 million men, and three years of planning were required to bring it off. Scores of best-selling books, countless documentaries, and two blockbuster feature films have told the story of the stormy, windswept channel crossing, the daring airborne assault behind the beaches, the landings, and the ensuing battle through the hedgerows of the Norman countryside.

More than admiration and respect for brave deeds well done lies behind our now 70-year-long fascination with Operation Neptune, the cross-Channel invasion and amphibious landings that formed the first phase of Operation Overlord, the battle for Normandy.

For contemporary Americans, Britons, and Canadians, there is a certain vicarious thrill in placing themselves, through the power of imagination, among their countrymen who took part in the Big Event. In our more cynical age of ambiguity and ambivalence, of low-intensity, quagmire wars that concern, it seems, only the tiny minority of men and women who are personally engaged, or who support those who are, we cannot help but be moved by the great spectacle of D-Day, by the audacity of the operation, and the unwavering commitment of millions of soldiers and citizens in seeing it through to the end.

Symonds, professor emeritus at the U. Naval Academy, takes a different tack. The rest of his book is taken up tracing the events culminating to the normandy invasion fascinating, multi-layered story of how the invasion morphed from a cloudily conceived idea in the minds of British planners in the wake of Dunkirk, into the massively complex undertaking it came to be by June 1944.

Prominent among those struggles was the battle of the Atlantic, waged against the U-boat menace.

Normandy Invasion

Navy had vanquished the dreaded wolf packs with the help of the Enigma code intercepts and new air-sea hunting tactics, the requisite buildup of American troops and supplies in England could not be accomplished. The American and British air forces, for their part, had to reduce the Luftwaffe to near impotence in order to ensure air superiority over the beaches and the channel.

Allied bombers also had to inflict severe damage on the transport network in France to constrict the movement of reinforcements, particularly the powerful Panzer divisions, to the beaches once the landings had taken place.

Finally, the CCS had to organize and execute an ambitious deception campaign, Operation Fortitude, to pin down German forces far from the intended landing zones.

  1. The exact number of casualties suffered in the invasion of Normandy will never be known. They were a fraction of the air armada of 13,000 aircraft that would support D-Day.
  2. For the Normandy campaign these included the exact landing sites; the order in which men and equipment would arrive; the time and date of invasion; the extent of preliminary bombardment needed to weaken German defenses without providing the enemy undue warning. As noted, Allied strategy succeeded in dispersing German forces just prior to D-Day.
  3. They invented a fictitious British 4th Army, code-named Skye, and touted it as the spearhead of the coming invasion of Norway and Scandinavia. A massive American spearhead now threatened to drive into Brittany and, by a left turn, to encircle the Germans in Normandy from the rear.
  4. He said the gathering of world leaders for the event should help to serve peace and, "there where it is threatened, to find solutions and ways out so that a conflict does not degenerate into war.

This elaborate ruse, which involved the creation of entirely ersatz armies, replete with radio traffic and dummy, rubber tanks and landing craft, ultimately succeeded in pinning down a considerable number of heavy German divisions near Calais, where the invasion was expected to take place, as well as in Norway.

The British high command found it difficult to invest in the more ambitious American conception of the operation, at least in part because of the fiasco at Dunkirk and lingering memories of slaughter at the Somme and elsewhere on the Western front in World War I.

  • Allied operational planning called for sealing off the eastern flank of the invasion area, defined by the Orne River and the Caen Canal;
  • By this point, the overwhelming contribution of the United States in men and materiel to the war effort placed its military in a dominant position when it came to working out the strategic and tactical details of the campaign;
  • To oversee defensive preparations, Hitler appointed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel , former commander of the Afrika Korps, as inspector of coastal defenses and then as commander of Army Group B, occupying the threatened Channel coast.

Marshall was good at raising armies, thought Brooke, but not much of a strategist. Ike was a nice guy, and a hard worker, but he, too, lacked strategic vision. Besides, he had never been in combat.

All the Americans, from FDR down, underestimated the capabilities of their adversary, and exaggerated their own. Symonds joins most contemporary historians on both sides of the pond in asserting that this was a good thing, for the American troops were green and in need of combat experience. Besides, in retrospect, it seems doubtful American industry could have produced the sealift or the landing craft to have launched the invasion much earlier than it actually occurred.

Planning, 1941–43

A firm commitment to launch the assault was not reached until May 1943, when it was agreed to land in northwestern France, as the Americans had wanted. By this point, the overwhelming contribution of the United States in men and materiel to the war effort placed its military in a dominant position when it came to working out the strategic and tactical details of the campaign.

And the invasion, Symonds wisely observes, had far reaching social implications: Not only did this phenomenon test the sealift capability of the Allies, but it greatly affected the soldiers themselves, most of whom had never been outside their home states, much less out of the country.

  1. A large-scale infantry offensive west of Caen, called Operation Epsom, was also defeated on June 25—29. Allied operational planning called for sealing off the eastern flank of the invasion area, defined by the Orne River and the Caen Canal.
  2. Economic factors were also involved. In January of 1943, a year and a half prior to D-Day, the objective of the invasion was stated in this manner.
  3. The British, nevertheless, reserved objective doubts, and at subsequent Anglo-American conferences—in Washington in June, in London in July—they first quashed all thought of Sledgehammer and then succeeded in persuading the Americans to agree to a North African landing as the principal operation of 1942. Rather, everything went wrong for Otway and his troops.

His emphasis on the strategic and logistical problems faced by the planners, far from detracting from the drama and power of the story, heightens our appreciation of the gravity of operation, and how difficult it was to pull off. In relating the well-known story of the crossing and the landings, Symonds has an excellent eye for telling details and arresting quotes from the ordinary participants.