Summer 1944

Normandy Invasion is part of a series of articles on the Battle of Normandy; it is a simplified presentation of one of the major pages of the 20th century’s Western Europe History.

Normandy invasion
Normandy invasion

Most of us had family members who were involved in the conflict.

They fought, suffered or died regardless of their allegiance.

This brief and neutral presentation does not try in any way to glorify any of the tragic events that took place then, nor take sides.

Touring the Landing Beaches is before all a personal and very emotional journey.

It’s the personal quest for a past that sometimes seems so close.

Many museums and memorials pay tribute to the men and women who were involved in the conflict.

Normandy Invasion – WWII – Axis and Allied Forces

1- The invasion of Poland by Hitler on 1 September 1939 triggered the start of WWII.

The protagonists formed two major alliances.

Omaha Beach in the afternoon of June 6, 1944
Omaha Beach in the afternoon of June 6, 1944

Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria formed the Axis and joined forces to serve their individual territorial expansion and to destroy Communist Soviet Union.

They were opposed by the Allies, Great Britain, France, China, United States (later) and Soviet Union (later).

2- On September 3, 1939 at 11am the British government of Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.

Germany had indeed refused to answer the ultimatum asking for the withdrawal of its troops from Poland.

3- France declared war on Germany on the same day at 5pm.

4- The US entered WWII on December 8, 1941 after the Japanese surprise bombardment of their fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor.

Naval Bombardment - Operation Neptune map - Normandy invasion
Naval Bombardment – Operation Neptune map

6- Germany and the European Axis powers declared war to the US on Dec. 11.

7- The Atlantic and Pacific conflicts turned into WWII.

8- The Commonwealth force (Australia, Canada, New Zealand), Czechoslovakia, the Free Belgian Forces, the Free French Forces (Based in London), Greece, Poland, Luxembourg and Netherlands joined.

9- On the eve of the Battle of Normandy the German occupation of Western Europe – Atlantic Wall – spread from Norway to the river Bidasoa by the Franco-Spanish border at Hendaye.

The Germans had deployed thirty-six Infantry Divisions and six Armoured Divisions along the 15,000 km of Atlantic coast, and had fifteen Infantry Divisions and three Armoured Divisions in reserve!

Normandy Invasion – Operation Overlord – Allied Invasion of Northern Europe

The Normandy Landings have remained among the most significant and tragic events of the 20th century.

Recorded in the World History, they have also been engraved in the memory of the French people, all the soldiers who returned from the fighting and all families who lost a loved one.

Operation Overlord map - Normandy invasion
Operation Overlord – Allied invasion map

General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces decided that the Allied invasion of Northwest Europe, code named Operation Overlord, will take place on June 4, 1944.

General Bernard Law Montgomery was in overall command of ground forces (21st Army Group).

The Operation Overlord ended on on August 19, 1944 when the Germans retreated and crossed the Seine River.

Paris was liberated on August 25.

The Operation Overlord consisted of an airborne and amphibian assaults.

It was planned in successive phases that were preceded by overnight parachute and glider landings and intensive aerial and naval bombardments.

Normandie Invasion – Operation Neptune

Air plan for landings in June 1944 - Normandy invasion
Air plan for landings in June 1944

Operation Neptune, the code name of the naval operations or assault.

It was the first phase of the Operation Overlord.

Operation Neptune was mainly planned and executed by the Royal Navy placed under the overall command of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay.

The landings started on D-Day, Tuesday June 6, 1944 at 6.30am.

Why June 6?

Eisenhower wanted to take advantage of the full moon in order to drop men and equipment in the middle of the night.

The other decisive factor in choosing this date was that June 6 coincided with a high tide that would provide sufficient water depth to allow the landing crafts to navigate through the beach obstacles put in place by the Germans.

Normandy Invasion – D-Day, the first day of the landings

D-Day is the largest amphibious invasion in world history.

This represents a force of 185,000 men supported by 195,700 Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel , 6939 boats, 3500 gliders and 8090 airplanes which converged on five assaults beaches or sectors, 80km of littoral between stretching from Saint-Germain-de-Vareville to the west and Riva Bella-Ouistreham by the estuary of the river Orne to the east.

Allied invasion on D-Day
Allied invasion

On this historic day the bombers dropped 11 912 tons of bombs on the coasts of Calvados and Manche!

The naval operations were split in two Naval Task Forces; the Western Task Force under the command of Rear-Admiral Alan G Kirk, and the Eastern under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Vian.

Three beaches were assigned to the Commonwealth forces, Sword to the British 3rd Infantry Division, Juno to the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and Gold to the 50th Northumbrian.

Two were assigned to U.S. forces: Utah Beach to the 4th Infantry Division and Omaha Beach for the 29eme Infantry Division.

Normandy Invasion – Operation Cobra – La Percée

Operation Cobra was the code name for the offensive planned by General Omar Bradley and initiated by the First United States Army on July 25, 1944, seven 7 weeks after the landing.

Operation Cobra - Saint-Lô breakthrough - Normandy invasion
Operation Cobra – Saint-Lô breakthrough

The purpose of this operation was to open a corridor in the middle of the German troops, positioned in the interior of Normandy between Saint-Lô and Coutances, in order to link with Brittany, while the bulk of the German defence was concentrated in Caen, a key city.

Aerial bombardment prepared the way to the south and southeast for the American allied troops under the command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton‘s U.S. Third Army.

Patton and his men managed to rapidly break through the German units that had remained inland.

These were indeed made of young and inexperienced soldiers, as the most experienced had been positioned in and around the most strategic areas of Caen and river Seine.

The Germans, however, fiercely defended their positions; the Allies re-seized Normandy at the price of deadly fighting.

They seized the cities one by one: Cherbourg then Saint-Lô (95% of the city had been wiped out)…

Operation Cobra - Normandy invasion
Operation Cobra

On July 26 the Allies entered Coutances, on July 27 the Cotentin Peninsula was isolated and on July 31 the last pockets of enemy resistance were destroyed.

The German counter-attack (Operation Luttich) launched on August 7 between the towns of Mortain and Avranches failed.

Their young and inexperienced soldiers were exhausted by long weeks of fighting.

The Allies took the city of Le Mans on August 8.

Normandy Invasion reached its climax at the battle of the Pocket of Falaise.

The German troops had indeed retreated in this area’s natural depression or pocket; they thought this corridor would allow them to escape when necessary.

The allied troops who landed on the beaches headed for Falaise where they were reinforced by the troops of the Operation Cobra.

The Germans found themselves surrounded by the Allies in the Pocket of Falaise.

They fought desperately (10 000 Germans are thought to have died during this battle) and managed to hold until August 17, when they realized that they had lost and started to retreat.

The Allies managed to seal the Pocket of Falaise on August 21, enclosing 50 000 German soldiers who were made prisoners.

The Operation Cobra ended on August 19, the Normandy Invasion was at an end.

Landing Beaches:


Rediscover all the landing beaches during the 75th Anniversary Commemorations

War Memorials:

Juno Beach: Bernieres-sur-merCorseulles-sur-merGraye-sur-merDouvres-la-Delivrande

Gold Beach: Arromanches – Ver-sur-mer

Sword Beach: Ouistreham-Riva Bella

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Overlord mapOperation Neptune map sourceAir plan mapOperation Cobra mapCobra St Lo breakthroughCobra road to Paris source

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