D-Day: 75 years on

How slaughter on the beaches of Northern France paved the way for allied success in WW2

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This week sees the 75th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Overlord, also known more famously as the D-Day landings. It was the beginning of the allied efforts to regain a foothold in Europe and, despite major casualties, it was an attack which turned the tide of the Second World War.

Over 150,000 soldiers landed, via sea and air, on the beaches and coastline of Northern France on June 6th 1944. The land assault was divided up into five beaches across a 50 mile front; Omaha, Juno, Sword, Gold and Utah.

After almost 5 years of war, the Allies needed to strike at the heart of Nazi occupied Europe. They chose this particular part of northern France to do so and the combined forces of the USA, Britain and the commonwealth were tasked with charging up the beaches and being airdropped behind enemy lines.

The beaches were heavily defended and had little to no cover, meaning that advancing troops were vulnerable to machine gun fire and artillery; not to mention the mines buried beneath their feet. Ships shelled the coastline in an attempt to numb the impact of German defences and to some extent the advancing troops had aerial cover from allied fighter planes

Bad weather also prevented landing crafts from getting close to the beaches, meaning soldiers had even more ground to cover. The first waves suffered the worst, with American troops on Omaha beach being cut to pieces often as soon as the craft doors opened. German machine guns pinned down those who they didn’t hit.

It will go down in history as a successful assault, yet it was only ever minutes away from total failure. One of the biggest factors to the allied success was the element of surprise. The Germans knew that an invasion was coming, but the time and location were unknown. Fortunately, the details about the attack were protected by Britain’s codebreakers of Bletchley Park.

They intercepted Nazi messages from Europe detailing logistics, allowing Allied high command to plan when was best to attack. The icebreakers also sent out fake messages for the Germans to intercept talking of the attacking taking place at a different location. Thanks to these two actions carried out in a small town in Buckinghamshire, the allied forces were able to attack a section of French coastline far less defended than it could have been.

If the landings were not a success and if the allies were pushed back in a similar fashion to the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940, it could have spelled the beginning of a German victory. There would have been renewed optimism within the Nazi regime and the allies would have been, if it was costly enough, months and possibly years away from having the resources to invade once again.

Britons had fresh hope from seeing RAF and USAF bombing missions reduce German cities to the ground much like had been done to them previously, so the success of D-Day was of paramount importance to the Allied leaders.

It is not often considered, but defeat for the Allies on D-Day would have been catastrophic.

The strategic importance of D-Day often overshadows the human cost. A foothold in France opened up and allowed the alllies to gradually push the Germans back to Berlin. However, it was costly for both sides.

The actual total will probably never be known, but upwards of a quart of a million soldiers were killed and wounded. It did, arguably, shorten the war by potentially 2 years, meaning that the sacrifice cannot be forgotten as it saved countless more lives being wasted.

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