You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. -General Dwight D. EisenhowerThe Normandy landings, nicknamed Operation Neptune, commenced on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Operation Neptune ended on June 30, 1944, and by that time, the Allies established a firm foothold in Normandy.
Overall, the 2nd Army contingent (which invaded Sword Beach, Gold Beach, and Juno Beach) consisted of 83,115 troops (61,715 British). The First Army contingent (which invaded Omaha and Utah Beaches) totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.
The German defenses used an interlocking firing style, had large bunkers, including intricate concrete ones containing machine guns and large-caliber weapons. Their defense integrated the cliffs and hills overlooking the beaches, and these defenses were all built and refined over a four year period.
The most commonly known aspect of the attack was the invasion of Omaha Beach, but the entire attack by the Allies was "a never surpassed masterpiece of planning." There was an invasion fleet drawn from eight different navies (out of the 2,468 major landing vessels in the two task forces, only 346 were American) and there were 195,700 naval personnel involved. Operation Neptune addressed German naval threats, air surveillance, and provided supporting fire for the land forces (to suppress shore defenses and to break up enemy concentrations). There were airborne operations which were used to seize key objectives, to ease the egress of amphibious forces off the beaches, and to neutralize German coastal defense batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.
The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced two heavy batteries of 155mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75mm guns, as well as machine gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach.
The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads.
By the end of D-Day, 30,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force.
25,000 men landed and the casualties were quite heavy, but the 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the above Canadians, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.
Omaha Beach was the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery, and the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. They had difficulties in navigation, causing heavy casualties in tanks, infantry, and engineers. Of the 16 tanks that landed, only two survived the landing.
Within ten minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded... It had become a struggle for survival and rescue.American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded, or missing.
Pointe du Hoc
The massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and their task was to scale the 30 meter cliffs under the cover of night in order to attack and destroy the German coastal defense guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. The Rangers were eventually successful and captured the fortifications, but then had to fight for two days to hold the location, losing more than 60% of their men.
Casualties on this beach (the westernmost landing zone) were the lightest of any beach, with 197 lost out of 23,000 troops that landed. This was due primarily to a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast, to Victor sector, a light defended German location. By early afternoon, the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st.
Revised estimates of deaths are 4,414 Allied dead (2,499 American and 1,915 other Allied dead). But these numbers do not tell the story of the hell these soldiers went through in order to defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany.
What I thought were piles of cordwood I later learned were the bodies of 2500 men, killed by withering fire from the Nazi gun emplacements built into the cliff. -Tracy Sugarman
And I heard this shell coming in. And I knew, although I had never heard one before, I knew what it was. And I rolled over on my side and it exploded, and I jumped up to run for a fox hole. And I didn't know that Germans shot more than one shell at a time, and there was another one right behind it that was covered up from the sound of the first one going off. And when that one exploded, it jarred me real, real bad, and I was completely numb all over. I could not feel anything. And I jumped into the fox hole and I looked down, and the back of my hand was all covered with blood. And I couldn't -- since I couldn't feel anything, I had to feel my hand to see where I had been hit, but I couldn't feel any place where it was torn or anything. And I tried to realize that maybe I brushed my hand against my leg, and I felt that leg and I was all right. And then I saw that the blood was running off my nose, then that really scared me because I didn't know how much of my face was gone. But I got out of it pretty good. Very, very lucky. -William Jennings Arnett
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