Sunday, 7 June 2015

Facts About D-Day - The Normandy Landings

Image result for d day landingsD-Day - The Normandy Landings

1. The Normandy Landings were codenamed Operation Neptune.
On the 6th June 1944, the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy for the planned invasion of German-occupied western Europe. Commonly known as the D-Day Landings, and codenamed Operation Neptune, it led to the liberation of France from the Nazis, who had taken over Europe during World War 2.

2. The Normandy Landing was, and still is, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Almost 7,000 naval vessels were involved in D-Day, the largest single day amphibious invasion of all time. The sea was full of craft of all sizes, carrying 156,000 soldiers, to land them safely on the beaches of Normandy. From the air, 24,000 airborne troops were dropped behind the German lines to secure vital roads and bridges.

3. The Invasion was planned, prepared, and rehearsed for months before D-Day. For months before D-Day, the Allies planted misinformation, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to deceive the Germans as to the exact date and location of the real invasion.

Image result for d day landingsA series of dummy camps, along with planes and tanks were built in Kent and Essex, South-East England, to make the Germans believe the invasion of France would take place in Calais, not Normandy. And the double agent, Garbo, poured the Nazi intelligence machine with false information to encourage the Germans to think the Normandy Invasion was all an elaborate ruse.

In the three months before the invasion, there were over 3,000 reconnaissance missions to take photos of key locations. But, even the preparations and practices, and planning can be dangerous. Many soldiers, intelligence officers, and RAF pilots and crews lost their lives in those recon missions.

In fact, on the 28th April 1944, almost a thousand US servicemen were killed during a dress rehearsal for the invasion. They were in a convoy of ships off Slapton Sands, Devon, when German torpedo boats sank their convoy.

4. “Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?” Were the words of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, to his wife, the night before the invasion.
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Out of the 156,000 soldiers involved, there were over 10,000 Allied casualties, with 4,414 confirmed dead. A lot less than was predicted. The expectations for the landings was 10,000 dead and 30,000 wounded. Because of this high expected cost, 30,000 stretchers and 60,000 blankets were issued to cope with the casualties.

5. There were five landing zones along a 50-mile stretch of coast. The Americans would attack at Utah and Omaha, the British at Gold and Sword, and Canadian troops at Juno.

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At 3am, two thousand Allied bombers attacked the German lines. Throughout the day, a further 10,000 combat missions were flown with the loss of 113 aircraft. Between 5am and 6.25am, the navy bombarded the shores form 7 battleships, 18 cruisers, and 43 destroyers. Each and every minute of the invasion had been planned. But not everything can go according to plan.

The first American soldiers landed on the beaches at 6.31am. An hour later the British and Canadians poured onto their beaches, trudging through the choppy waters and the sand, fighting and dying for each valuable step. They came up against concrete gun emplacements, wooden stakes, mines, anti-tank obstacles, barbed wire and booby traps.

On the other side, the Germans had 50,000 troops firing back over a million rounds of ammunition at the allied soldiers trying to scramble up the beaches. The heaviest losses were on Omaha beach, where American forces suffered over 2,000 casualties. The Canadian soldiers fought hard on Juno beach, with half their forces suffering a casualty.

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The British force at Gold beach battled against strong currents and high winds, making the landings extremely hazardous. The Royal Navy cruisers had taken out three of the four German gun emplacements, but the fourth kept firing as troops landed. It wasn't until the following day that the last gun emplacement on Gold beach surrendered. Fighting against a large force, the British managed to trudge up and overcome the German army defending the beach. The British suffered over 1,000 casualties during the first 12 hours of fighting on Gold.

Further down the coast at Sword, the British landed at 7:30am and immediately encountered a beach littered with mines and obstacles. They managed to land 21 out of the 25 DD tanks, which provided some cover for the infantry that followed. The strangest story of D-Day was that of Scottish piper, Bill Millin, who played his bagpipes on the beaches to encourage the troops. Surprisingly, not one German sniper fired at him. He survived the battle, the invasion, and the rest of the war. At Sword beach, the British suffered a further 1,000 casualties.

Bonus Facts
Image result for scotty1. Richard Todd who starred in The Longest Day, a 1962 film about the Normandy Landings, as Major John Howard, was in the real landings. He was an officer in the 7th Parachute Battalion.

2. James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek, was a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery during the D-Day landings and lost one of his fingers on the day.

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