“Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland and be killed.” -General Norman Cota, US Army
Operation Neptune- Normandy Landings or D-day DOCUMENTARY
Five years into World War II, the future of Europe hangs in the balance, as 34,000 US soldiers embark on a mission to launch the biggest attack ever from sea. This fascinating documentary, interviews the soldiers who fought at Omaha, recalling their experiences as they approached the shore line under intense cross fire. Using CGI graphics to recreate and illustrate what happened on D Day, the programme also explores the weaponry used in the first wave of the invasion. Of the 1450 soldiers to arrive in the first wave that day, it is estimated that over one third of these men were casualties within the first hour. ‘Surviving D Day’ graphically details one of the biggest turning points in modern history, and tells the gripping story of the brave soldiers that gave their lives to liberate Western Europe.
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Operation Neptune: D-day Facts and Information
Did You Know?
The invasion of France on June 6, 1944 was a triumph of intelligence, coordination, secrecy, and planning. The bold attack was also a tremendous risk. Ultimately it succeeded because of individual soldiers’ bravery in combat. Learn some of the basic facts about D-Day.
The Meaning of the “D”
Ever since June 6, 1944, people have been asking what the “D” in “D-Day” means. Does it stand for “decision?” The day that 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy was certainly decisive. And with ships, landing craft and planes leaving port by the tens of thousands for a hostile shore, it is no wonder that some would call it “disembarkation” or “departed.”
There is not much agreement on the issue. But the most ordinary and likely of explanations is the one offered by the U.S. Army in their published manuals. The Army began using the codes “H-hour” and “D-day” during World War I to indicate the time or date of an operation’s start. Military planners would write of events planned to occur on “H-hour” or “D-day” — long before the actual dates and times of the operations would be known, or in order to keep plans secret. And so the “D” may simply refer to the “day” of invasion.
D-Day’s Impressive Numbers
An invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 — and once the massive force set out, there was no turning back. The 5000-vessel armada stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting over 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the channel to the French beaches. Six parachute regiments — over 13,000 men — were flown from nine British airfields in over 800 planes. More than 300 planes dropped 13,000 bombs over coastal Normandy immediately in advance of the invasion.
War planners had projected that 5,000 tons of gasoline would be needed daily for the first 20 days after the initial assault. In one planning scenario, 3,489 long tons of soap would be required for the first four months in France.
By nightfall on June 6, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were dead or wounded, but more than 100,000 had made it ashore, securing French coastal villages. And within weeks, supplies were being unloaded at UTAH and OMAHA beachheads at the rate of over 20,000 tons per day.
Captured Germans were sent to American prisoner of war camps at the rate of 30,000 POWs per month from D-Day until Christmas 1944. Thirty-three detention facilities were in Texas alone.
Tuning in to D-Day
In the pre-television era, Americans got their breaking news from their radios. London-based American journalist George Hicks made history with his radio broadcast from the deck of the U.S.S. Ancon at the start of the D-Day invasion. “…You see the ships lying in all directions, just like black shadows on the grey sky,” he described to his listeners. “…Now planes are going overhead… Heavy fire now just behind us… bombs bursting on the shore and along in the convoys.” His report, including the sounds of heavy bombardment, sirens, low-flying planes, and shouting, brought Americans to the front line, with all its chaos, confusion, excitement, and death.
An American Noah
Louisiana entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins first designed shallow-draft boats in the late 1920s to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Higgins tried for years to sell his boats to the U.S. military, but he was rejected repeatedly. At last, the Marine Corps selected the flat-bottomed landing craft for troop landings on Pacific beaches. Higgins, who had paid heavily out-of-pocket to promote his boats, finally landed the government contract — and his factories produced 20,000 of the versatile craft for the war effort — including D-Day.
D-Day Fact Sheet: D-day Facts for Kids
The D-Day Invasion at Normandy – June 6, 1944
|Invasion Date||June 6, 1944 – The D in D-Day stands for “day” since the final invasion date was unknown and weather dependent|
|Allied Forces||156,000 Allied troops from The United States, The United Kingdom, Canada, Free France and Norway|
|Areas of Invasion||The Allied code names for the beaches along the 50-mile stretch of Normandy coast targeted for landing were Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Omaha was the costliest beach in terms of Allied casualties.|
|The Armada||5,000 ships and landing craft50,000 vehicles11,000 planes|
|Commanders||United States – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar BradleyThe United Kingdom – Bernard Law Montgomery, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Arthur Tedder, Miles Dempsey, Bertram RamsayGermany – Erwin Rommel, Gerd von Rundstedt, Friedrich Dollmann|
|Casualties||Numbers represent total killed, wounded, missing or capturedUnited States – 6,603 (1,465 killed)United Kingdom – 2,700
Canada – 1,074 (359 fatal)Germany – Estimated between 4,000 – 9,000
|The Outcome||By June 11, with the beachheads firmly secured, more than 326,000 troops had crossed with more than 100,000 tons of military equipment. Paris was liberated on August 25. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.|
|Veterans Today||The number of remaining D-Day vets is estimated anywhere between 8,000 and 60,000. The Veterans Administration has detailed numbers on total WWII vets remaining available at www.nationalww2museum.org/the-greatest-generation|
Here’s a look at 10 little-known facts surrounding the Allied invasion:
1. A number of code words from the D-Day mission (beaches Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno, operations terms Overlord and Neptune, and floating harbors named Mulberry) did appear in The Daily Telegraph crossword puzzles over the span of a month before D-Day. MI-5 investigated, but found no evidence of leaks.
2. Many of the “German” defenders weren’t even German. The Nazis conscripted a number of non-Germans (Poles, Belgians, Dutch) and East Europeans to serve as coastal units.
3. People know that “H-Hour” is the hour when the operation began. However, because of the differences in tidal conditions, H-Hour actually varied by almost an hour and a half across the Normandy assaults, according to the American Heritage Library.
3. The USS Nevada, a battleship that played a key role in naval gun support, was the only battleship to make it out of its moorings at Pearl Harbor. Though heavily damaged, it not only was repaired in time to help at D-Day, but returned to support the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions.
4. Most German mines failed to destroy Allied ships because they had timers set to sink after the spring, so as to not destroy German ships. The German military figured an invasion would only take place during the spring.
5. Oyster mines were not dropped by the Luftwaffe because they moved them further inland along with supply depots for greater protection, according to the book D-Day, The Invasion Of Europe.
6. The first American to make it to Normandy was Captain Frank Lillyman, who parachuted in. He was wounded later in the day, and won the Medal of Valor. He continued to serve in the military until 1968, retiring at the rank of Lt. Colonel. He died three years later.
7. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of President Theodore Roosevelt, led the landings at Utah Beach, winning the Medal of Honor. A week after D-Day, he suffered a heart attack during a battle and died. He is buried in Normandy.
8. More than half the Sherman DD tanks (Duplex Drive tanks pejoratively called “Donald Ducks” for their temperamental nature), didn’t make it to Omaha Beach, most sinking short of the beach with everyone inside. Later groups that made it in closer to the shore survived, and helped capture Omaha Beach.
9. Germans deployed a number of remote-controlled “Goliath” tanks loaded with bombs, called “beetles” or doodlebugs by Americans. Most failed to detonate because blasts from naval guns disabled their command cables.
10. Among the British beaches, the Canadians took the greatest ratio of losses while capturing Juno Beach in tough fighting. Nevertheless, their unit was able ride ashore on bicycles.
D-day Landing Facts and Information
The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the build up of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the build up of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy’s ability to organize and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives, such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralize German coastal defense batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach. The British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to similar objectives on the eastern flank.
530 Free French paratroopers, from the British Special Air Service Brigade, were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June to August. (Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney).
The Royal Air Force flew and supplied half of the aircraft deployed. Nearly half of the US gliders were the larger Airspeed Horsa, as they carried twice as much as the US equivalent. The RAF created a new command, the 2nd Tactical Air Force flying low level missions especially to support operations on the ground.
British and Canadian airborne landings
The first Allied action of D-Day was Operation Deadstick, a glider assault at 00:16 on the bridges over the Caen canal and the River Orne. These were the only crossings of the river and canal north of Caen around 7 kilometers (4.5 mi) from the coast, near Bénouville and Ranville. For the Germans, the crossing provided the only route for a flanking attack on the beaches from the east. For the Allies, the crossing was also vital for any attack on Caen from the east.
The tactical objectives of the British 6th Airborne Division were (a) to capture intact the bridges of the Bénouville-Ranville crossing, (b) to defend the crossing against the inevitable armored counter-attacks, (c) to destroy German artillery at the Merville battery, which threatened Sword Beach, and (d) to destroy five bridges over the Dives River to further restrict movement of ground forces from the east.
Airborne troops, mostly paratroopers of the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades, including the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, began landing after midnight, 6 June and immediately encountered elements of the German 716th Infantry Division. At dawn, the Battle Group von Luck of the 21st Panzer Division counter-attacked from the south on both sides of the Orne River. By this time the paratroopers had established a defensive perimeter surrounding the bridgehead. Casualties were heavy on both sides, but the airborne troops held. Shortly after noon, they were reinforced by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade. By the end of D-Day, reinforced by Operation Mallard, the 6th Airborne had accomplished all of its objectives. For several days, both British and German forces took heavy casualties as they struggled for positions around the Orne bridgehead. For example, the German 346th Infantry Division broke through the eastern edge of the defensive line on 10 June. Finally, British paratroopers overwhelmed entrenched panzergrenadiers in the Battle of Breville on 12 June. The Germans did not seriously threaten the bridgehead again. 6th Airborne remained on the line until it was evacuated in early September.
American airborne landings
The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering 13,000 paratroopers delivered by 12 troop carrier groups of the IX Troop Carrier Command, were less fortunate in completing their main objectives. To achieve surprise, the drops were routed to approach Normandy from the west. Numerous factors affected their performance, chief of which was the decision to make a massive parachute drop at night (a tactic not used again for the rest of the war). As a result, 45% of units were widely scattered and unable to rally. Efforts of the early wave of pathfinder teams to mark the landing zones were largely ineffective, and the Rebecca/Eureka transponding radar beacons used to guide in the waves of C-47 Skytrains to the drop zones were the main component of a flawed system.
Three regiments of 101st Airborne paratroopers were dropped first, between 00:48 and 01:40, followed by the 82nd Airborne’s drops between 01:51 and 02:42. Each operation involved approximately 400 C-47 aircraft. Two pre-dawn glider landings brought in anti-tank guns and support troops for each division. On the evening of D-Day two additional glider landings brought in two battalions of artillery and 24 howitzers to the 82nd Airborne. Additional glider operations on 7 June delivered the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment to the 82nd Airborne; two large supply parachute drops that date were ineffective.
After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd were under the control of their divisions, approximating a third of the force dropped. The dispersal of the American airborne troops, however, had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response. In addition, the Germans’ defensive flooding, in the early stages, also helped to protect the Americans’ southern flank.
Paratroopers continued to roam and fight behind enemy lines for days. Many consolidated into small groups, rallied by NCOs or junior officers, and were usually a hodgepodge of men from different companies, battalions, regiments, or even divisions. The 82nd occupied the town of Sainte-Mère-Église early in the morning of 6 June, giving it the claim of the first town liberated in the invasion.
The assault on Sword Beach began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the DD tanks of 13th/18th Hussars followed closely by the infantry of 8th Brigade.
On Sword Beach, the regular British infantry came ashore with light casualties. They had advanced about eight kilometers (5 mi) by the end of the day but failed to take some of the deliberately ambitious targets set by Montgomery. In particular, Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands by the end of D-Day, and would remain so until mid-July (central urban area cleared 8–9 July, suburbs fully cleared by 20 July in Operation Atlantic).
1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No. 4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The 1st Special Service Brigade’s landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin. The British and French members of No. 4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham: the French, a blockhouse and the Casino; the British two German batteries that overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos’ PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.
Canadian operations on D-Day
The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced two heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and nine medium batteries of 75 mm guns, as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach. The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads. The use of armor was successful at Juno, in some instances actually landing ahead of the infantry as intended and helping to clear a path inland.
Despite the obstacles, the Canadians were off the beach within hours and beginning their advance inland. A single troop of four tanks managed to reach the final objective phase line, but hastily retreated, having outrun its infantry support. In particular, two fortified positions at the Douvres Radar Station remained in German hands (and would for several days until captured by British commandos), and no link had been established with Sword Beach.
By the end of D-Day, 30,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water’s edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) Panzer divisions on 7 and 8 June.
At Gold Beach, 25,000 men were landed, under the command of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, Commander of the British 2nd Army. Casualties were also quite heavy; around 400, partly because bad weather delayed the swimming Sherman DD tanks, and also because the Germans had strongly fortified a village on the beach. However, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the Canadians at Juno Beach, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.
No. 47 (RM) Commando was the last British Commando unit to land and came ashore on Gold east of La Hamel. Their task was to proceed inland then turn right (west) and make a 16-kilometre (10 mi) march through enemy territory to attack the coastal harbor of Port en Bessin from the rear. This small port, on the British extreme right, was well sheltered in the chalk cliffs and significant in that it was to be a prime early harbour for supplies to be brought in, including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore.
Elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division (US) faced the recently formed German 352nd Infantry Division, a mixed group of Russian “volunteers” and teenagers stiffened with a cadre of eastern front veterans, unusual in the fact that it was one of the few German divisions remaining with a full complement of three regiments albeit at reduced strength; fifty percent of its officers had no combat experience. However, Allied intelligence was unaware until two weeks before the planned invasion that the 100 km stretch of beach originally allocated to be defended by the 716th Infantry Division (static) had been cut into two parts in March, with the 716th moving to the “Caen Zone”, and the 352nd taking over the “Bayeux Zone”, thus doubling the complement of defenders.Omaha was also the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery; the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only two survived the landing. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”.
Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings. The heavily defended draws, the only vehicular routes off the beach, could not be taken and two hours after the first assault the beach was closed for all but infantry landings. Commanders (including General Omar Bradley) considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units of infantry, often forming ad-hoc groups, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defences by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day, two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days; the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.
Pointe du Hoc
The massive concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by James Earl Rudder. The task was to scale the 30 meter (100 ft) cliffs under the cover of night, approximately at 5:30, one hour prior to the landings with ropes and ladders, and then attack and destroy the German 15,5 cm Kanone 418(f) coastal defence guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. The infantry commanders did not know that the guns had been moved prior to the attack, they had to press farther inland to find them and eventually destroy them. However, the fortifications themselves were still vital targets as a single artillery forward observer based there could have called down accurate fire on the US beaches. The Rangers were eventually successful, and captured the fortifications. They then had to fight for two days to hold the location, losing more than 60% of their men. They subsequently regrouped and continued northeast to the rally point one mile from the gun emplacements on Pointe Du Hoc.
Casualties on Utah Beach, the westernmost landing zone, were the lightest of any beach, with 197 out of the roughly 23,000 men that landed. The 4th Infantry Division troops landing at Utah Beach found themselves in the wrong positions because of a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast. Instead of landing at Tare Green and Uncle Red sectors, they came ashore at Victor sector, relatively little German opposition was encountered. The 4th Infantry Division was able to press inland relatively easily over beach exits that had been seized from the inland side by the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. This was partially by accident, because their planned landing was further along the beach; (Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the Assistant Commander of the 4th Division, upon discovering the landings were off course, was famous for stating “We will start the war from right here.”). By early afternoon, the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st. American casualties were light, the troops were able to press inward much faster than expected, making it a near-complete success.
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