Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In one of the most famous operations of World War II, the Allies conducted an amphibious invasion, the largest such invasion in military history, of northern France, marking the start of the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control.

Summary of Event

The Allied invasion of German-occupied France in June, 1944, remains one of the best-known events in World War II. Crossing the English Channel from England to the French coast of Normandy, the forces waging the attack constituted the largest amphibious operation undertaken in military history. [kw]Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe (June 6, 1944) [kw]Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe, Invasion of (June 6, 1944) [kw]Liberation of Europe, Invasion of Normandy Begins the (June 6, 1944) [kw]Europe, Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of (June 6, 1944) Operation Overlord D day Normandy, invasion of (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater Operation Overlord D day Normandy, invasion of (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater [g]Europe;June 6, 1944: Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe[01160] [g]France;June 6, 1944: Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe[01160] [c]World War II;June 6, 1944: Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe[01160] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 6, 1944: Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe[01160] Bradley, Omar N. Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;French military campaign Montgomery, Bernard Law Rommel, Erwin Rundstedt, Gerd von

To command this challenging effort, Western Allied leaders appointed General Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander in chief of Allied Forces in Western Europe. Arriving in England in January, 1944, to oversee the complicated project, he spent many months directing the planning for the cross-channel invasion. Excellent cooperation between the Western Allies was essential for successfully planning and implementing the attack. The second highest military appointment was, therefore, assigned to a prominent British general, Bernard Law Montgomery.

Defining the attack’s size, scope, and location required careful consideration. Normandy was selected because of its proximity to Great Britain. German defenses in Normandy were weaker than elsewhere on France’s northern coast, although Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had strengthened his fortified positions in early 1944. Beach and tide characteristics also made Normandy a likely choice. The original plan for “Overlord,” the operation’s code name, designated three army divisions for the initial invasion. Eisenhower and Montgomery expanded the size of the target area and increased the divisions to five for the coastal attack: two U.S. divisions, two British, and one Canadian.

Allied deception played an important role before the attack. Adolf Hitler and most German military leaders predicted an invasion would occur in the Pas de Calais region to the northeast. Significant German forces therefore were positioned there and did not play a role when the actual invasion began. Allied schemes increased Hitler’s belief that the Pas de Calais was the intended target. Phantom armies were “located” in eastern England and fake radio transmissions misled the Germans. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];military intelligence Eisenhower also ordered widespread air attacks on railroad centers, bridges, and other transportation targets within France to hinder German reinforcements from reaching the coast when the invasion eventually began. The Normandy attack was therefore nearly a complete surprise.

The plan required the landings to begin at dawn, so troops would have a full day to establish a beachhead and begin to move inland. Other requirements included a full moon the night before, so parachute forces could be dropped in predawn hours behind enemy lines to cut communication lines and control key bridges and road junctions; a low tide at dawn, so beach obstacles could be cleared; and a fairly calm sea, as soldiers had to land from small assault craft. Early June would meet these requirements, assuming favorable weather. General Eisenhower selected June 5 as D day for the attack. The right combination of tide and moon would not occur again for several weeks, and planners did not wish to postpone the invasion.

In early June, soldiers boarded ships in English embarkation ports, but bad weather on June 3 and June 4 made the scheduled June 5 invasion impossible. An updated weather forecast indicated a break in the storm might occur the night of June 5-6. Eisenhower decided on June 5 to take the risk. The weather improved, and more than 5,000 ships, carrying more than 100,000 troops, headed for the continent. Paratroopers dropped inland during the night, the first Allied soldiers to land in occupied France. By daylight on June 6, bombers and fighter planes were flying overhead, as ground forces moved toward the beaches. Warships pounded German fortifications with heavy artillery from the sea. Each of the five army divisions had an assigned coastal sector (identified by a code name) to attack and secure: “Utah” and “Omaha” were assigned to the United States, “Gold” and “Sword” to the British, and “Juno” to the Canadians. The landings succeeded in the face of heavy German resistance, although the United States troops at “Omaha Beach” had the greatest difficulty and highest casualties. By the end of the first day, approximately 150,000 soldiers had landed in Normandy.

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The invasion forces gradually consolidated and expanded their positions. By the end of June, more than 850,000 Allied troops were in France. The Germans, because of the disruption of their transportation systems from air attacks, could not bring sufficient units to launch effective and sustained counterattacks. Rommel’s preferred strategy favored using all available German forces to drive the Allies into the sea. However, Hitler in Berlin and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt adopted a policy of using their forces on a more selective basis. Thus, the German defense was not well coordinated at the highest levels.

German forces occasionally succeeded in blocking Allied advances from the beachhead. British and Canadian troops on Montgomery’s left flank were unable to capture the city of Caen, a D-day objective, until mid-July. On the right flank, General Omar N. Bradley’s U.S. First Army finally succeeded in capturing the port of Cherbourg on June 27 but was unable to break out of the Cotentin Peninsula quickly.

Greater Allied firepower, both on the ground and in the air, finally broke the impasse. By August 1, Bradley’s troops were in open country, and General George S. Patton’s Patton, George S. U.S. Third Army headed to the south and east. The German Seventh Army, nearly cut off in the so-called Falaise pocket, sustained major losses of troops and equipment by mid-August. U.S. and French forces liberated Paris on August 25.

American soldiers land at Normandy under heavy German machine-gun fire during Operation Overlord.

(National Archives)

Casualty figures for Operation Overlord vary, in part because of incomplete data. Considering the large numbers of troops in the operation, contradictory totals seem inevitable. Tallies of battle losses also differ according to the period included in any tabulation. Descriptions of the Normandy campaign often cover the weeks between June 6 and the Allied breakout into the French interior by the end of July. Some figures include the liberation of Paris in late August. Casualties on D day (June 6) alone are estimated to be between 10,000 and 10,500 for the Allies and 6,500 for the Germans. Eisenhower referred to 60,000 casualties in three weeks. Another source placed casualties from June 6 to the end of August at approximately 84,000 British and Canadian, 126,000 U.S., and 200,000 German.

Relations between Eisenhower and Montgomery eroded during the campaign. Eisenhower believed the British commander was overly cautious in advancing toward Caen. Montgomery favored holding German forces there while urging Bradley to break out to the west. Eisenhower was displeased when Montgomery did not push his British forces toward Falaise, where, if they had linked with U.S. forces advancing from the west, they would have cut off an entire German army. In both cases, Montgomery believed he had acted correctly and resented Eisenhower’s assessment.

Significance

Western scholars emphasize the significance of the Normandy invasion in the overall history of World War II. Veterans and the general public correctly interpret Operation Overlord as a major step toward the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. Furthermore, as the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare, the Normandy operation will be remembered for its tactical success as well. Operation Overlord D day Normandy, invasion of (1944) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];French campaign France;liberation World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Comprehensive account by a leading U.S. historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bowman, Martin W. Remembering D-day: Personal Histories of Everyday Heroes. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. The stories of the troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy, in their own words. This oral history is especially significant because most of the survivors of the invasion have since died.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. 1948. New ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Eisenhower’s memoirs provide his account of Operation Overlord.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Eisenhower at War, 1943-1945. New York: Random House, 1986. Detailed and scholarly assessment from Operation Overlord’s commander.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallion, Richard P. The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II: D-Day 1944, Air Power over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force, 1994. A brief illustrated account of an essential element of the Allied invasion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, June 6-August 25, 1944. New York: Viking, 1982. A British scholar explains the military operations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959. First-rate account of D day from the viewpoint of individual participants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">

    The Second World War. 9 vols. Naples, Fla.: Trident Press International, 2000. Illustrated with more than twenty thousand photographs, this nine-volume chronicle is unsurpassed as a visual record of World War II in both major theaters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Speidel, Hans. Invasion 1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971. Rommel’s chief of staff provides a German interpretation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Van der Vat, Dan. D-day: The Greatest Invasion—A People’s History. New York: Bloomsbury, 2003. An introduction by John S. D. Eisenhower, General Eisenhower’s son and a World War II veteran himself, sets the stage for this excellent history of the Normandy invasion by a respected historian of the war. Includes many illustrations and photographs. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weinberg, Gerhard L. Hitler’s Foreign Policy: The Road to World War II, 1933-1939. New York: Enigma Books, 2005. Considered by many the definitive study of Hitler’s Germany before World War II. Traces Germany’s transformation from an “unequal” entity in Europe to the center of diplomatic dominance and power on the world stage.

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