The Normandy Landings
The Normandy Landings Longues-sur-Mer fr
The Normandy landings undoubtedly represented the most complex military operation ever orchestrated: more than 6,000 warships, transport vessels and barges crossed the channel with the liberating ground forces whilst thousands of planes flew above the armada in support.
It was at the Quebec Conference, in 1943, that the decision was taken to attempt a major landing offensive on the European continent, an operation code-named Overlord. Contrary to what German High Command was expecting, it was on the beaches of Seine Bay that the Allies decided to land and not on the coastline of northern France close to Great Britain.
By landing on the shores of Basse Normandie, less fortified than those of the Pas-de-Calais region, the Allies gave themselves the advantage of surprise.
In order to disrupt the defences of the enemy, the task of the Allied air forces and navy was to launch a massive bombing attack on the Atlantic Wall just before the first troops were due to land. When the attack came, special armoured vehicles (amphibious, bulldozer, mine-disposal and flame-thrower tanks) moved forward in support of the attackers.
The landings began during the night of 5 to 6 June with the dropping of three airborne divisions on both flanks of the front. The task of the American paratroopers (in the Sainte-Mère-Eglise sector) and the British paratroopers (in the Ranville sector) was to seize certain key targets (artillery batteries, bridges, roads, canal-locks etc…).
Shortly afterwards, several hundred US Rangers managed to capture the heavily fortified 'Pointe du Hoc' German gun position, thanks to a particularly daring assault. At the same moment, between 6.30 and 7.30 am, 135,000 men and approximately 20,000 vehicles landed by sea on the five beaches planned for the attack (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword). Although the objectives set for the evening of D-Day were not attained (Caen, Bayeux, Isigny and Carentan), the operation was successful overall. Casualties were lower than expected, except at Omaha Beach where securing the beachhead turned out to be problematic despite the extreme bravery of the Americans. Next came the problem of linking the five assault beaches and preparing for the German counter-attack.
Having joined up the five beaches and created a solid platform, covering 80 km of the Channel coastline, the Allies moved onto the next phase of their plan. Whilst the British pressed on towards Caen and drew in the German armoured divisions around the regional capital, the Americans surged out of Utah Beach towards Barneville in order to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and take the major continental port of Cherbourg, which fell to the Allies on 26 June. They then attempted to pierce the German lines to the south, whilst, at the other end of the front, the British were fighting to free Caen. The second fortnight of July saw three successes: the liberation of Caen, the taking of Saint-Lô and the breakthrough south towards Mortain-Avranches. The Germans, whose resistance was weakening having in vain tried to cut-off a section of Patton's forces in the Mortain counter-attack, retreated towards the Seine. Then, with a massive pincer-manoeuvre, the British, Canadian and Polish troops to the north, and the Americans and French troops under Leclerc to the south (coming from Alençon) captured a section of the two German armies in the Falaise-Chambois pocket (the "Corridor of Death" at Montormel). The battle of Normandy came to an end on 21 August 1944 at Tournai-sur-Dives. The allies had achieved their first victory on the continent. Three days later, they crossed the Seine and entered Paris.