On June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in a heavily-guarded France to fight Nazi Germany during World War II. To embark on one of the largest Allied operations, codenamed Operation Overlord, over 156,000 British, Canadian, and USA troops landed on a 50-mile long coastal stretch. June 6, the day of the Normandy landings (officially referred to as Operation Neptune) was called D-Day by the Allies leading to the popular use of the term. Over 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircrafts dropped troops along the French coast to embark on a march across Europe into the heartland of Nazi Germany against Adolf Hitler. D-Day was not without its price – over 9,000 Allied troops lost their lives in an attempt to gain a foothold in France but the success of the landing in terms of the breakthrough it provided the Allies was immense.
By mid-1943, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Armed Forces, the Wehrmacht, or German allies had occupied most of mainland Europe except countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, or Spain. The Russian campaigns of 1941-42 and the African campaign of 1941 had also helped in a huge expansion in territory. The Allied forces were certain that unless a major breakthrough was achieved on the European front, Hitler’s Nazi occupation would only consolidate into an authoritarian reign that could not be challenged. A three-pronged invasion was planned with General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Bernard Montgomery as the ground forces commander, and Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan heading the amphibious command. Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion in history. After almost a year of detailed planning, the operation commenced after midnight on June 6, 1944. The beaches targeted by the Allied forces for the landing included Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach
The airborne Allied invasion of France as part of Operation Overlord was the largest till then. The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion participated in the invasions. Shortly after midnight, the paratroopers started to arrive from bases in southern England. Support units including medical staff were also flown in later on D-Day. The amphibious landings commenced later at 6.30 am local time
The beaches of Normandy were chosen for the landings and for the onslaught of Operation Overlord instead of Pas de Calais despite the shorter distance between Britain and the mainland continent at the latter point because Normandy was less heavily guarded than the latter. A number of decoys were used to distract the attention of the German forces from the landings. The very deceptive weather aided the Allies in surprising the German troops. An operation codenamed Bodyguard was carried out to create confusion among the Germans and to convince the Nazi troops that the landings were to take place in Pas de Calais. Naval deceptions that were carried out as part of Bodyguard to support Operation Neptune included Operation Taxable, operation Glimmer, and Operation Big Drum. Smaller fleets were sent to approach Cap d’Antifer and Pas de Calais.
Despite the high initial losses, Operation Overlord ended in a decisive victory for the Allies. The greatest proof of Allied triumph in the operation came in August 1944 when almost all of France had been liberated – a feat considered unthinkable a few months ago.
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