by Tim Watson, KB1HNZ
In the early morning of June 6th, 1944, many Americans heard initial reports of The Invasion – what would become known as D-Day, on American radio networks. The allied invasion of Europe was shrouded in such secrecy that even the press of the day had significant doubts as to the veracity of the reports, which were heard by shortwave listeners of German radio broadcasts aimed at foreign audiences. In the days before, Roosevelt’s Office of War Information, or OWI, increasingly warned of the possibility of intentional false reports of an invasion by the Germans, in order to cause a premature response by the Resistance. Many reporters thought that this was what they were hearing.
Click here to listen to Bob Trout anchor Columbia Broadcasting System’s early morning coverage of the June 6, 1944 Normandy invasion on D-Day. Most fascinating, and in contrast to modern media’s delivery of news events, is CBS’ careful, scrupulously-vetted accounts of the Normandy landings.
Operations began several hours before, on the evening of June 5th. Minesweepers cleared the way for ships, and over a thousand bombers left before dawn to attack coastal defenses. Over 1,200 aircraft departed England just before midnight to drop three airborne divisions (U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne, and British 6th Airborne) behind enemy lines several hours before the beach landings. Their objectives ranged from securing positions on the Cotentin Peninsula, to capturing intact bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, which would be necessary to advance troops and equipment. The Free French 4th SAS battalion was also assigned objectives, in Brittany.
News reaches home. Click here to listen to part 2 of CBS’ broadcast on the morning of June 6, as Bob Trout walks listeners through the newsroom, reading bulletins off teletype machines. “FLASH,” he says, taking a moment to describe the rarity of that word in news circles. “LONDON – Eisenhower’s headquarters announces Allies land in France…” Finally, there was allied confirmation that the invasion was underway.
Operation Neptune, which targeted the Normandy coastline, commenced at 5:45am with naval bombardment, followed by the amphibious invasions of Utah Beach (U.S. 4th Infantry Division), Pointe du Hoc (2nd Ranger Battalion), Omaha Beach (U.S. 1st Infantry division, supplied by troops of the U.S. 29th Infantry Division), Gold Beach (British 1st Battalion and Hampshire Regiment), and Sword Beach (British 2nd Battalion and Shropshire Light Infantry). Some 132,000 men were transported by sea on D-Day, and a further 24,000 came by air.
Click here to listen to part 3 of CBS’ broadcast, which begins at about 5:00am Eastern War Time, when many Americans on the East Coast would’ve been waking up.
Although it was ultimately a success, not everything went according to plan. Rough seas and high winds made the landings at Gold and Juno difficult, causing delays, and aerial attacks failed to hit their intended targets, leaving many defenses in place. The landing at Omaha would be the most heavily defended. The U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry faced the German 352nd Infantry Division, rather than a single regiment, as expected. Strong currents forced landing craft to drift further east of their intended positions, and the men faced heavy fire from the cliffs above, leading to more casualties on Omaha than on all the other beaches combined.
At Point du Hoc, the plan was for 200 Army Rangers to scale the 98 ft. tall cliffs to destroy a gun battery there. While under heavy fire, they scaled the cliffs only to find the guns had already been removed. The surviving 90 men would eventually locate the guns about 600 yards further south, and disable them, but they would then have to fight to avoid capture for almost 2 days until relief came from the 743rd Tank Battalion.
Allied casualties on D-Day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Comparatively, the Germans lost 1,000 men. The invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah), linked with a front line 6-10 miles from the beaches. None of these objectives were achieved. The five bridgeheads were not connected until 6 days later, by which time the Allies held a front 60 miles long and 15 miles deep. Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until July 21st. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on June 6th, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
Hard battles followed. The Allies would go on to capture Cherbourg on June 26th, which was especially important because it would provide a deep-water harbor, and Caen by July 21st. They would breakout from the beachhead in early August and push south from Vire towards Avranches. Patton’s 3rd Army would reach Alencon on August 11th and the Canadians, under Montgomery, closed in around German forces, trapping more than 50,000 of them, by August 21st. Operations continued in the British and Canadian sectors until the end of August.
Meanwhile, the French Resistance in Paris rose against the Germans on August 19th. French forces of the 2nd Armored Division under General Philippe Leclerc arrived from the west on August 24th, while the U.S. 4th Infantry Division pressed up from the south. Scattered fighting continued throughout the night, and by the morning of August 25th, Paris was liberated.
The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion ever attempted, involving nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers. They hastened the end of the war in Europe, drawing large forces away from the Eastern Front that might otherwise have slowed the Soviet advance. The opening of another front in western Europe was also a tremendous psychological blow for Germany’s military, who feared a repetition of the two-front war of World War I.
June 6th is always a solemn day to remember the struggles of those who defended our freedoms and values, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This year may be a little more poignant, however, being the 75th anniversary. I encourage anyone reading this to listen to the audio clips included, because even from hindsight and the knowledge of history at our disposal, we can experience those extraordinary events with a surprise and anticipation, similar to those who experienced them firsthand over seventy-five years ago.
Canadian War Museum. 04 Jun 2019. D-Day and the Normandy Campaign: https://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/operations/ddaynormandy_e.html
Wikipedia. 04 Jun 2019. Operation Overlord: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Overlord
Internet Archive. 04 Jun 2019. Complete Broadcast Day – D-Day: https://archive.org/details/Complete_Broadcast_Day_D-Day/Complete_Broadcast_Day_440606_Part_001.mp3
The Telegraph. Newspaper. 03 Jun 2019. “British soldier taking part in D-Day celebrations drowns in France.” Photograph. Pegasus Bridge.
National WW2 Museum Archives. 03 Jun 2019. Photograph. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/d-day-allies-i