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6th June 1944

US landings at Normandy  (FDR Library, click to enlarge)

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Arcadia Conference - In late December and early January, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met in Washington DC. They agreed to the setting up of a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and to the defeat of Germany as the first priority.

JUNE 1942

Anglo-US Talks - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for another series of meetings with President Roosevelt. Agreement did not come easily on the question of where to open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the British considered this impossible at present and proposed the invasion of French North Africa.


19th - Raid on Dieppe: Operation 'Jubilee' - Unable to open a Second Front in Europe, the Western Allies decided to mount a large-scale raid on the French coast to take some of the pressure off the Russians. Dieppe proved an expensive but important lesson in the problems of landing in occupied Europe at a defended port.





MAY 1943

Anglo-US Conference - Winston Churchill travelled to the Trident Conference for his third major meeting in Washington DC. The invasion of Sicily had now been agreed and he pressed for follow-up landings in Italy. The cross-Channel invasion of Europe continued to be a major topic of discussion and D-day was set for May 1944.


Normandy Invasion - In late December the commanders for the invasion of Europe were announced. US General Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander with Air Marshal Tedder as deputy. In charge of all naval operations under the code name 'Neptune' was Adm Sir Bertram Ramsey.



MAY 1944

Air War - The Allied air forces concentrated their considerable energies against targets mainly in France, in preparation for the D-day landings.


JUNE 1944


6th - Normandy Invasion: Operation 'Overlord' 

Following approval of the outline plans for the Allied landings in France at the August 1943 Quebec Conference, detailed preparation was put in hand for putting ashore three divisions on the Normandy coast between the Rivers Vire and Orne. Supplies were to be carried in initially through two 'Mulberry' artificial harbours. When Eisenhower and Montgomery arrived on the scene they insisted on a five-division assault, including one on the Cotentin Peninsula to speed up the capture of Cherbourg. The extra shipping and landing craft needed meant pushing the date from May to 5th June. Unseasonably bad weather postponed the actual landings to the 6th. After gaining bridgeheads in Normandy, Eisenhower's aims were to build up enough strength for a decisive battle in the area, before breaking out to take the Channel ports and reach the German border on a broad front. Meanwhile, the right flank would link up with Allied forces coming up from southern France. A further increase in strength would be used to destroy the German forces west of the Rhine before crossing this major barrier and encircling the important Ruhr industrial centre. The final advance through Germany could then follow. Vital to all these steps was the opening of enough ports to bring in the reinforcements and vast amount of supplies needed.  

Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force - US Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower

Deputy Commander - Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder

Allied Naval Expeditionary Force
Adm Sir B Ramsey

21st Army Group
Gen Sir B Montgomery

Allied Expeditionary Air Force
Air Chief Marshall Sir T Leigh-Mallory

Gen Montgomery remained in command of ground forces until September 1944 when Gen Eisenhower assumed direct control. For the purposes of 'Overlord', RAF Bomber Command and the Eighth US Air Force were placed under the operational direction of the Supreme Commander to add to the aircraft of the Allied Tactical Air Forces.

From his headquarters outside Portsmouth on 1st June, Adm Ramsey took command of the immense armada of ships collected together for Operation 'Neptune', the naval part of 'Overlord'.

Landing Areas: Normandy coast on the SE edge of the Cotentin Peninsular ("Utah"),
and between Rivers Vire and Orne ("Omaha", "Gold", "Juno", "Sword")

21st Army Group - Gen Montgomery
Five US, British, Canadian infantry divisions, followed by one US infantry and one British armoured division, total of 130,000 Allied troops

Forces landing and areas of departure: US Beaches
US First Army - US Gen Bradley
"Utah" Beach - US 7th Corps from Dartmouth area
"Omaha" Beach - US 5th Corps from Portland area

"Omaha" Beach follow-up: one US infantry division from Plymouth area
British & Canadian Beaches
British Second Army - Gen Dempsey
"Gold" Beach - British 30th Corps from Southampton area
"Juno" Beach - Canadian forces of British 1st Corps from Portsmouth area
"Sword" Beach - British 1st Corps from Newhaven area
follow-up: British armoured division from Thames area
Naval Task Forces and Commanders (RN refers to both Royal and Dominion Navy vessels) Western
Rear-Adm A G Kirk USN
Rear-Adm Sir P Vian
Assault Phase Warships Warships
Battleships 3 US 3 RN
Cruisers 10 (5 RN, 3 US, 2 French) 13 (12 RN, 1 Allied)
Destroyers & escorts 51 (11 RN, 36 US, 4 French) 84 (74 RN, 3 French, 7 Allied)
Other warships, incl. minesweepers & coastal forces 260 (135 RN, 124 US, 1 Allied) 248 (217 RN, 30 US, 1 Allied)
Total Warships 324 (151 RN, 166 US, 6 French,
1 Allied)
348 (306 RN, 30 US, 3 French,
9 Allied)
Major Amphibious Forces Landing & Ferry Vessels Landing & Ferry Vessels
LSIs, landing ships & craft 644 (147 RN, 497 US) 955 (893 RN, 62 US)
Ferry service vessels & landing craft 220 (RN & US) 316 (RN & US)
Totals incl. Warships 1,188 1,619
Grand Total 2,807
Plus minor landing craft 836 1,155

Naval & Maritime Forces

The two Naval Task Forces totalled 672 warships for assault convoy escort, minesweeping, shore bombardment, local defence, etc, and 4,126 major and minor landing ships and craft for initial assault and ferry purposes: a grand total of 4,798. To this can be added the following:

(1) Home Command for follow-up escort and Channel patrols, plus reserves:

1 battleship (RN);
118 destroyers and escorts (108 RN, 4 US, 1 French, 5 Allied);
364 other warships including coastal forces (340 RN, 8 French, 16 Allied).

(2) Western Channel Approaches A/S Escort Groups and reserves:

3 escort carriers (RN),
55 destroyers and escort vessels (RN).

(3) Merchant ships in their hundreds - mainly British liners, tankers, tugs, etc to supply and support the invasion and naval forces.

(4) British 'Mulberry' harbour project of two artificial harbours and five 'Gooseberry' breakwaters including:

400 'Mulberry' units totalling 1.5 million tons and including up to 6,000-ton 'Phoenix' concrete breakwaters;

160 tugs for towing;

59 old merchantmen and warships to be sunk as blockships for the 'Gooseberries'. All were in place by the 10th June.

(5) Specially equipped British vessels for laying PLUTO - Pipeline Under The Ocean - across the Channel from the Isle of Wight to carry petroleum fuel.

The assault forces sailed from their ports of departure on the 5th to a position off the Isle of Wight, and headed south through swept channels down 'The Spout' towards Normandy. Two midget submarines were already on station off the British sector, ready to guide in the landing craft. Partly because of elaborate deception plans, partly because of poor weather, both strategic and tactical surprise was achieved. The invasion was not expected in such weather conditions and certainly not in Normandy. The Germans expected the Pas-de-Calais with its much shorter sea-crossing to be the target although realised that diversionary landings might be made in Normandy.

Soon after midnight on the morning of the 6th, the invasion got underway with the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions dropping behind 'Utah' beach and the British 6th Airborne between 'Sword' beach and Caen. At dawn, after heavy preliminary air and sea bombardments, and with complete Allied air supremacy, the landings went ahead. Royal Marine Commandos Nos 47, 48 and 41 took part in the assaults on the British and Canadian beaches. Against varying degrees of resistance, the toughest on 'Omaha', all five beachheads were established by the end of the day and 150,000 Allied troops were on French soil. 'Omaha' linked up with the British and Canadian beaches by the 8th, and two days later - the 10th - 'Utah' made contact with 'Omaha'. On the 12th, 330,000 men and 50,000 vehicles were ashore.

As US Seventh Corps fought its way across the Cotentin, the rest of US First Army thrust forward around St Lo. Further east the British and Canadian Corps of British Second Army battled their way around Caen against fierce German counter-attacks. By the 18th the Americans had reached the western side of Cotentin and Seventh Corps headed north for the port of Cherbourg.

Between the 19th and 22nd, violent Channel gales wrecked the US 'Mulberry' harbour off 'Omaha' and seriously damaged the British one off 'Gold' beach. Many landing craft and DUKWS were lost and a total of 800 driven ashore. Only the British harbour was repaired and the need for Cherbourg became even more important. By the 27th, with strong gunfire support from Allied warships, the port was in US hands. Although the installations were wrecked and the waters heavily mined, the first supply ships were discharging their cargoes by mid-July.

As Cherbourg fell, British troops of Second Army started a major attack to the west of Caen (Operation 'Epsom') but were soon held by the Germans.

By the end of June nearly 660,000 men had landed in France. Although the Allies were well established on the coast and possessed all the Cotentin Peninsular, the Americans had still not taken St Lo, nor the British and Canadians the town of Caen, originally a target for D-day. German resistance, particularly around Caen was ferocious, but the end result was similar to the Tunisian campaign. More and more well-trained German troops were thrown into the battle, so that when the Allies did break out of Normandy the defenders lost heavily and lacked the men to stop the Allied forces from almost reaching the borders of Germany.

Normandy Beaches - In spite of the vast number of warships lying off the Normandy beaches and escorting the follow-up convoys, losses were comparatively few, although mines, especially of the pressure-operated variety were troublesome:

6th - Destroyer "WRESTLER" escorting a Canadian assault group to 'Juno', was badly damaged by a mine and not repaired.

8th - Frigate "LAWFORD" on patrol in Seine Bay, also after escorting an assault group to 'Juno', was bombed and sunk.

9th - Old light cruiser "DURBAN" was expended off Ouistreham as one of the 'Gooseberry' breakwaters. Sister ship, the Polish-manned "DRAGON" was damaged in early July and joined her in this final but important role.

12th - By now the battleship "Warspite", the ship that ended the war with the greatest number of Royal Navy battle honours, had left her gunfire support duties off the Normandy beaches to be fitted with replacement gun barrels. On passage to Rosyth, Scotland she was damaged by a mine of Harwich and out of action until August. Then she returned in the support role bombarding Brest.

13th - Escorting a follow-up convoy to the beaches, destroyer "BOADICEA" was sunk in the English Channel off Portland Bill by torpedo bombers.

18th - Battleship "Nelson" was slightly damaged by a mine as she fired her guns off the beaches.

21st - Destroyer "FURY" was mined and driven ashore in the gales that played havoc with the Mulberry harbours. She was refloated but not repaired.

23rd - Adm Vian's flagship, the AA cruiser "Scylla", was also mined in Seine Bay. Seriously damaged, she was out of action until after the war and then never fully re-commissioned.

24th - Mines claimed another victim. Destroyer "SWIFT's" back was broken and she went down five miles off the British beaches.

25th - As cruiser "Glasgow" in company with US warships bombarded Cherbourg, she received several hits from shore batteries and was out of action for the rest of the war. Nine days after carrying King George VI on a visit to Normandy, cruiser "Arethusa" was slightly damaged by a mine or bomb while anchored off the beaches.

Three US destroyers and a destroyer escort were also lost off Normandy in June.

Channel Patrols - Attempts by German light forces to interfere with invasion shipping had little effect and they suffered heavy losses. However, on D-day, torpedo boats sank the Norwegian destroyer "SVENNER". Then on the night of the 8th/9th another force of destroyers and torpedo boats tried to break through from Brest but was intercepted by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of 'Tribals' off Ushant. Destroyer "ZH-1" (ex-Dutch) was damaged by "Tartar" and torpedoed and sunk by "Ashanti", and "Z-32" driven ashore by the Canadian "Haida" and "Huron" and later blown up.

Western Channel Approaches - Aircraft of Coastal Command and Escort Groups of the RN and RCN on patrol at the west end of the English Channel and its approaches were ready for any attempt by U-boats to reach the 'Neptune' ships. Only schnorkel-equipped boats dared try, and the few that did had little success. In June they lost 12 of their number: off the Channel, aircraft sank five including "U-629" and "U-373" in one day, the 8th, to one RAF Liberator of No 224 Squadron (Flg Off K. Moore). Two more went down in the Bay of Biscay as they returned from Atlantic patrol. Warships accounted for the remaining five, but two frigates were sunk and other escorts severely damaged:

15th - Frigate "BLACKWOOD" was torpedoed off Brittany by "U-764" and sank in tow off Portland Bill.

15th - Frigate "MOURNE" was sunk by "U-767" off Land's End.

18th - Three days after sinking "Mourne", "U-767" was caught off the Channel Islands by destroyers "Fame", "Havelock" and "Inconstant" of 14th EG and sent to the bottom.

24th - Destroyers "Eskimo" and Canadian "Haida" of 10th Flotilla, together with a Czech Wellington of No 311 Squadron, sank "U-971" off Ushant.

25th - Two U-boats were lost off Start Point in the English Channel - "U-1191" to frigates "Affleck" and "Balfour" of the 1st EG, and "U-269" to "Bickerton" (Capt Macintyre) of the 5th EG.

27th/29th - Two days after badly damaging corvette "PINK" (constructive total loss) on the 27th and sinking two merchantmen, "U-988" was caught and sank off the Channel Islands by frigates "Cooke", "Domett", "Duckworth" and "Essington" of 3rd EG and a RAF Liberator of No 224 Squadron.

Normandy to Berlin is continued in Western Front June 1944-May 1945

link to D-Day Museum, Portsmouth


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