D-Day was WWII turning point

by John Scocos Secretary Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs

June 6 marks the 69th anniversary of Operation Overlord, better known as the “D-Day” invasion. It was the largest amphibious assault in history, taking place on the shores of Normandy, France in 1944, during some of the darkest hours of World War II.

American and British troops crossed the English Channel from southern England to the shores of Normandy. The objective to secure Normandy was accomplished through additional land and naval support of other Allied nations. This critical spearhead invasion is today recognized as the turning point towards the Allied victory in WWII.

On June 4, 1944, an armada of 5,333 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles, 11,000 planes and 175,000 men sat in southern England poised for the attack. Hitler and his staff thought the Allies would attack at the Pasde Calais, the narrowest point between England and France. In the early morning hours of June 6, thousands of Allied paratroopers and glider troops landed silently behind enemy lines to secure strategic points on the flanks of the invasion area.

As dawn approached, American, British, Canadian and French soldiers – backed by paratroopers, bombers and warships – began landings on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline. They traveled to the beaches on small landing craft lowered from the decks of large ships in the channel.

Operation Overlord called for landings at five beaches, code named: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The British and Canadians landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. The Americans landed on two beaches to the west – Utah and Omaha.

The landing at Omaha beach by the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and Army Rangers was extremely brutal. Naval gunfire and air bombardments had not softened the German defenses. Along the 7,000 yards of Omaha beach, the Germans were perched on high bluffs. By mid-morning, initial reports painted such a bleak picture that Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley considered pulling the troops off Omaha beach. However, during these dark hours, bravery and initiative came to the fore. Slowly, as individuals and groups, soldiers began to cross the beach and gained the heights and beach exits. By day’s end, the Army V Corps had a tenuous hold on the Normandy beach and the force consolidated to proceed with the invasion of France.

In contrast with Omaha beach, the invasion of Utah beach went smoothly. The first wave landed 2,000 yards south of the planned beach, which was fortunate because the original beach was more heavily defended. The landing craft carrying the successive troops capitalized on the gains made by the first wave of troops. Within hours, the 4th Infantry Division secured the beachhead and began the drive inland.

The Germans continued to fight with great tenacity in hedgerows of France. Progress bogged down, as the Germans hidden in the hedgerows were able to launch numerous ambushes to delay the Allies. The Allies eventually broke through this formidable defense.

About 60,000 Americans took part in the landing (approximately 1,200 of them from Wisconsin), and 3,400 Americans (about 68 from Wisconsin) were killed or missing. Overall, about 332,200 Wisconsin men and women served in World War II and 8,390 were killed in the war. Wisconsin has approximately 27,000 World War II-era veterans

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