June 6, 1944 — The biggest land, air and seaborne invasion the world has ever known was launched on this day. Codenamed Operation Overlord, everybody now knows it as D-Day.
One hundred and fifty six thousand American, British and Canadian troops sailed to France from England and stormed the beaches of Normandy. They then began a relentless, dogged and bloody drive all the way to Berlin, pushing back the fearsome German military machine and finally bringing an end to the Second World War.
It was no picnic. The 50-mile stretch of coast where the landings took place was heavily fortified by Hitler’s forces, and his soldiers, who had never known defeat, put up staunch resistance.
An element of surprise worked in the Allies’ favour. Hitler believed that an invasion would come along France’s northern coast, but he did not know where. He had put Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in charge of defence operations, including completion of the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile fortification of bunkers, landmines, beach and sea obstacles.
In England, meanwhile, deception was the name of the game – on a massive scale. It included an imaginary army of a million men, supposedly led by America’s General George Patton and headquartered in the UK across from Calais – the shortest distance between England and France.
With the use of double agents, bogus radio transmissions and other means the Germans were made aware of this "army". They were also briefed over other possible invasion sites including Greece, the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, the south of France, the Biscay Bay coast of France, through the Low Countries, or via Norway and Denmark. Hitler moved garrisons into all these places.
It was, according to ‘America in WWII’ magazine, “the greatest deceptive enterprise ever seen in a war. Tent cities were created all over eastern England. There were fake mess halls, hospitals, ammo depots, and even sewage treatment farms. Fuel depots were constructed and parks for trucks, tanks, jeeps, and ambulances were laid out.”
Like the buildings, the tanks, trucks and other “vehicles” were made of fabric and wood or were rubber inflatables. Soldiers used tools to make tread and tyre marks for the benefit of spying German planes. It was vital to let Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes through to see the mock preparations on the ground, but not let their flights seem suspiciously easy.
On top of all that, the deceptions extended to England’s ports and waterways with the help of the British movie industry, which was called in to make fleets of dummy landing craft. The resulting “vessels”, made of wood or fabric and floating on oil drums, were “moored” in harbours and rivers and looked convincing to German pilots at 33,000 feet.
The subterfuge even extended to “letters” in local newspapers from clergymen complaining about the terrible behaviour of some of the “foreign troops.”
All of this shifted much German attention away from Normandy and so, on June 6, 1944 the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, America’s General Dwight D. Eisenhower, gave the order for the invasion to begin.
Even as troops began wading ashore along the Normandy beaches, the fooled Germans still believed that the major assault would come at Calais and that Normandy was a feint. Hitler personally ordered the tanks and infantry of the German 15th Army to stay at Calais. And other reinforcements on the way to Normandy were diverted to the port.
Official figures record that 4,414 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with another 10,000 wounded or missing. But it enabled the great Allied march across Europe to begin.
By late August all of Northern France, including Paris, had been liberated from German control. Next came Germany itself, where the Allies would meet Soviet troops moving in from the east. The following spring, on May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany offered unconditional surrender. Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.
**What does the ‘D’ in D-Day stand for? In military parlance it simply refers to the “day” on which an offensive would occur. The “D” is just a placeholder for the date and allows the entire operation to be scheduled in detail long before a definite day for the attack has been set. So, if anything, 'D' stands for 'Day' or 'Date.' The phrase was first used during the First World War.
Published: May 7, 2020
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Dictator of Nazi Germany
34th US President & WWII General
Dwight D. Eisenhower
German WWII Field Marshal