77 years ago : the D-Day

First of all, what is the D-Day ? The D-Day is the whole day of June the 6th 1944, day where the Allies, that is to say the Americans, British and Canadians, landed in Normandy to deliver France and Europe from the German occupation. The D-Day is included in a larger operation called the Operation Overlord.


Context


Since the signature of the armistice on June the 20th, 1940 by Pétain, France was occupied by the Germans so allies couldn’t come to fight. After the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin suggested his new allies to create a second front in Western Europe. But the two other Heads of State, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, decided to postpone the promised invasion as the allies forces were not strong enough to face the Germans. However, the allies launched smaller offensive in the Mediterranean theater of operations, where British troops were already stationed. For example, they invaded Sicily and Italy in 1943 and by then, Soviet forces took an offensive and had won the famous battle of Stalingrad. In 1943 took place the Trident and Teheran conferences, where the Allies leaders took the decision to organize the D-Day for May 1944.


I/ Organization of the DDAY


After many discussions, the three leaders, that is to say Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, decided that the landings would take place in France and more specifically in Normandy. They also decided that the invasion would come from England ; so England became a real military camp where thousands of soldiers trained and where all the equipment was stored.


But we can ask ourselves, why did the Allies choose Normandy ?


Why Normandy ?


Before choosing Normandy as the initial landing zone, the allies had considered other places like Brittany, the Netherlands, Belgium or the Pas-De-Calais.

But Brittany was too far away from England, the Netherlands coasts were not appropriate for the creation of a bridge head, and the currents around Belgium were too powerful and dangerous. So all of these sites were abandoned. The Pas-De-Calais seemed to be the best option for the allies as it is very close to England so it would be easier for them to debark. However it was also too obvious : indeed, the Germans considered it would be the most likely initial landing zone so it was the most heavily fortified region. As a result, the allies picked Normandy, which would permit simultaneous threats against coastal ports and an overland attack towards Paris.


The Germans, knowing that invasion by the allies would take place very soon, set up lots of fortifications with machine guns, barbed wire and landmines. This system of defense built by the Nazi is called the Atlantic Wall.







II/ Proceedings

The airborne operation


The first operations to take place are the airborne ones. Two attacks are organized on each side of the action zone. The first actions to take place are the launch of 18,000 paratroopers in the night of June the 6th. American paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st division, are dropped on the west side, whose goal is to capture the main roads around Carentan and slow down the German future counter attacks. British paratroopers, them, are dropped on the east side in order to capture strategic areas like the Pegasus bridge near Benouville. In total, 18 000 paratroopers were dropped shortly after midnight.


Unfortunately the droppings didn’t go as well as expected : indeed, it was a terrible massacre : around half of all paratroopers were killed in the air before even touching the ground. And for those who reached land, they were all divided, sometimes 40 km away from their objective. But with much difficulties, they reached their goals and succeeded in their mission. The communications are blocked and the Germans are disoriented. The Allied landing can now start.


Now that the airborne operation succeeded, it’s time for the seaborne operation.

The seaborne operation


6939 ships of all sizes are used for the landings to carry troops and equipment. They cross the sea between England and Normandy in the night of the 5th to the 6th of June. It’s the largest armada of all times. Battleships escort transportation ships and move in columns.


During night, planes and ships bombed the Atlantic Wall and at 8 am, soldiers reached the Norman land.

The assault takes place on 5 beaches codenamed : Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, where landed 57 500 American soldiers, Gold Beach and Sword Beach, where landed 53 815 British soldiers, and lastly Juno Beach, where landed 21 400 Canadian soldiers.


All the beaches are captured by the Allies in the morning except Omaha Beach where American men had troubles facing the heavy German machine guns. Indeed, 2500 American soldiers are killed or wounded on this beach, which will be nicknamed “the Beach of blood”. In the afternoon, after hard fights, they finally succeeded in securing the beach.


Airborne support helped achieving most of the goals. Indeed, gliders land in the opponent’s side to drop off jeeps, diverse equipment as well as cannons and reconnaissance tanks.


Right after the military assault takes place a real race against time because soldiers need to be supplied in fuel, weapons and munitions, as well as food and clothes. But the problem is that the Allies didn’t capture any port. So how will the ships bring all of the supplies ? The solution is based upon the Operation Mulberry, which consists in building a port piece by piece in the city of Arromanches.



III/ Consequences


Immediate consequences


The Germans are surprised by this landing in Normandy, because they waited for the Allies in the Pas-De-Calais. The Allies take advantage of this to set up a strong bridgehead in Normandy. The Operation Overlord begins. The ports of Arromanches and Saint Laurent are set up in the days following the D-Day and the rhythm of supplying won’t stop increasing. A pipeline submarine is installed : actually, it is used to link England to Normand coasts in order to supply the Allied troops in fuel and oil.


The D-Day also had consequences in USSR.


Actually, thanks to the Allied landing, the German troops have to quit the battles in USSR in order to add backup in Normandy. So the Soviet soldiers recovered and push back the remaining Germans.

Also, the D-Day will permit an efficient and fast liberation of France : indeed, Paris is liberated in August 1944.


As we said before, the D-Day results in being a terrible massacre : here is the human toll of June the 6th : 10,500 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or missing and 6,500 on the German side.




Conclusion


As a conclusion, we can say that the D-Day is the result of a long planning that began in 1943. The allies made the Germans believe that the invasion would take place in Pas-de-Calais whereas it happened in Normandy. So they were able to create a strong bridgehead and invade the Norman beaches. In total, 156,177 men landed in Normandy on D-Day versus 101,000 Germans. At the end of the day, more than 10,000 Allied soldiers passed away, the majority of them being paratroopers. The Normandy landings are at turning point in the Second World War because it will lead to the liberation of France and western Europe later.



Nina SMITS