D-DAY - 80th Anniversary

Today, we remember the sacrifices of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy 80 years ago.

“They gave their todays, for our tomorrows”

In Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to Parliament on 4th June 1940, he famously said “We shall fight on the beaches” little did he know then that 4 years later, that’s exactly what we would be doing. 

Lest We Forget

Operation Overlord was the code-name for the Allied invasion of North-West Europe. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Neptune.

Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it is the largest seaborne invasion in history and was undoubtedly a turning point in the Second World War. The operation began the liberation of France, and the rest of Western Europe, and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

The operation was launched on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy Landings (D-Day). A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.

The Normandy beaches were chosen by planners because they lay within range of air cover, and were less heavily defended than the obvious objective of the Pas de Calais, the shortest distance between Great Britain and the Continent. 
Airborne drops at both ends of the beachheads were to protect the flanks, as well as open up roadways to the interior. 

Six divisions were to land on the first day; three U.S., two British and one Canadian. Two more British and one U.S. division were to follow up after the assault division had cleared the way through the beach defences. Disorganisation, confusion, incomplete or faulty implementation of plans characterised the initial phases of the landings. This was especially true of the airborne landings which were badly scattered, as well as the first wave units landing on the assault beaches. To their great credit, most of the troops were able to adapt to the disorganisation. In the end, the Allies achieved their objective.

Airborne Assault

The airborne assault into Normandy, as part of the D-Day allied invasion of Europe, was the largest use of airborne troops up to that time. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and other attached Allied units took part in the assault. Numbering more than 13,000 men, the paratroopers were flown from bases in southern England to the Cotentin Peninsula in approximately 925 C-47 airplanes. An additional 4,000 men, consisting of glider infantry with supporting weapons, medical, and signal units were to arrive in 500 gliders later on D-Day to reinforce the paratroopers.

First to Make Land

The parachute troops were assigned what was probably the most difficult task of the initial operation - a night jump behind enemy lines five hours before the coastal landings.
Part of the 2nd Battalion (52nd), Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) was among the first Allied troops to arrive in Normandy. They landed in six gliders in the early hours of June 6, 1944, near the River Orne and Caen Canal bridges. Their mission was to capture and hold these bridges, which were crucial for preventing German reinforcements from reaching the invasion beaches. This operation was led by Major John Howard and was a significant early success on D-Day, with the capture of Pegasus Bridge being particularly notable.

To protect the invasion zone's western extremity and to facilitate the "Utah" landing force's movement into the Cotentin Peninsula, the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions descended on the peninsula by parachute and glider in the early hours of D-Day. The paratroopers were badly scattered. Many were injured and killed during the attack, and much of their equipment was lost, but the brave paratroopers fought fiercely, causing confusion among the German commanders and keeping the German’s troops occupied. Their efforts; hampered by harsh weather, darkness and disorganisation, and initiative of resourceful Soldiers and leaders, ensured that the Utah Beach assault objectives were eventually accomplished. The British and Canadian attacks also accomplished their primary goal of securing the left flank of the invasion force.

Utah Beach was added to the initial invasion plan, almost as an afterthought. The allies needed a major port as soon as possible, and Utah Beach would put the U.S. VII Corps within 60 kilometres of Cherbourg at the outset. The major obstacles in this sector were not so much the beach defences, but the flooded and rough terrain that blocked the way north.

Omaha Beach linked the U.S. and British beaches. It was a critical link between the Cotentin Peninsula, also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, and the flat plain in front of Caen. Omaha was also the most restricted and heavily defended beach. For that reason, at least one veteran U.S. Division (lst Infantry Division) was tasked to land there. The terrain was difficult. Omaha beach was unlike any of the other assault beaches in Normandy. Its crescent curve and unusual assortment of bluffs, cliffs and draws were immediately recognizable from the sea. It was the most defensible beach chosen for D-Day; in fact, many planners did not believe it a likely place for a major landing. The high ground commanded all approaches to the beach from the sea and tidal flats. Moreover, any advance made by U.S. troops from the beach would be limited to narrow passages between the bluffs. Advances directly up the steep bluffs were difficult in the extreme.
German strong points were arranged to command all the approaches and pillboxes were cited in the draws to fire east and west, thereby enfilading troops while remaining concealed from bombarding warships. These pillboxes had to be taken out by direct assault. Compounding this problem was the allied intelligence failure to identify a nearly full-strength infantry division, the 352nd, directly behind the beach. It was believed to be no further forward than St. Lo and Caumont, 20 miles inland. The V Corps was assigned to this sector. The objective was to obtain a lodgment area between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River and ultimately push forward to St. Lo and Caumont in order to cut German communications (St. Lo was a major road junction). Allocated to the task were 1st and 29th Divisions, supported by the 5th Ranger Battalion and 5th Engineer Special Brigade.

Gold Beach was the objective of the 50th Division (Northumbrian) of the British 2nd Army. Its primary task was to seize Arrolnanches (future site of a Mulberry) and drive inland to seize the road junction at Bayeux, as well as contact U.S. forces on their right and Canadians on their left. The initial opposition was fierce, but the British invasion forces broke through with relatively light casualties and were able to reach their objectives in this sector. A major factor in their success was that the British assault forces were lavishly equipped with armour and "Funnies" of the 79th Armoured Division. The "Funnies" were the specialist vehicles, armed with 290 mm mortars, and designed for tasks such as clearing obstacles or minefields and destruction of large fixed fortifications. Perhaps the most famous is the "Flail" tank, which was Sherman equipped with a large roller to which lengths of chains was attached. These tanks were designed to clear terrain to their front, and detonate mine fields and other booby traps without danger to the tanks or infantry following.

Juno Beach was the landing area for the 3rd Canadian Division. The Canadians were very concerned about their role in the invasion (as was most of the planning staff) as the memory of 2nd Canadian Division's destruction at Dieppe was still fresh. But many lessons had been learned, and the 3rd Canadian Division, in spite of heavy opposition at Courseulles-sur-Mer, broke through and advanced nearly to their objective, the airfield at Carpiquet, west of Caen. The Canadians made the deepest penetration of any land forces on June 6th, again with moderate casualties.

Sword Beach was the objective of the British 3rd Infantry Division. They were to advance inland as far as Caen, and line up with British Airborne forces east of the Orne River/Caen Canal. The Orne River bridges had been seized late at night, June 5, by a glider-borne reinforced company commanded by Maj. John Howard. As at the other beaches, British forces penetrated quite a ways inland after breaking the opposition at water's edge. Unfortunately, the objective of Caen was probably asking too much of a single infantry division, especially given the traffic jams and resistance encountered further inland. The 1st Special Service (Commando) Brigade commanded by Lord Lovat, linked up in the morning with Howard's force at Pegasus Bridge on the British left. Fierce opposition from the 21st Panzer and later the 12th SS Panzer division prevented the British from reaching Caen on the 6th. Indeed, Caen was not taken until late June.

Wikipedia Link for more in-depth information:

Fun Day at Slough Masonic Centre

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