This World War II Battle (To Crush Hitler) Required History's Largest Naval Operation

Warfare History Network, Michael E. Haskew

Key point: German forces surrendered 11 months later.

Commonly known as D-Day, the Western Allies invaded Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II on June 6, 1944. The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord, took place in Normandy on five beaches codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah, and Omaha. American General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the Allied buildup and execution of Operation Overlord. The invasion included more than 160,000 combat troops and over 5,000 ships and landing craft. Allied air forces engaged in photo reconnaissance, fighter sweeps to ensure control of the air, and strategic and tactical bombing in the hopes of softening German defenses.

Heavy Fortifications

In anticipation of an invasion in the West, Adolf Hitler directed that a system of defensive fortifications be erected along the Atlantic coast. Construction was advanced in some areas, particularly the Pas de Calais, where the Nazis expected the invasion, but were incomplete. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took command of the Atlantic Wall defenses in the autumn of 1943, and energized the construction effort. The troops defending the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, included crack German infantry divisions and Russian and Polish conscripts pressed into service by the Nazis. One of the fatal flaws in the German defensive scheme was the retention of armored, or panzer, units under the direct control of Hitler. The field commanders, therefore, were unable to commit panzer reserves in time to decisively impact the German defensive effort. This was due in part to the success of Allied Operation Fortitude, which convinced Hitler that the real invasion was coming at Calais even after the obvious commitment of Allied resources to Normandy on June 6.

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