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Brief History of D-Day
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A Brief History of D-Day

The selection of a site for the largest amphibious landing in history was one of the biggest decisions of World War II. Allied planners needed a sheltered location with flat, firm beaches and within range of friendly fighter planes based in England. Most important was a reasonable expectation of achieving the element of surprise. Five beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, on the northern coast of Normandy, France, met all the criteria and were chosen as invasion sites.

On the evening of June 5, 1944, more than 150,000 men, a fleet of 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles, and 11,000 planes sat in southern England, poised to attack secretly across the English Channel along the Normandy coast of France. This force was the largest armada in history and represented years of training, planning, and supplying. Because of the highly intricate Allied deception plans, Hitler and his staff believed that the Allies would be attacking at the Pas-de-Calais.

In the early morning of June 6, thousands of Allied paratroopers landed behind enemy lines, securing key roads and bridges on the flanks of the invasion area. As the sun rose on the Normandy coastline, the Allies began their amphibious landings, traveling to the beaches in small landing craft lowered from the decks of larger ships anchored in the Channel. The attack on four of the beaches went according to plan. But at Omaha Beach (see large map), between Utah and Gold, the bravery and determination of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division was tested in one of the fiercest battles of the war.

Surrounded at both ends by cliffs that rose wall-like from the sea, Omaha was only four miles long. To repel the Allies at the water’s edge, the Germans built a fortress atop the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc overlooking Omaha from the west. They dug trenches and guns into the 150-foot bluffs lining the beach and along five ravines leading off it. As Allied troops waded into the surf, many were cut down as the doors of their landing craft opened. The survivors had to cross more than 300 yards across a tidal flat strewn with man-made obstacles. Winds and currents pushed landing craft into clumps as the men moved ashore. As a result, soldiers ran onto the beach in groups and became easy targets. Of the more than 9,000 Allied casualties on D-Day, Omaha accounted for about one-third. Allied planners had hoped that the forces at Omaha would advance 5 to 10 miles after 24 hours of fighting. Stiff German resistance, however, stopped the invaders cold on the beach. Progress inland was excruciatingly slow and painful. The Allied forces reached their first day goal (dotted blue line on the large map) only after more than two days of bloody fighting. Although many died, the Allies eventually took control of the beach and fought their way inland.

View the D-Day Invasion Map


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