Ancient history

the battle of normandy

The Battle of Normandy kicked off the spectacular success of the D-Day landings, thanks in no small part to an astonishing campaign of deception that completely misled German commanders. However, the penetration from Normandy was more problematic, and was only achieved after heavy and costly fighting.

Data from the Battle of Normandy

  • Who: American, British, Canadian and French forces under the supreme command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) against the West German armies under the command of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (1875 – 1953).
  • How: Following the largest amphibious landings in military history, the Allies were able to gain a foothold on the continent and penetrate Normandy after heavier-than-expected fighting.
  • Where: The Normandy peninsula, in western France.
  • When: From June 6 to August 19, 1944.
  • Why: The Allies were attempting to establish a second front, liberate Western Europe, and advance on Nazi Germany.
  • Result: The German Army in Normandy was all but destroyed and the Allies pushed east towards the German border.


When the US entered World War II in December 1941, the Americans and their British allies agreed on a policy of defeating Germany first while holding off the Japanese in the Pacific. It was clear that a defeat of Nazi Germany would ultimately mean the landing of an Allied army on the European continent.
For Americans, the question was simple. A large force had to be landed in northwestern Europe to defeat the bulk of the German forces and then march on Berlin . English military leaders, obsessed with the carnage of the First World War, were less enthusiastic. They preferred a strategy of dispersal of German power, continuing the Mediterranean campaign. For a time English policy prevailed; however, at the Casablanca conference in January 1943, the British were forced to agree to a major military landing in France . In May, a tentative date was set for the operation, now codenamed Overlord, for May 1, 1944.

Operation Overlord

The prospect of transporting enough troops across the English Channel to establish and defend a beachhead, and then reinforce it before the Germans could build up their own strength, was a daunting task. The planners decided to land in Normandy. This was mainly because it was within range of Allied air cover, had firm, sheltered beaches, and was close to Cherbourg, a major port . General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander, with General Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976) as commander of the invasion ground forces.


They immediately modified the original plan, widening the beachhead and expanding the initial amphibious assault from three divisions to five, backed by various commando and assault units, with three airborne divisions thrown inland to protect the flanks. They would be quickly followed by the rest of the US 1st Army under General Omar Bradley (1893-1981) and the British 2nd Army, commanded by General Sir Miles Dempsey (1896-1969).

German strategy

By the end of 1943 it was clear to the Germans that an Anglo-American invasion was coming; it was just a matter of when and where. The Germans believed that the Allies would try to land at Pas de Calais . Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the German commander-in-chief in the west, had 58 divisions under his command, but half of them were static, attached to sections of the coastal defenses. The key to the defeat of any Allied invasion was their nine motorized panzer divisions. ) and one of motorized grenadiers. However, he disagreed with his subordinate, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), commander of Army Group B, about how to use armored vehicles.
Von Rundstedt and General Von Schweppenburg, commander of Motorized Group West, wanted to keep the armor in reserve to launch a crushing counterattack . Rommel thought this would be impossible, given Allied control of the air. He believed that the Germans had to defeat the invasion on beaches, and so wanted the armor to be deployed as close to the beaches as possible. Hitler's solution was compromise. In Normandy, this meant that only one motorized division, the 21st, was positioned close to shore, with the others, Panzer Lehr and 12th SS Panzer, positioned further back . This left both commanders dissatisfied; Rommel considered his forward defenses to be inadequate and von Rundstedt believed his motorized reserve to be too small.


For Operation Overlord to be successful, the Allies had to train and then concentrate their forces in southern England. The commander-in-chief of aviation, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory (1892-1944), had to ensure air superiority over the beaches and hamper German supply and reinforcement capabilities. The Allied air force concentrated on the French transport system. An elaborate deception scheme, Operation Fortitude, sought to convince the Germans that, firstly, the intended target was the Pas de Calais and, secondly, the invasion of Normandy was just for fun> . It was perfectly successful.
The Allies assembled a vast invasion fleet of nearly 7,000 warships, transports, and support vessels to escort and give cover fire or transport the 130,000 troops across the English Channel. During June 5 the fleet massed off the southern coast of England and began sailing south towards the five landing beaches in Normandy, designated from west to east "Utah", "Omaha", "Gold" , "Juno" and "Sword". The first Allied bombers en route to attack the German defenses passed over them. These were followed, beginning at 11:30 p.m., by transport planes that carried the 17,000 airborne troops to the drop zones to the east and west of the beaches.


The Battle of Normandy began shortly after midnight on June 6, when the English 6th Airborne Division landed north of Caen . The first troops to see action were the glider-borne troops of the 2nd Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who occupied the bridges over the Caen Canal and the River Orne. Other units of the 6th Airborne captured several bridges over the Orne, overran the Merville battery and defended the invasion's left flank by occupying the Ranville-Hérouvillette area . Meanwhile, around 0100, American paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions jumped into the swampy terrain around the westernmost landing beach, "Utah." The paratroopers were very effective in confusing the German response, which was not helped by the fact that Rommel was on leave. Operation Fortitude had also ensured that the Germans continued to expect the main invasion at Pas de Calais, even several days after D-Day .
Two hours later, 1,900 bombers attacked the German defenses in the landing zone, and near dawn the naval bombardment began. At 0630 the Americans of the 4th Division began their approach to "Utah" beach; the Canadians attacking "Juno" would disembark later, at 0745, due to tidal conditions.

Utah landing

In "Utah" the Americans quickly settled on land , advanced through the waterlogged ground behind the beach and linked up with airborne forces in the area; there were barely 200 casualties.

Omaha landing

At "Omaha", Allied intelligence had failed to notice that the defending 716th Division regiment, a static formation, had been reinforced . These men survived the preparatory bombardment. In addition to this, poor weather conditions meant that only five of the 32 Sherman DD amphibious battle tanks and very few of the supporting American combat engineers made it to shore. The raiding troops of the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th National Guard suffered terrible losses. By the end of the day they had occupied a tenuous position barely 1,800m deep, at the cost of 2,000 casualties.

Landing Gold

“Gold” was the westernmost Anglo-Canadian beach. It was assaulted by the British 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Unlike the Americans, the British were supported by various specialized armored combat vehicles to penetrate defenses and Sherman Crab minebreakers, designed to sweep minefields, in addition to their DD tanks. By the end of the day, the 50th Division had managed to penetrate 6 km inland, while the 47th Commando advanced west towards the Americans in Omaha.

Juno Landing

Meanwhile, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed on Juno. They met with intense resistance and were hampered by the loss of many landing craft to submerged obstacles. . It took the Canadians an hour and a quarter of hard fighting to occupy the first exits from the beach. They had also managed to penetrate about 6 km inland by the end of the day.

Landing at Sword

At Sword, the easternmost beach, effective covering fire suppressed the enemy defenses, and most of the landing craft, carrying the 3rd Infantry Division ashore, made the approach unscathed . However, due to bad weather, the high tide was higher than expected, causing the ships to be deposited among the submerged German obstacles on the beach, which the Allies had hoped would be visible. Landing at a higher point on the beach had the advantage of reducing the amount of ground the infantry had to cross; however, in the confined space of the beach the armored vehicles soon began to congest, hampering the British attempt to penetrate inland. The 3rd Division was tasked with linking up with the 6th Airborne on the River Orne, which the 1st Special Service Brigade and 8th Brigade accomplished with reasonable promptness. However, the capture of Caen, which was also scheduled for the first day, proved somewhat more difficult. The advance towards the city was disrupted by a counterattack by 21st Panzer. The German division entered directly into the gap between the beaches of «Juno» and «Sword», but hesitated before the English anti-tank and armored artillery.

The Battle of Caen

Caen had not fallen, though otherwise it had been a remarkably successful day. The Allies had achieved a great strategic surprise and had landed more than 130,000 men at the cost of some 6,000 American and 4,300 English and Canadian casualties. The Germans had failed to push them back out to sea, and over the next few days the beachheads were linked up and resources poured into the Normandy pocket.** By D+6 day 330,000 men, 55,000 vehicles had been landed. and 104,000 tons of stores, although there was no immediate penetration. The Americans advanced up the Cotentin Peninsula towards Cherbourg, while the British and Canadians concentrated on capturing Caen. Montgomery's plan for Normandy was for the British to bear the weight of German resources, especially their armor, to give occasion to
the Americans to break through in the face of weaker resistance. It was a reasonable enough strategy, though his reputation with his allies and posterity suffered from his overconfidence in his predictions of success for the occupation of Caen. A Canadian advance on the town on June 7 failed before the arrival of the 12th SS Motorized Division, a large flanking maneuver was halted at Villers-Bocage on June 12, and the carefully staged Operation Epsom, June 25-30, June, failed in the face of desperate German counterattacks.
The city finally fell on July 8**. Even then, the British failed to break through to Falaise and suffered huge losses, especially to armored cars, during Operation Goodwood on July 18-20.

The penetration

Regardless, these operations had achieved the desired effect of drawing German armored forces into a battle of attrition on the western side of the entrenchment. German commanders had been forced to waste resources in a desperate attempt to reinforce the line in the face of constant British pressure. Meanwhile, the Americans had managed to capture Cherbourg and, as Operation Goodwood drew the bulk of German armor into Normandy, they prepared an offensive to take advantage of the weakened German line ahead . This would be the crowning achievement of the campaign.
During the morning of July 25, a gigantic aerial bombardment heralded the start of Operation Cobra . American infantry and armor broke through the German lines and headed south to Coutances. After two days of fighting, it was clear that the Americans had destroyed the German left flank and had opened the way to Britain. On August 1 the US 3rd Army, under General George Patton (1885-1945), began operations, Bradley handed over the 1st Army to General Hodges, ascending to command of the 12th Army Group. The lack of resistance in Brittany allowed Patton to move the bulk of his forces west. Despite the imminent collapse of the German position, Hitler insisted on a counteroffensive, which was launched against the US 1st Army in the Mortain region on August 7, though they only managed to push the rest of their armor further to the west, inside a pocket that was rapidly closing around them . This gave Bradley the idea of ​​sending Patton's troops, who were at Le Mans, north while the Canadians headed south towards Falaise, a move that would trap some 21 German divisions. Montgomery immediately gave his approval, and although the two armies did not engage until August 19, some 10,000 Germans were killed and 50,000 captured. Some 20,000 escaped. The Battle of Normandy was over.


The Normandy landings were an extraordinary achievement. The allies had managed to establish themselves on a hostile coast and strengthen their position more quickly than their enemy, who relied on the extensive network of roads and railways in northwestern Europe . Much of the success must be attributed to the logistical effort of the allies and the importance of the air force in hindering the German response. The landings did not lead to a rapid penetration or collapse of the German position in the west, but the Normandy campaign caused German losses, and the establishment, at last, of the second front which made the German strategic position now unsustainable.

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