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60 Years Ago: Operation Overlord

60 Years Ago: Operation Overlord

Source: Embassy of France, Washington D.C., June 3, 2004.

At the crack of dawn on June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and changed the course of history. Thousands of soldiers, mainly Americans, Britons, and Canadians, landed along the Normandy coast in north-western France.

On June 6, code-named "D-Day" by military planners, the first allied assault waves landed on Utah beach at 6.30 A.M. The beach was rapidly cleared of its obstacles by army engineers and most of the troops were able to land without any difficulties, despite sporadic fire. Two hundred men were killed or wounded.

The American forces that landed on Omaha beach unfortunately found themselves up against much stiffer resistance. The Germans had covered the entire area with machine-gun nests, mortars, minefields and barbed wire, and under the punishing barrage of German fire, most of the amphibious tanks were sunk, thus depriving the infantry of vital cover fire. After several hours of heavy fighting, the U.S. soldiers finally managed to gain the upper hand, and climbed the bluffs towards the end of the morning. But by the end of D-Day, the Omaha bridgehead was scarcely two kilometers deep, and a heavy price had been paid: one thousand lost their lives, and 2,000 were wounded.

This sector was also the site of a particularly impressive act of valor by a force of three companies of 225 Rangers. They had managed the formidable exploit of reaching the top of the cliff very rapidly, but then found themselves surrounded and subject to German counter-attacks from all sides. They held out more than 2 days, and when they were finally relieved on June 8 by regular troops, only 90 of the Rangers were still combat worthy. Nearly 80 had perished.

One of the two sectors assigned to the British, Gold beach lies east of the city of Arromanches. The landings began at 7.25 A.M., and by the evening of June 6, 25,000 Britons had disembarked and were in control of a quadrilateral measuring roughly ten kilometers by ten.

The Canadians were in charge of Juno beach, which was well defended by a number of structures housing antitank guns or machine guns located at regular intervals along the shore, often on the sea walls, so as to rake the beaches with fire. By the end of the day, more than 21,000 men had landed and the Canadians held a solid beachhead about 12 kilometers deep.

Sword beach was assigned to Britain's 3rd division, supported by special tanks and two special brigades of "Green Berets." Also among its ranks were 177 Free French marines led by Lieutenant Philippe Kieffer.




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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).