During the night of June 5, 1944, Allied aircraft dropped paratroopers inland in Normandy. Their mission was to disrupt and hinder German reinforcements from reaching the coast, for one of the most diligently planned invasions in military history was about to occur. By the dawn of the next day, American, British, Canadian and other forces would invade the Norman beaches labeled (from east to west) Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The key event leading to the success of Operation Overlord—the battle for Normandy—was about to take place; D-Day, perhaps the most famous military operation of World War Two, had finally arrived.
The Allies could hardly have found a better day to attack Normandy. On June 6, the German forces in Normandy were surprisingly leaderless. Erwin Rommel, who had overseen the construction of Normandy’s iconic defenses and obstacles, was away in mainland Germany to see his family. Similarly, many officers and division commanders were away from their posts to participate in war games. Nevertheless, Allied forces were spotted by German scouts as early as 0400 hours (4:00 A.M.), but very little was done with the information.
The German defense of Normandy was also crippled by none other than Germany’s own Führer. Adolf Hitler maintained enormous control over the German reserve divisions. When messages were sent to Hitler (again, around 0400 hours) in the early morning, reporting of an Allied attack at Normandy, the Führer was still sound asleep. General Alfred Jodl, the chief of operations who received the report from Normandy, was terrified at the thought of waking Hitler from his slumber. Therefore, he did not act on the request for reinforcements to be sent to Normandy, hoping that the Führer would soon wake and release the reserves.
Once Hitler was finally awake and informed of the attack at Normandy, he largely disregarded the information. He believed the attack was a feint—a decoy—to distract German defenses from a larger invasion near Calais. The German high command was so cautious that they hesitated until the afternoon of June 6 to give the 21st Panzer Division approval to reinforce Normandy.
By this point, however, it was too late to push the Allies back to the English Channel. At the end of June 6 (D+1), it is believed that around 177,000 Allied troops had poured into Normandy.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations Since 1871(Volume II), by Robert A. Doughty and Ira D. Gruber et al. Massachusetts: D. C. heath and Company.