A special report by Rocky
Published : 6 June 2004
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A recent survey in the UK revealed that if you were not around when the likes of Kojak and Columbo first appeared on television, then your World War II knowledge is likely to be sadly lacking. Having said that, I'd wager that regular readers of GhostRecon.net have a higher than average knowledge of the events in 1944, indeed I know a few have distinctly more than a passing interest in WWII history.

But for those who perhaps do not know what Operation OVERLORD was, or would like to know more about what happened on the beaches of Normandy exactly 60 years ago this weekend, please take a few minutes to read over this special report. Spare a few moments of your time out of respect for the allied troops in 1944, and reflect back on their sacrifice and bravery.

D-Day June 6th 1944

"To us is given the honour of striking a blow for freedom which will live in history, and in better days that lie ahead men will speak with pride of our doings."

B.L.Montgomery General, 21 Army Group. Allied command for beach invasion.


Operation OVERLORD, D-Day, the Longest Day - these terms all describe the invasion of Normandy's Beaches by 156,000 allied troops, determined to wrestle free Hitler's foothold on Mainland Europe, starting an 11 month battle.

Looking at the invasion with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to read all the documented facts and figures and perhaps forget that this operation was no forgone conclusion. Indeed, many at the time were extremely anxious about the potential for disaster and its consequences.

Alan Brooke, The Chief of the Imperial General staff wrote at the time

"I am very uneasy about the whole operation. At the best, it will come very far short of the expectations of the bulk of people.

At its worst it may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war."

Alan Brooke

Military historian Basil Liddell Hart also comments...

"... the allies were in great danger at the outset"

It's worth noting at this point that a defeat at Normandy would have served a death blow to Britain's war effort, leaving her without an Army. The importance of the assault could not be over estimated, D-Day was make or break for the allied forces, and the outcome was by no means assured.

The build up to D-Day was as much a factor in its eventual success as the valour displayed by allied troops on June 6th as they stormed the 50 miles stretch of beaches under horrendous conditions.

The original 1943 date favoured by the Americans was delayed in favour of British plans to build further resources. This extra time afforded the allied forces the opportunity to organise effective deception and counter intelligence operations which left the Germans entirely unaware of the invasion plans.

By the time the allied forces were ready to depart the shores of Great Britain, there were over 1.5 million American Soldiers on British soil.

This planning phase may have been enough to tip the balance in favour of allied troops. No amount of planning however could have prepared the troops for the heavy and determined opposition fighting from a tactically superior position on some of the landings, notably Omaha beach where over 2000 allied soldiers fell.

The assault was spread over 5 beaches. The American forces deployed on Utah and Omaha beaches, while the British took beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword.


Utah Beach Invasion

Utah was added to the initial invasion plan very late in the planning process as the allies needed a major port as soon as possible.

Flooded and rough terrain were the major obstacles that restricted the troops progress at Utah. The single outnumbered strong point called W5 had taken a beating during the pre-landing bombardment, and it wasn't long before the Germans were forced to surrender.

Read more about Utah Beach at Britannica Online.

Utah Beach Invasion
In this photo American assault troops carrying full equipment, move onto Utah Beach on the norther coast of France. Landing craft can be seen in the background.

Omaha Beach Invasion

While fighting on all beaches was severe and hell on earth for the landing troops, Omaha in particular was to see the Americans suffer terrible losses. Many factors, not least a full German division who just happened to be on defensive exercises, led to the death of over 2000 men.

In contrast, at Utah the Americans suffered only 1/10th of the Omaha losses.

Read more about Omaha Beach at Britannica Online.

Omaha Beach Invasion
This photo shows the build-up of troops at Omaha Beach after it was taken by the American troops.

Gold Beach Invasion

The British made swift progress at Gold Beach, attributed by some to the use of specially equipped Sherman tanks designed to detonate mine fields and clear the way forward.

The American reliance at Omaha on combat engineers to clear the way of mines, was a large factor in the taking of heavy casualties.

Read more about Gold Beach at Britannica Online.

Gold Beach Invasion
British troops storm Gold Beach from various landing craft.

Juno Invasion

At Juno, the 3rd Canadian Division landed and made swift progress, indeed they made the deepest penetration of any land forces. The Canadians faced Russian and Polish conscripts/prisoners fighting in the German Army at Juno, aswell as the German 716th Infantry Division.

Read more about Juno Beach at Britannica Online.

Juno Invasion
Juno Beach

Sword Invasion

The British 3rd Infantry Division landed at Sword with the ultimate objective of progressing to Caen. While progress to Caen was halted by severe resistance, the landing itself went better than some had expected. The German 716th Infantry Division may have been well dug-in but ultimately they were over extended and too much was asked of them in the face of the elements of 3rd Infantry Division.

Read more about Sword Beach at Britannica Online.

Sword Invasion
In this photograph mine and obstacle clearing tanks of the 27th Armoured Brigade work towards the shore. In the distance we can see one vehicle in front of the villas has been knocked out.


Of all the beach assualts Omaha is the one most people recall. One William Ryan of the 16th Infantry Regiment wrote of his Omaha experience

"At first there were 5 or 6 wounded with me, then there were hundreds. I had concussion in addition to shell fragments in my head, shoulder and leg. All this time I was going in and out of consciousness looking down on Omaha beach. It was just a madhouse"

William was 18 years old.

In the 8 weeks after D-Day, Normandy saw over 800,00 British and Canadian troops land, with almost double that figure again in US troops. During this period the allied ground forces lost over 36,000 men, and a further 70,000 were missing or wounded.


Resources and Further Reading

Valour and Horror | Britanicca | D-day.org | BBC.co.uk WW2

BBC History Magazine | WWII Ground Sea and Air Battles, Abbeydale Press


On this page at the BBC's site there is a flash movie that has a section on D-Day that is worth watching.



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