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The date was June 6, 1944; the time, 6: 30 A. M. , designated as H-Hour (Oliver). The Allied invasion of the French province of Normandy was beginning, under the campaign Operation Overlord (Hanson). Within minutes, thousands of troops stormed the beaches, facing heavy German resistance resonating from Adolph Hitlers Atlantic Wall (Ambrose). Although the attack was coordinated and planned to every minor detail, the pre-invasion measures the Allies had taken to ensure a safe landing of infantry had largely failed. More than 13, 000 planes of the Allied Air Corps had swept the German defenses along the shoreline, yet because of heavy fog and pilot error, many had missed their targets completely.
Naval barrages sailed clear of their intended targets; mortars landed harmlessly in the ocean. Perhaps the most complicated of matters was the fact that many troops came ashore in the wrong sector, or on the wrong beach altogether, driven off-course by the stormy waters of the English Channel. Even with these flaws, the invasion was an overwhelming success. Only about 2, 500 Allied soldiers were killed, far less than the preparatory estimate of around 10, 000. With so many blunders, how did the Allies pull off such a stunning victory?
Many feel that the answer lies in several key points. First, every scholar or historian will agree that the Allied invasion was pulled off with a varying degree of luck. Second of all, the misguided beach landings and the disorganized drops of airborne infantry duly confused the German defenders. And third, the German chain of command may bear some responsibility for the failure of the German defenses; no German officers were one hundred percent sure who was in command of the forces. Three officers (Field Marshals Gerd von Runstedt and Erwin Rommel, along with Supreme Chancellor Adolph Hitler) all claimed command.
This was surely a confusing and complicated situation for the Germans, who were unsure, even after the invasion was underway, whom they were to obey. Allied soldiers landing on the five beachheads (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword) faced murderous fire from the German defenders, making the beaches a living hell (Ferguson). On the two American beaches, Utah and Omaha, casualties were horrendous (Chinn), while the two British landings on Gold and Sword were less bloody. Canadians landing on Juno fared best, slashing their way through the defenses and leading the most technically proficient (Grodzinski) landing of the invasion.
Though the going was rough, the Allies did receive help in the form of luck. United States Army Rangers assaulting the cliffs of Point du Hoc found the massive artillery battery located there unmanned and unprepared (Priddy). This allowed the Rangers attacking the cliffs an easy passage. Due to low tides in the Channel, German beach defenses such as Czech hedgehogs and mines were ineffective against Allied landing craft.
The Allies did not count on these strokes of luck, but they were certainly welcomed. German forces looking down from the cliffs above the beaches would have seen a literal debacle: landing crafts coming in at almost random intervals, troops scrambling into cover behind sea walls, and naval destroyers risking running aground to blindly fire at German pillboxes and artillery posts (Ferguson). This must have been quite a confusing sight for the defenders, who were certainly expecting to see a well-organized, clustered attack. Before the beach landings were made, Allied airborne units were dropped into German territory. Members of the American 82 nd and 101 st Airborne Divisions made up most of the paratroop force. The paratroopers were to secure the flank and to protect the roads and bridges necessary to fan out after the troops were on the beach (Oliver).
During the drop, high winds drove the soldiers well off course, some even landing more than thirty miles from their target drop points. This had the effect, however, of baffling the Germans and made them think an extremely subtle plan was underway, which mistaken idea caused them a crucial loss of time (Priddy). This delay provided just enough time for struggling Allied forces to beat German reinforcements inland and breach Hitlers impregnable European fortress (Associated Press). Five hundred miles away in Berechtsgaden, Bavaria, Hitler had just fallen asleep with the help of sleeping pills.
None of his aides dared wake him, so Hitler was unaware of the invasion. The next morning, when Hitler was briefed, he showed no concern over the invasion, and instead of meeting with his military advisors he took a tour of a local castle. Hitler did not meet with his staff until well into the afternoon. By this time, Allied soldiers had driven deep into France. Hitlers ignorance of the campaign was crucial to Allied success. German Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt, the overall commander, lacked the authority to release reinforcements, though the situation called for it immediately.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the Atlantic Wall and the defense of France, was away in Germany, and could not properly direct the troops. The only officer who possessed the authority to release panzer (armored) reinforcements was Hitler himself. But Hitler was determined that the invading force in Normandy was NOT the primary assault. He was convinced it was merely a diversion, meant to draw the Germans in while the main force attacked elsewhere. Hitler believed the main attack would come at Calais, contrary to intelligence and battle reports. Hitler held his five panzer divisions in waiting at Calais for an invasion that never came.
Lower German officers in Normandy were unsure which commander to follow. Rommel believed the Normandy invasion to be the main assault; von Runstedt felt that there was still a second assault to come, but could not convince Hitler to move the panzer reserves into Normandy to crush the invasion, and Hitler believed the Normandy invasion to be diversionary tactics for the larger invasion to come at Calais. Only after pleadings by Rommel and von Runstedt, along with several other German officers, did Hitler release one panzer division. But it was far too late to be effective (Priddy). The failure of Hitler to recognize the Normandy attack as the primary invasion cost the Germans heavily. Allies captured thousands of German troops blindly rushing to northern France, unaware of the penetration the Allies had achieved (Taylor).
The German force was essentially crippled, facing invasion from not only Normandy, but from Russia as well, as the Red Army launched a massive counter-invasion as revenge for Hitlers attacks in 1942 - 1943 (Stein). Sealing the fate for the Germans was the continuous bombing of German targets by the Allied Air Corps (Ferguson). Allied troops swept through Paris, liberated France, and then proceeded into Germany. The invasion of Normandy may have been the proverbial nail in the coffin for Hitlers Germany.
The once massive German army could never fully recover from the blow it suffered, and was beaten back time and time again until it finally succumbed. To its officers, it was just another sign of their leaders incompetence. Rommel and several others attempted to assassinate Hitler shortly thereafter. Their attempt failed, and Rommel was jailed and forced to commit suicide. German morale was at an all-time low, and the end was near (Invasion in the South and Drive to the East). For the Allies, the invasion was a key to victory.
Following their success in Normandy, the Allies fought their way across France and quickly into Germany, where they captured Berlin and ended World War II in Europe. Bibliography Ambrose, Stephen E. The Moment of the Century. American Heritage. May-June 1998: 4. General Reference Center Gold.
Infotrac Web. Dyer Co. HS Lib. , Newbern, TN. 12 Sept. 2001. web k dyer. Associated Press. Hitlers Made.
New York Times: On This Day. (6 June 2001). web Chinn, Stephen. Fact Sheet D-Day, 6 June 1944 Normandy, France. Kansas Heritage Server. (12 Sept. 2001). web Ferguson, Andrew. Operation Overlord: The Invasion of Fortress Europe.
Andrew Ferguson's Writings. (1 Sept. 2001). web Grodzinski, John Major. Victory at Calais: The Soldiers Story. Book Reviews. (12 Sept. 2001).
web e / pdf e/ 54 - 60. pdf. Hanson, David C. D-Day: Penetrating the Atlantic Wall.
Virginia Western Community College. (18 May 2001). web Invasion in the South and Drive to the East. Encyclopedia Americana Online. Grolier, Inc. , 2001. web (12 Sept. 2001). Oliver, Benjamin D.
D-Day: The Allied Invasion of Normandy. World History Chronology. (15 June 2001). web Priddy, Robert. The Second World War Hinges of Fate. The Role of Chance or Higher Intervention in the Second World War. (10 Sept. 1999). web Stein, R.
Conrad. D-Day. World War II in Europe: America Goes to War. Springfield: Enslow Publishers, Inc. , 1994: 78.
Taylor, AJP. D-day. The Second World War: An Illustrated History. London: Penguin, 1975: 195.
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