June 6, 1944, is a date for history. Nazi Germany, with Adolf Hitler as its third Reich, had been waging war in Europe, and the objective was to conquer the world and establish a new Aryan empire. But that day, a massive military offensive with the code name “Operation Overlord” was set in motion.
Allied forces guided by Canada, Great Britainlongbowand the United States invaded Normandy by the sea with around 160.000 men and women. It is the biggest amphibious invasion in our history, and after almost a century, it can be easy to forget the magnitude of what happened that day, and how the course of history was altered.
“Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?,” Winston Churchill told his wife the night before the invasion.
Until June 6, Operation Overlord was the best-kept secret
The success of the operation heavily relied on the surprise factor. Back then, intelligence agencies were not as sophisticated as they are now, but a lot of great men and women worked hard to crack the Nazi secrets and codes. German forces were formidable on the battlefield, but in the world of tactics, the battle was an even match.
D-day started months before the invasion. In fact, everything began as an intelligence offensive of misinformation against the Nazi. Allied forces made the Germans believe that they were going to enter Europe by Calais. For this, they used a lot of dummy troops including inflatable tanks, fake camps, and communications. They also used a very elaborate network of spies to “filter” false information into the highest ranks of the German Army. They used everything and in fact, some Gestapo officials even believed the invasion plan was just a ruse fabricated to confuse them.
The freedom coalition needed secrecy because they wanted to move around 150.000 men with tanks, planes and ships into Europe without letting anybody know. But how could so many people keep a secret like that? Actually, out of the highest command chain, nobody knew what the plan was. The soldiers and officials practiced for D-day with fake maps which had fake names.
Every unit was given an isolated objective, but none of them knew what the other troops were doing. The people that birthed Operation Overlord were so worried about secrecy that at some point, they were paranoid. In fact, the MI-5 arrested the editor of a newspaper because some of the key code names of the operation, such as Utah and Omaha appeared in a crosswords on a weekly publication just days before the D-day. The operation was so secret that the “D” in the “D-day” comes from the word “day”.
The United States sent 7 million tons of supply
The stage was set, but strategies and tactics are empty without firepower. People tend to focus only on June 6, but Operation Overlord started the offensive on June 1st. A naval barrage from the sea was complemented by continuous airstrikes to weaken the defenses before the landing force arrived. More than 3 thousand aircraft and almost 7 thousand naval vessels were used during the whole operation, and 448.000 tons of ammunition. Also, a completely fake army was set in Kent and Essex with dummy camps, planes, and tanks. The idea was to deceive the Nazis into thinking the invasion starting point was Calais.
The weaponry used that day was very varied. There was a prototype of an amphibious tank, a flame-throwing tank called the “crocodile” and many other. And among all that sea of bullets and technology, there was an allied soldier branding a steel sword into the fray. John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, also known as “Jack” Churchill and “Mad Jack,” fought the second world war armed with a long bow and a broadsword. It might seem crazy, but he was a decorated soldier who survived the whole conflict.
Eisenhower and Montgomery led the Allied forces
Dwight D. Eisenhower was made the supreme general in charge of the whole operation. Representing the British were General Bernard Montgomery, hero of the 8th army in North Africa, he led the ground forces in the advance. They used code names for all the landing zones through Normandy.
The American guided force landed in Utah and Omaha, the British in Gold and Sword. Lastly, Canada attacked Juno. The battle at Omaha and Utah are the most famous and in part, it is because German resistance was greater at those points. The fight was so intense that during the first hour of combat the chances of being a casualty were 1 out of every 2.
D-day is the most iconic date of World War II, but it is also important to remember all the sacrifices made and the people that lost their lives in the conflict. In Normandy, there are more than 10 thousand graves that contain the remains of American, British and Canadian soldiers, and there are also around 21.500 German graves.