Operation Overlord

.. River estuary and the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. It was finally decided the invasion force was to consist of five infantry divisions, two American, two British, and one Canadian assigned to beaches code-named, from west to east, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. On D-Day, two American airborne divisions were to land behind the western end of the assault area and one British at the eastern, while amphibious armor was to swim ashore with the leading waves. The Americans constituted the U.S.

1st Army, under Major General Omar Bradley, the British and Canadians the British 2nd Army, under General Miles Dempsey. The British divisions had been under intensive training since 1942, the American since 1943. By May 1944, intensive logistic preparations provided almost 6,500 ships and landing craft, which would land nearly 200,000 vehicles and 600,000 tons of supplies in the first three weeks of the operation. The invasion would be supported by more than 13,000 fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft, against which the Luftwaffe (the German air force) was able to deploy fewer than 400 on D-Day. Between April 1 and June 5, 1944, the British and American strategic air forces, deploying 11,000 aircraft, flew 200,000 sorties, dropping 195,000 tons of bombs on French rail centers and road networks as well as German airfields, radar installations, military bases, and coastal artillery batteries. Two thousand Allied aircraft were lost in these preliminaries, but the air campaign succeeded in destroying all the bridges across the Seine and Loire rivers and thus isolating the Normandy Invasion area from the rest of France.

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The Luftwaffe staff was forced to accept the fact that the outstanding factor both before and during the invasion was the overwhelming air superiority of the enemy. The air campaign was designed not only to disrupt German anti-invasion preparations but also to serve as a deception operation. Two thirds of the bombs were dropped outside the invasion area, in an attempt to persuade the enemy that the landings would be made northeast of the Seine or the Pas de Calais area, directly opposite of Dover, England, rather than in Normandy. At the same time, through the top-secret Ultra operation, the Allies were able to decode encrypted German transmissions providing the Overlord forces with a clear picture of where the German counterattack forces were deployed. By spurious transmissions, the Allies created an entire phantom army based in southeast England (opposite of Pas de Calais) and alleged to be commanded by the American general George S.

Patton. In addition, on the night of the invasion itself, airborne radar deception presented to German radar stations a phantom picture of an invasion fleet crossing the Channel narrows, while a radar blackout disguised the real transit to Normandy. The Germans were not altogether deluded. Hitler himself declared a last-minute premonition of a Normandy landing. By then, however, Rommel, in his brief period of responsibility for the Atlantic Wall, had been able to lay mines, so that by June 5 some 4 million mines had been laid on the beaches.

He had not, however, been able to position the Germans tank divisions as he wanted. Rundstedt wished to hold them back from the coast as a reserve. Rommel, warning that allied aircraft would destroy them as they advanced, wished to place them near the beaches. Hitler, adjudicating in the dispute, worsened the situation by allotting some divisions to Rommel and some to Rundstedt, keeping others under his own command. The rest of Rommels Army Group B was made up of the infantry divisions of the 7th Army in Normandy and Brittany and by the 15th Army in Pas de Calais and eastward. The reserve tank forces, given the name Panzer Group West and commanded by Leo Geyr Von Schweppenburg, came nominally under Rundstedts direct command. May 1944 had been the time chosen in Washington in May 1943 for the invasion.

Difficulties in assembling landing craft forced a postponement until June, but June 5 was fixed as the unalterable date by Eisenhower on May 17. As the day approached, and troops began to embark for the crossing, bad weather set in, threatening dangerous landing conditions. After tense debate, Eisenhower and his subordinates decided on a 24 hour delay, requiring the recall of some ships already at sea. Eventually, on the morning of June5, Eisenhower, announced, O.K. Well go.

Within hours an armada of 3,000 landing craft, 2,500 other ships began to leave ports. That night, 822 aircraft, carrying parachutists or towing gliders roared overhead to the Normandy landing zones. They were a fraction of the air armada of 13,000 aircraft that would support D-Day. The airborne troops were vanguard, and their landings were a heartening success. The American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions, dropping into a deliberately inundated zone at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, suffered many casualties by drowning but nevertheless secured their objective. The British 6th Airborne Division seized its un-flooded objectives of the eastern end more easily, and its special task force also captured key bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River. When the seaborne units began to land about 6:30 am on June 6, the British and Canadians on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches overcame light opposition. So did the Americans at Utah.

The American 1st Division at Omaha Beach, however, confronted the best of the German coast divisions, the 352nd, and was roughly handled. During the morning, its landing threatened to fail. Only dedicated local leadership eventually got the troops inland. Meanwhile, the German high command, in the absence of Rommel, who was home on leave, began to respond. Hitler was initially unwilling to release the armored divisions for a counterattack. When he relented after midday, elements of the 21st Panzer Division drove into the gap between the British 3rd and Canadian 3rd divisions at Sword Beach and Juno Beach and almost reached the sea.

Had they done so, the landings might have failed. Fierce resistance by British antitank gunners at Periers-sur-le-Dan turned the tide in the evening. On June 7 the beachhead consisted of three separate sectors: the British and Canadian between Caen and Bayeux; that of the American 5th Corps, between Port-en-Bessin and Saint-Pierre-du-Mont; and that of the American 7th Corps, west of the Vire River behind Utah Beach. The narrow gap between Gold and Omaha at Port-en-Bessin was quickly closed, but it was not until June 12 that the American corps was able to join hands after a bitter battle to capture Carentan. The beachhead then formed a continuous zone, deepest southwest of Bayeux, where the 5th Corps had driven nearly 15 miles inland. Meanwhile, work had been proceeding pell-mell to complete the two artificial harbors, known by their code name, Mulberry.

The outer breakwater of sunken ships was in place by June 11. The floating piers were half-finished by June19, when a heavy storm destroyed much of the material. The Americans then decided to abandon their Mulberry, while the British harbor was not in use until July. Most supplies meanwhile had to be beach-landed. The price paid by the invasion forces was a stiff one. By evening on D-Day, the Allies had managed to land 130,000 men on the beaches, plus another 22,000 dropped by air.

The entire assult force had suffered 8,600 casualties. No exact figures are possible, either for the number of men landed or for casualties, for D-Day alone. These figures are estimated as close as possible. REFERENCES Hastings, Max (1984). Overloard D-Day, June 6, 1944 New York, Simon and Schuster Patrick, Stephen A.

(1986). The Normandy Campaign Australia, Sun Books Ambrose, Stephen A. (1994) D-Day New York, Simon and Schuster History Essays.


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