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Operation Overlord and D-Day

On the beaches

At 10pm on the 5th June British, Free French, Canadian and American forces set sail to face their destiny across the Channel in Normandy. Many never returned.

The British approached beaches at Arromanches and Ouistreham were they also fought alongside the French troops. These beaches were given the code names of ‘Gold’ and ‘Sword’. Canadian forces attacked at Courseilles, or ‘Juno’. The first forces however to attack German occupied Normandy beaches were the American troops at Ste-Mere-Eglise ('Utah' beach) and Vierville ('Omaha' Beach).

The crossing was wet and windy. Many soldiers suffered terrible seasickness; others also had to contend with their landing craft taking on water. Many soldiers had to bail the vessels out with their helmets.

[25275] 'California'

magnify Troopship 'California'

The American troops landing on the beaches had two main objectives. On Omaha beach they were instructed to reach a certain point inland (Issigny) and destroy the Pointe du Hoc gun battery. At Utah beach they were to form a bridgehead and then join up with airborne divisions. For many it was their first experience of active combat.

Under heavy fire the troops disembarked from landing craft, many drowning before even reaching the beaches. The men in boat number 1 of Able Company left their landing craft in water over their heads, most drowned, some managed to cling to the sides of the craft. Many troops never made it from their vessels falling under heavy machine gun and mortar fire from defending troops ideally placed on cliffs overlooking the beach. 

Through sheer weight of numbers victory was gained eventually and the German forces were overwhelmed. Success was achieved with a high price in human lives.A military cemetery at nearby Colleville holds the graves of over 9000 American troops. In total, Allied casualties for just the 6th June were over 10,000. During the extended battle for Normandy there were nearly half a million Allied and German casualties. The entire region is poignantly littered with graves of servicemen of all nationalities involved.


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