World War II sites in Normandy, France
Almost three million soldiers, thirteen thousand planes and seven thousand ships – exactly 75 years ago, on June 6, 1944, the Allied troops landed in Normandy. RIA Novosti Divisions, 06.06.2019
MOSCOW, June 6 – RIA Novosti, Andrei Stanavov. Almost three million soldiers, thirteen thousand planes and seven thousand ships – exactly 75 years ago, June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed in Normandy. The divisions of General Dwight Eisenhower gnawed into the fortified coastline, overcame the positions of the Nazis and moved in a broad front to the east – to meet the Red Army, bursting toward Berlin. RIA Novosti has a story about the most large-scale landing operation in the history of wars, called Overlord.Visitors from the seaIt is impossible to say that the invasion of the coalition troops came as a surprise to the Germans. It was expected; it was in the air. But there was no exact information about the forces, place and time – despite the colossal number of troops, the British and Americans managed to achieve a high degree of secrecy in their preparation and transfer to the landing area. “All over Southern England, men are heading for the coast,” wrote British schoolboy Daniel Cox in his diary in late April 1944. – There are troops in Southampton. Military camps are on every available piece of land. Around the city are anti-aircraft guns and searchlights. Invasion fever gripped everyone.” The Normandy coast in those days was firmly saddled with the German Group “B”, consisting of the 7th and 15th Armies under Field Marshal General Erwin Rommel. A total of 38 divisions, three of which were stationed directly in the invasion area. From the air the lines were controlled by half a thousand bombers and fighters. In addition, the southern coast of France and the Bay of Biscay were covered by Group “G” – the 1st and 19th Armies, a total of 17 divisions. The troops relied on a powerful system of coastal fortifications called the “Atlantic rampart.” The Allies decided to break through it simultaneously in two zones – the western zone, where American troops were to land, and the eastern zone, where the British were operating. The western zone included two and the eastern zone three sections, each of which was supposed to land one reinforced infantry division. One Canadian and three American armies remained in the second echelon.D-DayThe Overlord operation had been under preparation for more than three months. By the end of May 1944, the main mass of paratroopers was assembled in the assembly area, and from there they began to move gradually to the landing sites.Aircraft began to work on the German positions first. On the night of June 6, the first bombs fell on the trenches and dugouts of the Wehrmacht. Waves of bombers, 200 planes each, successively struck the previously scouted areas and artillery positions, swirling into a huge air carousel.In
that night more than 2,500 bombers flew into the sky, methodically ironing artillery shelters and trenches. However, despite the massive strikes, the aviation did not cause significant damage to Hitler’s fortifications – the camouflage affected. On June 6th, exactly at 6:30 am a sea landing force approached the coast. The Germans managed to repel the first two waves, and only in the evening the Allies managed to gain a foothold in ten or fifteen kilometers from the shore, capturing the strategic crossings over the Douve and Orne Rivers. This allowed the main force to begin unloading. “The flat bottom of the barge touched French soil,” war photographer Robert Capa recalled in his memoirs. – Behind the metal urchins sticking out of the water, a thin line of shoreline could be seen, obscured by smoke. Here we are in Europe, here we are in Easy Red. My beautiful France was pitiful to look at. It looked squalid and uninviting, and the German machine gun fire pouring down on the barge finally spoiled the impression. The soldiers from my barge jumped into the water. They walked waist-deep in water, rifles at the ready, and together with the barriers and the smoking beach made a perfect composition. I lingered on the gangplank for a minute to take my first real picture of the landing.” For the next two days the captured beachhead rapidly filled with fresh troops. Assembled into a strike force, the Allied forces turned to attack and by June 19 captured the town of Cannes. At this point their progress was stalled – the Germans recovered from the first blows and began to block all attempts to break through further.The Second Front The Allies managed to reverse the situation only by the end of July. On the twenty-fifth, the expeditionary forces assume a general offensive along the entire front. Due to numerical superiority over the enemy, they break through the German defense, liberate the peninsula of Brittany, and block the ports of St. Malo, Brest, St. Nazaire. Already by August, 25, the main forces of the 1st American, 2nd English and 1st Canadian armies by a broad front reached the Seine, liberated Paris and occupied the whole of north-western France. Within weeks the Allies broke through to the western border of Germany and cut into the fortified Siegfried Line. During six months of fighting the expeditionary forces occupied Italy, penetrated deep into Germany and liberated several strategically fortified areas. On April 25, the 12th group of armies reached the Elbe and joined the advanced units of the Soviet troops advancing from the east.The Normandy landing is considered the largest amphibious operation in the history of warfare. The 21st Army Group (1st American, 2nd British and 1st Canadian armies) of 66 combined arms divisions, including 39 invasion divisions, and three airborne divisions took part in it. That was two million 876,000 troops, about 11,000 combat aircraft and 2,300 transport aircraft. Seven thousand ships and supply vessels were used for transportation.Though landing of allies played an important role in common victory of countries of the Antihitler coalition over Germany and its satellites, the main front of the Second World War remained Soviet-German, where the most combat worthy enemy units fought.
According to many historians, the Allies deliberately delayed the opening of a second front and eventually began Operation Overlord only in June 1944 against the successful offensive of the Red Army in the Soviet-German direction.
The Normandy Landing: 70 Years Later
On June 6, 1944, the Allied troops began their invasion of northern France, a strategically important operation that became one of the most significant events in the history of World War II. The main Allied forces involved in the operation were the armies of the United States, Great Britain, Canada and the French Resistance movement. They crossed the Seine River, liberated Paris and continued the offensive toward the French-German border. The operation opened the Western Front in Europe in World War II. Until now, it is the largest amphibious operation in history – more than 3 million people took part in it. The beaches of Normandy 70 years later – in the Kommersant photo project.
Operation Neptune, the first part of the big Normandy operation, began with Omaha Beach. It was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion on the coast of Nazi-occupied France. The film Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, begins with a landing scene in the Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach. Today, the beach is visited both for recreation and to see the historically important area. Omaha is in the immediate vicinity of the town of Colville-sur-Mer. The beach is quite long and always has high waves, so the coast is beloved by surfers.
Tanks of the British Army head along the road of the “Golden Beach” after landing on the shore. According to the official records of the reports, “…the tanks had a hard time…they saved the day by taking a hell of a lot of fire from the Germans and getting a hell of a lot of fire from them.” As the day wore on, the beach defenses gradually dwindled, often thanks to the tanks. Seventy years later, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations with a well-developed recreational infrastructure.
On June 6, a U.S. fighter plane crashed on Juno Beach, one of the five landing sectors. It was an eight-kilometer strip of coastline overlooking St. Aubin-sur-Mer, Bernier-sur-Mer, Courcelles-sur-Mer, and Gray-sur-Mer. The landing on this stretch of coast was entrusted to the Third Canadian Infantry Division under Major General Rod Keller and the Second Armoured Brigade. In all, the Allies lost 340 men killed and 574 wounded during the day’s landing at Juneau Beach. In peacetime, thousands of tourists vacation here each year.
The Canadian military patrols St. Pierre Street after German troops were driven out of Caen in July 1944. The goal of the Allies was to capture the French city of Caen, one of the largest cities in Normandy. The city is an important transportation hub: it was built on the Orne River, later the Caen Canal was built; as a consequence, the city became a crossroads of important roads. The Battle of Caen in the summer of 1944 left the ancient city in ruins. Now home to more than 100,000 people, rue Saint-Pierre is one of the main shopping centers for tourists.
The body of a dead German soldier lies in the main square of Rouen after the city was taken by U.S. troops who landed at nearby Omaha Beach. Rouen is the historic capital of Normandy, and the place is best known for the burning of Joan of Arc. The French Ministry of Culture has listed Rouen as a city of art and history. The French writer Stendhal called Rouen “the Athens of the Gothic style. Although Rouen’s various civic and religious buildings suffered significant damage during World War II bombings and fires, fortunately most of the city’s most iconic historic monuments have been reconstructed or rebuilt, placing Rouen in the top six French cities for the number of classified historic monuments and in the top five for the antiquity of its historical heritage.
The U.S. paratrooper landing in Normandy was the first U.S. combat operation during Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy by the Western Allies) on June 6, 1944. About 13,100 paratroopers from U.S. 82 and 101 Airborne Divisions landed on the night of June 6; nearly 4,000 soldiers in gliders also landed during the day. Their specific mission was to block the approaches to the amphibious landing area in the Utah Bee sector, seize the beach exits over the levees, and create crossings over the Doove River at Carentan. They drove back the Sixth German Parachute Regiment and tied up their lines on July 9. The Seventh Corps command ordered the division to capture Carentan. The 506th Parachute Regiment came to the aid of the exhausted 502nd Regiment and attacked Carentan on June 12, breaking up the rearguard left behind by the Germans during the retreat.
U.S. Army soldiers climb the high ground where the German bunker was located near Omaha Beach. The landing was completely classified. All soldiers who received orders regarding the future operation were transferred to camps at the loading bases, where they were isolated and not allowed to leave the base. Today there are regular guided tours of the events of 70 years ago.
Captured Germans walk along Juno Beach, the landing site for Canadian troops during the Normandy landing operation. Some of the fiercest battles were fought here. After the end of the war, when the infrastructure of the territory was restored, a flood of tourists rushed here. Today there are dozens of tour programs for visitors to the battlefields of 1944.
The U.S. military examines the captured German bunker at Omaha Beach. The units that landed on the extreme ends of Omaha Beach suffered the heaviest casualties. To the east in the Fox Green sector and the adjoining part of the Easy Red sector, scattered units of three companies lost half their men before reaching the shingle where they found themselves in relative safety. Many of them had to crawl 270 meters across the beach ahead of the advancing tide. There is now a memorial museum on the landing site. On an area of 1.2 thousand square meters there is a vast collection of uniforms, weapons, personal belongings, vehicles used on those days. The archive of the museum contains photos, maps and thematic posters. Also on display are a 155 mm Long Tom gun, a Sherman tank, an amphibious boat and more.
A U.S. Army battalion marches along the coastline in the town of Dorset, located in southwestern England on the coast of the English Channel. During World War II, Dorset was heavily involved in preparations for the Normandy invasion: landing rehearsals were held near Stadland and Weymouth, and the village of Tinyham was used for army training. After the war, the county saw a steady increase in the number of vacationers. The seacoast of Weymouth, first made famous as a vacation spot by King George III, and the sparsely populated rural areas of the county attracted millions of tourists each year. The role of agriculture in the region’s economy gradually declined, while tourism became increasingly important.
Soldiers disembarked from ships and made their way ashore, Omaha Beach. “I was the first to disembark. The seventh soldier, just like me, jumped ashore with no damage to himself. But everyone between us was shot: two killed, three wounded. That’s how lucky you had to be,” recalls Captain Richard Merrill, of the Second Ranger Battalion. Today, sailing competitions are held here frequently.
A bulldozer clears the path next to the tower of a destroyed church, the only structure left standing after the bombing by Allied forces, Hone-sur-Odon (a commune in France, located in the Lower Normandy region). The church was later rebuilt. Hone-sur-Odon has always been considered a small settlement, now home to 3,000 to 4,000 people.