Significance Of D Day On World War II
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Every great conflict has a turning point when one side takes the lead over the other and the balance of power starts to shift. For World War Two, the "bloodiest conflict in human history" (pbs.org), this turning point would be the famous large-scale Allied invasion of Normandy that broke into Nazi Europe on June 6th, 1944, know as D-Day. It was one of the most significant days in all of World War Two that would set the stage for the Allied push to end the war.
By 1943, the balance of World War Two was turning toward the side of the allies. They had won critical battles in Africa and driven out the Nazi occupiers. And Mussolini, the fascist dictator of the Axis power of Italy had been overthrown and killed. The Allies had fought the Germans victoriously in Italy, taking Rome, and the US was pushing Japan's advance back towards their own nation. (pbs.org). However, it became clear that an invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe would be necessary to break Hitler's hold and put an end to the war. Pressure was also increased by the Soviet Union's movements eastward into Europe. Allies feared a "Europe ruled from Moscow instead of Berlin" (Edwards 12). Allied leaders agreed that an invasion could decide the outcome of the war- it could set up a quick victory or a long struggle depending on the results.
Leaders of the Allies began the preparations for a large scale invasion of Europe. They first needed to agree on where it should happen. Locations considered included the northern German coast and sites on the Mediterranean Sea which were rejected because they were out of the range of British aircraft. Belgium was also rejected because the Nazis had it defended too heavily (d-dayoverlord.com). The region of Normandy in northern France was finally selected as the site of the invasion, which would be called Operation Overlord, because its beaches were relatively easy to land on and it was within striking distance of British planes. The beaches were also similar to those in England which would allow for practicing by the troops (Edwards 13). Once the selection was made, preparations began on setting up the invasion.
The plans for getting Allied troops into Nazi-controlled Europe had actually been started in 1940 for the summer of 1944. Britain built up its own army, and soldiers of the Free French, Free Poles, Canada, and the US also gathered in the country which came to be known as an "armed camp." (Edwards 10). Of course, an invasion of this scale would require a massive amount of combat and transport vehicles, weaponry, and troops. Large amounts of planes, ships, and tanks were manufactured in the US and Britain in preparation. Soldiers were trained in England and rehearsed invading the beaches (army.mil). In order to keep the details of the operation secret and keep the element of surprise, there was also an extensive counterintelligence system used by the Allies before D-Day. They generated false army communications suggesting invasions of Norway, set up decoy craft on the eastern coast of Britain, and even dropped the body of a British officer carrying false documents off the coast of Spain to be discovered by the Germans (Edwards 24). Because of this, the Germans had to try to spread their defenses out all across northwestern Europe.
As the day of the invasion drew closer, the massive strike force of the Allies prepared to mobilize. 160,000 soldiers, 5,000 thousand ships, and 13,000 aircraft were made ready to move into France (army.mil). In addition, concrete pieces were prepared to be used to create harbors and breakwaters to allow ships to land safely. An oil pipeline was also laid under the English Channel to keep war machines supplied. (Edwards 22). Before the invasion would take place, Allied bombers hit key German targets such as warehouses and command centers to soften up the enemy defenses. The plan was to take the Caen and Douvre rivers with paratroopers and then capture the 50 miles of beach in between with the sea invasion (d-dayorverlord.com). The invading Allies would strike at 4 codenamed beaches: Sword, Juno, and Gold by the British and Omah and Utah by the US troops. The idea was to build up forces quickly because the initial 24 hours would determine the success of the operation. Military leaders waited for the conditions that would be prime for the invasion: low tide at sunrise. Eisenhower made the final decision: June 6th, 1944. (Edwards 26).
On June 5th, the day before, Operation Overlord began. The Allied fleet gathered near the Isle of Wright near Britain and began to move towards France in the evening. "Overhead, the dark sky echoed with the noise of 10,000 aircraft" (Edwards 30). Scouting crews marked designated areas with lights along the French countryside to direct the 13,000 paratroopers, who started to drop at midnight from both planes and gliders (army.mil). British troopers captured several key villages and bridges along the Orve River. They also took out the Merville Battery which was an important defensive piece for the Germans. The American paratroopers were more scattered and disorganized, but still managed to disrupt the Germans and help support the troops that would be invading from the sea (Edwards 32). Although the Germans were scattered, they were still prepared for the attack with fortifications and obstacles. Allies targeted transportation and communication, but they could not destroy the German defenses. There were multiple Nazi infantry groups and a Panzer division nearby that moved into the Normandy area. (pbs.org)
At dawn, the Allied fleet was reaching the beaches of Normandy. The situation was chaos as the landing craft and ships approached the shoreline. "The beach was almost invisible behind the smoke of gunfire and bombs and the dust of the churned up sand" (Edwards 38). But the troops pushed on towards the shore as mines and enemy artillery exploded around them. At Juno beach, the Canadian divisions landed. 20 out of 24 craft were blown up in the water and there was heavy gunfire. They bravely managed to take the villages of Courselles and Bierweres, however. Gold beach was the site of the main British attack. There was a large mess of destroyed ships in the water as the troops came ashore. The soldiers were faced with very heavy resistance and had to move east, where they destroyed key German defenses including the La Havel sanatorium. (Edwards 48). At Utah beach, the US soldiers did not find as much German resistance, but they did have to deal with very dangerous seas and rough terrain. Omaha beach was the site of the fiercest combat between the US and German soldiers. German defenses were strong and took a toll on the landing US troops. The terrain was also difficult to invade. Losses were high but US soldiers pushed on and took key German defensive sites (army.mil and Edwards 51).
By the end of the first day, the Allies had suffered moderate losses of 2,500 men and 6,000 wounded, but General Montgomery reported "As a result of the D-day operations a foothold has been gained on the Continent of Europe" (Edwards 56). 160,000 Allied troops were able to land and prepare to push into Europe. This breach in the German defense was a turning point of the war. German troops were pulled from the eastern front to fight at Normandy. But, the Germans made a severe mistake in believing that the D-day invasion was just a distraction from another one that would take place (d-dayoverlord.com). As a direct result of D-day, the liberation of France would take place by August, and although many key battles such as the Battle of the Bulge would still have to be fought, within less than a year, the Germans would be surrendering and the war in Europe would be over (pbs.org).
Without any question, the invasion of Normandy on D-Day was one of the most momentous points in World War Two. The tremendous courage of the Allied soldiers and their invasion of France helped to bring about the liberation of France and the defeat of Nazi Germany. It led to the end of the deadliest war in history, with the Allied side and justice triumphing over the Nazi regime.
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