D-Day Fact Sheet
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General Eisenhower 'Ike' on D-Day plus one, going to Normandy on H.M.S. Apollo, a fast minelayer, Abdiel class. (Launched: 16 Feb 1943; commissioned: 9 Oct 1943.) With Major General Ralph Royce, General Omar Bradley, unknown, RN Admiral Bertram Ramsay, and RN Petty Officer Ames on right. Courtesy: Gary Ames. All rights reserved. Thanks to H. L. Pankratz, Archivist, Eisenhower Library, for details.
Prelude to Operation OverlordDuring the first six months of 1944, the United States and Great Britain concentrated land, naval, and air forces in England to prepare for Operation Overlord, the assault on Hitler's "Fortress Europe." While the Soviet Union tied down a great portion of the enemy's forces, the western Allies marshaled their resources, trained their forces, separately and jointly, for the operation, and fine tuned the invasion plans to take full advantage of their joint and combined capabilities.
Before the invasion, the air and sea components played major roles. The 12,000 planes of the Allied air forces swept the Luftwaffe from the skies, photographed enemy defenses, dropped supplies to the resistance, bombed railways, attacked Germany's industries and isolated the battlefield. The Allies' naval component was similarly active during the buildup. The navies escorted convoys, patrolled and protected the English Channel, reconnoitered beaches and beach defenses, conducted amphibious rehearsals and organized and loaded a mighty flotilla to land the assault forces in France.
Meanwhile, the nine army divisions (three airborne and six infantry) from the United States, Britain and Canada trained and rehearsed their roles in the carefully choreographed operation. Rangers climbed cliffs, engineers destroyed beach obstacles, quartermasters stockpiled supplies and infantrymen waded through the English surf as each honed the skills necessary for the invasion's success.
Normandy InvasionSupreme Commander--General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ike's D-Day Message, Order of the Day, 6 June 1944
Allied Expeditionary Naval Forces--Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay
21st Army Group--General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery
Allied Expeditionary Air Forces--Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh- Mallory
United States Army United Kingdom Land Forces First Army Second British Army V Corps 1st British Corps VII Corps 30th British Corps 1st Infantry Division 3rd British Infantry Division 4th Infantry Division 6th British Airborne Division 29th Infantry Division 50th British Infantry Division 82nd Airborne Division 3rd Canadian Infantry Division 101st Airborne Division Air Forces U.S. Army Air Forces Royal Air Forces Eighth Air Force 2nd Tactical Air Force Ninth Air Force Allied Expeditionary Naval Forces Western Task Force Eastern Task Force (United States) (British)
D-Day OperationsThe invasion itself gave prominence to land forces but provided major roles for air and sea components. Allied air forces carried three airborne divisions into battle, protected the force as it crossed the English Channel, and attacked targets throughout the invasion area before and after the landing in support of the assault forces. More than 5,000 ships--from battleships to landing craft--carried, escorted and landed the assault force along the Normandy coast. Once the force was landed, naval gunfire provided critical support for the soldiers as they fought their way across the beaches.
In the invasion's early hours, more than 1,000 transports dropped paratroopers to secure the flanks and beach exits of the assault area. Amphibious craft landed some 130,000 troops on five beaches along 50 miles of Normandy coast between the Cotentin Peninsula and the Orne River while the air forces controlled the skies overhead. In the eastern zone, the British and Canadians landed on GOLD, JUNO and SWORD Beaches. The Americans landed on two beaches in the west--UTAH and OMAHA. As the Allies came ashore, they took the first steps on the final road to victory in Europe.
Omaha BeachThe landing by regiments of the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions and Army Rangers on OMAHA Beach was even more difficult than expected. When the first wave landed at 6:30 a.m., the men found that naval gunfire and prelanding air bombardments had not softened German defenses or resistance. Along the 7,000 yards of Normandy shore German defenses were as close to that of an Atlantic Wall as any of the beaches. Enemy positions that looked down from bluffs as high as 90-120 feet (or more at low tide), and water and beach obstacles strewn across the narrow strip of beach, stopped the assault at the water's edge for much of the morning of D-Day.
By mid-morning, initial reports painted such a bleak portrait of beachhead conditions that Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, United States First Army commander, considered pulling off the beach and landing troops elsewhere along the coast. However, during these dark hours, bravery and initiative came to the fore. As soldiers struggled, one leader told his men that two types of people would stay on the beach--the dead and those going to die--so they'd better get the hell out of there, and they did.
Slowly, as individuals and then in groups, soldiers began to cross the fire-swept beach. Supported by Allied naval gunfire from destroyers steaming dangerously close to shore, the American infantrymen gained the heights and beach exits and drove the enemy inland. By D-Day's end V Corps had a tenuous toehold on the Normandy coast, and the force consolidated to protect its gains and prepare for the next step on the road to Germany.
Utah BeachIn the predawn darkness of June 6, the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were air dropped behind UTAH Beach to secure four causeways across a flooded area directly behind the beach and to protect the invasion's western flank. Numerous factors caused the paratroopers to miss their drop zones and become scattered across the Norman countryside. However, throughout the night and into the day the airborne troops gathered and organized themselves and went on to accomplish their missions. Ironically, the paratroopers' wide dispersion benefited the invasion. With paratroopers in so many places, the Germans never developed adequate responses to the airborne and amphibious assaults.
The 4th Infantry Division was assigned to take UTAH Beach. In contrast with OMAHA Beach, the 4th Division's landing went smoothly. The first wave landed 2,000 yards south of the planned beach--one of the Allies' more fortuitous opportunities on D-Day. The original beach was heavily defended in comparison to the light resistance and few fixed defenses encountered on the new beach. After a personal reconnaissance, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who accompanied the first wave, decided to exploit the opportunity and altered the original plan. He ordered that landing craft carrying the successive assault waves land reinforcements, equipment and supplies to capitalize on the first wave's success. Within hours, the beachhead was secured and the 4th Division started inland to contact the airborne divisions scattered across its front.
As in the OMAHA zone, at day's end the UTAH Beach forces had not gained all of their planned objectives. However, a lodgement was secured, and, most important, once again the American soldier's resourcefulness and initiative had rescued the operation from floundering along the Normandy coast.
SourcesD-Day, The 6th of June, Center of Military History Map Guide, Washington, D.C. 1994
Normandy, U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II pamphlet, Center of Military History, Washington, D.C. 1994.
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