The planning for D-Day invasion, called Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of France -began late in 1943. Roosevelt chose Dwight Eisenhower to command the operation, and this was when he was officially given the title of Supreme Allied Commander of the European Theater of Operations.
Eisenhower picked the time and place for his assault– it would take place in early June, and it was to be at Normandy– the northwest coast of France.
The Operation involved 175,000 men, carried by 5,300 ships of all types, 1,000 transport airplanes, and another 6,000 fighters and bombers that would provide air cover.
The scale of Operation Overlord was unimaginable. It was the largest amphibious assault ever. It was the equivalent of moving three large cities — the entire population– across a giant lake, all in one night.
To throw off the Germans, the Allies created an elaborate deception. A false operation that was supposed to be led by General Patton, this was the army that was supposed to invade Calais. They had cardboard tanks, landing craft and airplanes, all gathered around in one place, making it look like the Allies were planning to invade at Calais.
Meanwhile,the real invasion force was being led by Omar Bradley. And it was beginning to grow to a rather impressive strength in Southern England. Tens of thousands of tanks, trucks, jeeps, landing craft, artillery pieces, and other weapons were just lined up along roadsides.
Airfields were packed with fighters and bombers. There were nearly three million troops and support staff preparing for the invasion of Europe.
Eisenhower had chosen June 5th as his day to attack. But strong winds forced him to delay. Meteorologists predicted good weather for the next day, followed by bad weather for many days after that.
So, faced with the choice of a possible delay of two weeks, or gambling with the weather, Eisenhower finally gave his order, “OK, let’s go!” And with that, the largest amphibious force the world had ever seen began to cross the English Channel on the night of June 5th.
Just before they left, Eisenhower gave his order of the day to all the troops. “The tide has turned; the free men of the world are marching together to victory. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere go with you…Good luck. And let us all beseech the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
As the invasion armada headed towards France on the evening of June 5, American and British paratroopers were landing behind the German lines. There were some mix-ups and confusion along the way, but before daylight, the paratroopers had secured their main objectives. The bridges and crossroads and exits from the Normandy beaches were destroyed and/or secured to prevent the Germans from bringing in reinforcements.
At 5:30 in the morning, the first landing craft began to make their way towards Omaha and Utah Beach. Other landing craft were also on their way to Juno, Sword and Gold beaches, carrying British and Canadian soldiers.
The first assault waves hit the beach at 6:30 in the morning. There were all sorts of problems too.
–No one expected so many men would get seasick from the choppy waves.
–As they stormed onto the beach, many men died by jumping into the water too soon (to escape German machine gun fire), where the water was too deep and they drowned.
–Most of the amphibious tanks didn’t work at all.
–German machine guns were supposed to have been taken out by Allied bombing, but most of them were still there. The machine gun fire that met the Allied troops was absolutely murderous– more than anyone had ever expected.
The initial losses were horrifying. Some of the first companies that went on the beach suffered 90% casualties within a few minutes of landing. But, by midday, most of the German guns had been put of commission. And the Allies kept coming.
Eventually, the German resistance gave way and more and more Allied troops managed to make it ashore.
By the middle of the afternoon, the beaches were swarming with men, tanks, and amphibious vehicles and the last pockets of German resistance were taken out. In all, 12,000 Americans were killed or wounded storming Normandy Beach.