Old European map showing military movement for the Invasion of Normandy

Written by Todd DePastino

While reading Bill Bonnamy’s website devoted to the 319th Glider Field Artillery, 82nd Airborne Division, I was reminded just how long and drawn out the Normandy Campaign was in World War II. Look at the map above, available here, and you get a sense of how contained, contricted, and prolonged the fight was.

It was also deadly. The 319 Gliderman website (https://319gliderman.com) details the regiment’s movements from the jump in the wee hours of June 6, 1944, to the 82nd Airborne’s relief in early July. The Normandy campaign would go on to the end of the month (some date the end the liberation of Paris on August 25). By then, there were over 100,000 US casualties. Eisenhower had estimated only 10,000. Normandy proved a lot tougher than planned.

It all began, of course, with the beach landings on June 6, 1944, the meticulously planned and executed effort by the Allied forces to launch the liberation of Western Europe from German occupation.

Operation Overlord was by some measures the largest amphibious invasion in history. The operation commenced with an airborne assault followed by amphibious landings on five beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

The U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach (with our own Warren Goss), facing lighter resistance than expected. Strong currents pushed the landing crafts off course, but this resulted in landing on a less heavily defended section of the beach. The troops quickly secured the beachhead with relatively low casualties.

The U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions encountered fierce resistance from the well-entrenched German 352nd Infantry Division on Omaha Beach. The terrain favored the defenders, with high cliffs and heavily fortified positions. The initial assault saw high casualties, but through sheer determination and reinforcements, the beachhead was eventually secured by midday.

The British 50th Infantry Division faced moderate resistance on Gold Beach. They were tasked with capturing the town of Bayeux and the Caen-Bayeux road. Despite some difficulties, the objectives were achieved with the assistance of “funny” tanks, Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers and Duplex Drive tanks.

The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division encountered heavy resistance upon landing on Juno Beach. Despite initial losses, they penetrated inland and connected with British forces from Gold Beach, advancing towards their D-Day objectives.

Finally, the British 3rd Infantry Division landed on Sword Beach with the aim of capturing Caen. Although they faced stiff opposition, particularly from the 21st Panzer Division, they managed to secure the beach and push inland.

Following the initial landings, the Allies faced the challenge of consolidating their positions and linking the beachheads. This phase fighting through the region’s hedgerows, dense tangles of earth, roots, and foliage that prevented easy advance.  Securing key towns and routes, and fending off German counterattacks in the hedgerows took far longer and cost most lives than he Allies ever dreamed.

Take Caen, a key city in Normandy expected to be taken on June 6. But the city was heavily defended by the Panzergruppe West, including the elite 12th SS Panzer Division. It took until July 20, a number of offensive operations, and a large-scale large-scale armored to break through the German defenses and allow British and Canadian forces to liberate the city.

This effort was helped on June 27, 1944, with the capture of Cherbourg. For the first time, the Allies had a deep water port for supplying their expanding forces.

With the capture of Caen in late July and the consolidation of the beachheads, the next phase focused on breaking out of the Normandy region.

This was called Operation Cobra, and it began on July 25, 1944. The operation achieved its first success near Saint-Lô, leading to the rapid advance of Allied forces across the French countryside.

As the Allies advanced, German forces found themselves increasingly encircled. The Falaise Pocket formed in mid-August, trapping the remnants of the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army. The closure of the pocket by August 21, 1944, resulted in the destruction or capture of a significant portion of German forces in Normandy, marking the end of the campaign and the opening of the path to Paris.

The Allies advanced to the City of Light rapidly as German forces retreated.

On August 19, 1944, the French Resistance in Paris initiated an uprising against the German occupiers. General Charles de Gaulle and the Free French forces played a crucial role in coordinating with the Allies.

On August 25, 1944, Paris was finally liberated. The 2nd French Armored Division, under General Philippe Leclerc, and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division entered the city, leading to the surrender of the German garrison. General de Gaulle led a triumphant parade down the Champs-Élysées, symbolizing the return of French sovereignty and the collapse of German occupation in Western Europe.