World War II had barely begun when Allied countries began hatching informal plans to invade Europe. As early as 1940, the British were cooking up a siege against the continental mainland, while the Americans began plotting their own assault immediately after Hilter declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. The real push came in 1942, when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin started pressuring U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open up a "second front" in the west, to complement the Soviets' eastern front and squeeze Hitler's armies in between. The most obvious site for the offensive was the northwest coast of France, where the English Channel separates Britain and France by as little as 22 miles. The idea was that once northern France was captured and secured, the Allies could begin the steady overthrow of the rest of the Nazi-occupied country -- and, eventually, push into Germany. The trick, though, would be to surprise the Germans with a swift and overwhelming onslaught, giving them no chance to mount an effective counterattack.
Formal planning for the bold maneuver began in 1943. The selected target was the French region of Normandy. In an historic meeting held from November 28 to December 1, 1943 in Tehran, Iran -- the first three-power war conference attended by Stalin -- Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin settled on May 1944 for the invasion, dubbed Operation Overlord. The attack, promised their Declaration of the Three Powers, would be "relentless and increasing."
In January 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was named Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He eventually picked June 5, 1944 -- a day with a full moon the night before, and with early morning low tides -- as the date of the largest sea invasion in human history. There were two key initiatives: First, three airborne divisions, two American and one British, employing more than 3,000 aircraft and carrying 195,000 tons of bombs, would drop behind enemy lines and seize exits, capture important communication and transportation hubs, and block German counterattacks. Simultaneously, six infantry divisions (three American, two British, and one Canadian) would rush in by sea. Some 7,000 naval vessels would carry nearly 200,000 tanks and other vehicles, and an assault force of 160,000 men onto five beaches (code named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno), along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy shoreline, from Caen to Cherbourg -- all in a 24-hour period.
Hitler, of course, fully expected the Allies to make a move. He ordered his forces to build an elaborate series of fortifications (consisting of fortresses, coastal batteries, beach defenses, and beach and near-shore obstacles) along the entire coast of the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean -- the "Atlantic Wall." The pace picked up in 1943, under the direction of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, with most of the defenses concentrated along the English Channel. Hilter and Rommel believed that the Allies would invade at Calais, the narrowest point of the English Channel and therefore the shortest distance between British and French soil. Nevertheless, the obstacles Rommel placed at Normandy were formidable: staked mines, twisted metal spikes, buried landmines, gun emplacements, barbed wire, and more.
The obstacles were intended to take the Allies by surprise, but Allied intelligence had alerted Eisenhower and his commanders to the dangers they posed. In response, they invented an impressive set of countermeasures that, on June 6, 1944 -- a day later than planned, due to a huge storm in the English Channel -- effectively limited their impact.
In: Iran, Other
Tags: World war 2, WW2, Secrets of D-day, axis, allies, Operation Overlord, overlord, Hitler, FDR, Churchill, western front, Eisenhower, expeditionary force, wehrmacht, waffen SS, rommel, English channel, naval invasion, Stalin
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