D Day Beaches

Information about the d day beaches of the June 6, 1944 Normandy invasion.

In 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was given supreme command over the planned invasion by Allied forces into German held France. The code name given to the plan was Operation Overlord and the invasion began about 12:15 A.M. on June 6, 1944. This day would be forever remembered as D-Day. Getting to it though had been a long, hard road for all who traveled it.

There had been much discussion as to where the invasionary forces should land. Pas de Calais and Normandy were the two possible choices but since Calais was the heavier fortified of the two, Normandy became the final destination. In so choosing Normandy, the objective became seizing the city Cherbourg and to continue until seizing Nantes.

German Fortifications were not the only factor that had to be considered for the invasion. The English Channel was often rough, and such things as tides, winds and even the moonlight had to be taken into account. Since it was an amphibious landing special types of crafts and equipment had to be designed and built.

Just after midnight on June 6th, 23,500 American and British paratroopers and gliders landed behind the German coastal emplacements. In all, 1,200 transport planes and 700 gliders would be used.

A little after daybreak on the same day, 4,000 transports, 800 warships, and an unknown number of smaller boats arrived at the beaches of Normandy with the troops of the U.S. 1st Army and British 2nd. Arm. The commander for this landing would be Field Marshal B.L. Montgomery.

Sword Beach was the eastern most landing site. It was the defended by the Merville Battery and the expected casualties were eighty-four percent. The 22nd Dragoon Guards were a Scottish Unit and the first to land. Supported by five mine sweeping tanks and the 1st Special Service Brigade, they wore green berets because to them, helmets we not manly. Commanded by Simon Lovat, the troops advanced to the sound of bagpipes.

The men at Sword had been lucky. The Merville Battery had four main guns, two hundred men with machine guns, a minefield, barbed wire and even an electric fence. The allies had dropped some 4,000 bombs and not one had actually hit the Battery. During the early morning hours of June 6, paratroopers rushed the minefields to kill 178 Germans and blow up the Battery. Although the Germans were able to repair two of the guns, Allied casualties would have been much higher without the 150 paratroopers who were able to reach the Battery.

At Juno the first wave of twenty-four hundred Canadians faced four hundred Germans whose artillery was still pulled by horses. Landing far away from their intended target, time wasn't all that was lost. Of the twenty-four hundred men, there were 335 dead. By the end of the day though, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers were more than ten miles inward and approaching the Bayeux-Caen highway and the Carpiquet airport.

Gold was the westernmost beach to be assaulted by British troops. The first wave would be made up of the British 50th Division and would be reinforced by the 7th Armored Division. German resistance was light and the British would be six miles inland and only one mile away from Bayeux by dusk.

Utah Beach's first wave of 23,000 American soldiers was from the 4th Infantry Division. Although the Americans had landed a full mile off their target, 28 of their 32 tanks made it ashore at what would be the least fortified of all the beaches. It was here that the oldest soldier, General Theodore Roosevelt would come ashore. Of the 23,000 American soldiers, 197 were killed and 60 were listed as missing in action.

Of them all, Omaha turned out to be the toughest beach to take. For some reason the planners of the invasion had deemed Omaha to be the most suitable for landing. The beach was 300 feet deep and ended at the base of 100-foot cliffs. Germans heavily defended these cliffs in pillboxes with machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers. Only one of the four paths leading from the beach was paved and the Germans had flooded the Aure Valley so the paratroopers couldn't land.

The first wave would be made up of two American divisions and reinforced by 34,000 men throughout the morning. At noon, an additional 25,000 men would also land. Of all the beaches, Omaha would have the highest number of casualties.

Thinking the Normandy landings were just a diversion for a much heavier attack upon Calais, the Germans were slow to react. Once they realized Normandy was the true invasion they began to send their reserves up but it was too late. Held up by Allied aircraft and French resistance fighters, the Allied forces were able to link up and establish a firm foothold in France.

By the end of June 1944 the Allies had been able to move inland more than twenty miles and enter Cherbourg. By this time they had landed more than one million men, along with some 177,000 vehicles and 586,000 tons of supplies.

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