operation-overlord

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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]

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D-Day, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the liberation of France from Nazi control, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.

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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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D-Day By The Numbers

It is almost impossible to convey the sheer gargantuan scale of the Allied Invasion of Europe.  The photographs above show some of the scope of the operation but even they are limited to showing just one snapshot of a massive operation.  The first photograph shows Omaha Beach, just one of the five beaches that were landed on.  The photograph frames a beach packed with hundreds of ships and vehicles while the sky is filled with barrage balloons.  The bottom image shows just a portion of one of the Allied invasion fleets destined for Normandy. 

Operation Overlord was the single largest combined air-sea-land amphibious invasion ever attempted in military history.  One of the best ways to demonstrate the scale of the operation is to examine the numbers.

The Figures:

  • Over 2 million Allied troops had been gathered in Britain for the invasion.

  • 156,000 Allied troops landed on D-Day, made up of:
    73,000 Americans
    61,715 British 
    21,400 Canadians
    3,000+ Other Allied troops

  • 380,000 German troops were deployed in the region
    - ~50,000 troops in Normandy
    - 2,200 tanks Northern France
    - 570 Luftwaffe planes stationed in France & Holland

  • The German Atlantic Wall:
    - 1,670 miles long
    - Comprised 17 million cubic metres of concrete and 1.2 million tonnes of steel
    - Cost 3.7 billion Deutschmarks to build

  • 6,939 vessels made up the Invasion Armada
    - 1,213 combat vessels
    - 4,126 landing ships & craft
    - 846 merchant vessels
    - 736 ancillary craft

  • 11,590 Allied aircraft at the Invasion’s disposal
    - 9,500 combat aircraft (fighters/bombers)
    - 14,674 sorties flown
    - 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders landing 23,400 British and American paratroops
    - 127 Allied Aircraft lost

  • Men & Equipment landed by D-Day+5 (11th June):
    - 326,547 troops
    - 54,186 vehicles
    - 104,428 tons of supplies 

Casualties suffered during Operation Neptune (the landings):

  • Allied:  ~12,000 casualties with 4,413 confirmed dead during landings
    - American: 6,603 killed & wounded
    - British: 2,700 killed & wounded
    - Canadian: 946 killed & wounded

  • French Civilian Casualties: Estimates vary between 25,000 - 39,000  (killed in the preliminary bombing and during the subsequent invasion and Battle of Normandy)

  • German:
    - Estimated between 4,000 - 9,000 killed and wounded
    - Estimated 200,00 killed and wounded during entire Operation Overlord

Sources:

Image One Source - Omaha Beach

Image Two Source - Glider Landing Zone

Image Three Source - View out to see from Omaha Beach

Image Four Source - Paratroops drop into Normandy

Image Five Source - A blurry Aerial Photograph Showing a Small Part of the Invasion Fleet

Statistical Sources:

‘Facts and figures of D-Day’ (Source)

’D-Day figures’ (Source)

’D-Day and the Battle of Normandy’ (Source)

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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.

Today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day, so sit your ass down and listen up.

I wrote a post last year about some of the more colorful characters participating in D-Day, and I want to clarify a mistake I made. I labeled Bill Millin as “Mad Jack” Churchill’s piper, and that’s incorrect. He was actually the piper of Simon Fraser (15th Lord Lovat), who was also at least slightly crazy, considering he resigned his commission and volunteered to be part of the Commandos, who were basically a team of well-trained badasses who did pretty damn dangerous shit. 

(I excel at using high-brow technical terminology like “pretty damn dangerous shit”.)

I mix up Fraser and Churchill a lot for some reason. I’ve done it for years, and I’ll do it again probably next week. Accept it. If I’m mentioning Bill Millin in the same conversation, it’s about Fraser. If I’m mentioning joyful escapes from concentration camps, it’s Mad Jack.

Now, on to the history!

D-Day, which was actually supposed to happen on June 5th, 1944, was postponed a day due to the absolutely atrocious weather. Finally, Eisenhower basically (not literally guys, don’t quote him saying this for a paper or anything) said, “Well fuck it. Better get going!”

So, over thousands upon thousands of men—including Fraser dressed in a lovely white sweater and armed with a rifle better suited to hunting, Millin in a kilt with his forbidden bagpipes, and Churchill with his fucking sword and his longbow—stuffed into the ships, and then the amphibious landing craft, and went on their merry way. They had five beaches to take, and invading under the cover of such atrocious weather was actually quite beneficial. The Germans certainly didn’t expect it, nor did they expect a Normandy landing, but I’ll get to that in a bit. 

The five beaches were Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, as shown in the photo below. 

FYI: What may look like “Point du Hoe” is actually “Point du Hoc”. There were no hoes involved in D-Day that I am personally aware of. Feel free to correct me if necessary.

So, back to this “Germans being totally caught off guard thing” because holy shit, without the chain of events that went down, D-Day may have ended in a disaster for the Allies. 

Remember that time I said the Germans didn’t expect them to land on June 6th, or to land in Normandy? Well, to start with the first and the simplest: the Germans didn’t expect anyone to be crazy enough to try to invade during such terrible weather. The Allies seriously needed to invade during a full moon and a low tide, and June 4th, 5th, or 6th would be their best bet. The only problem was, the weather was a fucking disaster.

The reason for the need for clear weather was strategic. Naval gunners needed to be able to see, and the clouds couldn’t be too low for proper paratrooper business or for precision bombing. Plus, the ground troops needed to be able to spot and disable all the crazy shit (thanks, Rommel) the Germans had planted on the beach so they could get their tanks and all that fun stuff on the ground and start hardcore kicking some Nazi ass. 

There was so much weather drama, to the point you wouldn’t even believe it. The American meteorologists were fighting with the British navy meteorologists, and both of them were fighting with the British Meteorological Office (the Met) on which date to begin the invasion, and originally, the Brits won. They wanted to set the date for June 5th, and they almost got it, but some more crazy ass weather happened, and the Americans ended up getting their way in the end. 

While the Germans had indeed expected an invasion from the French coast, and while they’d prepared for it, the Allies had thrown the Germans totally off because all of us are way better than a bunch of fuckin’ National Socialists, even the Brits. How was it done, you ask? Operation Fortitude.

Operation Fortitude (codenamed Bodyguard) was basically Operation Let’s Make the Germans Look Like Idiots, if I may say. Throughout an elaborate network of double agents, the Allies had leaked false intelligence that an invasion was going to come up from South France, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Norway, or other such routes. The first draft of it was presented as Plan Jael at the Tehran conference in late ’43, and it was quite well-received, obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t have been implemented. Get with it, guys.

Operation Fortitude was divided into Operations Fortitude North and Fortitude South. Fortitude North was designed to make the Germans think that Norway was under threat of Allied invasion via Scotland. Because everyone was actually not in Scotland at all, the majority of the deception involved fictitious radio reports and bullshitting the German reconnaissance aircraft. 

The 52nd Mountain Division was involved in an exercise conducted without troops, using radios in vehicles under the control of officers who had orders to maintain normal tactical wireless traffic throughout the period of the exercise. Correct radio procedure was followed and standard coding practice carried out. It was only after the end of the war that the troops involved found out exactly what the purpose of the exercise had been.

Spies were captured in Britain, and were turned into double agents, who fed misinformation back to the Germans for both Operation Fortitude North and South. Some people also volunteered, such as Juan Pujol (Garbo), Dusko Popov (Tricycle), and Captain Roman Garby-Czerniawski (Brutus). 

For instance, a pair of double agents nicknamed Mutt and Jeff relayed detailed reports about the fictitious British Fourth Army that was amassing in Scotland with plans to join with the Soviet Union in an invasion of Norway. To further the illusion, the Allies fabricated radio chatter about cold-weather issues such as ski bindings and the operation of tank engines in subzero temperatures. The ruse worked as Hitler sent one of his fighting divisions to Scandinavia just weeks before D-Day.

It’s seen now that because Hitler had deployed quite a few divisions to Norway (and effectively kept them out of the fight in Normandy), Operation Fortitude North was a success. 

For Operation Fortitude South, they wrangled General Patton (who was more than slightly fucking crazy) into the scheme. He’d gotten in some hot water for slapping a pair of shell-shocked (what they used to call PTSD) and sick soldiers in August of ’43, so his Seventh Army was taken off the board for the rest of the year. Instead of being fired (which more than a few people were screaming for) he was sent on a tour of the Mediterranean, which helped support the deception tactics the Allies were going for. After his big boy time-out there, he came to England under the guise of leading a fictional army group: the First US Army Group (FUSAG). 

He was placed on the English coast across from Calais, which was at the narrowest point of the English Channel, and would have proven to be an ideal crossing point. The Germans knew it was a strategically excellent idea, which is why their Atlantic Wall (over a thousand miles of concrete walls, bunkers, and machine gun nests) was more heavily fortified there than in most other locations. 

The fact that Patton was stationed in Dover right across the way, apparently leading this FUSAG army, scared the living shit out of the Germans, because Patton was tough as nails and as crazy as he needed to be to get the job done (and then some). Hell, his nickname was Old Blood and Guts, and he was basically the Berserker General. Unpredictable and bloodthirsty, he inspired (and scared) his troops, and commanded fear and awe from his enemies. I’m pretty sure he could only get it up by thinking about a battlefield, if we’re gonna be honest here.

Funny thing is, Patton wasn’t leading the troops into Normandy on D-Day, nor was he actually in Dover. He was actually off training the inexperienced US 3rd Army (and giving his well-known motivational speech) for battle. Seven weeks after D-Day, they would invade as part of Operation Cobra as the Allies advanced into Brittany while the Brits fought for Caen in Operation Jupiter, which was kind of a smokescreen for Operation Cobra to keep the Germans and their Panzers from stopping the real onslaught. 

If you’re following me correctly, then you’re probably like, “Wait, you said the Germans didn’t know that the Allies were going to attack on the northern French coast! Calais is on the northern coast of France!”

Well, the Germans knew Calais was a strategically awesome invasion point, so they had totally fortified it before Operation Fortitude even became a thing. 

The fact that Patton was so close (or so they thought) that he could flip them off on a clear day (slight geographical exaggeration there) and they could see him helped solidify this idea. But, they weren’t quite sure, and due to the previous Patton sightings in the Mediterranean, they had stretched their numbers and pulled some reserves from the Vaterland and the Eastern Front (which helped ease the fighting on Super Stalin’s troops). This is all positive, mind you, because if resources were being placed literally anywhere but Normandy, everything was dandy. The more the German High Command believed Calais was the key invasion site, the better. 

While the Germans may have fallen for the bullshit pseudoscience of Aryan superiority, they weren’t too blind to notice the fact that the numbers of Allied soldiers in southeast Britain were growing drastically. It’s a good thing they weren’t too blind to notice it, because the Allies wanted—no, they needed—the Germans to notice their numbers, because that was a big part of Operation Fortitude.

Operation Fortitude was basically one of the biggest and most awesome deception plans in all of military history. The Trojan horse had nothing on Op Fortitude, guys. Instead of making a big wooden horse and hiding soldiers inside, the Allies tricked the Germans—who had made serious scientific and technological advances since the Trojan War—with rubber tanks and fake treads, fake radio transmissions, fake wedding announcements, fake aircraft, fake landing crafts, etc. It was all fake, and the spies, German recon photos, and fake radio transmissions made the majority of the German high command believe it. Not to mention the Montgomery body double ruse.

The Germans still felt something was up (even though Hitler had lost his “instinctive feel” that it would happen at Normandy), Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, specifically. He knew a beach invasion would be the best bet, and it was he who had helped set up all the defenses along the coastline, as well as having poles and concrete posts placed strategically in fields to prevent aircraft landings. He wanted to deploy Panzer divisions near the beaches, but his superiors Gerd von Runstedt and General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg disagreed, as they felt:

German forces in the West should concentrate available armored forces for a massive counterattack against the Allies once they were ashore. From their perspective, the panzer forces should be held back from the coast; then once the Allies had landed, the panzers would concentrate and move forward to counterattack. German armor would also then be available to execute a mobile defense that would utilize superior Wehrmacht training, tactics and equipment.

After all that bickering, neither plan came to fruition, because Hitler gave the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) control of the panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions. This meant that only Hitler could authorize their movement, and not a single tank moved without his permission. His, and only his. And guys, this is a big fucking deal, because this is where Germany went wrong (other than the concentration camp thing, and the invasion of Russia thing, and the socialism, and basically everything else). This is basically what ensured the successful Allied invasion at Normandy. 

Remember that chain of events I mentioned earlier? This is where it starts. 

Because the Allies had broken Enigma (a coding machine with a code that changed daily to keep German communication private–just go watch Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game to get a better idea if you’re not just gonna drool all over his face), they knew the Germans were buying their best brand of bullshit, even if Rommel was super grumpy over it. The Allies felt that everything was in place, the plan was implemented as best as it would ever be, and now all they had to do was wait for the final countdown

So two other things happened with Rommel that really fucked up Germany’s chances at holding back the Allies, and the first had to do with children. Well, kind of. Rommel had wanted to place the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend at this place called Carentan, which would have been smack dab in the middle of Omaha and Utah. His request was denied, but if it hadn’t been, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend would have made a serious dent in the Americans’ stride to meet up with one another before meeting with the Brits. 

The other thing can basically be summed up as: Major General Deitrich Kraiss is a fucking idiot. Rommel told him to move more of his forces towards the beaches (versus hanging back as a counterattack force), and Kraiss went, “Meh, I don’t wanna,” and didn’t do as ordered.

Of the 10 infantry and five artillery battalions that Kraiss had available, he placed only one artillery battalion and two infantry battalions along the Omaha Beach sector. This decision makes even less sense when one realizes that he deployed two-thirds of his force in reserve or in position to defend the western sector of his area of responsibility — where no amphibious landing could possibly take place.

As I said, Kraiss is a fucking idiot. He basically ensured that the Americans would take Omaha by being a fucking idiot. 

And here comes the kicker, because the tides kept rolling in the Allies’ favor. On the morning of June 6th, 1944, Erwin Rommel was not at his post, but at his family home, celebrating his wife’s birthday. The Seventh Army’s senior commanders (who were supposed to be defending Normandy) went to a war game quite a ways away in Rennes. 

Then when Hitler received a call begging for panzer backup, it turned out he was napping, and his aides didn’t want to wake him. Because Hitler had gone beddy-bye, the panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions could not provide aid to Normandy. In fact, the first tanks to arrive on the scene didn’t get there until June 7th. 

So the Allies took Normandy over the next few days, but because of the double agents and false intelligence of Operation Fortitude, the Germans thought the serious attack on Calais had yet to come. Specifically, Pujol (the double agent) tossed out some bullshit intelligence that made the Germans think D-Day was a red herring, and it bought them seven weeks. It took seven weeks for the Germans to realize they’d fucked themselves with a chainsaw, and that they needed to stop defending Calais. 

All of this—and I mean all of it from each individual sacrifice and casualty to the innovations to the deception tactics to the planning to the weather war—is why France doesn’t speak German. You’re welcome, France.