The Normandy Landings, which commenced on D-Day - 6 June 1944 - were the largest and most meticulously planned Allied operation of the Second World War. It was also the most difficult...
German forces, directed by Field Marshal Rommel, had strongly fortified the French coast. To stand any chance of overcoming these defences the Allies needed optimum conditions: a late-rising full moon, a receding tide, good visibility, sparse cloud cover and low winds. The unreliable Channel weather made this an elusive combination. After one postponement the operation was scheduled for 6 June 1944; and even then the conditions were less than ideal, with blustery seas and 50 per cent cloud cover.
The Normandy landings were a stupendous feat of organisation. During the operation more than 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel. Airborne operations and naval bombardments complimented the amphibious assault phases. Thousands of paratroops and glider pilot regiments were precariously dropped behind enemy lines. On the beaches, large numbers of specially commissioned landing craft docked at artificial harbours built for the purpose.
Landings were made at five separate locations - the British and Canadians landed at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches while the Americans landed at Omaha and Utah beaches. Despite initial difficulties, particularly at Omaha beach, within a week a continuous beachhead had been established along 50 miles of coastline.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the operation was the secrecy of the preparations. In order to keep the destination of the landings unknown, a massive deception operation called ‘Operation Fortitude’ was devised. Within this plan, MI5’s hugely successful Twenty Committee was responsible for operating double agents to feed false information to enemy agents.
The Germans were led to believe that the location of the landings would be either Norway or Pas De Calais, and the deception included the creation of a fictitious First US Army Group, with dummy tanks and planes positioned on Britain’s east coast.
The meticulous planning was a triumph and when the landings finally began, only 14 out of the 58 enemy divisions in France faced the allies.
D-Day was the most significant turning point of the war as it allowed the Allied forces to push back into Europe. The scale and significance of the operation still resonates even today, 60 years later, and we offer our hugest respect and gratitude to all involved.