After a year of planning and further weeks and months of delays, preparation and decoy invasion forces, Allied forces this morning set foot once again on the European continent.
The Operation, code-named Neptune began as early as just after midnight last night. Gliders and paratroopers of the British 6th Airborne Division dropped in behind enemy lines near Caen to secure bridges and roads. The U.S. 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions dropped near Ste. Mere-Eglise and Carentan to achieve the same objective - to secure bridges and roads in order to safeguard the larger coming forces.
Churchill is said to be unavailable for comment and Hitler is believed to have found out about the landings only in mid-morning.
General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, said today, "Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.*"
The landings themselves took part along the whole of the Normandy coast facing the United Kingdom and come after weeks of deceiving the Germans into thinking that the 'big' invasion would be across the Channel towards Calais. This reporter has learnt of a "phantom" army existing in the south east of England, built to convince Hitler of the Allies' intentions to attack through the Straits of Dover.
At first light, the seas off Normandy were full of Allied ships and landing craft. A large aerial and naval bombardment of German defences is said to have been quite successful in both clearing beach defences (particularly mines) and softening up the defenders themselves.
The Allies were strung out along the Normandy coastline as such (west to east):
It is difficult at this early stage to comment on the success of failure of these landings although the Americans faced stiff resistance on the Omaha beach where early reports talk of around 4000 killed.
The whole of the west European coastline has been fortified - Rommel's infamous Atlantic Wall. Millions of anti-personnel mines are said to be strewn along the French beaches from the north to the south. Add to this the considerable forces present there, despite the best troops being held further North near Calais, and it can be seen how tough a job those who landed on the sands of Normandy today have had.
Overall, however, the German reaction to today's landing have been less severe than expected. We asked the DailyPast.com military expert James Cargill why this might be.
"The Germans have been expecting an attack further to the north. That much is clear. The weather today is better than it was yesterday but worse than that normally required for an invasion. There is quite a sea swell and it is pretty windy. Not like June at all. In that sense, we took them by surprise."
"Rommel is in Germany at present, celebrating his wife's birthday we are told. The Germans are probably reluctant to release too many forces in the Normandy theatre for fear of a second landing in the far more strategically important Pas de Calais area. The truth is, they are stretched, especially when you consider their difficulties on the eastern front."
The Allied objectives at this point seem to be to secure the cities of Caen and Cherbourg and then be in a position to move eastwards toward the centre of France and Paris itself.
If we are to believe current reports coming in, it seems likely that as evening falls tonight on Europe, the Allies have gained a foothold with up to 150,000 men ashore. The coming days will see the expected German fightback as the Allies attempt to reinforce their forces as quickly as possible.
This could be the beginning of the end.
Neil Coghlan © 2002-2006 All Rights Reserved