Landing in Normandy on D-Day
Commemorative events will be undertaken this week involving dignitaries from participatory nations, including among other heads of state President Donald J. Trump, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, President Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron.
Here are some facts about the events of 27,375 days ago on June 6 1944, being marked and known simply as D-Day.
Seventy Five years ago on 6th June 1944, the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken in modern warfare occurred when the Allied powers consisting of American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand infantry and paratroopers, with the addition of some French Commandos landed 156,000 men in a 24 hour period in the Normandy region of north-west France. By the end of the month this figure had risen to over 850,000 men.
From the moment the United States entered the war following Pearl Harbour on December 8th 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill began working together on a strategy for a mandatory and massive invasion of continental Europe to repel the German Nazi forces.
With additional pressure from the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had hoped that the operation could take place as quickly as possible, but various political and operational challenges and other deployments delayed it for nearly 3 years.
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The name given overall to the invasion of Europe by the allied forces was Operation Overlord. This was further sub-divided into various operations each given a characteristically talismanic name.
Operation Bolero was the name given to the build-up of US troop numbers in England prior to the crossing of the English Channel. So named because it happened very slowly and gradually, alike to the composition by Ravel after which it was named, so as not to draw too much attention from the German forces.
Operation Fortitude was the name given to a diversionary plan to communicate the possibility that the US Armies most prominent and decorated soldier, General George S. Patton would lead an assault on the port of Calais, with a further northern assault taking place into Norway.
Although commonly referred to as D-Day and the overall military operation titled Overlord, the actual amphibious assault on the beaches of Normandy that required the three pronged coordination of naval, air and land forces was appropriately named Operation Neptune.
The invasion took place along a fifty-mile stretch of coastline from Pouppeville in the west to Ouistreham at the easternmost of the attack zone. The area consists of several beaches that were designated the responsibility of the various infantry divisions to secure.
Utah Beach – Further sub-divided into areas named Victor, Uncle Red, and Tare Green, this area was assigned to the U.S. 1st Army, 7th Corps who managed to land 23,000 men with less than 200 casualties killed or wounded.
Omaha Beach – Divided into zones Fox, Dog, Easy and Charlie, this was the site of heaviest loss for the invading men of the U.S. 1st Army, 5th Corp. who despite landing upwards of 34,000 men lost 6.5% of those who began the assault. Heavy as the loss of 2,400 men was, commander-in-chief of the allied forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower had believed that much higher figures were likely, being estimated as high as 75% for paratroopers.
Gold Beach – This five-mile stretch was attacked by the British 2nd Army, 30th Corps in sections named King, How, Item, and Jig landing 25,000 troops with only 400 casualties.
Juno Beach – The bulk of the men landing here were from the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division with 21,400 troops supported by the British 2nd Army, 1st Corps. Across the Love, Nan and Mike zones there were 1,200 injured.
Sword Beach – Zones Oboe, Queen, Peter and Roger saw the landing of 29,000 British soldiers in a key area nine miles north of the city of Caen, a major transport route node in the region. The men of the 2nd Army, 1st Corps were helped by highly trained French and British commandos that mitigated their losses to below 700.
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All manner of technology aided the sheer blood and guts required for the assault on the Normandy Beaches. These included;
‘Ruperts’ were decoy paratrooper dummies that were parachuted in large numbers into areas to draw the enemy away from actual paratrooper deployment zones.
Inflatable tanks were used to represent to the enemy a greater number of vehicles than was the reality
Artificial harbours - codenamed 'Mulberries' were created by sinking outdated ships and large concrete structures then by adding floating roadways and piers allowed the use of the beachhead as an improvised port.
A variety of differing tank vehicles known as ‘Funnies’ were differently equipped to undertake various functions. The ‘Crab’, for instance was fitted with a flail of chains to clear landmines.
Amphibious tanks known as the ‘Swimming Shermans’ were deployed at sea making their way to land along the sea floor, however at Omaha only 2 out of 29 did so successfully.
The ‘AVRE’ was a modified Sherman tank with a mortar that fired a 40lb bomb referred to as ‘The Flying Dustbin’ designed to bust through steel and concrete.
The ‘Bobbin’ was a further modified AVRE designed to lay rolls of matting over sand enabling heavy vehicles to move across areas of beach.
The ‘SBG’ or ‘Small Box Girder’ was a modification of the AVRE vehicle that could bridge a 30 ft. gap or provide a ramp to scale a wall.
The ‘ARK’ or ‘Armoured Ramp Carrier’, was a modified tank with a track on top in place of a turret. The vehicle would be driven into gaps and ravines where the track would be extended enabling other vehicles to drive over it.
The most secret of these tank adaptations was the ‘CDL’ or ‘Canal Defence Light’ which carried a searchlight in its turret powerful enough to light up night operations and to dazzle the opposing forces.
The ‘D’ in D-Day finds some debate as to its meaning with some citing ‘Doomsday’, ‘Detonation’ or ‘Do-or-die’, as possible interpretations but in actuality the name may be a rather mundane and simple alliterative military prefix used to conceal the actual day or date of an action from the enemy.
In the same way the allied forces also commenced their attack at H-Hour, and days and hours prior to or following are referred to as D-Day Plus 1, or H-Hour minus 5 etc.