Wikijunior:World War II/D-Day

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Landing craft with American soldiers on D-Day

The D-Day landings took place on June 6, 1944. It was the largest invasion by sea in history. The code name for this operation was "Overlord". The forces were sent across the English Channel from the south of England, mainly Portsmouth, to Normandy in a mighty fleet of over 8,000 ships. Normandy is located in the northwest corner of France. The overall commander of the Allied forces was the US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was later President Eisenhower. The land force commander was the British General Bernard Montgomery, popularly known as "Monty".


There were 156,000 men mainly from three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The objective was to storm the German defenses on five beaches and eventually to drive the Germans out of France, and establish a second front to attack Germany itself. The beaches were codenamed Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha. The Canadians were to take Juno beach, the Americans, Utah and Omaha and the British, Gold and Sword.

Just before the landings, massive numbers of paratroops were landed behind the German lines to try to disrupt communications and reinforcements when the beaches were attacked. There were three famous Airborne Divisions, the US 82nd Airborne, called the "All American", the US 101st Airborne called the "Screaming Eagles" and the 6th Airborne comprising Canadian and British paratroopers.

There was also a big effort from the French people themselves called the "French Resistance" which disrupted the Germans and blew up key facilities like German troop transport trains. The resistance were told in coded messages from the BBC when the invasion would start.

Paratroopers behind German lines


The success of the landings required that German reinforcement were delayed in getting to the beaches where the allied troops were coming ashore. Paratroops were placed behind German lines into order to seize key towns, roads, bridges, etc. The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were placed west of Utah Beach and the British 6th Airborne Division near Sword beach. The 82nd occupied the town of Sainte-Mère-Église early in the morning of June 6, giving it the claim of the first town liberated in the invasion. This was featured in the film "The Longest Day".

The five beaches

Invasion plan - England to France

The D-Day landings involved assaults on five key beaches by troops in landing crafts. The beaches and the Germans defending them were pounded by massive fire from all sorts of naval ships, including battleships. Most of the beaches were heavily fortified, and had large numbers of German troops defending them. Some had large fortifications with big guns and machine gun nests.



Sword beach was taken with relatively light losses. One of the main objectives was to capture the city Caen, but this was not achieved. The British linked up with the 6th Airborne Division inland soon after.



The Canadians were responsible for the storming of Juno beach. The beach was heavily defended by machine guns, larger artillery guns, pillboxes, concrete fortifications and a massive seawall. Juno beach was the second worst beach for men killed after Omaha. By the end of the day, 15,000 Canadian troops had landed. They had gone deeper into German territory than any other beach landing.



The Gold beach was strongly defended by the Germans and the British forces sustained heavy losses. The beach was an important objective because it was to be a primary harbor in which to deliver oil and supplies once for the allies.


US soldiers landing on Omaha beach.

The Omaha beachhead was the most challenging beach of the five. American's boats quickly dumped their troops on the beach and troops encountered sprays of MG-42 (machine guns) and sniper fire while they were vulnerable on the open beach. Scenes in the movie "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Longest Day" recreate the event based on real war footage and testimony. Omaha beach was heavily fortified and defended by German troops on the highground. The first few landing crafts had all of the officers and sergeants killed or wounded. The men were virtually leaderless. The Americans eventually got a hold of the beach, with a loss of 1,200 troops.

They then had to take out the massive guns on top of a cliff overlooking the beach. The US 2nd Ranger battalion climbed the 100 feet high cliffs using ropes and ladders under heavy German fire. The battalion was successful in capturing the guns.



The Americans had little difficulty capturing Utah, The Germans didn't expect that the US would take Utah. The 101st Airborne Division had already taken key positions behind the beach. One-Star General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the beach commander, and related to President Teddy Roosevelt (after whom teddy bears are named) stated "We will start the war from right here.".



After the beaches were secured, two large constructions were hauled across the English channel in order to tie up ships and deliver supplies for the armies' continued invasion into France. These facilities were called Mulberry harbors. By June 19, 1944, over 600,000 men, 100,000 vehicles and 200,000 tons of supplies were delivered to France, thanks to the Mulberry harbors.

The whole D-Day operation was mainly successful, although one of the main objectives, the city of Caen, was still in German hands. Caen underwent heavy bombing and the Canadians eventually captured it, but many Canadians and civilians died.