Normandy Invasion – Operation Overlord
Amphibious operations carried out on June 6, 1944 in Normandy during World War II by US forces, Great Britain, Canada and their allies against Germany. It was the first part of the strategic Operation Overlord, providing for the liberation of northwestern France by the allies.
The Allied operation began on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) with a landing of 156,000 troops on the Normandy coast and was carried out in two main phases. The first stage was an airborne operation to drop 24,000 British, American, Canadian and French paratroopers after midnight. The second phase consisted of an amphibious assault operation, which began at 6:30 am, and a series of disinformation operations, codenamed Glimmer and Taxable, aimed at misleading the Germans as to the current direction of the invasion.
The landing was carried out on the stretch of coast in width of 80 km between the mouth of the River Orne and Ozvil commune, which was divided in 5 main sectors of the invasion: “Utah”, “Omaha”, “Gold”, “Juno” and “Sword”.
The invasion of units on the French coast occurred with varying degrees of success. If on most bridgeheads the allies’ achievements were significant, and the landing force during the landing on the enemy coast from the first minutes was able to seize the initiative and create bridgeheads, then on the Omaha sector, 8 km wide, the situation got out of control. Faced with organized resistance from German troops, the Americans suffered serious losses from the first minutes of the operation and almost lost the ability to turn the tide in their favor. Commander of the 1st American Army, General Omar Bradley was already on the verge of canceling a further landing in this sector and withdrawing the troops. From the outset, the success of Operation Neptune was in jeopardy.
The general reaction of the Germans to the landing of enemy amphibious assault forces along the entire Norman coast was sluggish and poorly organized. Moreover, in the conditions of absolute air supremacy of the Allied aviation, due to the sabotage actions of the Resistance and detachments of British commandos, the Wehrmacht troops, even at the stage of advancing reserves to the borders, suffered serious losses. As a result, the Germans were unable to take advantage of the opportunity to immediately drop the troops into the sea.
By the end of D-Day, 5 infantry, 3 airborne divisions and a tank brigade had landed in the British and American sectors. They managed to capture the coastal strip with a depth of 3 to 5 km, though not along the entire front. The bridgeheads were completely cleared from the enemy only on June 7th. The amphibious landing in Normandy was the largest in the world history of amphibious assault on the simultaneous landing of 156 thousand troops by sea, with the support of 195,700 sailors and with the simultaneous involvement of almost 7 thousand combat and transport ships of all types and types.
Planning and preparation of the operation
With the adoption during the Casablanca Conference of the decision to conduct an operation to invade the allied forces in Western Europe, the military leaders of Great Britain and the United States began to develop a plan and prepare for the largest naval landing operation in world history. British Lieutenant General Frederick Morgan was appointed in charge of developing the invasion plan.
The first versions of the future operation based on the vast material accumulated during previous plans invasion across the English Channel in 1941-1942 during the development of “Operation Roundup». However, the most valuable experience was learned from the results of the Battle of Dieppe, which took place on August 19, 1942. Unlike the raid on Saint-Nazaire, which was carried out by special forces in March 1942, this battle was originally planned as a miniature invasion with the involvement of all branches of the armed forces and the landing of infantry and tank units on the coast of France… The goal of the operation was to seize and hold the bridgehead as long as possible, since the Allied leadership understood that it would not be possible to hold it for a long time. And although this operation from the point of view of tactics ended in complete defeat, in general, the Battle of Dieppe gave enough useful information to the organizers of a new large-scale landing.
The key conclusions from this experience, which influenced the development of the amphibious assault operation, were the following factors: firstly, based on the results of the landing, it became clear that it should be carried out only on open beaches with a minimum number of enemy fortifications. In addition, during the landing, a powerful balanced air and artillery support of warships is needed to suppress coastal defenses. Also, for a successful breakthrough of infantry units from captured bridgeheads deep into the enemy’s defenses, a certain number of specialized engineering armored vehicles and many devices are required to overcome engineering obstacles of coastal defense…. And most importantly, Dieppe’s experience proved that a complex combined military operation of all types of armed forces is needed, in which interaction issues will play an extremely important role.
To minimize the transfer of German troops from the eastern front, the USSR agreed to launch a large-scale offensive simultaneously with the Allied landings in Normandy.
Search for the amphibious assault landing area
Accordingly, the allied leadership had to direct their attention to the less attractive, but much safer area of Normandy and Brittany. The Brittany Peninsula had many advantages, in particular, excellent powerful ports such as Brest, but the overall distance from the coast of southern England and the possibilities for further supply of troops and forces were extremely limited. In addition, the landing on the coast of Brittany could lead to the fact that the Germans would simply block the allies and deprive them of the opportunity to break through to the operational space.
The Norman coast practically did not have convenient ports that would satisfy the need of the Allies in unloading troops, equipment and property, with the exception of Cherbourg, which, moreover, was almost at the dead end of the Cotentin Peninsula. The capabilities of the rest of the port structures that were available in this direction were insignificant and did not play a significant role in the invasion plans. The bridgehead adjacent to the coast of the Senskaya Bay could be isolated from the counterattacks of enemy ground forces located in France and Germany, destroying bridges and crossings and establishing control over the numerous routes that led to the Senskaya Bay. In addition, the Senskaya Bay did not have islands, banks, shoals or reefs near the coast. The Cotentin Peninsula protected it from the constant westerly winds. Spacious sandy beaches made it possible to simultaneously land a large number of troops and military equipment. Also, a certain role was played by the fact that the depth of the Senskaya Bay excluded the action of German large and medium-sized submarines. True, the ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre were bases for enemy torpedo boats and submarines, but the absence of other large cities in the invasion zone made it impossible to create stable foci of defense for the Wehrmacht troops.
Considering the option with Normandy, the planners came to the conclusion that this direction is more attractive, primarily due to the proximity of the coast to British ports. The problem of ports had two aspects of its solution: the first – the creation of temporary ports, the second – the build-up of forces on the bridgeheads and the seizure of large ports, primarily Cherbourg. Based on this, the task arose to provide conditions for the successful capture of this port. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery insisted on including in the invasion plan a fifth foothold behind the Orne River, which was later named Utah.
After further comprehensive analysis of reconnaissance data and an assessment of enemy forces, the area for the landing operation eventually became the coast of Normandy – there the fortifications were more powerful than in Brittany, but not as deeply echeloned as in Pas-de-Calais. Distance from England was greater than Pas-de-Calais, but less than Brittany. A significant role was also played by the large number of naval bases and ports on the southern coast of Great Britain, the relatively small distances from them to the coast of France and the dominance of the Allied aviation in the air – thanks to this, it was possible to safely land troops on vehicles and cross the armada by sea at night.
Choosing the right moment to start the landing operation
Making calculations based on the experience of previous amphibious operations, the Allies considered it expedient to begin the landing at dawn, arguing that the weakening of the enemy’s antiamphibious defense, as well as the fact that it would take a long time for the landing to succeed and carry out the necessary tasks on the shore. Finally, it was decided to take advantage of the time between high tide and low tide.and land the first echelon 40 minutes after dawn. But since the time difference between the moments of full water on the eastern and western shores of the Senskaya Bay was 40 minutes, then for each bridgehead its own time for the beginning of the landing was set, the maximum interval between which reached 85 minutes. This was necessary so that the landing craft would not run aground and not receive damage from German underwater obstacles during high tide.
Initially, the Allies planned to begin the operation in May 1944. However, at the insistence of B. Montgomery, it was decided to additionally land another landing on the Cotentin Peninsula (sector “Utah”). Due to changes in the landing plan, the date was forced to be postponed from May to June. June had several suitable tidal days, primarily on June 5, 6, and 7. If it had not been possible to start the invasion these days, it would have had to be postponed until June 18, 19 or 20. On May 8, 1944, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, General Eisenhower, approved a specific date – June 5, 1944.
In May 1944, the weather on the coast of France was good all the time, but at the beginning of June it suddenly changed. On the 4th, the weather conditions deteriorated sharply, a strong wind rose, and there was no question of any amphibious landing. On the morning of June 5, the commander-in-chief held a final meeting, at which the chief meteorologist of the army provided a forecast for a short-term improvement in the weather on June 6. The opinions of the command were divided, but Eisenhower, after some hesitation, gave a decisive order – the Allied invasion of Western Europe to begin on the morning of June 6, it was this day that went down in history as D-Day.
The general concept of the amphibious operation
On March 1, 1943, the proposed plan for the invasion of the north coast of Normandy was approved by the Allied Joint Chiefs of Staff. The preliminary plan was called “Skyscraper” and provided for the simultaneous landing in the Caen area of troops by forces of up to three divisions, followed by a second echelon with six divisions. Later, after capturing and holding the bridgehead, the Allies planned to concentrate a significant number of troops on the coast and, breaking through the Wehrmacht defenses with a powerful blow, develop an offensive across France in two directions: to the west and east of the Norman coast.
However, the more the leadership headquarters faced the realities of the planned landing zones, assessing the strength of the enemy and especially the properties of the invasion area, the more support received Montgomery ‘s proposal to increase the total number of the invasion forces. Montgomery insisted on increasing the number of divisions from three to five that should be landed by sea, and also to land troops on the eastern edge of the Cotentin Peninsula and at least three airborne divisions to support the amphibious assault. The landing of the British airborne assault near Caen and the American one near Sainte-Mer-Eglise was intended to facilitate in every possible way the amphibious assault landing and the isolation of the combat area.on the flanks of the invasion zone. The landing, which was proposed to be carried out the night before the operation, had the task of seizing road junctions, crossings, bridges and other key objects, and preventing counterattacks by the Wehrmacht troops and maximally disrupting the enemy’s command and control system in the operational zone.
The final approved strategic plan of the operation determined the simultaneous landing of large amphibious assault forces on the Normandy coast at a front of up to 80 km. In the course of Operation Neptune, it was planned to seize a bridgehead with a depth of 18-20 km and firmly gain a foothold on it. In the future, the task was to accumulate significant invasion forces, and, having created a significant superiority in forces, with powerful blows to occupy the seaports of Cherbourg and Le Havre located on the flanks of the invasion zone. In the future, the plan provided for organizing a full-scale offensive deep into France. According to the invasion plan, the British, acting in conjunction with Canadian troops, must capture key targets on the very first day – the cities of Bayeux and Caen.and advance as far south and southeast as possible. Thus, having seized the most important transport junctions, the British cut off the routes of the approach of the German reserves to the Cotentin Peninsula and provided an opportunity for the Americans, who were acting on the right, to gain a foothold in their bridgeheads. And in the future, the American divisions had their main goal – the capture of the large seaport of Cherbourg.
At dawn, after a powerful and many hours of aviation and artillery preparation, the landing of the advanced units of the amphibious assault was to begin. American troops were to land in the western sector at two bridgeheads, British and Canadian forces in the eastern sector in three sectors. When planning the landing of troops, the Allies took into account such an important factor as the demarcation lines between the zones of responsibility of the enemy troops. The blow was struck at the junction of the demarcation line between the 7th and 15th German armies, which created big problems with the organization of interaction between the commands of the two German armies.
Preparing troops for an operation
Preparations for the largest amphibious operation in the history of wars proceeded not only by training troops and forces that were to directly participate in the operation, but also by increasing the pace of weapons production and expanding the construction of special amphibious and anti-submarine weapons. Especially for the operation, shipbuilding companies in England and the United States in a short time built about 30 thousand units of dissimilar landing craft, as well as landing craft. Special means were developed and put into mass production to provide infantry units in combat during the landing: amphibious and flamethrower tanks, specialized armored engineering vehicles for creating passages in minefields, bridge layers,special barges with multiple launch rocket launchers, etc.
To accelerate the rate of loading equipment on sea transport in the south of England, an extensive network of special access roads was equipped, which went down to the sea. An original solution to the problem with the port infrastructure for the landing of troops and the unloading of cargo was the idea of creating temporary artificial ports. The planners of the operation assumed that there would be no large ports in the landing zone within 90 days after the start of the invasion, and every day it would be necessary to unload about 12 thousand tons of various cargoes and about 2.5 thousand vehicles to supply troops and transport reinforcements. To solve this problem, they proposed to create two artificial harbors near the captured shores, which were called “Mulberry” harbor, and which were not inferior in size to a large commercial port.
For these purposes, giant caissons were secretly built in the south of England to create two Mulberry artificial harbors, one each in the English and American sectors. The Mulberry harbor consisted of external – floating – and internal – stationary – breakwaters and floating piers from shore to pile moorings to which ships could moor. Reinforced concrete caissons, from which stationary breakwaters were made, were installed at a depth of no more than 10-11 m, which was sufficient for small vessels of the “Liberty” type; larger vessels used the water area protected by floating breakwaters. Many caissons were equipped with cranes, warehouses, crew quarters, had their own cannons, ammunition and even air defense equipment, which strengthened the air defense of the landing area. For each port of Mulberry, 146 caissons of various sizes were needed, weighing from 1672 to 6044 tons, depending on the depth of their flooding. In parallel with the caissons, floating piers were built, or, as they were otherwise called, “floating bridges” with a total length of about 7 miles, which were held on pontoons. Trucks with cargo, after unloading from vehicles, drove along the “floating” bridge that connected the pile berths to the shore.
From the first days of disembarkation until the completion of the construction of the Mulberry ports, to provide temporary parking for transport ships, it was planned to create five artificial harbors “Guzberry” in the relatively shallow areas of Aromanches and Saint Laurent. These shelters, created by the sinking of old ships, protected the harbor from wind and waves, were intended for anchorage and unloading of a large number of small vessels, and at the same time were supposed to serve as an extension of the Mulberry ports. For sinking, 60 ships were allocated (including old battleships and cruisers), which formed a breakwater about 7300 m long. Caissons towed and installed in the landing area created a harbor equal in size to Dover Harbor.
In order to provide the troops that were to land on the coast of Normandy with fuel and lubricants, 20 oil pipelines were prepared, and with the beginning of the landing, 20 oil pipelines were laid along the seabed through the English Channel for uninterrupted fuel supply to the troops. Operation Pluto was carried out by British scientists, experts from oil companies and representatives of the military. The creation of a pipeline system that ran along the bottom of the English Channel directly to the bridgeheads made it possible to get rid of the need to attract tankers in threatening conditions of hostilities, which are very vulnerable to destruction by German submarines.
An intensive preparation of the invasion troops was launched. Airborne formations underwent special training in several areas: the British in the southeast of England, the American in the southwest. The troop concentration areas in which combat training of these troops was carried out were located 100-150 km from the southern coast. At the same time, the training of troops was carried out in several areas of different nature of the landscape. To conceal the intentions of the invasion, only one of the 10 areas was geographically similar to the actual landing area.
After three months of intense preparation, in late May – early June, the troops were redeployed to the assembly areas – 20-25 km from the points of embarkation on transport ships. About 7 thousand anti-aircraft guns and over 1 thousand balloons protected this huge crowd of people and vehicles from attacks from the air. In the camps, each soldier received the appropriate order and after that he could no longer leave the camp. In addition, in order to keep the operation secret, 10 days before the disembarkation, all mail addressed to military units and foreign embassies was detained, the sending of encrypted telegrams was temporarily prohibited, even the diplomatic mail was delayed.
The Anglo-American command did not count on achieving an operational surprise of the landing in France, which was almost impossible, given the scale of the invasion, so all calculations were based on achieving tactical surprise, which was very important even in the face of a huge advantage of the allies in forces. In order to achieve surprise in the invasion of France, the command of the Western Allies widely used measures of misinformation and disorientation of the enemy in order to mislead him about the time and area of the operation.
The disinformation campaign is called Bodyguard. The Allies strongly supported and spread rumors that the most likely area of invasion would be the Calais – Boulogne region. Anglo-American aviation carried out massive strikes against anti-amphibious defense means in this area, increasing the intensity of strikes immediately before the landing itself(May 30 – June 5 ). Various means were used to misinform the enemy: radio, press (both own and neutral countries), construction of false models of landing areas, the construction of entire towns and special airfields, which could mislead enemy air or intelligence intelligence. Numerous demonstrative exits to the sea were widely practiced, which reduced the vigilance of the Wehrmacht. Various sources focused the enemy’s attention on the same landing area – Calais-Boulogne.
At the same time, the Allies practically abandoned the premature weakening of the forces and means of the enemy’s antiamphibious defense in the present landing area; For the first time, the coast of Normandy was subjected to a massive air attack only 9 hours before the start of the operation, that is, when the enemy had practically no opportunity to move reserves from the depths, even having correctly estimated the landing area. Having information about the exact location of the German radar stations in the landing area, the Allies did not touch them until the start of the operation and only immediately before the invasion put most of them out of action by air strikes. So, only on the coast from the island of Guernsey to Ostendup to 80% of all radar installations were suppressed. A few hours before the actual invasion, to distract the enemy’s attention, the Allies conducted two demonstrative landings (in the Boulogne and Saint-Malo areas ), in which a large number of boats, barges and aircraft were involved. All measures of disinformation, disorientation and camouflage to a certain extent gave the desired result. Until June 6, the German command concentrated almost the entire 15th army, previously scattered along the coast, in the Calais-Boulogne area. Even when the landing in Normandy began, the Germans believed that this was a large-scale demonstration, and the commander-in-chief of the German troops on the Western Front, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedtfor a long time he did not dare to redeploy large forces to the landing areas for the speedy defeat of the landing. Moreover, only 10 days later – on June 16, 1944, Hitler gave the order to redeploy the 2nd SS Panzer Corps from the Eastern Front, as well as the 86th Army Corps from Southern France and formations from the 15th Army, which covered the Pas de -Kaleagainst the non-existent threat of invasion by the American 1st Army Group. However, the newly arrived divisions arrived weakened, without the necessary supply of fuel and ammunition and disorganized from allied air strikes and could not turn the tide in their favor. Thanks to this, the Allies managed to achieve a huge advantage in forces and means in the landing areas on the first and decisive day of the invasion.
Planning the transportation of troops and equipment by sea
An important issue in preparing for the invasion of Normandy was the delivery of a huge amount of cargo from England, their distribution to warehouses and transportation to the bridgehead. For each Expeditionary Force soldier, there were approximately 10 tons of various equipment and, in addition, one ton of additional cargo for every 30 days of the operation. There were about 1 million items of equipment… The calculations and planning of transportation were based on the following basic requirements: maximum load of all assets in the first three days of an amphibious operation in order to achieve the transfer of as many troops and military equipment to the continent as possible; strict adherence to the daily transportation schedule for the implementation of a uniform and rapid accumulation of troops on the bridgehead. So, according to the plan, in the first four days, 47 convoys were to approach the landing area of the amphibious assault, then 15 medium convoys (about 250 ships) every day, not counting several hundred guard ships and small amphibious assault vehicles. With such an intensity of traffic in the areas of the bridgeheads, there should have been 300-400 units of large transport at all times.
The use of the Anglo-American air force was planned to be carried out in two main stages. The overall goal of the first phase was to delay the deployment of enemy ground forces. Since the end of March 1944, Allied aviation destroyed communications and disorganized the supply of German troops in France and Belgium within a radius of 160-480 km from the chosen landing area. The blows were delivered to 80 critical targets, mainly to locomotive depots, repair shops, and junction stations. For 22 thousand sorties, 66 thousand tons of bombs were dropped… Allied air strikes on railway communications and bridges were supposed to prevent the Nazis from pulling up their troops west of the Seine and north of the Loire, that is, to isolate the bridgehead in the landing area. And if earlier the number of German military echelons heading to France exceeded 100 per day, by the end of April it dropped to an average of 48, and by the end of May – to 25 per day.
Three weeks before the start of the operation, enemy airbases and airfields within a radius of 250 km from the landing area were heavily bombarded. 4 thousand sorties were carried out, 6.7 thousand tons of bombs were dropped, 34 objects were suppressed.
The next task of the first stage was determined by the suppression and destruction of enemy coastal defensive installations in Normandy and in general on the northern coast of France. The strikes on a wide front were intended to mislead the enemy about the true landing area. The raids on these objects were carried out for several weeks before the landing. In total, more than 14 thousand tons of bombs were dropped.
The tasks of the second stage were already directly related to the landing operation. The most important of them were: the defeat of German aviation at airfields and in the air before the start of battles on land, cover for landing detachments and warships at sea crossing and in anchorage areas, neutralization of the enemy’s air defense system radar installations.
To carry out these tasks, 171 squadrons of fighters were allocated, of which 54 – to cover the landing areas, 15 – to cover ships and sea transport, 36 – for direct support of ground forces, 33 – for operations against enemy aircraft, 33 – remained in reserve. Finally, a serious test for the military aviation was the task of airborne assault forces consisting of 3 airborne divisions, as well as special detachments to activate the Resistance Movement in France. In total, 11 thousand combat and 2395 transport aircraft, 867 gliders took part in the Normandy operation.
German Armed Forces in the amphibious and airborne assault zone
In the spring of 1944, the armed forces of the Third Reich reached the peak of their power. So, at the beginning of the summer, 157 divisions were fighting in the territory of the Soviet Union, 6 were in Finland, 12 in Norway, 6 in Denmark, 9 in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The territory of northern France and Belgium was defended by Army Group B (commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel)consisting of two field armies(7th Army – Colonel General Friedrich Dollmann, 15th Army – Colonel General Hans von Zalmuth)and a separate 88th Army Corps. As part of the Wehrmacht troops were also “eastern units” from the citizens of the USSR and the Cossacks.
The 7th Field Army, which was stationed in Normandy and Brittany, had 9 infantry and tank divisions. The most powerful and combat – ready 15th Army, which included 5 army corps, 1 tank and 5 infantry divisions, was deployed north of the landing area with the task of covering the most threatening, according to the German command, the area between Caen and the Belgian-Dutch abroad. The rest of the troops of the Western direction of the Wehrmacht were in the south of France, where they covered the Mediterranean coast.
However, on the issue of the use of tank units in the event of an allied landing, contradictions arose among the German command. Hitler, by personal decision, assigned Rommel three panzer divisions from the group to repel the likely invasion of Anglo-American troops in northwestern France. The rest of the divisions of the panzer group were dispersed over a vast area from Holland to the south of France and could not take a significant part in repelling the attack. So, only the 21st Panzer Division, which played the main strike role in the grouping of troops defending the north of Normandy, was in the proposed landing zone.
The main line of defense of the Atlantic coast remained the sea and, of course, the English Channel, the existence of which has repeatedly convinced by historical examples that it is practically impossible to overcome this water obstacle with significant forces. The invincible armada, Napoleon’s plans to invade the British Isles, and his own collapse of Operation Sea Lion clearly proved to the Wehrmacht command that the Channel is the main obstacle to the Allied invasion in continental Europe.
On March 23, 1942, the Fuhrer signed Directive No. 40, in which he ordered the construction of the “Atlantic Wall” – a gigantic complex of fortifications stretching for thousands of kilometers in a huge arc from the northern coast of Norway to the border with Spain. Hitler believed that Germany must definitely prepare a strong, insurmountable defense along the entire coastline. He agreed that the Allies have an advantage in military aviation and especially in the naval forces, so the Germans can resist this only by building solid fortifications. “Atlantic Wall” Should include 1 thousand strong points, which will be defended by 300 thousand soldiers.
The main concentration of efforts to build the “Atlantic Wall” focused on the shortest distances of the islands of Great Britain. The 15th Army’s zone of responsibility between the Seine and the Dutch Scheldt deltas was considered the most promising from the enemy’s point of view. It was here that all the components of a successful operation could lead to a triumphant breakthrough of the defensive positions of the Atlantic Wall, the withdrawal of the Allied forces into the operational space and the creation of a threat to the Ruhr region. Moreover, in the event of a strategic success, German troops south of the breakthrough line would be cut off from the main forces and supply bases. This conclusion, in turn, led to the fact that the German command consideredPas-de-Calais as the most dangerous sector, and other intelligence about the Allies’ intentions was simply not taken seriously.
The defense on this section of the coast relied on powerful fortifications in the areas of naval bases and Calais – Boulogne, where the depth of the anti amphibious defense reached 20 km from the coastline. The system of defensive structures consisted of pillboxes, bunkers, anti-tank obstacles, engineering barriers in the water in the form of metal and reinforced concrete bumps. Between full and low water, the coast was covered with concrete pyramids, heavy wooden rafts about 3 m long, 2.5-3 m thick racks equipped with minesor shells that operated on the principle of contact mines. The shore was littered with structures welded from railroad rails or bent steel bars, some of which contained explosives. Echeloned firing lines for artillery systems of various calibers were prepared along the entire coast. Some German batteries, especially in Le Havre and on the Cotentin Peninsula, were hidden in reinforced concrete blocks, the thickness of which in some cases reached 3–3.5 m. They had the ability to shoot through the approaches from the sea to the Bay of Sennaya from the east and west. By the way, at the beginning of the summer of 1944 the Germans on this front pads were built in the 45-50 km from the coast of rockets “Fau-1” and “V-2”.
But for all this, the coastal defenses of the so-called “Atlantic Wall” were actually much less powerful than Hitler’s propaganda wanted to portray. The Chief of the General Staff of the Wehrmacht, Colonel-General Halder, wrote:
Germany did not have any defensive means against the amphibious fleet, which was at the disposal of the allies and operated under the cover of aviation, which completely and indisputably dominated the air”.
In other areas, including in the Senskaya Bay itself, the readiness of antiamphibious defense facilities was much weaker. Along the 80-kilometer front of the planned landing sites, the most durable batteries were: one 150-mm four- gun coastal battery, two 150-mm six – gun artillery batteries and one 122-mm four-gun battery, a total of 20 guns over 120 mm.
Wehrmacht before the invasion
In the conception of the antiamphibious operation to repel the landing of the enemy’s amphibious assault, the German command set as its goal, relying on a system of fortifications along the coast, by active actions to pin down the landed allied troops on the bridgehead before the approach of their operational reserves, and then proceed to the methodical destruction of the enemy troops who landed on the shore… Strategic reserves were intended to fight the allied forces in case of emergency, if they were not destroyed by the main forces of the Wehrmacht on the shore and attempted to launch an offensive from the captured bridgehead.
Despite all the measures taken by the allies to hide the preparation of the invasion, despite active disinformation and camouflage actions, in general, the Hitlerite command still had information about the impending operation. However, German strategic intelligence was unable to pinpoint the landing areas, and intelligence reports were conflicting.
Since May 25, 1944, due to large losses of reconnaissance aircraft operating over the territory of England, air reconnaissance of British southern bases and ports was completely stopped, only torpedo boats based in Le Havre and Cherbourg watched the approaches to them. And on June 4, the German command, considering the threat of an invasion in the near future due to bad weather conditions, almost unrealistic, stopped reconnaissance and torpedo boats.
In early June, the Germans felt quite confident and calm in difficult weather conditions. The bad weather only played into their hands, and they were convinced that in such a weather an invasion was simply impossible. The troops, in the main, remained at their points of permanent deployment, many representatives of the command went home. Even the commander of Army Group B, E. Rommel, took a few days off to celebrate his wife’s birthday.
On the night of June 6, not a single German reconnaissance aircraft appeared in the air over the English Channel. While dozens of divisional, regiment and battalion commanders stationed in Normandy were absent from their units and units, the Allies suddenly launched an invasion. So, the invasion was not unexpected for the Germans at all, but the landing in Normandy was both unexpected and sudden.
Deployment and advancement of landing forces
At the end of May 1944, the concentration of the Allied invasion forces in the original areas was completed. By June 3, the loading of equipment and the landing of troops on ships ended.
On June 6, according to forecasts of military meteorologists, a short-term improvement in weather conditions over Normandy was expected, after which bad weather should have set in again. Further postponement of the operation could result in a delay of two or three weeks, which was completely ruled out, since 150 thousand soldiers of the first echelon of the landing were already embarked on ships, 11 thousand aircraft were in readiness for departure, and 35 divisions and 4 thousand ships were waiting for dispatch. to Normandy. And most importantly, the landing parties that were preparing for a cruise in the ports of the east and west coasts of England, some ships intended for sinking in the area of the Gooseberry harbors, tugsthat pulled parts of the man-made structures for the Mulberry harbors, several minesweeper fleets were already at sea and, due to the postponement, would be ordered to turn back or change courses, because otherwise there would be a congestion of ships in the control area.
The day before the landing, 10 flotillas of 150 minesweepers began trawling 10 fairways, in which landing detachments and detachments of artillery support ships moved.
The landing detachments went to sea on the morning of June 5 and, before dark, reached the control area, from where the transition continued in the dark without any fighter aviation cover. The passage by sea was carried out in five columns (according to the number of bridgeheads) in conditions of complete radio silence, the use of communications was prohibited even in the event of damage or death of the ship. The advancement of a gigantic number of warships was carried out almost in the absence of any opposition from the enemy.
At 22:35 on June 5, when the amphibious assault was still making the transition by sea, the Allied aviation began to deliver massive strikes against the landing areas. In total, there were six strikes – 2.2 thousand sorties, more than 7 thousand tons of bombs were dropped.
Airborne assault landing
One of the key conditions for the successful landing of the main landing force on the Normandy coast was the creation of a safe buffer zone, or a kind of pre-field, which would allow the amphibious assault to gain time in the first place and gain a foothold on the captured bridgeheads. Further, the first echelon was assigned a responsible task – at any cost to ensure the initial build-up and concentration of forces that would be capable of further fulfilling the main task of the operation – a breakthrough into the depths of the peninsula.
But in the first hours after the landing, the Allied forces were especially vulnerable to counter-attacks by the enemy, who would try to drop the landing force into the sea. In order to exclude or at least slow down the organized counterattack of the German troops in this critical period, the important task was assigned to the allied airborne troops – to attract the enemy’s attention to themselves as much as possible. By active actions in the enemy’s rear, capturing or disabling key objects – bridges, road junctions, artillery positions, commanding heights, etc., disorganize the control system of the Wehrmacht’s troops, and thereby disrupt the enemy’s ability to maneuver its reserves. To this end, airborne assault forces landed on the western and eastern flanks.landing zones. Behind the Utah bridgehead, 2 American divisions were landing, and on the flank of the British sword bridgehead, the British 6th Airborne Division.
5-6 hours before the start of the amphibious assault, from 1:30 to 2:30 on June 6, the largest airborne assault in history was carried out in the designated landing areas. The landing was accompanied by 2395 aircraft and 847 gliders. In total, 24,424 paratroopers were landed in the rear of the enemy and 567 vehicles, 362 guns, 18 tanks, 360 tons of cargo were delivered, of which 60% of the troops were dropped by parachutes, the rest were delivered by gliders.
At the same time, in order to mislead the Germans about the direction of the main attack of the allies, an auxiliary landing force of up to 530 French paratroopers from the SAS in Brittany, near the Pas-de-Calais and in other regions of France was landed.
Many factors had an extremely negative impact on the success of the landing and directly on the course of the operation, but the main thing was that the landing force landed at night (by the way, by the end of the war, the Allies never again landed at night). At the same time, despite the difficulties and mistakes that took place during the landing of airborne assault forces and during their actions on the ground (large non-combat losses – almost 35% of the total number of landed troops, slow gathering in certain areas, shortcomings in the organization of interaction, which led to the strike of their own aviation on the British airborne assault), the airborne assault provided great assistance to the amphibious assault in the landing and capture of bridgeheads. Moreover, according to the memoirs of German officers who were captured, scattered airborne units, combined with the landing of dummies during disinformation operations, confused the German command. As a result, the leadership of the Wehrmacht troops received conflicting information about the landing of paratroopers along the entire Norman coast, which is why it was not able to determine in time and accurately the true direction of the main strike of the landing.
British paratroopers (English Special Air Service, SAS) were the first of the Allied forces to set foot on French soil during Operation Overlord. Their lot was the test of landing outside the bridgeheads, on a flat open area, ideally suited for tank attacks, between the Orne and Dev rivers. The only significant water obstacle to the advance of enemy tank reserves in this region – the Orne River – flowed through the landing areas of the airborne assault.
The main objectives, which were placed on the airborne 6th British Airborne Division (Eng.) Were: the move to capture bridges at Benouville – Ranville, incapacitate coastal artillery battery opponent in Merville that threatened bridgehead “sword”, destroy 5 bridges across the Dev River, and most importantly – to keep the captured key communications from enemy counterattacks from the eastern direction until the approach of the main forces of the amphibious assault.
Immediately after landing near the town of Khan troops joined the battle with units of 716-th Infantry Division. Despite the fact that the command of the 6th British Airborne Division managed to collect only 7-8% of its personnel before dawn, the paratroopers immediately began attacking important targets in the landing area. Meeting relatively weak opposition from the enemy, the division quickly seized certain crossings across the Orne River and established itself on these lines. At dawn, the forward units of the 21st Panzer DivisionThe Wehrmacht tried to break through the positions of the paratroopers and counterattack into the flank of the British amphibious assault on the sword bridgehead. However, the soldiers of the 6th division were able by that time to organize a solid defense and after a long battle, with heavy losses for both sides, the German tankers withdrew.
By the end of June 6, 1944, the British paratroopers had successfully completed all their assigned tasks. In the future, the British paratroopers were on the front line for many more days, repeatedly engaging in unequal battles with enemy forces. They were withdrawn to the rear only in September 1944.
Plans for the American command with aircraft landing in the rear lane bridgehead “Utah” was a risky attempt to overcome certain difficulties, related to the specific area in the area. “Utah” was cut off from the main forces invading water barrier – river Douve. The two airborne divisions, which were planned to land in the rear zone of this bridgehead, were to capture key bridges, road junctions, dams, beach exits and other important objects that were supposed to affect the success of the amphibious landing and create the preconditions for the subsequent offensive and capture of Brest.
In the first wave, from 00:48 to 01:40, three regiments of the 101st airborne division landed in the planned area, in the interval from 01:51 02:42 fighters of the 82nd division landed behind them. Each event involved up to 400 C-47 military transport aircraft. The next two waves of gliders, which landed before dawn, provided the landing with anti-tank artillery. On the evening of June 6, the missions “Elmira” and “Keokuk” additionally landed 2 more streams of gliders with artillery, vehicles and cargo.
Landed from the air in the area of Carentan – Isigny 101st and on both banks of the river Murder west of the town of Sainte-Mère-Église is located on a key transport artery northern Normandy – Highway Carentan – Cherbourg, the 82nd US Airborne Division, too turned out to be highly dispersed. In 24 hours after the landing, only 2,500 servicemen of the 101st and 2,000 servicemen of the 82nd division were able to start performing their tasks. They managed to capture several settlements, junctions of roads and bridges that connected the Norman bridgehead with the rest of France… On June 6, American paratroopers captured the city of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first city in France liberated by the Allies from the German occupation.
Landing from the sea
From 5 o’clock 20 min. artillery support ships, which arrived in the maneuvering areas assigned to them, opened fire from their main guns at the enemy on the shore. In the English sector acted battleships “Uospayt” and “Ramiliz” monitor “Roberts” cruisers “Morishies”, “Aretyuza”, “Frobisher”, “Danae” and “Dragon”, in the American – the battleships “Nevada”, “Texas” and “Arkansas”, The cruisers”Augusta”,”Tuscaloosa”and “Scylla”.
At 7 o’clock in the morning, a formation of American strategic bombers dropped about 100 thousand 40-kilogram bombs on the front edge of the enemy’s defenses in the bridgehead areas. Before dawn, medium bombers entered the battle. Their attacks were combined with the continuous shelling of the coast by naval artillery. Half an hour after dawn, the coastal structures were once again hit by the next wave of heavy and medium bombers, which dropped 7,616 bombs. As a result of the fire of the ships of artillery support and the actions of bomber aviation, all the main stationary batteries between the mouth of the Seine and Barfleur were suppressed, albeit temporarily., and the ships were fired only by mobile batteries located in the forest. The two main batteries in the Juneau sector were also neutralized, posing a serious threat to the Allied naval forces. But, as it turned out later, non-aimed aerial bombardments only weakened the enemy’s defenses, temporarily silenced the coastal batteries.
Now, when the batteries of large and medium calibers fell silent, the second stage of artillery support began – ensuring the landing of the first waves of landing. The cruiser’s artillery went into action, destroying the underground structures and firing points of the Germans. The fire was fired from a distance of 30-35 cables. Up to 70 destroyers and a large number of special self-propelled barges armed with artillery pieces and multiple launch rocket launchers took part in suppressing the enemy’s anti – amphibious defense. Under cover of fire from ships, the landing craft approached their landing areas.
At 7 hours 15 minutes. under the cover of amphibious tanks, defenders began to land, which were supposed to clear the path of advance. These detachments undermined various types of anti-landing obstacles, including welded rails with mines attached to them, and suffered very heavy losses. At 7 hours 33 minutes. with weak enemy resistance, the landing began.
Luftwaffe aviation almost did not operate: during the day it made 50 fruitless sorties. By 10 o’clock the landing of the vanguard detachments in the English sector was completed, and the coastal strip was freed from the direct threat of defeat by small arms, machine-gun and mortar fire.
In the American sector, things were much worse. If on the Utah site the landing proceeded practically according to plan, then on the Omaha coast the Americans met with fierce resistance. The Nazis had here 8 sheltered 75-mm batteries, 35 underground concrete fortifications with 75-mm cannons and automatic weapons, 4 positions for field artillery, 18 positions for anti-tank guns with caliber from 37 mm to 75 mm, 6 mortar nests, 38 firing points rockets, four 38-mm installations in each, 85 machine-gun points… The enemy opened fire only when the American landing craft approached the shore. Of the 32 tanks launched, only 5 made it ashore, the rest were destroyed. Artillery units landed with a great delay. Ship artillery and bombers helped the landing, but it was possible to suppress the resistance of the Germans in this sector only by 13 o’clock.
By the end of the day on June 6, 5 infantry, 3 airborne divisions and a tank brigade, with a total of about 200 thousand soldiers and officers, had landed in the British and American sectors. They managed to capture the coastal strip with a depth of 3 to 5 km, though not along the entire front. The bridgeheads were completely liberated from the enemy only on June 7. On the second and third days, that is, June 7 and 8, the Anglo-American troops were consolidated on the bridgehead, while the landing of new military units continued.
The 3rd British Infantry Division landed on the sword Beach on the eastern flank of the Allied Landing Zone. This place played one of the most important roles in the plans of the operation. The division carried out the landing simultaneously with its own support forces – the 27th separate tank brigade, the 1st special operations brigade (reinforced by French commandos)and additional forces, including units of the 79th armored brigade.
The main task of the 3rd Infantry Division of Great Britain was the capture of Caen, the ancient city of Normandy, which played an exceptional role in the system of transport communications on the Norman coast of France, and was, in fact, the main link between the Cotentin Peninsula and France.
In addition, the main tasks were – capture and hold in the vicinity of Caen at a distance of 18 km from the coast of the Carpiquet airfield ; access to the landing zones of the 6th Airborne Division, which held the captured bridges over the Orne, and the capture of the dominant heights near Caen. The commander of the 1st British Corps Lieutenant General John Crocker gave a clear order before the landing: the city must either be captured by the end of the 6th or blockaded, depriving the Germans of the opportunity to escape from the city.
Immediate preparations for the invasion of the bridgehead began at 3:00 am with aircraft bombing of coastal artillery firing positions. A few hours later, the shelling of naval artillery began.
At 7:25 am, the first landing units reached the beach at the Queen and Peter sites. After the landing, the commando units immediately began to fulfill the assigned task – to enter the landing areas of the 6th division and reinforce them. The resistance of the Germans on the bridgehead was very weak, so after 45 minutes the British troops overcame the main line of the enemy’s defense. By 13:00 the British reached the Orne River, where they joined up with paratroopers who had landed behind enemy lines, who held the dominant heights and bridges across the river.
At 16:00, the allied forces underwent a hastily organized attack by the tank units of the 21st Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht. However, the group, which had up to 50 T-IV tanks, having suffered losses after allied air strikes, and faced with fierce resistance from the landing, could not achieve significant success and as a result, by the evening of June 6, was forced to retreat to its original positions.
Units of the British infantry quickly captured the coastal strip and, with practically no significant losses, by the end of the first day advanced deep into the bridgehead to a depth of 8 km. At the same time, the main task of the first day of the invasion, which was set personally by Montgomery – the mastery of Kahn – was never completed. The Germans stubbornly defended the city and it remained in their hands until July 20, when, after stubborn battles, Kahn was finally liberated from the invaders. Until midnight on June 6, British troops concentrated on the sword bridgehead 28,845 troops from the 1st Corps, firmly holding the captured positions.
The Juneau bridgehead, located between the two British invasion zones, Gold and sword, was where Canadian troops were deployed as part of the 3rd Infantry Division with reinforcements, which at this stage of the operation were operatively subordinate to the commander of the 1st British Corps. The invasion zone was located between the settlements of Normandy Courseul-sur-Mer, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer and Bernier-sur-Mer.
Canadian troops, who landed on this bridgehead, from the very first minutes of the battle, faced fierce resistance from German units, which relied on powerful fortified fortifications. The coastal defense troops were supported by heavy and medium- caliber artillery, which was located deep in the defensive positions and was not suppressed by the allies from sea and air.
The first wave of the landing party lost up to 50% of its personnel during the landing, thus, relatively speaking, being in second place after the Omaha beach in terms of the number of combat losses incurred in the first minutes of the operation, amounting to 359 people killed and missing and 621 wounded and prisoners. Significant assistance to the landing troops was provided by special engineering armored equipment, the use of which significantly helped the paratroopers in overcoming the most threatened areas and breaking through the first line of defense of the Wehrmacht troops while moving deep into the bridgehead. Despite significant losses, the Canadians were able in the very first hours of the invasion to successfully overcome the enemy’s defenses and move away from the coast, moreover, a group of tanks managed to reach the line of maximum advance of the landing, determined on the first day of the operation, but without the support of the infantry, she was forced to return.
By the end of D-Day, the Canadians had almost completely captured the bridgehead, and the 3rd Infantry Division was able to firmly gain a foothold on French soil, moving much deeper than the Allied forces on other bridgeheads. However, two strongholds of the coastal defense forces of the Germans on the territory of the bridgehead held their positions for several more days. By midnight on the first day of the invasion, at least 30,000 troops were concentrated on the coast.
The next day, the Canadian landing was subjected to fierce attacks by tank units of the 21st Panzer Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth”, but was able to hold their positions and complete the task of concentrating the main invasion forces on the captured coast.
The 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division under the command of Major General Douglas Alexander Graham, reinforced by units of the 79th Armored Division and the 8th Armored Brigade, landed on the French coast between the settlements of Anel and Ver-sur-Mer. The Gold foothold was divided into three main sectors of the invasion (from west to east):
- Jig (had 2 zones: Green and Red )
- King (also zones: Green and Red ).
The main task of the division in the landing zone was: to seize the coast with an attack from the sea on the move and, without stopping the onslaught, rapidly continue the offensive to the south – capture Arromanches, and then reach Bayeux, thus cutting off an important transport artery running along the coast – the road to Can. In addition, Arromanche played an exceptional role in the plans for the construction of the Mulberry artificial harbors.
At 07:20 began the landing of British, 50 minutes after the neighbors of the intrusion from the right flank – US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions . A strong flank wind interfered with the organized landing of troops, but at the same time, the antiamphibious installations and minefields of the Germans were covered with water, and the Allied command immediately decided to start the landing of engineering equipment, primarily amphibious tanks, without wasting time and without waiting until the water will subside.
The first wave of the landing suffered losses from enemy fire, which survived after the massive fire preparation of the landing of troops, but, thanks to a timely decision, the initiative was intercepted and, taking advantage of some confusion on the part of the enemy, the British were able to rush into the bridgehead on the move. This was facilitated by the presence of special armored vehicles on the beaches, under the cover of which the landing force was able to overcome the first line of fortifications of the German 716th coastal defense division and move inland.
With sea offensive division maintained fire naval artillery battleship “Uospayt” cruisers “Ajax”, “Argonaut”, “Emerald”, “Orion” and the cruiser of the French Navy, “George Leigh”. Overcoming fierce resistance, the British were able to capture Amel by 16 o’clock, by 21 o’clock Arromanches and reach the outskirts of Bayeux and by the end of the first day of the invasion confidently strengthened on the captured bridgehead.
The task of the day, which was assigned to the division on the eve of the operation, was completed successfully.
Together with the amphibious assault on the coast of France, not far from Anel (Nor), a unit of British special forces landed, which was supposed to carry out a combat mission: after completing a 16-kilometer march across the territory occupied by the enemy, capture the small harbor of Port-en-Bessin-Huppin, which was located on the far right flank of the Gold Beach. The harbor was in an extremely convenient place, located between the steep chalk slopes of the coast and played an important role in the plans of the allied command. However, faced with enemy resistance, the commandos did not manage to capture this harbor on the move, and only on June 8, after bloody battles, the object was finally captured.
Preparing an invasion
The main site of the invasion of American troops in Normandy was the bridgehead called Omaha.
The bridgehead was a narrow coastal strip 8 km long, which stretched from the eastern edge of Saint-Honorine-de-Perth to the western edge of Vierville-sur-Mer, on the right bank of the Duve delta. The landing in this area, despite the difficult conditions of the coastal strip, played an exceptional role in the plans of the Allied command, and served as a link between the British units that invaded at the Gold bridgehead, and the American units that were landing in the northwest at the Utah bridgehead”.
The main task of the first day of the landing was: on the move to capture the coastal bridgehead between Port-en-Bessene-Juppin and the Vir River, further, developing success, to unite with the British, who land on the bridgehead east of the “Gold” and go to the Isigny region in the west, to link up with units of the 7th corps at the Utah bridgehead.
Taken together, the assault force, designed to perform a task, there were 34 thousand people and 3,300 cars from the hardened in the battles of the 1st Infantry and has no combat experience of the 29th Infantry Division.
Support for the troops from the sea was carried out by two battleships (“Texas”, “Arkansas”), three cruisers (“Glasgow”, “Montcalm”, “Georges Leguy”), 12 destroyers and 105 other ships. The first combat operational group consisted of 9828 soldiers, 919 pieces of equipment and 48 tanks (of which 3502 people and 295 vehicles were intended for landing on the beach). To transport these forces, two transport ships, 6 large landing ships, 53 amphibious ships for disembarking tanks, 5 amphibious ships for disembarking infantry were needed.81 amphibious boat 18 assault amphibious vessels 13 other landing craft and about 64 amphibious vehicles «DUKW».
At first, Allied intelligence evaluated the coastal defense forces that opposed the landing into one reinforced battalion (800-1000 men) of the 716th Infantry Division, which had a very motley composition and consisted of half of Russian volunteers and Volksdeutsche, which did not had combat experience. However, as it turned out after the invasion, the Allies were also opposed by units of the 352nd German Infantry Division, the redeployment of which was missed by the Allied intelligence, believing that this unit is deployed in the depths of the peninsula in the Saint-Lo region. However, the division by order of Rommel since March 1944 was secretly transferred directly to the coast, having received the assignment to defend a wide strip of front with a length of 53 km along the entire coast of northern Normandy. And although most of the personnel of the division were non-fired fighters, of the 12,020 soldiers of the division, 6,800 were veterans, gained combat experience during the battles on the Eastern Front. Moreover, as it turned out later, the enemy forces in the landing area were reinforced by 2 battalions of the 726th infantry grenadier regiment and the 439th battalion “Ost”.
Directly at the landing site of the 5th corps, the units of the Wehrmacht troops consisted of 5 infantry companies and were mainly concentrated on 15 fortification strongpoints, which were interconnected by an extensive network of trenches and communication tunnels, including tunnel type, and in addition to the standard rifle weapons, had up to 60 light cannons.
At the landing site of the amphibious assault, the littoral of the beach was limited by rocky cliffs, its length between the lower and upper tide marks was 275 m. The beach was mostly covered with pebbles, followed by a low sandy embankment, and then steep cliffs with a height of up to 30-50 meters began, which occupied a dominant position over the entire landing space. The coastal defense was built so well that there was not a single section on the beach that was protected from machine gun fire and artillery.
The system of engineering barriers of the Germans consisted of four lines of mine-explosive obstacles, the first of which was built right in the water. Further, the entire area between the shoal and the slopes of deep ravines was abundantly mined and equipped with several rows of wire fences.
The Americans divided the Omaha bridgehead into ten landing sectors, designated (from west to east) as Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, White Dog, Red Dog, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Red Fox. Prior to the first wave of amphibious assault, there were two regimental task forces, reinforced by two tank battalions and two ranger battalions. The infantry regimental task forces were consolidated into three battalions of a thousand men each. Each battalion consisted of three infantry companies of 240 people each and a support company of 190 people. Infantry units were assembled into specially equipped assault detachments of 32 people in each landing craft. Tank battalions consisted of three companies of 16 tanks each; Ranger battalions consisted of six companies, 65 men in each company. Each subunit had a clearly marked landing area and the main task was to break into the coast on the move, and after gaining a foothold on it, create favorable conditions for the landing of the troops that followed them. Simultaneously, three companies of rangers were to take a fortified battery at Pointe du Oak, 5 km west of Omaha.
The landing of the first wave of the main force was scheduled to begin at 6:30 am at high tide. It was preceded by a 40-minute shelling of the coastal fortifications of the Germans by naval artillery and 30-minute bombing from the air. The amphibious tanks were supposed to land five minutes before the infantry disembarked. The landing of the artillery support units was planned 90 minutes after the “H” time, the landing of the bulk of the combat vehicles in 180 minutes. After 3 hours and 15 minutes we were the following two waves regiment operative groups 29 minutes and 1st infantry divisions that had combat missions powerful blow to break first line of defense and advance deeper into enemy defense to a distance of 8 km.
However, despite all the careful preparations for the landing of troops, from the very beginning the operation did not go according to plan. First, the weather was clearly not conducive to the success of the invasion. The fog suddenly descended and led to the fact that the artillery preparation of the invasion from the sea did not bring the expected results. In these weather conditions, the bomber pilots decided not to go below cloud level and did not bomb aim, as a result of which not a single bomb hit the target. Because of the navigational difficulties that arose, most of the landing and landing craft lost their directions of movement in the fog and were unable to reach certain targets. So, of the nine companies of the first wave of the landing, only one company of the combat operational group of the 116th regiment in the sectorDog Green and rangers on its right wing landed where they were ordered, and were able to complete the task in front of them.
10 landing ships were lost even before the approach to the coast, they were flooded by a storm.
The excitement at sea forced to take a hasty decision – to lower the amphibious tanks much earlier on the water. All tanks successfully landed, but due to the fact that they were not designed to work in stormy conditions, in one of the divisions of 32 tanks 27 immediately went to the bottom. Only two tanks managed to reach the coast and take part in the hostilities. Another tank unit found itself in better conditions and was able to land with little casualties.
I was the first to disembark. The next five were shot: two were killed, three were wounded. The seventh soldier, like me, jumped ashore without being injured. This is how people were lucky. Captain Richard Mill, 2nd Ranger Battalion
Small landing ships also suffered from the storm, they were constantly flooded by waves. In order not to sink, the soldiers had to constantly scoop up water from the ships. As a result, the amphibious assault force was forced to land at a considerable distance from the coast. In some places, the depth was so significant that it covered the soldiers with their heads. They were forced to abandon all their equipment and weapons and swim out. Many soldiers simply drowned in such conditions.
Most of the ships were still lucky enough to get close to the shore, but the paratroopers were literally immediately met with dense machine-gun and artillery fire. There was practically nowhere to hide on the beach.
Are you going to lie here and wait until they kill you, or will you still get up and do something? Unidentified Lieutenant at Omaha Beach
Enemy resistance turned out to be unexpectedly strong and American troops suffered huge losses. Under crushing heavy machine-gun fire, they tried to overcome the enemy’s coastal fortifications as quickly as possible. Many literally crawled these terrible 250-300 meters, which separated them from the slopes of deep ravines. However, heavily equipped, weakened by the storm during the landing, the fighters did not have the strength to break through the well-protected exits, which were shot by the Germans from the beach. Only on the eastern flank of the bridgehead, a small group of servicemen from various units in the amount of 125 people was able to organize and with a decisive throw, overcoming the zone that was under fire, break into the first line of enemy defense.. The rest of the units, at best, devoid of command and disorganized, were forced to lie under enemy fire in makeshift shelters, losing at least the ability to continue the offensive. At worst, part of the units in such terrible conditions simply ceased to exist, losing any signs of combat formations.
According to the schedule, the second echelon with support units and command and control bodies followed the main first wave of the landing. Starting at 7 o’clock, they faced the same fierce resistance of the German troops, the only consolation was that the survivors of the first wave, although they were mostly unable to provide organized resistance and support their newly arrived comrades with fire, however, distracted the enemy from aimed shooting.
The landing force continued to suffer significant losses, and did not manage to break through the enemy’s first line of defense. In these conditions, artillery support for the landing could be provided only by naval artillery systems of medium and small caliber, at the same time, due to the fear of striking their own troops, the ships were forced to fire only at the elements of the enemy’s defense, which were based on the flanks of the bridgehead. Moreover, the shallow depth in the American landing area did not allow the main ships, such as battleships and cruisers, to come closer to the coast. Only destroyers running the risk of running aground, approached the closest to the coast, sometimes at a distance of up to 900 m, and, scratching the bottom of the bay, fired artillery fire, trying to support the landing.
Subsequently, an analysis of the results of naval artillery fire showed its complete ineffectiveness during the operation. Thus, according to the military historian Adrian G. Lewis, the losses among the Americans would have been significantly less if the naval forces carried out artillery preparation of the landing of troops in an appropriate manner and suppressed the main firing points of the Germans on the coast.
As a result, the situation on the coast and in the coastal strip turned into complete chaos: transport and landing boats and ships continued to arrive and land troops; equipment, not being able to get to the shore in an organized manner, sank near the shore; naval artillery and aviation, for fear of causing harm to their troops, were limited in their ability to reliably suppress enemy coastal positions ; non-fired formations, for which this was, in fact, the first battle in their lives, rushed along the beaches, trying to find at least some shelter from the crushing fire of the enemy; radio stations were either destroyed or damaged during disembarkation. The opportunity to carry out an organized breakthrough from the bridgehead deep into the enemy’s defenses was completely lost due to the indiscriminate actions of the landing force under continuous German fire with a complete loss of command and control on the shore. Suffering huge losses, which sometimes reached up to a third or even half of the personnel of infantry units, unable to break through the minefields without fire support through the minefields to the enemy’s fortifications on the equipped hills, the Americans were practically forced to stop the amphibious landing and begin an operation to evacuate their forces.
At 13:35 the command of the 352nd German division, examining the results of the anti amphibious operation, was absolutely sure of their victory, even sent an official report about that the enemy landing force was defeated and thrown into the sea. And although the Americans continued to provide focal resistance, from the point of view of the German officers, the outcome of the battle was practically a foregone conclusion. The commander of the 916th regiment asked for help for the final destruction of the landing. However, the 915th Infantry Regiment, which was in the reserve of the division commander and before that carried out tasks to combat the Allied airborne assault, just in the strip of the Omaha bridgehead, was hastily deployed to conduct counterattacks against the Gold bridgehead, where the British had landed. Moreover, the German command did not know that, despite the huge losses, the American infantry in small groups was still able to break through in some areas deep into the defensive lines and was gradually building up its forces outside the first defensive line. By 9 am, more than 600 soldiers in small detachments up to and including a company were able to accomplish this… The Germans, although not having enough strength to throw the Americans into the sea, moreover, forced to redirect their main reserves against the most threatened areas in the areas of British bridgeheads, nevertheless, were able to disrupt the original plan of an operation to land troops west of the Seine estuary.
By the end of June 6, on the entire Omaha beach, only two small isolated enemy strongpoints were captured by the landing force, thanks to which the first echelon was fixed on the coast by 21:00 and subsequently the allies were able to develop an offensive deep into the bridgehead against the weakened German defense.
The landing on “Omaha”, in comparison with other landing sites, suffered the greatest losses in manpower and equipment that day. Up to 26 artillery systems, 50 tanks, up to 50 landing ships and boats and 10 transport ships were destroyed. Of the 2,400 tons of material supplies intended for the landing, there were only 100 on the shore. The losses of the 5th corps amounted to 1,700 people only killed and missing, and about 3,000 more were injured. The 16th and 116th regimental battle groups lost 1,000 soldiers and officers each. The next morning, only 5 of the tanks that had landed were ready for further action…
The losses of the German 352nd division amounted to 1200 people killed, wounded and missing – up to 20% of the regular number of the formation.
Subsequently, after a reorganization carried out in a hurry among the troops that survived on the shore, battle groups were formed consisting of regiments, battalions and companies, which only two days after the landing were able to complete the task of the first day of the invasion.
Bridgehead Utah was located on the western flank of the Anglo-American invasion zone and occupied a sector up to 5 km wide between Puppville and La Madeleine on the left bank of the Duve estuary.
The start of the amphibious assault landing operation in this area was scheduled for 6:30 am. The landing of troops was planned to be carried out in 4 stages: first of all, there was a landing on 20 landing boats, 30 people each, from the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. After that, with an interval of several minutes, followed by 2 battalions, with a total strength of up to 1,000 people each, which, in turn, landed the last two waves with units of engineering troops, artillery and command and control bodies.
With the approach of the first wave of landing at a distance of 250-350 meters from the coastline, the commanders used special signaling means to notify the naval forces about the beginning of artillery support for the landing of subunits. Almost at the scheduled time, the troops began landing from landing craft at a distance of up to 90 meters from the water’s edge. Artillery units of the Wehrmacht made a desperate attempt to defeat the enemy landing troops, but almost all were disabled by the fire of the Allied naval artillery and ceased fire.
As part of the first units that landed, the deputy commander of the 4th division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who personally led the landing of the amphibious assault on the coast, especially distinguished himself. He became the first and only general of the Union Army, landed with the first wave of troops in occupied Normandy Day “D”, and at age 57 became the oldest soldier who reached the coast.
Realizing that due to weather conditions, which worsened, the landing occurred with a significant deviation from the previously planned areas, Roosevelt instantly took over all further command of the landing and was able to clearly organize the control of the last waves of the allied landing. Each unit on the spot received from him clarified tasks and immediately entered the battle. Keeping an icy calm under such circumstances, the general, without losing his sense of humor, confidently and in every possible way supporting the soldiers who landed in the forefront of the amphibious assault, led the hostilities on the bridgehead. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for displaying courage during the invasion in difficult combat conditions.
By the end of the first day of the landing, the Americans were able to concentrate on the shore up to 23,250 personnel and 1,700 units of military equipment. The total loss was 197 killed and wounded.
The main factors that positively influenced the success of the landing at the beachhead were:
- the weakness of the German fortifications on this section of the coast, which, from the point of view of the Wehrmacht command, was of little use for an Allied invasion
- the effectiveness of aviation and artillery preparation before the invasion of troops
- the successful use of amphibious tanks, which, unlike the Omaha beach, were launched at a small distance from the coast, did not suffer losses afloat, and thus were able to effectively influence the combat operations of infantry units on the shore
- an error during the landing of troops – when deviating by more than 1.5 km from the previously planned directions, the landing was out of the reach of the enemy machine-gun and artillery fire
- the actions of airborne divisions in the rear zone of the German defensive lines, which were able to disorganize the enemy’s command and control system, disable many elements of the enemy’s defensive fortifications and disrupt the German command’s ability to effectively carry out countermeasures against the amphibious assault. However, at the same time, the airborne assault paid a very significant price for this: losses were up to 40% only in the 101st division.
Results of the operation
During D-Day, the Allies landed 156,000 troops in Normandy. The American component numbered 73,000: 23,250 Utah Beach, 34,250 Omaha Beach, and 15,500 Airborne Assault. In British and Canadian bridgeheads landed 83,115 troops (61,715 of them – British ): 24 970 – beach “Gold”, 21,400 – beach “Juno”, 28 845 – beach “Sword” and 7900 – airborne landing.
11,590 air support aircraft of various types were involved, which made a total of 14,674 sorties, 127 combat aircraft were shot down. The airborne assault landing on June 6 involved 2395 aircraft and 867 gliders.
The naval forces involved 6939 ships and vessels: 1213 – combat, 4126 – amphibious, 736 – auxiliary and 864 – for cargo transportation. To provide support, the fleet allocated: 195,700 sailors : 52,889 – American, 112,824 – British, 4988 – from other countries of the coalition.
By June 11, 1944, there were already on the French coast: 326,547 military, 54,186 units of military equipment, 104,428 tons of military equipment and supplies.
Recent thoroughly tested data shows that during the landing of the Anglo-American troops lost the lost 4,5 thousand people (2,5 thousand -.. Americans, 2 thousand -. Representatives of other countries). In general, the total losses are about 10 thousand people (6603 – Americans, 2700 – British, 946 – Canadians ). Allied casualties include: dead, wounded, missing (whose bodies have never been found) and prisoners of war… Due to objective circumstances, the number of losses that appeared in the official data was very far from accurate. For example, the military who landed in the rear were considered dead or missing, but after a few days they went to other units of the allied forces.
It is worth noting that only during the preparation of Operation Neptune (April – May 1944), the Allies lost almost 12 thousand people and 2 thousand aircraft.
It is not possible to estimate the data on the losses of the Wehrmacht troops. They make up about 4-9 thousand people.
Between 15 and 20 thousand French civilians died during the invasion – mainly as a result of bombing by Allied aviation.
The strategic importance of the operation
The Normandy landing operation in terms of the number of landed troops, naval forces and air forces, as well as the vehicles that took part in it, became the largest operation in World War II on the western front and in general in world war history. Its most important feature is the huge scale, the large number of landed troops and the forces deployed at sea and in the air, which were determined by the purpose of the operation – to create an independent front of struggle in Western Europe, which appeared to be an important factor in the hostilities of the anti-Hitler coalition at the final stage of the war against Germany. and her allies. According to the general designOperation Overlord, the first stage of the invasion – Operation Neptune was generally successful. The bridgehead captured during the operation was 2 times smaller than the one that was supposed to be occupied in accordance with the plan, however, in conditions of absolute air supremacy, it turned out to be possible to concentrate on it enough forces and means to carry out a further strategic offensive operation in Northwestern France…
After the concentration of forces, the expeditionary forces, leading an offensive in the eastern and western directions, captured the ports located along the coast of Normandy and, in the future, interacting with the troops landed in the south of France, carried out an operation to block the enemy troops in southwestern France. Within a few months, the Allies were able to liberate the entire territory of the country and break through the Siegfried Line, thereby creating a foothold for themselves to invade Germany.
The command of the Wehrmacht, not having sufficient forces and means, primarily in the navy and aviation, was unable to prepare and conduct an anti amphibious operation at sea, but was limited only to repelling the landing on land. Given the forces that they had at their disposal, the Germans could organize a fairly effective anti amphibious defense on the coast. But when using them, serious mistakes were made. These should include: erroneous determination of the area of the proposed landing, as a result of which in Normandy, and in particular in the Bay of Saints, there were fewer forces and means for defense than in other areas. So, defensive structures in the area of the Senskaya Bay were completed only by 18%, while in the area of Calais- Boulogne by 68%. The Germans took the demonstrative air raids and shelling of the coast for actual preparation for the invasion, they considered the mining of the Baltic straits and the Kiel Canal as likely actions to prepare for the landing in Norway or on the Jutland Peninsula. The erroneous determination of the possible landing area also led to the announcement of an alarm in the 7th Army, which was stationed in Normandy, only at 01:30 on June 6, that is, after the landing of the air assault forces.
The German command clearly neglected the enemy’s actions. It considered it unlikely that they would land under artillery fire on a wide sandy beach exposed by the low tide, so obstacles along the coastline (iron and reinforced concrete bumps with flat mines) were installed with the expectation of their operation in high water. Landing in low water made them completely useless. At the same time, the decision to land an assault force at the far edge of the coast, made precisely because of the presence of anti amphibious obstacles, allowed the Germans to increase the time of fire impact on the landing force by the amount necessary to overcome the beach. This allows us to assume that the engineering barriers partially fulfilled the task assigned to them, namely, they facilitated the construction of the defense.
Stationary artillery in the landing area was mainly installed in open positions, poorly protected from fire from the sea and bombing from the air, and could not show its effectiveness in repelling the landing in one sector or another. The operation was prepared by the Anglo-American command very carefully and for a long time. One of the most important conditions for the success of the invasion was the rapid and systematic accumulation of forces on the bridgehead. The solution to this problem depended on the availability of a sufficient number of sea transport vehicles, as well as on the correct organization of sea transportation. The Allied Command was able to solve this problem. Of particular interest is the construction of artificial harbors, which played an important role in the accumulation of forces on the bridgehead, in solving the problem of current repair and restoration of combat capability.landing ships, landing craft and small warships at the landing sites. Of great importance in this operation were also barges specially designed and used on a mass scale with artillery and rocket weapons, amphibious tanks intended for combat from the water, and other amphibious means.
Carefully thought-out and planned stages of the operation, intensive disinformation measures, a clearly and competently established system of maritime transport across the English Channel, the landing of airborne assault forces, fire support for the landing force from the sea and uninterrupted support of the build-up of forces on the bridgeheads, with the full domination of the allies at sea and in the air, proved to be the key factors that contributed to the overall success of the naval operation.