operation-overlord

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Normandy Invasion, 1944
From the Moving Images Relating to Coast Guard Activities series.

See our past D-Day posts, including Eisenhower’s Order of the Day, and his hastily drafted “in case of failure" note, and a detailed sketch of a typical Platoon Leader in full battle dress.

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Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, two American servicemen—preparing for the D-Day landing—attached a miniature life vest to a puppy. This Kodachrome footage was, I believe, captured by Hollywood director George Stevens or by a member of his U.S. Army Signal Corps film unit. [x]

We have no way of knowing if these men—or their puppy—made it home or even survived the day. 

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June 6, 1944: The Allied invasion of Normandy begins.

In June of 1940, Nazi Germany successfully completed its invasion of France with the signing of an armistice at Compiègne, which divided France into two zones - one which was to be henceforth occupied by German troops, and a “free zone”, to be administered by a French government at Vichy. In late 1942 German-Italian forces carried out a complete military occupation of the free zone. By 1944 much of Europe was either occupied by Axis forces or controlled by direct allies; between the neutral Iberian Peninsula to the Eastern Front, France, Greece, the Baltics, the Netherlands, and  Denmark were among the states occupied by German or Axis forces. Along the western coast of Europe, Germany established a system of fortifications collectively known as the “Atlantic Wall”, whose construction began in 1942 to thwart any Allied invasion launched across the English Channel from Great Britain. 

The landing of Allied forces at Normandy on June 6, 1944 (commonly known as D-Day) marked the beginning of Operation Overlord and the beginning of the liberation of mainland Europe from its occupation by Nazi Germany. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower  was charged with planning and carrying out the beach landing assault, an enormous and momentous task - in the end, approximately 160,000 troops participated in the assault on an 80 km long stretch of Normandy coast, which was divided into five sectors: Gold, Utah, Sword, Juno, and Omaha, the link between the U.S. and British sectors, the most easily defensible beach, and the area where fighting was bloodiest. The troops were supported by a fleet of nearly 7,000 vessels, directed mostly by the Royal Navy; airborne operations were also a key element of the landings, with at least 13,000 paratroopers taking part. To mislead and confound Axis military leaders regarding the true date and location of the impending assault, the Allies implemented Operation Bodyguard.

The enormously successful operation was a decisive victory for the Allied powers and a major blow to Germany’s psyche and morale. Operation Overlord came to an end with the destruction of German forces at the Falaise Pocket in August of 1944 and the liberation of Paris days later.

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D-Day: Frontpage News

Above are a selection of front pages from newspapers from across Britain, Canada and the United States.  Once the invasion had begun at 05:00 on the morning of the 6th June the news was announced publicly hours later, with many Newspapers going to print with preliminary reports.

The New York Times, and many other newspapers across the world, ran extra editions as soon as they received the news of the Invasion, above are two editions of The New York Times published on 6th June.

Many of the Canadian papers ran with the news that the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was in the vanguard landing on Juno Beach.  Some of the paper’s focus on the number of bombing sorties or men and ships that are involved while others report that resistance is lighter than expected. One thing that is common to almost all of the front pages is the use of a map diagram to show the general area of the landings.

The press office of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force had pre-prepared statements and press releases and carefully disseminated details of the invasion’s progress from battlefield reports.

The newspapers featured above are as follows:

The Vancouver Sun, (source)
The Baltimore Evening Sun, (source)
The Daily Telegraph, London, (source)
The Evening News, London, (source)
The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, (source)
The New York Times - 6AM Extra, (source)
The Daily Mirror, London, (source)
The Globe & Mail, Toronto, (source)
The Duluth News-Tribune, (source)
The New York Times, (source)

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SUPREME HEADQUARTERS ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

D-day statement to soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6/44, Collection DDE-EPRE: Eisenhower, Dwight D: Papers, Pre-Presidential, 1916-1952; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

Four U.S. Army soldiers watch the Allied aerial bombardment of German positions in Saint-Lô during the Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord). Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed during the fighting, approximately 95% of the town was in ruins by the time the Allies had liberated it. Saint-Lô, Manche, Lower Normandy, France. June 1944.  

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Because it is the anniversary of D-Day, let me tell you a teensy bit about three of my favorite people to participate in Operation Overlord.

1) Father (Major General) Francis L. Sampson:

A paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, he kinda sorta almost died in the initial jump when he landed in a deep stream and was dragged underwater for a bit before he could cut his pack and parachute away. He then was like, “nah brahs, I’m good” and went to administer to some wounded soldiers in a farmhouse.

That farmhouse was later taken by the Germans (he had stayed on when others pulled out because of the damn Nazis), and he was taken outside to be executed when a German soldier decided to find out who the hell he was, and told his homies to chill.

So he aided the wounded and dying, even after the house was shelled that night. He cared for everyone—Allies and Germans both at the farmhouse and then the division hospital when the Allies took the area.

He was also the guy who was behind the story of “Saving Private Ryan.” Now, the movie is hella exaggerated, but he found out that Fritz Nyland, an American soldier, had lost several brothers (two KIA and one MIA if I recall correctly, and the MIA was later found alive), and he forcefully made arrangements for Nyland to be sent home.

Then there was this thing where he became a POW in December of ‘44, after the Germans shot the shit out of some American troops and left them to die. He went to help them, and the Germans, being legitimate dicks, took him prisoner, and sent him and about fifteen hundred others to Stalag II-A, a camp in northern Germany. He aided and tended to everyone as the only Catholic chaplain in the camp until they were liberated by Super Stalin’s troops in ‘45.

2) Lieutenant Colonel Jack Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill (“Mad Jack” for short)

This motherfucker stormed Sword Beach with a goddamn sword and his grandfather’s hunting rifle. ON D-DAY. He was almost certifiably insane and he loved every minute of it.

He had his personal piper (Bill Millin, who’s the next guy on my list) playing while the troops leapt off the boats and into battle.

Honestly, I cannot tell you just how crazy and awesome this man was without plagiarizing the shit out of like, twenty million articles on him, so let me just link a few. It’s totally worth the read, trust me. Anyone who screams “COMMANDO!” as they charge the enemy—day or night, just walk out of two concentration camps like no one’s business, and single-handedly capture forty-some German prisoners with only his sword is definitely a character you want to read about.

http://badassoftheweek.com/churchill.html

http://m.vice.com/read/the-strange-tale-of-the-british-soldier-who-killed-nazis-with-a-sword-and-a-longbow

http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/mad-jack-churchill-a-rare-breed-of-warrior/

3) “D-Day Bagpiper” Bill Millin

To start out with, the only reason Millin wasn’t taken out by a German sniper on that goddamn beach was because they thought he had gone batshit crazy. So that’s a thing.

But no, seriously. He went all around Sword Beach while the battle raged, playing his bagpipes like it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, he took requests!

As the personal piper of Mad Jack Churchill, you’d think he might have a screw loose, but apparently, he was as insane as his boss. Bless him.

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#DDAY70 D-Day -1:

"Back in Britain, paratroopers marched out to their planes and embarked for the trip to Normandy."

Excerpted from: “D-Day to D plus 3."  From the series: Moving Images Relating to Military Activities, compiled 1947 - 1964. Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 - 1985

For over two and a half years the Allies planned and gathered their military strength to hurl into the decisive amphibious invasion of northern France and strike a mortal blow against the empire of Nazi Germany. In anticipation, Adolf Hitler stockpiled reserves across French coastlines into the Atlantic Wall defenses, determined to drive the Allied forces back into the sea.

There will be no second chance for the Allies: the fate of their cause hangs upon this decisive day.

After bad weather forces a delay, an expected break in the weather for Tuesday, June 6, is reported to General Dwight D. Eisenhower at rain-lashed Southwick House at 21:30 hours on the night of Sunday, June 4. Eisenhower makes the decision only he can make: Operation OVERLORD is unleashed by the Supreme Commander to begin the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s Third Reich.

As word of his decision spreads to the Allied forces after midnight, men across southern England prepare to enter the climactic battle.

Before dawn on June 5, Eisenhower meets with his staff one last time to hear the latest weather report. With ships sailing into the English Channel, the last opportunity to halt the invasion is upon him. He confirms his previous order, and in less than a minute he is left alone in the room in Southwick House as his subordinates rush to comply. There is no turning back now. The invasion must succeed, for no plan has been made to evacuate the forces in the event of failure.

In the early minutes of June 6, 1944, Allied paratroopers and gliders descend from the night sky to wrest control of key bridges and roadways from the Germans. Behind them in the darkness of early morning an initial force of over 130,000 servicemen from the Allied nations cross a choppy English Channel aboard an armada of over 5,000 ships. Their destination is Normandy, where they will assault the German enemy and make history.

Here are pieces of the story of D-Day, told through the words and eyes of those who were there.

Follow the story of D-Day on our 70th Anniversary of D-Day Timeline.