D-Day, Part 2

By Stephen

My last blog ended at H-Hour off the Normandy beaches, with Allied forces getting ready to land at 6:30 AM (British double summer time), June 6, 1944.   While the landing craft were heading to the shore, a naval barrage was sending shells toward the German defenses and bombers were unloading their bombs, trying to reduce enemy ability to counter attack while the landings were taking place.

On one of the American beaches, Omaha ,  small arms and artillery fire  from the Germans on shore, along with rough seas, the rising tide, and smoke from the naval artillery and air force bombs caused chaos. Units were taken to the wrong locations.  Landing craft ramps were opened too early causing soldiers to drown trying to wade to shore with their heavy equipment  Machine gun fire from shore killed some before they left the landing craft and causing those that made it alive to shore to be trapped on the beach.  Destroyers were forced to go close to shore using their guns to support the troops trapped on the beach.  However, Rudder’s Rangers completed their mission on Pointe du Hoc, disabling the big Germany gun  and interdicting the road to the rear of the German position, hindering re-enforcements getting to Omaha Beach to oppose the landings.

Utah Beach had less opposition and therefore landing was easier.  One reason was the Germans had flooded the behind the beach, dispensing with the heavy casements protecting heavy guns, like soldiers faced on Omaha Beach. Major General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., over 56 years old, won a Medal of Honor for directing traffic on the beach under fire.  Unfortunately, he didn’t received  the award before he died of a heart attack two months later.

Landing on French soil was the easy part.   Moving inland was a different story.   That part of France was mainly agricultural with fields set off by thick hedgerows (bocage).  The German defenders made good use of the bocage to set up traps for the allied troops, who used tanks converted to bulldozers to open pathways through the hedgerows.  On 1 July (D+25), the beachhead was only six miles deep in some places and the Germans still occupied key cities of Caen and St.-Lô. On the other hand, the Americans had cut off the Germans on the Cotentin Peninsula.  Cherbourg, at the head of the Cotentin Peninsula, was captured on D+20.  The Allies undertook a variety of operations to push the Germans back:  EPSON (26 June-1 July);  GOODWOOD (18-20 July);  COBRA (25 June- July ).

By the end June, overwhelmed by the amount of Allied troops and equipment that came ashore after D-Day, German troops were retreating, despite Hitler’s orders to stand fast.   By 30 June (D+24) over 850,000 men, almost 150,000 vehicles, and nearly 600,000 tons of supplies had landed   Four days later one million men were in Normandy. By the time the Allies broke out they outnumbered the Germans seven to one in manpower and four to one in machines.   Besides,  Allied air power was interdicting the German transportation network, delaying reinforcements and supplies from getting to the front.

As well as running low on manpower and the machines of war, the Germans faced a bigger problem than the fact they were fighting a two-front war: their commander-in-Chief, Adolph Hitler.   The Fuhrer was a micro  manager and mistakenly thought himself a master strategist.  His generals couldn’t transfer units without  his approval and requests for retreat were met with a firm, “Nein!”

The Falaise pocket (August 8-17) was one example.  50,000 Germans were trapped in the town out flanked by the Allies.   A sizable number escaped, but Allies captured  more materiel  than Germans could afford  to lose.  The Allied victory here opened the road to Paris, which was liberated two days later.  Germans retreated north of the Seine River, ending Operation Overlord.  The books listed below tell the story in more detail.

The victory came at price.  The Allies suffered  37,000 deaths and 172,ooo wounded. 19 of the soldiers killed during the D-Day landings came from Bedford, Virginia, future  home of the National D-Day Memorial .  That was more per capita causalities than any other town on the United States.   On the other side, more than 40 German divisions were destroyed and 240,000 men killed or wounded.

Of course this was only the first step.  There was still was nine more months war in Europe before Germany surrendered and the citizens of western Europe were free from Nazi occupation.

For further reading:

Rick Atkinson,  The Guns at Last Light

Anthony Beevor,  D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

Max Hastings,  Overlord:  D-Day and the Battle for Normandy

John Keegan.  Six Armies in Normandy


Breakout and Pursuit:  Operation Cobra

Battle of Normandy


Military History Online