Just before midnight on June 5th, Eisenhower gave the “O.K., We’ll go” and the more than 20,000 airborne troops parachuted, after the okay, into France to capture the bridges and roads to complete their goal. Even though the paratroopers were scattered compared to where they were supposed to drop, it worked out for the better. The scattering confused the enemy by not allowing them to have an idea of the size or scope of the invasion.
By dawn on June 6th, 1944, through the fog, Allied warships were appearing off Normandy beach. Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion in history.
“(Duplex-Drive) tanks were designed to preserve the element of surprise during an amphibious assault by hiding the bulk of the tank below the waterline until it reached shore.” - Brett Phaneuf "D-Day - The Untold Story."
Most of the tanks that were transported to Normandy never made it to shore. The Germans shot mortar shells at the boats and the canvas “bloomers” that were designed to float the tanks onto the beach.
The US Destroyer Corry was targeted by the Germans and at 6:10 am Allied planes laid a smoke screen. However, one of the planes was shot down and it was the one that was supposed to cover Corry. At 6:30 am Corry struck a mine and the main deck went underwater. They lost 24 men but 240 survived. The surviving men jumped off into the 54 degree water.
Utah beach had appeared to be the most difficult and hazardous of the 5 beaches. It had turned out to be the easiest and least costly.
“By the time the first seaborne units touched down in the shallow waters and upon the yellow sand at Utah’s edge, American soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had been fighting for hours upon the soil of France. The paratroopers had quickly dominated the countryside for as far as seven miles inland from the beach, drawing upon themselves defensive fire which would have otherwise been concentrated upon the seaborne landings.” - Kenneth S. Davis "Overlord: The Allies' Triumph in Normandy."
The first infantry assault had much less enemy fire than what was thought to have happened and the maps the troops were believed to be wrong. They later found out that they had landed a mile off course. Where they were supposed to land was heavily defended and many would have died. Thirty-six square miles of French soil was liberated at Utah beach at the cost of less than 200 infantry soldiers’ lives.
Omaha beach was the most difficult part of the invasion. Mines covered the only exits of the beach that were four ravines which lead to heavily mined roads.
“The enemy poured a withering fire upon landing crafts as they touched down and upon the troops who floundered out of them into shallow water, where many not killed by shot or shell or mine were drowned when they were wounded or stumbled under their heavy burdens. All seemed to be confusion and chaos.” - Kenneth S. Davis "Overlord: The Allies' Triumph in Normandy."
Soldiers were brought down under the water to drown by the tide. Also their equipment and soaked pack could pin them to the ocean floor. Some soldiers risked their lives to try and save others by jumping in the water to pull them ashore. Germans were mowing down the brave ones trying to save the drowning and the drowning just trying to stay alive.
German Pfc. Hein Severloh was behind a machine gun at Omaha beach watching the American GIs on the ramps of the landing crafts.
“My order,” he recalls, “was to get them when they were still in one line, one after another, before they started spreading. So I did not have to swing my gun sideways… The water sprayed up where my machine gun bursts landed, and when the small fountains came closer to the GIs, they threw themselves down… Very soon the first bodies were drifting in the waves of the rising tide… In a short time, all the GIs down there were shot.” - "Untold Stories of D-Day." National Geographic.
After killing many American GIs he surrendered once they gained control of Omaha beach.
In the morning there was barely any forward movement because of the heavy fire from the Germans.
“Nearly all Americans who survived the bloody approach spent all of D-Day morning huddled helplessly, fearfully, under a seawall and behind beach obstacles and stalled vehicles.” - Kenneth S. Davis "Overlord: The Allies' Triumph in Normandy."
However, small groups of men took it upon themselves, even if they were seriously injured to blast holes in barbwire and clear lanes through minefields. Without that effort and Germans not having an intense counterattack because of Operation Overlord’s being a surprise, infantry men would not have been able to advance up the bluffs and vehicles began to move off the beach and up the ravines. The invasion caused the front to push 1 to 1 and a half miles inland. Reinforcements and supplies were sent to Omaha beach in massive quantities.
Sword Beach had 650 casualties. The attack began an hour later than that of Omaha and Utah because of patches of quicksand. The troops had to wait for the tide to rise higher to cover the quicksand so boats, amphibious vehicles and men could make it to shore. British and Canadian soldiers by night fall were linked up in a continuous front four to six miles inland from Gold and Juno.
Even though every unit but one had mislanded, Operation Overlord was a success. The Allies dominated the sky and lost 11,000 casualties out of 156,000 men in those fateful 24 hours. It was truly the longest day. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was sent to France to reorganize the channel’s defenses. He rightfully said,
“The war will be won or lost on the beaches. The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive.” - Kenneth S. Davis "Overlord: The Allies' Triumph in Normandy."
had won the battle and began the ending of WWII.