Theinvasion itself gave prominence to land forces but provided major roles for air and sea components. Allied air forces carried three airborne divisions into battle, protected the force as it crossed the English Channel, and attacked targets throughout the invasion area before and after the landing in support of the assault forces. More than 5,000 ships--from battleships to landing craft--carried,escorted and landed the assault force along the Normandy coast. Once the force was landed, naval gunfire provided critical support for the soldiers as they fought their way across the beaches.
In the invasion's early hours, more than 1,000 transports dropped paratroopers to secure the flanks and beach exits of the assault area. Amphibious craft landed some 130,000 troops on five beaches along 50 milesof Normandy coast between the Cotentin Peninsula and the Orne River while the air forces controlled the skies overhead. In the eastern zone, the British and Canadians landed on GOLD, JUNO and SWORD Beaches. The Americans landed on two beaches in the west--UTAH and OMAHA. As the Allies came ashore, they took the first steps on the final road to victory in Europe.
With Hitler's armies in controlof most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeatingthe Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.
On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.
By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to captureGold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day's end, 155,000 Allied troops--Americans, British and Canadians--had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.
For their part, the Germanssuffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causingdelays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.
Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field...