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Operation Neptune: The Normandy Landings

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bonnie Grantham
  • 319th Air Base Wing
America entered World War II in 1941, after Germany had invaded and occupied northwestern France in May 1940. Britain and America began considering the possibility of a major allied invasion across the English Channel in 1942, and by the following year, allied plans for a cross-Channel invasion began to take shape.

The Germans didn't know exactly where the Allies would strike, but Adolf Hitler put Erwin Rommel in charge of finishing the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile fortification of bunkers, landmines and beach and water obstacles.

The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, were the landing operations on June 6, 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord.

Before the landings could take place, the Allies began conducting a military deception codenamed Operation Bodyguard. The intent of Operation Bodyguard was to deceive the Germans on the date and the location of where the Allies would land. This was achieved through many tactics including fake equipment, a phantom army commanded by George Patton, double agents and fraudulent radio transmissions.

In January 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was appointed commander of Operation Overlord. Eisenhower chose June 5, 1944, as the original D-day for Operation Neptune, the largest seaborne invasion in history. The requirements for D-Day to be effective were very specific to include the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day, making only a few days in each month ideal for the operation. However, bad weather caused the operation to be delayed 24 hours.

Early morning on June 6, more than 24,000 British, American and Canadian airborne troops were on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. At 6:30 a.m., the amphibious landings by Allied forces began taking place on the coast of France.

The British and Canadians captured beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword, while the Americans captured Utah Beach. However, more than 2,000 U.S. forces were killed while facing heavy resistance at Omaha Beach.

Regardless of the countless lives lost during D-Day operations, approximately 156,000 Allied troops were able to successfully storm Normandy's beaches.
On June 11, more than 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment had landed on the secured Normandy beaches. The Allies fought across the countryside in Normandy in the weeks that followed. They successfully seized the vital port of Cherbourg, landed approximately 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across France.

The Allies reached the Seine River, Paris by the end of August 1944, and the Germans were removed from northwestern France. The Battle of Normandy was concluded, and the Allies prepared to enter Germany to meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east.

The Normandy invasion was a significant psychological blow to the Nazis that prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Easter Front against the advancing Soviets. It is considered the turning point in the war that led up to the eventual surrender of Nazi Germany May 8, 1945.

Today there are many memorials located in the European countries where Allied forces fought. At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbor are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. In Normandy, there is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, a couple of museums commemorating the landings and activities of American Airmen in the local area and two German military cemeteries nearby.