Obit of the Day (Historical): D-Day (1944)
The largest seaborne invasion in military history took nearly two years to plan. Talks of establishing a beachhead as a means of retaking occupied Europe from the Nazis, began in August 1942. Known officially as Operation Overload, the landings on coast of the French province of Normandy would involve over 13,000 paratroopers (the most ever), nearly 7000 naval craft, and 156,000 ground troops from twelve countries.
The Germans were convinced that the Allied invasion would occur at Pas de Calais which was located at the shortest distance from England on the English Channel and was also the shortest distance to Paris. The Allies confirmed this assumption by creation of the fictional First United States Army Group, led by General George Patton. Nazi forces were then strengthened at Pas de Calais while leaving Normandy less defended.
The invasion began on June 5, 1944 with the delivery of 13,000 paratroopers into France by plane and glider. Unfortunately four of the five designated landing areas were not properly marked and since the drops were between 11:00 pm and 3:00 am local time, the troops found themselves widely scattered, reducing their effectiveness in attacking the Germans inland.
While parachutes were deployed from above, a naval force comprised of 6,939 ships and nearly 200,000 naval personnel began to transport troops from England to Normandy. Once in place, a naval bombardment began at 5:50 am, when there was light enough to see.
American forces began sending troops ashore at 6:30 am onto two beaches, codenames Omaha and Utah. The British and Canadian-led forces landed at Juno, Sword, and Gold beaches an hour later, as planned.
Because of heavy cloud cover and rough seas the landing was disorganized. Some landing craft stopped too far away from shore and hundreds of troops died as they drowned in the rough waters of the channel. Several tanks simply sank into the water immediately, taking entire crews with them. At Utah beach the 4th Infantry Division (US) was pushed 2000 yards south of their landing point because of rough currents.
The weather also effected air support. Two thousand American and British bombers were supposed to lay cover for invaded troops but cloud cover, especially at Omaha beach, made this difficult for fear of hitting their own soliders.
The Nazi resistance was fierce. Although made up almost entirely of conscripts from outside of Germany, the four divisions defending Normandy and the surrounding area had the superior defensive position. They killed many soldiers as they trudged their way through neck-high water or rough waves and crawled across exposed beaches.
Fighting at Normandy lasted ten hours or more. When fighting ended on June 6, although beaches were secured, the Allies had not achieved their goal of established a front line 6-10 miles west of the coast. It would take more than a month, in some cases, to take territory and towns that were originally to be captured on D-Day.
The beachhead established by the Allies was the first step in re-taking Occupied Europe from Nazi forces. However it would take eleven more months of brutal fighting before the Germans finally surrendered on May 8, 1945.
The casualites from the Normandy invasions are difficult to determine. The official number is 8,443 Allied troops killed our wounded, but estimates range as high as 12,000. Utah beach had the lowest casualty rates, suffering only 197 confirmed injured or killed, while at Omaha estimates are near 2000. Canadian troops suffered the highest proportional casualty rates with 900+ killed or injured during their taking of Juno beach. The best estimates on troops killed on June 6, 1994 is between 3,000 to 4,400.
American dead from D-Day, as well as those killed in action following June 6 on French soil, are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. The cemetery has 9,387 burial plots as well as a memorial to more than 1500 U.S. troops declared missing in action.
The bodies of 4,848 soldiers who fought for England, Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries, are buried in the Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
France donated the land for both cemeteries to the the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, in perpetuity.
Sources: Wikipedia, US Army D-Day page, Yahoo.com, CNN, and warchronicle.com
(Images: Top, Allied troops disembark for the invasion of Normandy, Robert F. Sargent/Getty Images, courtesy of The Guardian; Second from top, Allied soldier killed on Omaha Beach, courtesy the National Archives, vai wikimedia.org; center left, an American soldier recovering the dead after D-Day, Walter Rosenblum, courtesy of cimsec.org; center right, a soldier writes out the names of the dead on canvas bags that will later hold their bodies for burial, courtesy National Archives via www.americaninwwii.com; bottom, the bodies of soldiers who drowned just feet from shore when their heavy packs dragged them under, courtesy The National Archives, via www.americainwwii.com)
Other relevant posts on Obit of the Day:
Ronald Fitzgerald - Member of the RAF who served as secretary to the D-Day plannng group
Dr. Lee Peters - The last surviving naval doctor to serve at Omaha beach
Joseph Vaghi, Jr. - The last surviving “beachmaster” from D-Day
Mollie Weinstein - Member of the WAC, and one of the first women to visit Normandy following D-Day
Members of the “Band of Brothers,” who were part of the Airborne force that landed in Normandy on the night/early morning of June 5-6, 1944:
"Wild Bill" Guarnere
Edward “Bab” Heffron