VITE History Channel. Part 19. WW2. Operation Overlord. Liberation of France
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Aiming for heaven though serving in hell
Victory is ours their forces will fall!
Through the gates of hell
As we make our way to heaven
Through the Nazi lines
On the 6th of June
On the shores of western Europe 1944
D-day upon us!
/Excerpt from song "Primo Victoria" (Sabaton)
The photograph "Into the Jaws of Death" shows American troops, part of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, leaving a Higgins Boat on Omaha Beach
On 6 June 1944, the Allies began Operation Overlord (also known as "D-Day") – the long-awaited liberation of France. The deception plans, Operation Fortitude and Operation Bodyguard, had the Germans convinced that the invasion would occur in the Pas-de-Calais, while the real target was Normandy. Following two months of slow fighting in hedgerow country, Operation Cobra allowed the Americans to break out at the western end of the lodgement. Soon after, the Allies were racing across France. They encircled around 200,000 Germans in the Falaise Pocket. As had so often happened on the Eastern Front Hitler refused to allow a strategic withdrawal until it was too late. Approximately 150,000 Germans were able to escape from the Falaise pocket, but they left behind most of their irreplaceable equipment and 50,000 Germans were killed or taken prisoner.
The Allies had been arguing about whether to advance on a broad-front or a narrow-front from before D-Day. If the British had broken out of the Normandy bridgehead (or beachhead) around Caen when they launched Operation Goodwood and pushed along the coast, facts on the ground might have turned the argument in favour of a narrow front. However, as the breakout took place during Operation Cobra at the western end of the bridge-head, the 21st Army Group that included the British and Canadian forces swung east and headed for Belgium, the Netherlands and Northern Germany, while the U.S. Twelfth Army Group advanced to their south via eastern France, Luxembourg and the Ruhr Area, rapidly fanning out into a broad front. As this was the strategy favoured by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and most of the American high command, it was soon adopted.
Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation was launched on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day). A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion in 1944 was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all the land forces involved in the invasion. The coast of Normandy of northwestern France was chosen as the site of the invasion, with the Americans assigned to land at sectors codenamed Utah and Omaha, the British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno.
D-day assault routes into Normandy
Map of the air plan for the Allied landing in Normandy
To meet the conditions expected on the Normandy beachhead, special technology was developed, including two artificial ports called Mulberry harbours and an array of specialised tanks nicknamed Hobart's Funnies.
Mulberry Harbour: Mobile Ports for D-Day
Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) amphibious tank with waterproof float screens. When in the water the float screen was raised and the rear propellers came into operation
In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, Operation Bodyguard, using both electronic and visual misinformation. This misled the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. Führer Adolf Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in charge of developing fortifications all along Hitler's proclaimed Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an invasion.
The Allies failed to accomplish their objectives for the first day, but gained a tenuous foothold that they gradually expanded when they captured the port at Cherbourg on 26 June and the city of Caen on 21 July. A failed counterattack by German forces on 8 August left 50,000 soldiers of the 7th Army trapped in the Falaise pocket.
Map showing the break-out from the Normandy beachhead and the formation of the Falaise Pocket, August 1944
Liberation of France
On 15 August the Allies launched Operation Dragoon – the invasion of Southern France between Toulon and Cannes. The US Seventh Army and the French First Army, making up the US 6th Army Group, rapidly consolidated this beachhead and liberated southern France in two weeks; they then moved north up the Rhone valley. Their advance only slowed down as they encountered regrouped and entrenched German troops in the Vosges Mountains.
The Germans in France were now faced by three powerful Allied army groups: in the north the British 21st Army Group commanded by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, in the center the American 12th Army Group, commanded by General Omar Bradley and to the south the US 6th Army Group commanded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers. By mid-September, the 6th Army Group, advancing from the south, came into contact with Bradley's formations advancing from the west and overall control of Devers' force passed from AFHQ in the Mediterranean so that all three army groups came under Eisenhower's central command at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces).
Under the onslaught in both the north and south of France, the German Army fell back. On 19 August, the French Resistance (FFI) organised a general uprising and the liberation of Paris took place on 25 August when general Dietrich von Choltitz accepted the French ultimatum and surrendered to general Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, commander of the Free French 2nd Armored Division, ignoring orders from Hitler that Paris should be held to the last and destroyed.
The liberation of northern France and the Benelux countries was of special significance for the inhabitants of London and the southeast of England, because it denied the Germans launch sites for their mobile V-1 and V-2 Vergeltungswaffen (reprisal weapons).
As the Allies advanced across France, their supply lines stretched to breaking point. The Red Ball Express, the Allied trucking effort, was simply unable to transport enough supplies from the port facilities in Normandy all the way to the front line, which by September, was close to the German border.
Snapshot of Europe map - 1 September 1944
Major German units in the French southwest that had not been committed in Normandy withdrew, either eastwards towards Alsace (sometimes directly across the US 6th Army Group's advance) or into the ports with the intention of denying them to the Allies. These latter groups were not thought worth much effort and were left "to rot", with the exception of Bordeaux, which was liberated in May 1945 by French forces under General Edgard de Larminat (Operation Venerable).
Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine
Fighting on the Western front seemed to stabilize, and the Allied advance stalled in front of the Siegfried Line (Westwall) and the southern reaches of the Rhine. Starting in early September, the Americans began slow and bloody fighting through the Hurtgen Forest ("Passchendaele with tree bursts"—Hemingway) to breach the Line.
The port of Antwerp was liberated on 4 September by the British 11th Armoured Division. However, it lay at the end of the long Scheldt Estuary, and so it could not be used until its approaches were clear of heavily fortified German positions. The Breskens pocket on the southern bank of the Scheldt was cleared with heavy casualties by Canadian and Polish forces in Operation Switchback, during the Battle of the Scheldt. This was followed by a tedious campaign to clear a peninsula dominating the estuary, and finally, the amphibious assault on Walcheren Island in November. The campaign to clear the Scheldt Estuary was a decisive victory for the First Canadian Army and the rest of the Allies, as it allowed a greatly improved delivery of supplies directly from Antwerp, which was far closer to the front than the Normandy beaches.
In October the Americans decided that they could not just invest Aachen and let it fall in a slow siege, because it threatened the flanks of the U.S. Ninth Army. As it was the first major German city to face capture, Hitler ordered that the city be held at all costs. In the resulting battle, the city was taken, at a cost of 5,000 casualties on both sides, with an additional 5,600 German prisoners.
South of the Ardennes, American forces fought from September until mid-December to push the Germans out of Lorraine and from behind the Siegfried Line. The crossing of the Moselle River and the capture of the fortress of Metz proved difficult for the American troops in the face of German reinforcements, supply shortages, and unfavorable weather. During September and October, the Allied 6th Army Group (U.S. Seventh Army and French First Army) fought a difficult campaign through the Vosges Mountains that was marked by dogged German resistance and slow advances. In November, however, the German front snapped under the pressure, resulting in sudden Allied advances that liberated Belfort, Mulhouse, and Strasbourg, and placed Allied forces along the Rhine River. The Germans managed to hold a large bridgehead (the Colmar Pocket), on the western bank of the Rhine and centered around the city of Colmar. On 16 November the Allies started a large scale autumn offensive called Operation Queen. With its main thrust again through the Hürtgen Forest, the offensive drove the Allies to the Rur River, but failed in its core objectives to capture the Rur dams and pave the way towards the Rhine. The Allied operations were then succeeded by the German Ardennes offensive.
Operation Market Garden
Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, persuaded the Allied High Command to launch a bold attack, Operation Market Garden, which he hoped would get the Allies across the Rhine and create the narrow-front he favoured. Airborne troops would fly in from the United Kingdom and take bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands in three main cities; Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The British XXX Corps would punch through the German lines along the Maas–Schelde canal and link up with the airborne troops of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division in Eindhoven, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen and the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. If all went well XXX Corps would advance into Germany without any remaining major obstacles. XXX Corps was able to advance beyond six of the seven airborne-held bridges, but was unable to link up with the troops near the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. The result was the near-destruction of the British 1st Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem, which sustained almost 8,000 casualties. The offensive ended with Arnhem remaining in German hands and the Allies holding an extended salient from the Belgian border to the area between Nijmegen and Arnhem.
Song "Primo Victoria" + Landing on Omaha Beach from film "Saving Private Ryan"
Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. Set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, the film is notable for its graphic portrayal of war, and for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which includes a depiction of the Omaha Beach assault during the Normandy landings.
All for Victory! All for Vite!