This Week in History

Photo Source: Landing craft, barrage balloons and allied troops landing at Normandy, France. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/US MARITIME COMMISSION
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This Week in History
06 June 1944: Allied forces land in Normandy, turning the tide in World War-II

  Ronakk Tijoriwala

Eighty years before, on 6 June 1944, Allied forces from US, UK, Canada and other countries landed in Normandy, France. This would bring the much-awaited liberation of the western front of the European battle.

06 June 1944: The landing
The five fronts of the landings were at the beaches of Utah that were taken charge of and assaulted by American forces; the landings at Utah Beach were relatively successful with lighter German resistance. Second were the beaches of Omaha. As per the first point of contact, the American troops faced fierce resistance from well-fortified German positions, resulting in heavy casualties. Despite the initial struggles, they were eventually successful in securing the beach. The third point of contact was the beaches of Gold, a choke point so crucial and so densely fortified by the German army that an assault led by the British forces at the beach saw intense fighting, but the Allies were able to establish a foothold after long friction. The fourth point of contact was the beaches of Juno, where the Canadians took charge and faced strong opposition from German defences but managed to overcome them and establish a beachhead. Finally, the fifth point of contact was the beach of Sword, one of the only points where comparatively control of the beach was easy to gain by British forces, as they encountered moderate resistance and were able to secure the beach quickly, advancing inland to link up with airborne units.

The Plan and the Battle
The Normandy landings are the largest invasion in fleet invasion in history; 1200 warships and 4000 landing crafts, more than 160,000 Allied troops cross the English Channel to Nazi-occupied France. Crossing a water body and launching an operation was a very hard thing to do; it was 40 -50 miles of sea.

The landings on the beaches of Normandy were just the beginning, as beyond the sea defences the lied the battle-hardened eastern front army of Nazi Germany. The D-Day invasion, from its planning to, the deception and the landings and the battles that were to be fought it was and still is considered as one of the most audacious acts in war history. The British and the French armies were driven into the waters by the blazing German Blitzkrieg from the French coast, and the wounds of this defeat and humiliation were carved deep into the minds of both armies. The British knew and were certain that if there was any chance to get back at the German humiliation, then it was only with the help of the Americans and their naval fleets at the coastal door of the French coast.

At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Joseph Stalin and President Roosevelt put pressure on Winston Churchill to commit to a second front along the Atlantic wall. But Churchill was not on board completely as he knew that the American money and manpower were crucial in tipping the scales of the war if they were to invade northern France. Churchill, after much back and forth with the Americans, finally conceded, and Operation Overlord in 1944, the Allied invasion of France was given the green light.

The offensive saw an operating time of June to August of 1944, until Paris was finally liberated. the Battle of Normandy as a whole lasted for approximately two and a half months, from June to August 1944. This period marked a critical phase in the Allied campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.

After the D-Day
The aftereffects of the Normandy Landings served as the base for the advancement of the final phase of the Second World War. The immediate fallout included heavy casualties, intense fighting, the establishment of beachheads, the advancement inland, and the capture of strategic objectives.

These initial successes set the stage for the broader Allied campaign in Western Europe and ultimately contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. It was not long after, in the same year, the Nazi forces grew weaker and thinner on the fronts; with the morale at an all-time low and the support and industrial capacity of the German war machine dwindling, December 1944 was the steep slope down.

In 1945, on 07 May, German forces would finally surrender. But the cost and toll that the landings had taken were by far the largest yet in human history. The Allied forces combined, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had formed one of the largest fleets to have ever assembled in modern warfare.

The casualties on the Allies’ sides were enormous; 12,000 soldiers were killed, wounded and missing, with thousands more unaccounted for, and more than 3000 French civilians were killed, mostly by Allied bombings, but the victory of this important and desperate push into the face of an overwhelming enemy was bittersweet.

Winston Churchill’s courage to go forward with one of his life’s most burdensome decisions had paid off; he had a night before penned down a note: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

In the Series:
21 May 1991: LTTE human bomb assassinates Rajiv Gandhi
20 May 1948: Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer lands in Calicut in India’s west coast
20 May 2002: East Timor becomes an independent country
30 April 1975: Saigon falls to North Vietnam troops, leading to the reunification of Vietnam
21 April 1526: The First Battle of Panipat leads to the emergence of the Mughal Empire in India
17 April 1895: The Treaty of Shimonoseki ends the first Sino-Japan War (1894-95)
17 April 1975: Khmer Rouge captures Phnom Penh in Cambodia, establishing the Pol Pot regime
16 April 1917: Lenin issues “April Theses”
04 April 1968: Martin Luther King Jr assassinated
18 March 2014: Russia annexes Crimea
14 March 1879: Albert Einstein born in Germany
14 March 1849: The Sikh Army surrenders to the British
12 March 1918: Lenin shifts the capital to Moscow
11 March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union


About the Author
Ronakk Tijoriwala is a scholar from Pandit Deendayal Energy University, School of Liberal Studies. Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

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