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The Preparation and Build Up for the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy

Updated on January 15, 2012

D - DAY 6th JUNE 1944

WHY INVADE

The 6th June 1944 marked the beginning of the end of the war which had started in September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

Early in 1940 Belgium and France were invaded by German Panzer divisions and the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated home via Dunkirk. The Germans did not push home this advantage choosing to invade Russia whilst Japan bombed Pearl Harbour bringing the United States into the conflict. The attention of the Allied forces was focused in Burma and the Pacific and North Africa whilst only Russia was fighting the Germans in Europe.

Benito Mussolini of Italy
Benito Mussolini of Italy
Josef Stalin of USSR
Josef Stalin of USSR

In July 1943 the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini was overthrown and hanged by Italian patriots who immediately sued for peace with the Allies. This enabled the Allied forces to move through Italy via Sardinia and fight the Germans on Italian soil. The British 8th army and the United States 5th army battled through Italy in what would be a rehearsal for a full scale invasion and in a move which made the Allied forces feel that the war was turning their way.

The British and American navies were gaining supremacy on the seas and Germany was running short of foods and essential supplies. With Allied bombardments continuing German moral and the average citizen were suffering. The invasion had always been planned for 1944 but it took on more importance when it became known that the Russians were breaking through on the eastern front. Invasion from the west became more urgent to avoid the replacement of rule by Berlin to rule by Moscow.

DRESS REHEARSAL

CHURCHILL CROCODILE TANK
CHURCHILL CROCODILE TANK
CROMWELL TANK
CROMWELL TANK

The training of the army started in earnest. Over 3/4 million US soldiers were stationed in the west of England. Soldiers were trained in the use of rifles, machine guns, mortars and the ever popular Mills grenade which would explode a few seconds after the priming pin had been removed.

The Allies had a greater weight and variety of artillery than the Germans but the Germans had the advantage in anti tank guns which were self propelled and had a longer range than the Allies. Both sides had tanks but the Allied Shermans, Churchills and Cromwells were not he equal of the German Panther or Tiger with their thicker armour and heavier guns capable of firing at a longer range. The Allies built specialist vehicles with the invasion in mind, such as the Crocodile which was a Churchill tank which towed an armoured trailer full of fuel and through its fire gun it spurted jets of flame burning the enemy out. One lifesaver was the Flails known to soldiers as the Crabs. These consisted of a Sherman tank fitted with large chains attached to a revolving drum which swept the ground in front of the tank clearing mines as it went.

Many killed during the Dress Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsals are meant to be like the real thing but in April 1944 the Allies had more than they bargained for. The US army had been practising with a number of landing craft at Slapton Sands and were surprised by German U boats- at least 700 men lost their lives that day. As the bodies were brought ashore stories were told of land slippages which had caused their deaths;all to keep secret the news of the Invasion. Ordinary Seaman Jack Buster Brown of HMS Kellett, recalled"I remember the dozens of corpses floating in the sea" Ordinary Seaman Geoffrey Cassidy saw the situation develop " US ambulances were taking the dead away, six to a van, and it went on until four in the morning" - extracted from "Forgotten Voices" by Max Arthur.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Sir Bernard Montgomery "Monty"
Sir Bernard Montgomery "Monty"

The Allied Commanders

The Allied commanders were all experienced men given much more freedom of command by Churchill. The Supreme Commander was General Dwight D Eisenhower. The Ground Force Commander General Montgomery of Desert Rat fame was responsible for success or failure on the ground. Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory was tasked to smash German communications in France and Belgium, to carry troops and provide cover for invading forces by bombing enemy defences. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was in charge of the Allied Navy Expeditionary force across the channel and providing cover for landings by using naval guns against defences. In contrast the German armies were struggling all over Europe with a thinly spread army. Sensing the change amongst the Allies they tried to strengthen forces in western Europe with Field Marshall Von Rundstedt appointed as commander in chief and Field Marshall Rommel in charge of ground forces.

The amount of men, vehicles and equipment needed to be moved across the channel for the invasion was enormous. As no port was available artificial harbours were built and towed across the channel. The harbours were known as Mulberries but the soldiers referred to them as Noah's Arks. The Allies would need large amounts of oil so one of the first objectives of the assault was to capture the port of Cherbourg. Once in Allied hands an especially designed oil supply pipe codenamed Pluto was put into place.

The Preparations, both equipment and manpower training and build up could not be hidden from the Germans who knew an invasion was coming but did not know where. The Allies tried to misfeed locations to the Germans sending out signals containing false information. Dummy craft were assembled on the eastern side of the UK to confuse the Germans even more. Perhaps the most dramatic and well known trick was "the man who never was". False papers, "Official Secrets" were placed on the body of a dead British Naval Officer. The body was dropped into the sea off the coast of Spain and washed up. The "official Secrets" were sent to and believed by, Berlin.

Despite all the Allies attempts to hide and confuse the German High Command were certain the attack would take place in wither Pas De Calais, Normandy or Brittany. They didn't know which or indeed there were some thoughts it might be all three areas. As a result the Germans took no chances and had their forces thinly stretched out over the whole of North Western France. Attempts to move forces to the areas of attack were thwarted as the Allies destroyed their road and rail links. Adolf Hitler was quoted as saying " If we do not stop the invasion and do not drive the enemy back into the sea, the war will be lost".

Operation Overlord

The invasion was sited at Normandy which was chosen because it had long stretches of sheltered beaches suitable for unloading troops munitions and stores. The beaches lay within the range of fighter aircraft based in southern England. A large port was needed to supply the soldiers once landed, therefore a proximity to Cherbourg was ideal. If Caen could be captured then the road and rail network for the region would be under Allied control. The geography of the area with thickshrub lands, high banks and flooded lowlands meant that it would be very difficult for the Germans to assemble large amounts of armoured forces quickly. The plan was to establish a deep bridgehead in Normandy, overrun Brittany and drive the enemy eastwards. The criteria for the time of the invasion was that it was made in the half light of dawn and as soon after low tide as possible, so that German obstacles and mines on the beaches would be spotted.

The weather turned vicious and the future of the Invasion was in doubt. However late in the evening of the 4th June General Eisenhower made his final decision that the assault would take place on the morning of the 6th June 1944.

Private Peter Fussell of No 1 commando remembered "At about four o'clock in the afternoon we were told to stand down.......the weather had broken..........we were told that a decision would be made on Sunday"

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    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      I think that would have been the least favourite job, but at least if you made it your feet were dry! It must have been the most frightening thing landing on the beaches- its bad enough walking on a beach in a swim suite- imagine if you have a massive kit bag too!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      A very interesting article.

      My uncle was the driver of one of one of the D Day amphibious vehicles ~ his was first off the boat. Very scary, I imagine.

      I have been reading about those practice runs. Indeed, I was hoping to put together a hub on the subject. I was really surprised, when I read about this on a monument, while on holiday, last year. It was kept secret for a long time.

    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      phdast17- thanks so much for your kind comment- my alter ego has read a number of your hubs and has a great interest in the jewish genocide- her one big wish is to go to Aushwitz but no one in the family will go with her!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very articulate and informative Hub with a great selection of photographs. Thanks for all the hard work. My "narrow" research focus is the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the American GI's who were there.

    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      epigramman- thanks so much- i cannot try to comprehend the bravery shown by troops involved in this attack- bearing in mind that the carnage from WW1 trenches was still in living memory, they might have been inclined to question, but "no" off they went.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      7 years ago

      .....well my dad was a Canadian soldier of World War II for six years and landed on Juno Beach - and in civilian life he was somewhat a historian on this war (and history in general) and he would have approved of your hub and loved it - quite possibly the greatest testimony you will receive - and as for the rest of us - it's a history lesson and you teach it well!

    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Thanks mod2vint for your kind remarks and Dave, Thankyou, will read some of yours soon as i find the subject fascinating

    • Dave Harris profile image

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Really good hub CASE1WORKER, great facts and picture content, I am writing similar World War 2 hubs myself, fascinating stuff!

    • mod2vint profile image

      mod2vint 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Great Hub thanks for sharing!

    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      8 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      thanks Rob, glad you enjoyed it!

    • Rob Hanlon profile image

      Rob Hanlon 

      8 years ago from Epicentre of everywhere

      Well done yet again on great a Great Hub !

    • CASE1WORKER profile imageAUTHOR

      CASE1WORKER 

      8 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      "Under construction" - a hub on the battle for the beaches-

      thanks shawn for your kind comments

    • Shawn Scarborough profile image

      Shawn Scarborough 

      8 years ago from The Lone Star State

      This is a great hub! It is very interesting to read and it is very well written. I enjoy reading about WW II. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

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