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The Normandy Campaign: Overview

The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, from L to R: Lt. Gen. Bradley, Adm. Ramsay, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Gen. Eisenhower, Gen. Montgomery, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, Lt. Gen. Smith.

Allied victory in Europe required the destruction of Nazi Germany. Great Britain and the United States committed to an invasion through France, Operation Overlord, to cooperate with the Soviet Union in achieving that goal.

Daylight bombing raid on the railway yards at Tourcoing, France by aircraft of 2nd Tactical Air Force in preparation for D-Day.
A large group of Landing Craft Tanks moored along Southampton in preparation for D-Day.

A massive Allied force of almost three million built up in the British Isles. Allied bombing and French Resistance attacks isolated the future battlefield, while elaborate security and deception plans focused German attention in the vicinity of Pas-de-Calais. 

101st Airborne Division on board C-47 heading for France on the night of the invasion.

On the night of June 5-6, 1944 American and British paratroopers landed in Normandy to secure egress from the beachheads, disrupt German counterattacks, and guard the flanks of selected beaches. On the morning of June 6, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Navy amphibious craft landed six Allied divisions, massively supported by air and naval bombardment, on beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. 

An LCVP carries GIs of the 1st Infantry Division, 6th Regimental Combat Team in the second assault wave on D-Day to Omaha Beach.

Difficult seas and weather interfered with the landings, as did staunch German resistance. The situation turned particularly desperate on Omaha beach, where soldiers from the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions clawed their way up bluffs dominating the shoreline in the face of withering fire. Naval fire support was often at point-blank range. By day’s end more than 100,000 Allied soldiers were ashore, and a foothold had been established.

2nd Infantry Division advances inland from Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944.

After further fierce fighting the Allies linked up the several beaches and pushed inland. Here they faced difficult bocage country, small fields broken up by centuries-old hedgerows. These favored the defense. More open country existed around Caen, but here German armored units massed for counterattacks that heavily attrited both sides.

M4A1 Sherman with 76mm gun moves through the ‚ bocage‚ (hedgerows) of Normandy. 1944.

The American VII Corps pushed across the Cotentin Peninsula to isolate Cherbourg by June 18, and secured that city ten days later after savage fighting. The British continued their attacks on Caen, pushing beyond the city by July 20 and drawing in German mobile reserves. Meanwhile the Americans attacked ground on through the bocage to secure St. Lo on July 18. Here they reached ground suitable for mechanized warfare, and the massive build-up of units and supplies within the beachhead positioned them for a breakout offensive.

German prisoners being marched out of Cherbourg by U.S. soldiers in June 1944.
After the capture of St. Lo on July 18, 1944 two French children watch convoys of trucks go through their almost completely destroyed city.