On June 6th, 1944, troops from Britain, the US, Canada, and many other nations landed in German-occupied Normandy. Their aim was to create a second front in Western Europe to take pressure off the Soviet Union and accelerate the downfall of Nazi Germany. Against them stood the forces of the Atlantic Wall, the series of fortifications guarding the coasts of France against invasion.
Britain and the United States had long planned to launch an amphibious invasion of northern France. Initially, they intended to conduct the invasion in 1943 or even 1942, but were forced to push the date to 1944 as resources were drawn away to the Italian theater and unforeseen technical and logistical difficulties presented themselves. However, the Allies remained committed to the invasion, and amassed vast quantities of men and material for an invasion in 1944. Against them were forces under the command of Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel. Under their command were the static forces manning the fortifications on the beaches and reserves of infantry and tank units intended to contain and eliminate any beachhead. One key problem the Germans had was predicting the site of the Allied landings. The Allies convinced the Germans that the landings would occur at Pais-de-Calais instead of at Normandy. Further, German High Command engaged in debate as to where to place the Panzer divisions so as to best repel an invasion. Rommel wanted to place them as close to the beaches as possible so as to sweep the landings back into the sea, while Rundstedt wanted to keep them farther away so as to protect them from naval bombardment. Hitler’s solution pleased no one: he placed some divisions under Rommel and some under Rundstedt, and kept four under his command and commanded that they could not be used without his permission. To ensure the success of their landings, the Allies planned to use extensive areal bombardment of the beaches and also of railroads and roads leading to them. Further, they would use both the French Resistance and their own paratroopers to disrupt German movements and communications. The landings were initially planned to occur on June 5th, but bad weather forced postponement until the next day. On that day, the weather was still poor but Eisenhower and Montgomery, the British and American commander respectively, decided to go ahead. The beaches – Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword- were all captured on the first day. Allied casualties were high, roughly 4,400 dead, but they were far lower than expected. The Allies benefited from total air supremacy, poorly trained German defenders, naval bombardment from ships in the English Channel, and the slow German response resulting from the disruption of communications, bombing of troop movements, and Hitler deciding to sleep in. The Allies, however, failed to connect all of the beaches or capture several major objectives including the Port of Caen.
Although the Allies failed to achieve their day one objectives, D-Day was ultimately successful. It allowed Allied Forces to liberate France and then go on to invade Germany. It sapped German strength and forced them to pull troops from the Eastern Front. Germany was thus unable to hold the Soviets back, and would soon lose an entire army group in Operation Bagration. While most German leaders realized the war was lost before D-Day, June 6th, 1944, was the beginning of the end.