Under Adolf Hitler the German empire extended from Russia to the west, to France on the east. Germany controlled much of Europe except for Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Sweden (Keegan 1). Hitler?s army?s gained control of much of Europe during the years of 1939 through 1941. It was not until December 11th 1941 that Hitler declared war on the United States. Soon afterward, Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander in charge of planning the invasion of Europe. American invasion planners were in favor of an attack across the English Channel that would defeat the German army in the west and later, push into the German capital of Berlin. The allied plan would be a land attack, supported by air power and navy. The attack, if successful, would mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
Adolf Hitler referred to his western defenses as the ?Atlantic Wall?(Jennys 1). The British under Prime Minister Winston Churchill, had an invasion plan before the United States got into the war. When the United States entered the war, a plan to attack the German forces from England was talked about again. The Germans knew that they would have to defend their Atlantic Wall, since they knew that an attack would probably come across the English Channel. Even though England was bombed day and night, Germany was unable to defeat them. One major problem in defending the ?Atlantic Wall? was ?no single supreme German commander in the west? was named to command the army (Badsey 25). Instead, Hitler had two commanders in Western Europe, Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rundstedt and Rommel could not agree on how best to defend an invasion from England. Rommel believed that the strongest German forces should be positioned along the Normandy coastline. While Rundstedt believed that the allies would best be defeated by holding back a large central army in an effective counter attack (Jennys 1). Even though Germany had ?61 divisions, of which eleven were armored, to defend France,? neither Rommel nor Rundstedt would succeed in defending the ?Atlantic Wall? (Badsey 25)
In a November-December 1943 meeting between President Roosevelt and Russian leader Joseph Stalin, it was decided that two large attacks against Germany would take place at the same time. The United States along with England and Canada would attack Germany across the English Channel on the western front. Stalin and his Russian army would invade Germany from the east. These actions would take place together and at the same time. In January 1943, Eisenhower and his staff devised the western attack plan and called it ?Operation Overlord.? This invasion would land in Normandy between Caen and the Cotentin Peninsula (Keegan 2).
The Overlord plan called for much consideration and strategic planning. Eisenhower and his planners at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) picked and early June date for ?D-Day.? ?D-Day? is a term used by the military to descibe the day a military action is going to go on. The allied planners felt that their air power and naval bombing of selected targets in Germany and France would weaken the German defenses. They also would use paratroopers to move troops behind enemy lines. Before the actual invasion of the Normandy beaches by ground troops the navy and air forces would bomb the cliffs and defenses guarding the beaches. These massive air strikes and bombings were planned to destroy most if not all the German beach fortifications. The allies planned on getting troops and supplies in Normandy faster than the Germans could defend the western front. Ground troops would come in over five beaches code named, from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. American service men would land across the Utah and Omaha beaches while the British would land on Sword beach. Gold beach would consist of British and Canadian divisions.
Prior to the invasion, the allies planned to use fake radio transmissions and false news stories to confuse the Germans. One plan to deceive the Germans included creating dummy encampments to convince the Germans that their forces were twice their actual size. They used this plan to convince the Germans that they were going to invade the western front at the Pas de Calais area. Air power would attack the German railways and transport systems within France. Between April 1st and June 5th 1944, the British and American air forces flew 200,000 sorties, dropping 195,000 bombs on roads and rail lines. The air forces also pounded military bases, German airfields, and coastal batteries. The Germans were unable to bring supplies and reinforcements up to the Normandy invasion area. The allied air forces were able to destroy 60 percent of the railway and transportation systems. A final air strike would occur minutes before ?H-hour?, which was a few minutes before midnight, June 6th(Badsey 25-30). ?H-hour? is another military word that means the actual time a military action is going to happen.
The battle of Normandy began a few minutes after midnight. Two important factors were critical to the success of the mission, moonlight and the tide. Paratroopers who would land behind German lines would require a full moon for good visibility. These paratroopers would mark out areas for the troops that would be landing the next day. A rising tide would allow the troops on the beach to come ashore without being blocked by mines and other obstacles. As it turned out the weather was terrible, the tide was out, and the waters choppy. The invasion went on as planned. When the airborne paratroopers jumped from their planes, stiff winds blew them off course. Many of these men missed their drop zones by 20 miles. Many also fought little battles in the dark, and were either killed or captured. The large invasion forces that were to land on the beaches consisted of 150,000 men in over 5,000 ships. These men spent more than two days on the transport ships and many became sea sick. The naval ships began bombing the beaches around 6:00 AM. Then came the air attacks. Since the weather was so bad the naval and air bombing was considered an early failure as many bombs missed their targets. Many of the landing crafts were caught in rough seas causing artillery, tanks, and incoming troops to sink in the high waves. The men landing at Omaha beach had it the worst. The German 352nd infantry defended their positions by firing at the allied troops in a crossfire action. Many of the men never even made it to shore as they were hit by artillery or struck by mines. Within ten minutes of getting to the beach, American troops lost 96 percent of their regiment. At Utah beach the landing was much easier. Not many Germans were defending this area. West of Omaha beach, US troops climbed up the cliffs to knock out a large German artillery battery. When they reached the top there were no guns there at all.
The British troops that were landing on the beaches came ashore on a high tide. There run to the beaches was made shorter. The British did not lose half as many men as did the Americans. On Gold beach, a British troop called the first Hampshire Regiment came under the heavy fire of the German 352nd infantry division. They were nearly wiped out. Other British groups faced very little gunfire. Back on Omaha beach those remaining soldiers fought through enemy fire and advanced against the Germans. The U.S. navy bombed German positions along the bluffs, allowing the soldiers to advance. Even though all of this was going on, the German high command was not convinced that the Normandy invasion was the true point of attack. Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was not allowed to counter attack. Hitler and his generals were convinced that the Normandy attack was only a diversion. By the time the German generals were allowed to bring in their reinforcements and tanks, it was too late (Jennys 2).
The battle of Normandy had been a stunning success despite the loss of life and many wounded soldiers. Despite the early and bloody setbacks for allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, Hitler?s ?Atlantic Wall? had crumbled. The Germans were only able to keep the allied army?s back for two months. In August the allies were able to break through the German defenses and within nine more months Germany would surrender.