Allied invasion of Western Europe began 79 years ago

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023

By Gene Hays
MSgt. (Ret) USMC

On June 6, 1944, D-Day-the Battle of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord, resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.

Some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region. This amphibious military assault was the largest in history.

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By the end of August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated.

After World War II began, Germany invaded and occupied northwestern France beginning in May 1940. By 1942, the Allies were considering a possible Allied invasion across the English Channel, the first step in the march to Berlin.

In November 1943, Adolf Hitler was aware of the threat of an invasion somewhere along France’s northern coast and he assigned Erwin Rommel to take charge of spearheading the defense. Hitler charged Rommel with finishing the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile fortification of bunkers, landmines and beach and water obstacles.

General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed commander of Operation Overlord in January 1944.

In the months before D-Day, the Allies carried out a massive deception operation intended to make the Germans think the main invasion target was Pas-de-Calais (the narrowest point between Britain and France) rather than Normandy.

Eisenhower used many tactics to deceive the Germans including fake equipment; a phantom army commanded by George Patton and fraudulent radio transmissions.

Bad weather on June 5, 1944, delayed the mission for 24 hours. Eisenhower’s meteorologist predicted improved conditions for the following day and Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord on June 6.

He told the troops: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”

More than 5,000 ships and landing craft carrying troops and supplies left England for the trip across the Channel to France, while more than 11,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.

Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops and thousands of vehicles and tons of equipment had landed at Normandy. By the end of August 1944, the Allies had liberated Paris and the Germans had been pushed out of France, effectively ending the Battle of Normandy.

The Allied forces then prepared to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east.

The Normandy invasion began to turn the tide against the Nazis. The following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.

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