D-Day Memorial: June 6th 1944


D-Day. Many know this name from their school history textbooks and classic films, like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan. And still another group lived that day with thousands of others troops from the Allied nations whose determination to defeat the Nazi became a reality – but through many hardships and in a war that seemed to never end. But surrender or capitulation was never the option. The veterans of World War II will soon disappear, but we should never forget the commemoration of this day.
D-Day, to the British and Americans or the Battle of Normandy to the French and historians was officially called Operation Overlord. It occurred on June 6th, 1944 and for those involved it was truly the longest day. For many it would be their last day. The casualties on that day were about 10,000 (KIA and wounded), which was less than what Winston Churchill had calculated at 20,000.

It was the largest seaborne invasion in the history of the world that involved over 850,000 troops and the biggest armada fleet in naval history. They crossed the English Channel from the United Kingdom (England) to Normandy, France.
Allied land forces that saw combat that day in Normandy came from Canada, Free French Forces, the United Kingdom (Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England) and the United States. Weeks later after D-Day, Polish forces participated in the push towards Nazi Germany with contingent forces from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and the Netherlands. The countries that provided air and naval support were Canada, Free France, United Kingdom, United States, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Navy.
The invasion began with parachute and glider landings in the middle of the night, massive air attacks by dawn, which included naval bombardments sitting offshore. An early morning amphibious landing continued through the day and into the early evening with the remaining forces following the parachute divisions. The D-Day forces deployed from 1,008 bases situated on the south coast of England, the largest and most important being located at Portsmouth.
The objective of the operation was to create a temporary port until Cherbourg (deep-water existing port) to be captured). It was the British-Canadian paratroopers who prevented the Germans from destroying held the bridge that would allow troop movement and held it until relieved by the troops arriving from the shore.
Around 6,900 vessels were involved that day, under the command of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, including 4,100 landing craft. There were 12,000 aircraft involved under the command of Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory who supported the landings, including 1,000 transports to fly in the parachute troops; 10,000 tons of bombs were dropped and 14,000 attack sorties would be flown.
Armored vehicles specially adapted for the assault also participated. They were developed under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Percy Hobart the specially adapted vehicles (Hobart’s Funnies) included “swimming” Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, the Churchill Crocodile flame throwing tank, mine-clearing tanks, bridge-laying tanks and road-laying tanks and the Armored Vehicle, Royal Engineers (AVRE) – equipped with a large-caliber mortar for destroying concrete emplacements. The majority of the vehicles were operated by the British 79th Armoured Division.
Codenames were used in various aspects of D-Day operations, the primary being Overlord for the large-scale assault mission, and according to D-day museum:
The armed forces use codenames to refer to the planning and execution of specific military operations. Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Neptune. (…) Operation Neptune began on D-Day (6 June 1944) and ended on 30 June 1944. By this time, the Allies had established a firm foothold in Normandy. Operation Overlord also began on D-Day, and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on 19 August 1944.
Here is a list of units that participated that day from Wikipedia:

The following major units were landed on D-Day. A much more detailed order of battle for D-Day itself can be found at Normandy landings.

The total number of troops landed on D-Day was around 130,000[22]-156,000.
The total troops, vehicles and supplies landed over the period of the invasion were:

  • By the end of 11 June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies.[24]
  • By June 30th (D+24) over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies.[25]
  • By July 4th one million men had been landed.

The Invasion Fleet was drawn from 8 different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels.[18]

The overall commander of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, providing close protection and bombardment at the beaches, was Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. The Allied Naval Expeditionary Force was divided into two Naval Task Forces: Western (Rear-Admiral Alan G Kirk) and Eastern (Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Vian). The warships provided cover for the transports against the enemy—whether in the form of surface warships, submarines, or as an aerial attack—and gave support to the landings through shore bombardment. These ships included the Allied Task Force “O”.

German Order of Battle [Wikipedia]

The number of military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany reached its peak during 1944. Tanks on the east front peaked at 5,202 in November 1944, while total aircraft in the Luftwaffe inventory peaked at 5,041 in December 1944. By D-Day 157 German divisions were stationed in the Soviet Union, 6 in Finland, 12 in Norway, 6 in Denmark, 9 in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.[27] However, these statistics are somewhat misleading since a significant number of the divisions in the east were depleted; German records indicate that the average personnel complement was at about 50% in the spring of 1944.[28] A more detailed order of battle for D-Day itself can be found at Normandy landings.
The following units were deployed in a static defensive mode in the areas of the actual landings:

  • 709th Infantry Division (Static). Like the 716th, this division comprised a number of “Ost” units who were provided with German leadership to manage them.

Other divisions occupied the areas around the landing zones, including:

Rommel’s defensive measures were also frustrated by a dispute over armored doctrine. In addition to his two army groups, von Rundstedt also commanded the headquarters of Panzer Group West under General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (usually referred to as von Geyr). This formation was nominally an administrative HQ for von Rundstedt’s armored and mobile formations, but it was later to be renamed Fifth Panzer Army and brought into the line in Normandy. Von Geyr and Rommel disagreed over the deployment and use of the vital Panzer divisions.
Rommel recognised that the Allies would possess air superiority and would be able to harass his movements from the air. He therefore proposed that the armored formations be deployed close to the invasion beaches. In his words, it was better to have one Panzer division facing the invaders on the first day, than three Panzer divisions three days later when the Allies would already have established a firm beachhead. Von Geyr argued for the standard doctrine that the Panzer formations should be concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen, and deployed en masse against the main Allied beachhead when this had been identified.

180withflag The argument was eventually brought before Hitler for arbitration. He characteristically imposed an unworkable compromise solution. Only three Panzer divisions were given to Rommel, too few to cover all the threatened sectors. The remainder, nominally under Von Geyr’s control, was actually designated as being in “OKW Reserve”. Only three of these were deployed close enough to intervene immediately against any invasion of Northern France, the other four were dispersed in southern France and the Netherlands. Hitler reserved to himself the authority to move the divisions in OKW Reserve, or commit them to action. On June 6, many Panzer division commanders were unable to move because Hitler had not given the necessary authorization, and his staff refused to wake him upon news of the invasion.
The 21st Panzer Division (General Major Edgar Feuchtinger) was deployed near Caen as a mobile striking force as part of the Army Group B reserve. However, Rommel placed it so close to the coastal defenses that, under standing orders in case of invasion, several of its infantry and anti-aircraft units would come under the orders of the fortress divisions on the coast, reducing the effective strength of the division. The other two armored divisions over which Rommel had operational control, the 2nd Panzer Division and 116th Panzer Division, were deployed near the Pas de Calais in accordance with German views about the likely Allied landing sites. Neither was moved from the Pas de Calais for at least fourteen days after the invasion.

The other mechanized divisions capable of intervening in Normandy were retained under the direct control of the German Armed Forces HQ (OKW) and were initially denied to Rommel:

Four divisions were deployed to Normandy within seven days of the invasion:

  • retreat The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend (Brigadeführer Fritz Witt) was stationed to the southeast. Its officers and NCOs (this division had a very weak core of NCOs in Normandy with only slightly more than 50% of its authorised strength[29]) were long-serving veterans, but the junior soldiers had all been recruited directly from the Hitler Youth movement at the age of seventeen in 1943. It was to acquire a reputation for ferocity and war crimes in the coming battle.
  • Further to the southwest was the Panzerlehrdivision (General major Fritz Bayerlein), an elite unit originally formed by amalgamating the instructing staff at various training establishments. Not only were its personnel of high quality, but the division also had unusually high numbers of the latest and most capable armoured vehicles.
  • 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was refitting in Belgium on the Netherlands border after being decimated on the Eastern Front.
  • 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen (General major Werner Ostendorff) was based on Thouars, south of the Loire River, and although equipped with Assault guns instead of tanks and lacking in other transport (such that one battalion each from the 37th and 38th Panzergrenadier Regiments moved by bicycle), it provided the first major counterattack against the American advance at Carentan on June 13.
Landing supplies at Normandy

Three other divisions (the 2nd SS Division Das Reich, which had been refitting at Montauban in Southern France, and the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg which had been in transit from the Eastern Front on June 6), were committed to battle in Normandy around twenty-one days after the first landings. One more armored division (the 9th Panzer Division) saw action only after the American breakout from the beachhead. Two other armored divisions which had been in the west on June 6 (the 11th Panzer Division and 19th Panzer Division) did not see action in Normandy.
The
Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel in nine centuries. They were costly in terms of men, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the campaign led to the loss of the German position in most of France and the secure establishment of a new major front. Allied material weight told heavily in Normandy, as did intelligence and deception plans. The general Allied concept of the battle was sound, drawing on the strengths of both Britain and the United States. German dispositions and leadership were often faulty, despite a credible showing on the ground by many German units. In larger context the Normandy landings helped the Soviets on the Eastern front, who were facing the bulk of the German forces and, to a certain extent, contributed to the shortening of the conflict there. Although there was a shortage of artillery ammunition, at no time were the Allies critically short of any necessity. This was a remarkable achievement considering they did not hold a port until Cherbourg fell. By the time of the breakout the Allies also enjoyed a considerable superiority in numbers of troops (approximately 7:2) and armored vehicles (approximately 4:1) which helped overcome the natural advantages the terrain gave to the German defenders.

Allied intelligence and counterintelligence efforts were successful beyond expectations. The Operation Fortitude deception before the invasion kept German attention focused on the Pas de Calais, and indeed high-quality German forces were kept in this area, away from Normandy, until July. Prior to the invasion, few German reconnaissance flights took place over Britain, and those that did saw only the dummy staging areas. Ultra decrypts of German communications had been helpful as well, exposing German dispositions and revealing their plans such as the Mortain counterattack.
Allied air operations also contributed significantly to the invasion, via close tactical support, interdiction of German lines of communication (preventing timely movement of supplies and reinforcements—particularly the critical Panzer units), and rendering the Luftwaffe ineffective in Normandy. Although the impact upon armored vehicles was less than expected, air activity intimidated these units and cut their supplies.
Despite initial heavy losses in the assault phase, Allied morale remained high. Casualty rates among all the armies were tremendous, and the Commonwealth forces had to create a new category—Double Intense—to be able to describe them
.

The beaches at Normandy are still referred to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. There are several vast cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person’s religious symbol and their unit insignia. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the La Cambe German war cemetery, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses. There is also a Polish cemetery.
Streets near the beaches are still named after the units that fought there, and occasional markers commemorate notable incidents. At significant points, such as Pointe du Hoc and Pegasus Bridge, there are plaques, memorials or small museums. The Mulberry harbour still sits in the sea at Arromanches. In Sainte-Mère-Église, a dummy paratrooper hangs from the church spire. On
Juno Beach, the Canadian government has built the Juno Beach Information Centre, commemorating one of the most significant events in Canadian military history.
In
England the most significant memorial is the D-Day Museum in Southsea, Hampshire. The Museum was opened in 1984 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of D-Day. Its centerpiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery commissioned by Lord Dulverton of Batsford (1915-92) as a tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of those men and women who took part in Operation Overlord. June 5, 1994 a drumhead service was held on Southsea Common adjacent the D-Day Museum. This service was attended by US President Bill Clinton, HM Queen Elizabeth II and over 100,000 members of the public.

You can view a video commemorating D-Day here. …

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This entry was posted in History.