6th June 2019 : 75th anniversary of the landing of Allied troops in Normandy
75 years ago Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy: the battle of Normandy started. This was the first step of a long campaign to liberate France and Europe and oust the Nazi invaders.
D-Day Commemorations Program
Many commemorations are on the program to celebrate this anniversary. An international commemorative ceremony will bring together on 6 June many heads of states from around the world and some of the veterans who are still alive. For the last great commemoration in 2014 Barack Obama, the Royal Family of England, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, …. have been in Normandy.
A “Normandy for Peace” forum organizes conferences and debate workshops to promote the values of freedom and peace to the general public.
Festivities are scheduled throughout the month of June: giant fireworks, picnics on the beach, liberation balls, concerts, parades, exhibitions of military vehicles, workshops…
A brief history lesson
After the attack of the Soviet Union by the Germans in June 1941 followed by a reduction of Wehrmacht military forces on the western front and the entry of the United States into war in December 1941, Hitler fears an Anglo-Saxon landing on the Atlantic facade.
He decides to strengthen his defense by ordering the construction of the Atlantic Wall, which begins in 1942. Long of 4,000 km with 15,000 works (fortresses, artillery batteries, defense facilities near the beaches and obstacles on the beaches) the Atlantic Wall stretches along the North Sea, Channel and Atlantic shorelines.
The landing, planned in the greatest secrecy by the British and American allies since 1942, is scheduled for 1944. In 1943 the decision is made to organize it on the Normandy coast and not on the shores of Pas-de-Calais. At no time the Germans consider Normandy as a landing place, so the surprise is great…
The D-Day operation with its code-name “Neptune” is the first step of the operation “Over-lord”, which aims to liberate Europe.
The 3 stages of D-Day, June 6, 1944
The landing begins on the night of June 5 to 6, 1944 with the dropping of airborne troops at the two flanks of the assault sector: the British in the area of Ranville (Sword, Juno and Gold Beach) and the Americans in the area of Sainte-Mère-Eglise and Colleville (Utah and Omaha Beach).
On the same night at 3am the Royal Air Force bombarded the German artillery in the assault zone. Around 5.45 am at dawn the 3000 bombers are relayed by the naval artillery, which opens fire on the coast.
At the first light of day German soldiers discover the sea covered with ships. Thousands of LCA’s carry soldiers, vehicles and tanks approaching the coast.
From 6.30 am the first assault troops set foot on 5 beaches located between La Madeleine (Cotentin) and Ouistreham (Calvados): first on Utah and Omaha Beach then an hour later, due to the tidal shift, on Gold, Juno and Sword Beach.
At the end of the day the number of fallen, wounded, missing and captured allied soldiers amount to 10,500, the number of German losses to 10,000.
The 5 landing beaches
Utah Beach is one of two landing beaches – Omaha Beach being the second – entrusted to the Americans for D-Day.
It is located between Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and Quinéville. The Allies’ choice falls on this beach, as it is situated close to Cherbourg. The strategic goal is to liberate Cherbourg and its deep water port as quickly as possible in order to advance the supply of troops and thus the liberation of France and Europe. The battle of Cherbourg is very hard with heavy losses on both sides and lasts until June 27th.
The Utah Beach Museum, built on the spot where the Americans landed, takes you back in time through a chronological journey. The museum exhibits an authentic B26 bomber, of which there are only a few copies worldwide.
Omaha Beach, located in Colleville, is nicknamed “Bloody Omaha” because of the significant losses suffered by US divisions. The place is indeed not ideal for a landing, as high cliffs dominate the coast. The notch in front of Colleville remains the only option to have an additional assault site between Utah and Gold Beach. The aerial and naval bombardments at night are not very efficient and leave the German defenses almost intact. The Germans welcome the attackers with very strong shelling. The beach becomes more and more covered with fallen and wounded soldiers. After a few terrible hours the situation turns finally to the advantage of the Americans thanks to their efforts and their courage: they climb on the plateau and attack the German positions from behind.
Situated in Colleville, too the American cemetery is overlooking the beach and home to almost 9500 white headstones perfectly aligned on the green lawn. You will experience a moment of emotion by attending the flag ceremony (every day from 16/09 to 15/04 at 4pm and from 16/4 to 15/9 at 5pm).
GOLD BEACH AND ARROMANCHES
This sector is entrusted to the British where on the morning of June 6 at 7:25 am 25,000 soldiers land.
The landing at Gold and Juno beach aims to take the city of Bayeux, block the Bayeux-Caen axis to the Germans and join the Americans in Port-en-Bessin. On the evening of June 6, 1944, a bridgehead – 9 km wide and 9 km deep – is established. The city of Bayeux is not yet liberated but the Germans have already deserted it. At the end of the morning on June 7 Bayeux is the first French sub-prefecture liberated! On June 8, Port-en-Bessin serves as port for oil tankers and the artificial harbour Arromanches west of Gold Beach is installed.
The area of Juno Beach, a 9 km stretch of a rocky seabed zone between Sword and Gold, is assigned to the Canadians and the British: 25,000 soldiers land there a few minutes before 8 am, 20 minutes late due to rough seas. Faced with strong German resistance they suffer heavy losses during the first assault wave. Two hours later, the Canadians manage to secure the German defenses so that they can advance inland and try to meet the objectives of D-Day:
* take the Carpiquet aerodrome and head towards Caen
* reach the Caen-Bayeux railway line
* join the allied troops of the sectors Sword and Gold Beach.
These goals will not be met this day – Caen and Carpiquet are still in the hands of the German Wehrmacht and the allied forces at Sword remain inaccessible for the moment. But it is the Canadians who are advancing furthest inland on June 6.
Sword Beach, located between Langrune-sur-Mer and Ouistreham, represents the eastern flank of the Normandy assault. This sector is assigned to the British and Canadians. They have to face there the German defense with 500 machine guns, 50 mortars and 90 guns of various calibers. As on Gold and Juno Beach special task forces have the mission to clear 20 minutes before the assault time, scheduled at 7:30, the access to the beach by moving defensive obstacles. 25 special tanks land before the first infantry wave. The attackers advance very slowly because of numerous beach defense fortifications and heavy German fire. Only around noon the beach is clear enough and breaches are open so that reinforcements can land faster.
On the evening of June 6, 1944 British troops have a bridgehead deep of nearly 8 kilometers west of the river Orne. They are only 5 km from Caen. But this battle is not yet won…
The Battle of Normandy
This huge battle in Lower Normandy lasts 3 months, much longer than expected by the allies. July is the darkest month of the battle as the Allies meet in Caen German tank divisions. Caen is finally released on July 19th.
The civilian casualties are numerous; the population is sheltering from bombs and shells in quarries, mine galleries, trenches and cellars. Many flee towards the south.
At the beginning of August, the Wehrmacht’s counter-attack of Mortain was a failure; the German troops are partly defeated. The survivors threatened with encirclement, evacuate Normandy crossing the Seine and heading back towards Germany.