In 1960 President Eisenhower was asked in an interview if he thought that the great endeavor of the amphibious assault at Normandy Beach in France 6th of June 1944 could ever be undertaken again. Sadly Ike replied that he felt the current generation of Americans would not be up to the task. I wonder what Ike now would say about this particular generation of self-involved internet surfers, reality show fans, and gamers? I doubt it would be pretty.
On June 6, 1944 after several aborted deadlines due to inclimate weather and rough seas, Operation Overlord launched. In the wee hours of the morning allied troops (160,000) loaded up in Higgin Boats, destroyers, and equipment barges and set off across the English Channel in the largest coordinated amphibious operation in history. Over 5,000 Allied Naval ships participated in support of the landing. As heavy naval bombardment of the beaches and aircraft ground attack went into action, paratroopers aboard gliders and DC-3’s had already delivered troops behind enemy lines to link up and begin disrupting German ground forces and communications. Many troops drowned weighed down with 60 lbs. of gear on their backs as they attempted to cross waters deepened by recent storm erosion.
As fate would have it
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was prevented from bringing his Panzer Divisions to repulse the landing while his staff waited the Fuhrer to awaken from a likely drugged sleep. This may have been a pivotal point in allowing the invasion force at Normandy to gain a foothold on the embattled beach heads where 9,000 initial casualties took place. The lives of American, British, and Canadian soldiers were those who stained the waters with their blood that day. Other nations did contribute troops in smaller numbers to the unified effort.
As the operation unfolded
On beach heads named strategically by Allied command such as Juno, Omaha, Utah, Gold and Sword Beaches where Allied forces shared the responsibility of storming the well protected Atlantic shores and paid a horrible price in succeeding, they were met with formidable resistance. The Germans were well entrenched with barbed wire, metal barriers, underground bunkers and Pill Boxes that riddled the beaches with machine gun fire. Allied Commandos climbed steep cliffs in order to take out artillery and antiaircraft batteries as they were shot off the ropes they used by German rifle fire.
Despite heavy bombings and naval gunfire the German defenses were still effective and poured deadly fire upon the brave soldiers who crawled out of the cold waters of the English Channel and onto beaches where the dead began to float ashore in the midst of steady weapon fusillades by German defenders. The first waves of Allied landing crafts and foot soldiers were largely wiped out as machine gun and rifle fire took their toll, but successive waves of amphibious crafts began to establish themselves in the maelstrom of death and destruction.
Effective air drops
Further behind the enemy lines American and British paratroops landed but got separated and confusion reigned for a time until units began linking up. In some cases German machine gunfire decimated the paratroops before they ever hit the ground. Eventually the parachute soldiers began to make life miserable for the Germans as was planned. Blowing bridges, cutting communication lines, and sabotaging railroads were tantamount to hindering an effective German counter-attack that could have repulsed the Allied amphibious landing.
The tide turns
As US Army GI’s fought desperately to move inland amidst the well planned killing fields of German machine guns, artillery, and rifle squads, the tables turned and the German defense began to gradually melt in the face of sheer force of numbers. By the time Hitler awoke from his sleep, Normandy was virtually assured in Allied hands despite Rommel’s orders to counter attack and drive the enemy into the sea with his tanks.
In the midst of hell
Allied soldiers succeeded by tossing satchel charges into the machine gun barrel slits in “Pill Boxes” or machine gun bunkers. Barbed wire was cut or destroyed with explosives as Allied soldiers stormed the deadly emplacements of the German army. By the end of the day some 200,000 German POW’s were taken and sent behind as the Allied attack pressed on into villages and roads beyond the Normandy beaches. By the end of the first day an Allied foothold was almost assured. Thousands of men, vehicles, light artillery, tanks, and supplies had reached the coast.
The Royal Air Force of the British as well as elements of the Australian squadrons maintained air superiority which kept the German Luftwaffe from effectively interdicting the ground offensive. Supreme Commander Eisenhower, who had agonized for days over the final launching of the largest amphibious landing in history was finally assured that plans that had been laid for years had effectively come to fruition as Allied troops moved forward reinforced with an uninterrupted supply of 55,000 vehicles, ammunition, and other supplies offloaded from supply ships anchored offshore.
The final outcome
In one bloody day followed by many hard fought months the beginning of the end for the Nazi reign of terror in Europe had begun. With only a small percentage of Allied troops having actual combat experience and many no more than 18 years of age, they faced a trial by fire and out fought the supposedly crack German troops who had been part of the Blitzkrieg that had out maneuvered combined British and French troops just 4 years before. Victory was finally the light at the end of the tunnel for the forces of liberation on June 6, 1944 this day 70 years ago. Good would triumph over evil and perhaps the bravest generation ever in American history overcame desperate odds so that we may enjoy our freedom today.