Normandy

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Normandy


Introduction The Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944 is variously known as D-Day,
the Longest Day, Cross-Channel Attack, and probably some others as well. It was the
largest single military operation of World War II. Hence, the Normandy beaches are a must
stop if you get anywhere close to France. The 50th anniversary celebration in 1994
generated a lot of hype. The recent movie Saving Private Ryan rekindled that interest.
However, the landing always held a special niche going back to the event itself. Much like
Gettysburg, the Normandy attack has been studied in great detail -- hour by hour, person
by person, shot by shot. We'll assume a flight landing in Paris and getting a rental car
(a must) at the airport. Then you would drive over to Caen (about a 150 miles) and spend
the night, which would put you at the east end of the beaches the next morning. This book
by Bruce Bilven, Jr., is a historical documentation of D-Day, June 6, 1944. The book
itself contains a lot of dates, names and places, which makes it a tough book to follow.
Bruce Bilven Jr., himself took part in the massive D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach, as a
second Lieutenant in the 29th Division Artillery. Drawing on his own experiances as a
solider in World War II, he wrote two other Landmark Books about the war; From Casablanca
to Berlin and From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa. Since the war he has written The American
Revolution as well as many other books articles, and reviews. He lives with his wife and
co-author, Naomi, and his college-age son in New York City. Summary Strategy D-Day began
with the concept of the "Second Front." When Stalin's Russia was invaded in 1941, he
immediately demanded that his new allies attack Hitler to take off the pressure. No matter
his past complicity. Churchill and Roosevelt replied with the invasion of North Africa in
November 1942 and Italy in 1943. Chief of staff George C. Marshall considered these
sideshows draining away troops and time. The real war, argued Marshall, was to be a direct
advance on Germany through France. Even as the "sideshows" proceeded, three other
campaigns were under way -- the war against the German submarines, the US-British
strategic bombing offensive against Germany, and the logistical buildup in Britain. The
submarine conflict was a precondition for the bombing and the buildup. The Allies were
fortunate that Hitler was had no interest in naval warfare. By 1943 the Allies had
mastered the North Atlantic. The bombing offensive established control of the skies, which
was another precondition for the invasion. The actual effect on German industrial
production is still controversial, but there's no doubt that the bombing drained away
German air resources that might have shown up over Normandy beaches in 1944. At the same
time, the bombing forced the Germans to rationalize certain production techniques. The
result, ironically, was the military production increased during the bombing offensive.
British and American officers drew up plans for several contingencies in 1943. Operation
OVERLORD was a large-scale assault against the German Army in France. This plan served as
the basis for a final plan developed early in 1944 after General Eisenhower, designated as
the supreme commander, arrived in Britain and established his command, Supreme
Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, or SHAEF. The overlooked question about D-Day is
why it didn't happen in 1943. The Germans were greatly weakened after defeats at
Stalingrad and North Africa in 1942. The French resistance was at its most effective.
Instead, the British and Americans squabbled about how to proceed, and the delay meant
that, in effect, nothing happened in 1943. It's one of the most interesting What If's of
World War II. The over-all ground commander for the invasion was the former head of the
British Eighth Army, General Montgomery, who also commanded the 21 Army Group, the
controlling headquarters for the two Allied armies scheduled to make the invasion. The
British were to assault on the left; the Americans on the right. This alignment explains
why during the Cold War the weakened Brits defended the North German plain (on the left),
while the much stronger American forces in Germany were deployed behind the Carpathian
mountains (on the right). A requirement that the invasion beaches had to be within easy
range of fighter aircraft based in Britain and close to at least one major port sharply
limited the choice. The state of German defenses imposed further limitations. The final
selection was the base of the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, southeast of Cherbourg. To
facilitate supply until Cherbourg or some other port could be opened, two artificial
harbors were to be towed from Britain and emplaced off the invasion beaches. The selection
of Normandy was as much political as military. The British were still fearful of the
Germans and wanted to land as far away as possible. Left to themselves, the American
probably would have gone in through Pas de Calais -- the most direct route. In the end,
Normandy was a compromise. Eisenhower was keenly aware of the Gallipoli problem. In World
War I, Churchill engineered a landing in Turkey, which became a de factor prison camp.
Normandy could have been easily sealed off. That's one reason why Eisenhower insisted on a
second landing in South France (stripping troops from Italy) to force the issue. Selecting
Normandy was so goofy that at first the Germans believed it was feint. They fed troops in
piecemeal, which worked to the Allies' advantage. When they finally shifted the 15th Army
from Pas de Calais down to Normandy, it was too late. The destruction of the 15th Army
denuded France and set up the Allied drive that only ended at the German border. In some
ways it was indeed the Longest Day, and the Allies were fortunate in their enemies. Battle
Despite a weather forecast of high winds and a rough sea, Eisenhower made the decision to
go ahead with the invasion on June 6. During the night more than 5,000 ships moved to
assigned positions, and at 2 am the operation began. One British and two U.S. airborne
divisions (the 82d and 101st) dropped behind the beaches to secure routes of egress for
the seaborne forces. Following preliminary aerial and naval bombardment, the first waves
of infantry and tanks began to touch down at 6:30, just after sunrise. A heavy surf made
the landings difficult but, as in Sicily, put the defenders off their guard. The assault
went well on British beaches, where one Canadian and two British divisions landed, and
also at UTAH, westernmost of the U.S. beaches, where the 4th Division came ashore. The
story was different at OMAHA Beach; there an elite German division occupying high bluffs
laced with pillboxes put the landings in jeopardy. Allied intelligence had detected the
presence of the enemy division too late to alter the landing plan. Only through
improvisation and personal courage were the men of two regiments of the 1st Division and
one of the 28th at last able to work their way up the bluffs and move slowly inland. Some
50,000 U.S. troops nevertheless made their way ashore on the two beaches before the day
was out. American casualties were approximately 6,500, British and Canadian, 4,000 in both
cases lighter than expected. Commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the Germans
nevertheless defended tenaciously in terrain ideally suited to the defense. This was
hedgerow country, where through the centuries French farmers had erected high banks of
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