Skip to comments.D-Day 60 Year On: The Longest Day
Posted on 05/31/2004 8:17:12 AM PDT by knighthawk
ROYAL Marine deckhand E.A. Neale of HMS Glenearn watched with a mixture of excitement and horror as the men waded from the flat-bottomed landing craft.
They struggled towards the beach, knee-deep in water and holding their rifles above their heads.
"I saw several men stagger and fall and can remember thinking: 'God help you poor bastards'," Neale later recalled.
No sooner had the troops disembarked than the craft became beached on a sandbar and water poured in as it was hit by intense shellfire.
Neale survived, but neither he nor any of the others who experienced the terror, sacrifice and ultimate success of D-Day could ever forget it.
And those who know about it only from the history books are still awed by the sheer scale and breathtaking bravery of the world's greatest ever invasion 60 years ago. It led to victory over Nazi Germany after almost five long years of war.
Planning and preparation for the storming of northern France, codenamed Operation Overlord, had gone on for two years. By spring 1944, southern England was flooded with three and a half million Allied troops, waiting for the invasion.
Finally, on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, D-Day dawned. Under the command of American General Dwight Eisenhower and General Montgomery, a vast army of troops, stationed along 80 miles of the South Coast and supported by 13,000 warplanes, set off for the invasion.
By the end of that day, the Allies had successfully stormed all five Normandy beaches - codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
But not without massive cost. As Winston Churchill paced the corridors of Westminster, he said to his wife Clementine: "Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning, 20,000 men may have been killed?" As thousands of veterans head for Normandy this Sunday for the anniversary, we relive, with approximate timings, the momentous 24 hours which will be forever known as The Longest Day.
FIFTY miles off the coast of Normandy, 255 mine-sweepers shepherd 5,500 Allied ships, carrying almost 150,000 troops and 50,000 landing vehicles through minefields.
Above them, lines of Dakota transport aircraft, many towing Horsa gliders, roar towards the French coast, carrying the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to drop zones on the Cotentin peninsula. To their left, British and Canadian paratroopers are being flown to their own landing grounds east of the river Orne.
NORTH-EAST of Caen, the 6th Airborne Division - the Red Devils - touch down in six Horsa gliders on a dangerous mission to secure the bridges over the Orne (Pegasus bridge) and Caen canal to prevent German tanks being brought west from Calais. All but one glider lands precisely on target and the bridges are seized in15 minutes, at the cost of just two men - the first D-Day casualties.
MORE glider and paratrooper units begin landing behind the German beach defences - first the American 82nd and 101st Divisions, then the British 6th Airborne Division. Because of darkness and German machine-gun fire, many units are dropped far from the intended drop zones.
The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions are dropped near Ste Mere-Eglise and Carentan, managing to secure road junctions and beach exits.
TEN miles off the Normandy coast, Allied warships are arriving at their assigned positions, ready for the assault. An elaborate deception strategy, codenamed Operation Fortitude, has convinced the Nazis any attack will focus on Calais.
To deceive the German observation planes, harbours and estuaries off Kent were crammed with dummy landing craft. Plywood vehicles and guns lined the roads and a team of technicians maintained constant radio traffic between totally fictitious units.
The ploy works. Fearing an attack on Calais, the Germans have stationed their strongest forces there.
SEVENTEEN Horsa Hamilcar gliders dropBren gun carriers, 17-pounder tank guns and light Tetrarch tanks to reinforce the 6th Airborne Division, which has dropped behind German lines near Sword and Juno beaches.
GERMAN naval observers report Alliedships off Normandy. From coastal radar signals, they realise the approaching fleet is bigger than anything they'd ever imagined.
INthe choppy waters of the Channel, thousandsof assault troops begin loading in the landing craft. The craft are tossed around and drenched in spray. Soldiers have to bail out water with their helmets and some of the smaller boats do not make the 10- mile ride from the mother ships to the shore. Aboard his landing craft, Royal Marines deckhand Neale noticed: "Things were happening around me as if in a dream. "I saw severed limbs and feet in buckets being thrown over the side of the ship and thought to myself how pink and clean they looked, without any feeling of repugnance."
BRITISH paratroopers attack the village of Ranville, near where they first seized the bridge over the Orne.
GERMAN field marshal Gerd von Rundstedt orders twopanzer divisions to move towards Caen, but his superiors put the order on hold until Hitler can agree. As the Fuhrer is asleep and dislikes being woken up, approval takes hours, stalling any effective German response. When Hitler eventually hears of the landing, he says: "So we're off. As long as they were in Britain, we couldn't get them."
PARATROOPERSfrom the regiment's 9thBattalion make a daring attack on the Merville Battery, a German military compound. The mission is successful, but half of the 150 troops are killed or wounded.
OPERATIONGambit begins, with two X-craft mini-submarines surfacing to navigate the fleet of 6,000 vessels towards the French coast. Later called D-Day's best-kept secret, the 50ft subs each had a handpicked crew of five who maintained radio silence for two days on the seabed. Then they surfaced, shining a guiding light out to sea towards the approaching boats.
SIGHTING the invasion fleet on the horizon, the Germansstart firing out to sea. As battle looms, many troops waiting in the landing crafts struggle to overcome seasickness and a numbing fear. Each had been told to make out their Will and also been given a letter from General Dwight Eisenhower which started: "You are about to embark upon the great crusade..."
THE Royal and US Navies begin to shellGerman coastal fortifications. Royal Navy commando R H McKinlay CGM later recalled:"We were under fire as we hit the beach and we all made for cover. The only other personnel on this beach were dead. I remember the bodies being washed in and out with the waves - they just rolled in and out."
AS dawn breaks, the entire horizon off Normandy is filledwith the invasion armada. Allied planes start to bombard German positions along Utah and Omaha beaches. Tugboats prepare to tow two "Mulberry" harbours - prefabricated harbours of 73 floating concrete blocks, each the size of Doverharbour. One is destined for the British and Canadian beaches and one for the American sector.
WAVES of US troops storm Omaha and Utah beaches. Two hundred GIs of the 116th's Company A land on the western end of Omaha for the start of the day's bloodiest battle. Unknown to the Americans, bombing by 1,083 aircraft has failed to destroy the Nazi gun emplacements, high on the cliff-tops, and when the German 352nd Infantry Division opens up with machine guns the men have nowhere to hide.
They suffer around 90 per cent casualties in the first wave. Private Baumgarten, a rifleman with the 116th US Infantry, chillingly recalled:"I heard a hollow thud and I saw Private Robert Dittmar hold his chest and yell: 'I'm hit! I'm hit!' "There were three or four others dying by him. Sergeant Clarence Roberson from my boat team had a gaping wound on the left side of his forehead. "He was walking crazily in thewater, without his helmet. I saw him get down on his knees and start praying and the Germans cut him in half with crossfire. "
A fragment from an 88mm shell hit me in the left cheek. My upper jaw was shattered. The First Battalion of the 116th was more or less completely wiped out. It was total sacrifice." At Utah, the US 4th Infantry Division went ashore 2,000 yards off course, but luckily it was a relatively quiet stretch of beach.
THE second wave of troops at Omaha are greeted withmortar and artillery batteries and machine-gun fire. Many are killed and some, wounded and unable to move, drown. Landing craft are entangled in barbed wire and other obstructions. Sergeant Harry Bare said: "To explain the chaos to anyone who wasn't there would be impossible. Fire rained down on us, machine gun, rifle, rockets from the bunkers in the cliff. The boats were zig-zagging to avoid being hit, which fouled up ourplans. The first man off our boat took a shot in the throat and my radio man had his head blown off three yards from me. "I saw men frozen in the sand, unable to move. The beach was covered with bodies, men with no legs, no arms - God, it was awful." TROOPS from the British 3rd and 50thInfantry Divisions begin to land on Sword and Gold Beaches. The initial assault goes well, and they quickly push forward.
Company Sergeant-Major Stanley Hollis, of 6th Battalion Green Howards, wins the only Victoria Cross of D-Day when his assault on a machine-gun position opens up the beach. Lt Col G A Shepherd was with the 3rd British Infantry when an ear- splitting explosion felled a major and his orderly. He recalled: "I looked down - my right foot had been blown off and I was gripping my thigh in an attempt to stop the blood flowing. There was no sense of pain."
THE 3rd Canadian Division land at Juno Beachand fight hard to overwhelm the German defences. It costs the Canadians 1,100 troops. Royal Engineer, Cpl James Walsh, from Stourbridge, who was with them, said: "A lot of men had landed in deep water and had dropped their rifles and guns to be lighter. "They fought their way up the beach with their knives. I saw German soldiers full of stab wounds.
"We had to follow them, and when I landed I dropped down straight away. I looked round for a marker so I could find my way back if I needed to." Able Seaman Terry Gull, from Hayes, Middlesex, who was just 18 on D-Day, said: "Two miles off the French coast, our landing craft took on 200 paras who landed on Juno beach. "They said there weren't enough planes to go round.
"As we came ashore we hit a mine that blew two holes in the engine room, leaving us high and dry. Luckily no one was injured, but onthe beach there were scores of bodies, mainly Canadian." Back on Omaha, troops move forward inch by inch, still under murderous fire. As they reach the top of the bluffs, they are forced to take on the German fortifications in small groups, one by one.
THEworld first learns of the invasion in a communiquefrom General Eisenhower. It reads: "Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France."
THEfirst American units scale the cliffsoverlooking Omaha Beach. Below, the death toll is still relentlessly climbing, with groups of terrified men hemmed in beneath the lip of the low sea wall. The village of Hermanville, behind Sword Beach, is liberated by British troops.
UTAH Beach is the first to be cleared of allenemy forces. Of the 23,250 who landed, 197 men are dead or wounded - the smallest number of casualties of all the beaches. Americans liberate nearby Ste Marie du Mont. AS soldiers from the British 3rd Infantry Division still stream ashore on Sword Beach, landing craft crews out at sea wait to bring in the next wave of men, including the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. The aim is to roll the Germans back eight miles and seize Caen and Bayeaux by nightfall. ONOmaha Beach, Brigadier General Cotarallies his beleaguered troops: "There are only two types of men on this beach - those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now strip the dead of guns and ammo."
WINSTON Churchill tells a packed House ofCommons: "The commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan." But at the same time, Eisenhower is planning to pull the Americans off Omaha within an hour if the situation doesn't improve.
AMERICAN soldiers on Utah advance beyond flooded fields behind the beach and link up with the US 101st Airborne Division. SOME success at last at Omaha as a number of troops start moving inland, having breached some of the defences.
BEHIND Gold Beach, British troops are movingsouth-west towards Bayeux. Beyond Juno, the Canadians are striking out in the direction of Caen. But the loss of scores of armour-carrying landing craft has left them with only six of 40 tanks. THEGerman 21st Panzer Division counter-attacks and reaches Lion- sur-Mer. But with no infantry support it has to retreat. FROM Gold Beach, British troops advance to securenearby towns of La Riviere and Le Hamel. By nightfall 25,000 men have landed, reaching six miles inland with 400 casualties.
ON Omaha, the Americans are buildingmomentum in their struggle to send a significant number of men to the top of the slopes. Even though the remaining German machine- gunners are reaching exhaustion point the fighting is still fierce.
THE King's Shropshire Light Infantry are just four miles from Caen, but the 120 troops of Z Company are still caught up in a tough firefight at the Periers-sur-le-Dan gun battery.
ON Omaha, the bloody battle continues. The Germans open up again in a terrifying barrage on the troops and supplies still sitting helplessly on the narrow beach. To make matters worse, the tide is on its way in again, swamping a mass of vehicles.
THE US 1st Division commander, General Huebner, finally sets up a command post on Omaha. But it has been achieved at the huge cost of 2,400 American dead or injured out of the 43,250 that landed. MORE than 250 Allied aircraft and gliders suddenly sweep in low over the coast, bringing reinforcements to the British paratrooper battalions. Fearful they are going to be trapped, the German tank crews quickly turn round and retreat.
THE Allies find they have failed to seize major objectives, including Caen, and neither have they built a single 50-mile front uniting all beaches. But they have broken through the enemy's defensive line within 24 hours - a blow from which the Germans will never recover.
Eisenhower issues his second communique, and the BBC announces: 'Reports of operations show our forces succeeded in their landings.' By the end of the campaign, more than 10,000 Allied soldiers have been killed - 3,000 of them British. German losses are estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000.
J Garner of the First Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment later recalled: 'Strong men who'd boxed or played rugger for the unit and had suffered the horror of Dunkirk were led away shaking and blubbering like small children.' For them all, it was the longest day. Yet we can never repay them for giving us our precious tomorrows.
My father was one of those who landed on Normandy in what this article describes here.
This month he turned 91 yrs old.
He didn't talk about it for years... had nightmares. The last several years, he has enjoyed going to the gatherings of the WWII survivors.
Today, that war could not have been won. Media and public opinion would not allow such slaughter.
OHH COOL rack your dad
And rest of Greatest Generation
Dad was recovering from burns suffered in a C-46 crash in India when D-day happened. He was born in 1906 and was a civilian pilot for the AAF in the China-Burma-India Campaign.
One fact that still amazes me is the scope of the whole port. With the breakwall (picture giant ice cube trays that could be lined up and then flooded) and then 3 actual piers that were designed to raise and lower with the tide, the entire harbor workings when laid end to end would stretch 7 miles!
The Scot told me they couldn't keep up with the front as it moved to the north.
Another identical port was to be established but a major storm destroyed it before it was completed. Had this port not withstood the storm, our entire landing force would have been destroyed as there would have been no fuel, ammo, food, tanks....
I have to head to a picnic. I'll add more to this thread in the days to come.
Rack the Greatest Generation
My uncle was a tailgunner on a B-17 out of England. He told some funny stories about the British. My favorite told of when he first landed in England, and some Cockney pointed at him and said "Hey, Guv, your torch is lit!" My uncle stared at him in confusion until he realized that his flashlight, which was stuck in his back pocket, was turned on.
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