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In midsummer 1943, a year before the Anglo-American invasion of Normandy, Adolf Hitler still occupied all the territory he had gained. He had a strong foothold in North Africa and was ready to take over the world if possible. He controlled all of Europe except Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Sweden. Without intervention by the US, Hitler could count on prolonging his military reign for many years; there was no one else who could match him.
Since 1942, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was pressing for the US to get involved, but this was impossible. The American army was still forming and the necessary equipment to cross the English Channel was not built yet. Roosevelt appointed Dwight D. Eisenhower to the US Army’s war plans division in December 1941 and commissioned him to design a plan for an allied victory. Eisenhower proposed two invasions, Roundup and Sledgehammer for 1943, but only Roundup was accepted by London. It was postponed and at the last gathering of England, the US, and Russia, they agreed to adopt May 1944 as an unalterable date for invasion.
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Alan Brooke, Churchill’s staff for Operation Overload, planned for landing in Normandy between Caen and the Cotentin Peninsula. It consisted of three divisions, with two brigades to be air dropped. Another eleven divisions were to be landed within the first two weeks through man-made harbors that would be towed across the channel. Once the troops had a foothold there, 100 divisions, the majority from the US, were to be assembled in France for the great attack against Germany.
Hitler had known for quite some time that the Allies were planning to mount an attack across the Channel, but he downplayed all threats he heard. However, by November 1943, he could no longer ignore the threats, and he announced that France would have to be reinforced. He sent Field Marshall to watch over and inspect the beaches of France.
In January 1944, Montgomery was appointed to be the invasion commander. Montgomery made a few changes in the already created plans for the invasion on Normandy Beaches. First, he demanded to get five divisions to make the initial landings; second, he widened the landing area to include the Orne River and the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. The invasion force was to consist of two American airborne divisions that were to land behind the western end of the assault area and one British at the eastern end while men were to swim to shore with the leading waves. The British had been in training since 1942 and the US had been since 1943. They were ready to attack. In the first three weeks, 6,500 ships and landing crafts would land nearly 200,000 vehicles and 600,000 tons of supplies.
The attack would be supported by 13,000 fighters, bombers, and aircrafts. The Luftwaffe, or the German Air Force, could only deploy 400 on D-Day. Between April 1, and June 5,1944, the British and Americans had bombed 195,000 tons of bombs. They lost a few aircrafts during this time, but they were able to break all the bridges across the Seine and Loire River, thereby isolating the Normandy Invasion area. In an attempt to persuade the enemy, two-thirds of the bombs dropped were outside of the invasion area. In addition, on the night of the invasion, the airborne radar deception presented to the Germans blacked out and disguised the real transit to Normandy.
May 1944 was the time Washington had chosen for the invasion, but difficulties assembling landing craft forced a postponement until June 5, 1944. As the day approached, bad weather set in, creating dangerous, threatening landing conditions. After a tense debate, Eisenhower decided on a 24-hour delay, requiring the recall of some ships already en route. Within hours of Eisenhower’s “OK” on the morning of June 5, three thousand landing crafts, 2,500 other ships, and 500 naval vessels began to leave English ports. That night, 822 aircraft carrying men, roared over the Normandy landing zone. Some of the men dropped into the zone died from drowning, but nevertheless, it secured their plans. On June 7, the beach consisted of three sections: the British and Canadian between Caen and Bayeux, the American 5th Corps between Port-en-Bessin and Saint-Pierre-du-Mont, and the American 7th west of the Vire River behind Utah Beach.
The floating piers were half-finished on June 19, but due to a strong storm, much of the materials were destroyed, so the Americans abandoned Mulberry (the name of the pier). The Allies encountered much difficulty when fighting inshore. Due to the success of the airborne landings, the Allies were able to get a strong hold on the beachheads, but efforts to break out were frustrated by the German counterattacks and fierce resistance. The gloom the Americans were feeling because of the attacks was dependent on Montgomery’s strategy. His plan was to draw the Germans to the British front and win a battle between tanks. While the Allies were feeling depressed, so were the Germans. Their defense was eating up men and equipment that could not be replaced.
The last bastion in Cherbourg fell on June 28, and clearance of the port began instantly. These setbacks brought a crisis within the high command of the Germans. Rommel was injured when his car was hit by a British fighter on July 17, and worst of all, Rundstedt confessed defeatism to Hitler and urged him to make peace. Rommel was forced to commit suicide in October and the leader, Kludge, had done the same on August 18. On July 25, operation “Cobra” was set into place. With most of the German tanks drawn westward by the British Goodwood offensive, the Allied Expeditionary Force had the power to stop the Germans in their tracks.
The American spearhead now threatened to drive into Brittany and encircle the Germans in Normandy from the rear. While the American encirclement was in action, the British and Americans began an advance towards Falaise. On August 16, “Hitler, at last, recognized the inevitable and gave permissions for a withdrawal from Normandy.” The only route to leave was between the American and British spearheads at Falaise. The Germans broke through between August 16 and 19, but left behind 50,000 dead and 200,000 were taken as prisoners.
As a German leader led the Germans back across Northern France, Resistance forces in Paris rose against the remaining Germans on August 19. Fighting broke out, and upon hearing the news, Eisenhower reversed his decision to bypass the capital. The Free French 2nd Armored Division was ordered to liberate the city of Paris, and on the morning of August 24, the Germans surrendered to the forces. On August 26, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, paraded down the Champs-Elysees to Notre Dame where a mass was celebrated. By early September, all but a tiny portion of France had been liberated. There would be much fighting during the winter, as the Germans still needed to be completely defeated.
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