The Tricky Maneuvering over Operation Overlord 6, June 1944

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Supreme Commander over the allied forces involved in the D-Day amphibious landing on June 6, 1944, Dwight David Eisenhower, anguished over the possibilities that could change the fate of destiny that tumultuous day. Keeping abreast of the changing weather patterns of the North Atlantic Ocean, storms delayed the planned timing of this fateful Operation Overlord assault. Many people are totally unaware of this event, much less the significance of the planning that went into the amphibious invasion. It was Group Captain, James Stagg, who under much pressure to interpret the weather data of the time gave Ike the word, “Go!” for the landings to begin as Allied war ships peppered the German coastal emplacements with heavy bombardments, Allied air forces flew top cover for the huge armada of supporting sea vessels, and troops of the American, British, French, and Canadians began climbing down nets along the hulls of troop carriers and into the Higgins boats on their way to the beaches of Normandy.

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There were many preparations that took place prior to the mighty assault upon the Normandy beach head though. The Germans had to be misdirected and confused just enough for allied forces to get a foothold on the beaches of Normandy. General George Patton was assigned as the diversion to lead Nazi intelligence into thinking the invasion would take place at Pas de Calais, the closest point on the French coastline to the UK, and entire battalions of full sized rubber tanks, jeeps, and troop trucks were positioned as if awaiting deployment at the point facing the closest French beach head. With the Germans afraid of the might of General Patton, they were reasonably sure that the point of amphibious operations would be at Pas de Calais.

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In order for the invasion to take place and be successful, three main elements needed to interlock in perfect synergy, and that was the aerial invasion of paratroops deeper into French territory to cut supply lines and create confusion, maintaining air superiority over the English channel to keep the German Luftwaffe at bay, and for the heavily armed assault by sea and foot soldiers coming ashore for the costly battle for real estate to be taken from the Nazis. No matter how effective the amphibious operation would be there were going to be significant casualties! Supreme Commander, Ike Eisenhower, had secretly drafted a letter of resignation taking all the blame should the operation have failed, he was that uncertain.

At home, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lead a nationwide prayer over the radio broadcast from every station coast to coast for at least 10 minutes as he led Americans in a prayer for our troops. Operation Overlord had been in the planning stages for at least 2 years as the US Pacific Naval fleet and US Marine forces battled the Japanese in a bloody island hopping campaign that brought the Americans to within bombing distance of the main island homeland of Japan. The amount of resources committed to the “The Two Ocean War” as written by former Naval Officer and author Samuel Elliott Morrison, detailed the incredible effort it took to supply the global warfare on the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of combat.

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It is said that as Hitler slept under the influence of barbiturate sleeping tablets no one dared wake him as the first signs of the paratroopers arriving overhead in France with hundreds of gliders towed by C-47 cargo planes carrying men ready to fight and die for their country aboard! The first units landed while under fire by German 188 millimeter artillery. Some of the gliders under no power but from the C-47 towing them crashed killing the crew even with a pilot steering the glider. Some of the gliders caught fire and exploded from ack ack German fire, and still other units landed separated from their elements of command and had to carry on anyway despite the confusion. In all this, amazingly, most of the paratroopers attained their objectives in a relatively short period of time despite heavy Nazi resistance.

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Field Marshall, Irwin Rommel, known as the “Desert Fox” of North Africa had taken a break from his command to visit with his wife and family on the day before Operation Overlord, which left the German Panzer divisions that might have repulsed the allies on the beaches of Normandy at a command disadvantage. The delay of a timely German counter attack had been stymied just long enough for allied ground troops to get a foot hold and neutralize the bunkers and machine gun nests on the beaches.

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Meanwhile, Herman Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe was conspicuously under strength and simply played no factor in the defense of the French coastline. The presence of Me-109’s and Fouke Wolf 190’s anticipated but strangely absent only added to the swiftness of the assault. Within hours 156,000 US troops had been deposited on the beaches with some 50,000 pieces of artillery, troop trucks, tanks, and jeeps. On five beaches, code named Juno, Sword, Omaha, Utah, and Gold saw British, Canadian, and French troops who came ashore under heavy German fire.

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All this didn’t mean that these battles were not won at a terrible cost. Some 1,200 US casualties were taken on the first day alone. Due  to the strong storms at sea that had whipped the coastline, the sandy bottoms of the beach approaches had deepened causing some soldiers weighed down with 60 pounds of gear to drown. The fighting wouldn’t let up either as within a short distance of the beach were the hedgerows where soldiers on both sides fought and tried to navigate through thick rows of trees and bushes. Each opponent could hear the other as tanks and soldier maneuvered from behind the thick foliage. As one veteran remembered, entire companies of American soldiers melted away through attrition as death claimed them under the fire of the Germans!

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When one compares the extreme change in the planned invasion of the Normandy beaches as opposed to the fiasco at Dunkirk two years before when some 380 thousand British and French troops along with their equipment were stranded on the beaches awaiting rescue from civilian and military ships alike under heavy Luftwaffe strafing and bombing it almost seems like a paradox as the allies had more manpower but less resolve and strategy at that time. On the southern shores of France some 60,000 French foot soldiers desperately awaited rescue but never were and spent the rest of the war in Nazi prisoner of war camps.

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Years later in the early 1960’s Dwight Eisenhower looking back stated that he doubted that the present generation of Americans could have pulled off another D-Day, but that generation was about to fight in South Vietnam, another soul crushing foreign war that would frustrate American military power and change the outlook on the future of warfare forever. Operation Overlord was probably one of the most fateful moments for mankind in human history as the battle for worldwide freedom hung in the balance.

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