World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

D-Day - Operation Overlord
From BBC History

First landings

The defences in Normandy had recently been improved by the German general Erwin Rommel, but he had placed more emphasis on the Pas de Calais area. This led to a distinct lack of German armoured support further west and, unhelpfully for Rommel, a fundamental divergence in opinion within the German high command as to how best to deploy what few assets they had.

As the arguments raged and the Germans endeavoured to deal with their pressing defensive conundrums, the Allies massed over one million troops in southern England, as well as an invasion fleet of nearly 5,000 vessels, in preparation for the great offensive.

In the early hours of 6 June 1944, two American and one British airborne division began landing in Normandy and, in spite of their scattered drops, managed to achieve their critical objectives.

Meanwhile, the beach assault troops, packed into their landing craft and supported by a huge number and variety of naval vessels and aircraft, approached the Normandy coast.

Main attack

The beaches were attacked at different times due to the tide, beginning at 04.55 hours with an assault in the American sector at what had been code-named 'Utah' beach. The second landing took place on the American 'Omaha' beach, followed by the Anglo-Canadian assaults on 'Gold' and then 'Juno' beaches, before the British hit 'Sword' beach at 07.25 hours.

The landings were, in general terms, a great success, although there were heavy casualties on Omaha and the British failed to take Caen as planned. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, 150,000 men had managed to get ashore and a firm foothold had been established for the cost of 2,500 dead.

In spite of the considerable success achieved on D-Day, the Allies had to create a beachhead swiftly and then conduct breakout operations if they were to take full advantage of their position. The build-up of adequate supplies was therefore crucial to Allied aspirations. Recognising this, two purpose-built 'Mulberry' harbours were floated across the English Channel and anchored just off Omaha and Gold beaches.

Exploitation phase

The capture of the port of Cherbourg was also deemed necessary for the exploitation phase, and thus elements of US VII Corps commenced operations to push up the Cotentin Peninsula.

Having reached the peninsula's west coast on 18 June, the Americans then turned north toward Cherbourg. They reached the port on 21 June, but it took a further eight days of fighting before the town fell, and by that time the Germans had destroyed most of the vital port facilities.

Elsewhere, although Montgomery continually probed the German line in order to find a weak point, he found time after time that his troops were constantly thwarted by the bocage terrain - small fields surrounded by thick hedgerows and sunken lanes - which greatly assisted the German defenders.

Even so, he continued to engage the enemy in the east, such as in Operation Epsom, which opened on 26 June. This was an attempt to put pressure on Caen, so that the Americans could quietly build up their forces in the west prior to a break out.

This planned offensive became increasingly necessary once the euphoria surrounding D-Day had worn off, as politicians and the military on both sides of the Atlantic wished to see the campaign move on.

The response of the land commander (Montgomery) was to order a direct assault on Caen. This was known as Operation Charnwood, in the course of which the city was reduced to rubble by bombing raids. Canadian troops then struggled through its streets, and by 10 July, when the attack ended, had penetrated as far as the river Orne.

The southern and eastern suburbs of the city remained in enemy hands, but pinning the Germans in this area suited Montgomery's strategy. He continued to fix them in the east by launching Operation Goodwood on 18 July, while the Americans drove from St Lô towards Avranches in Operation Cobra.

Goodwood was a tactical failure, which cost the British heavy armoured losses and failed to make much ground. Bradley's American forces in the west, however, did gain from it - by being able to complete their preparations for Cobra without the German army being allowed to draw its sting too early.

Cobra was launched on 25 July but failed to make headway until the following day, when American armour smashed its way through to Coutances. By 30 July the Americans had taken Coutances and Avranches, and US VIII Corps, part of lieutenant general George S Patton's Third US Army, pushed on in an attempt to capture the Breton ports.

Making for the Seine

The Americans moved quickly, but Bradley deemed that a reorientation in the thrust was necessary, and on 3 August ordered Patton to leave a covering force in Brittany and divert the rest of his army east to the Seine river. This would outflank the German forces facing the Anglo-Canadians around Caen and force a withdrawal.

Montgomery supported this move and directed Dempsey to attack towards the Vire river, in Operation Bluecoat, in late July. This was an attempt to ensure that the enemy did not redeploy to counter Patton's advance.

The American plan worked well, and in spite of a German counter attack at Mortain on 6-7 August, captured ground quickly. On 8 August, Patton's men took Le Mans and then swept forward to seize Nantes and Angers before approaching the Seine via Chartres and Orléans.

The Allies made good progress, but there was a feeling that the Germans could be further undermined by an operation that aimed to trap them in a great pocket, created by envelopment. Thus, as some of Patton's troops struck out to the Seine, units further to the north were ordered to advance to Argentan, where they were to link up with Anglo-Canadians attacking south from Caen and Falaise.

Before the Falaise Pocket was closed on 21 August, approximately 40,000 Germans escaped the clutches of the Allied troops. But significant numbers of Germany's forces were nevertheless destroyed and, as a result, the German army in Normandy ceased to exist. Meanwhile, Patton's troops had continued to charge eastwards, and on 20 August had crossed the Seine at Mantes-Gassicourt.

Paris

In Paris, meanwhile, Communist-led members of the French forces of the interior had seized various public buildings in the capital in anticipation of liberation. Fighting through the city, however, was not a prospect that Eisenhower relished, and he intended to by-pass the capital altogether in order to maintain pressure on the withdrawing Germans.

At that moment, General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French, took matters into his own hands. Fearing a Communist take-over, he ordered major general Jacques Philippe Leclerc to lead his French 2nd Armoured Division into Paris in order to liberate the city. Eisenhower had little option under the circumstances but to order US units to follow.

As French troops fought their way through the suburbs the population of Paris rose in revolt against their occupiers, but it was not until late on 24 August that tanks of the French 2nd Armoured Division reached the centre. It took another 24 hours to complete the liberation, and on 26 August, in spite of German snipers, de Gaulle led a victory parade down the Champs Elysées. In this way ensuring that he, rather than the communists, was in control of France.

Despite suffering massive setbacks, Hitler's forces were not beaten yet. While the end of the war in Europe may have been in sight at the end of summer 1944, there were many more miles to travel and plenty more battles to fight before Allied troops finally set foot in the German Fatherland.

===========================================================================