History

Published on July 12th, 2014 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM

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A military operation that changed the world seventy years ago

For the « D-Day » anniversary, the world arranged to meet on June 6 on the coast of Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings. This is a huge event similar in size to Operation Overlord, the largest military operation of World War II.

Obama & Holland

The U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and the French President, Francois Hollande, look Omaha Beach (Calvados), during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2014. Photo by France TV Info

Operation Overlord was the code name given to the allied invasion of France scheduled for June 1944. The general in command of the operation was the American General Dwight Eisenhower. His appointment as head of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was announced jointly by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on December 24, 1943. Eisenhower was entrusted with this mission and went, therefore, to London in order to plan the Normandy Landings.

Other high commanders for Operation Overlord were involved, such as, the Air Marshal Arthur Tedder (Deputy Supreme Commander), Admiral Bertram Ramsay (Naval Force Commander), the Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory (Air Force Commander) and the British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Land Forces Commander), in collaboration with General Omar Bradley (leader of the first U.S. Army that had landed in Normandy) and General Dempsey (British 2nd army).

Operation Overlord required logistics that no army had ever faced before, and the strategic plan of the Allies had landed a large amount of men and equipment at the end of D-Day itself.

débarquement

Soldiers on barges. Photo by NouvelObs

Three million allied soldiers, aviators and sailors took part in the operation of which a half million were Americans, one million British and Canadians, and various contingents from other Allied countries: free French, Belgian, Dutch etc…

About 11,000 aircraft and 6,000 warships and transports sailed in the great crusade. Cruise ships were requisitioned for transatlantic crossings, as the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, capable of carrying 15,000 men on each pass.

Operation Overlord included the participation of many people, both in Britain and France via the Resistance. Security for the project should have been kept completely secret. The Allies had to ensure that no secret had been revealed.

However, many indiscretions were committed by high-ranking officers: a package, fortunately intercepted, contained top secret documents accidentally sent by a sergeant who had switched the package intented for his sister; a drunken evening during which a major-general let slip out that everything will be better in June… So these leaks eventually led to the development of the “Fortitude” operation, one of the biggest disinformation campaigns in History.

The first question that the Allies had to ask was where they would land in France. Pas-de-Calais was an obvious choice because it was the nearest French region from Great Britain. Their arrival in France would be faster but the whole area was known to be well defended.
The Allied high command decided on a landing in Normandy. The risks were much higher but the beaches were conducive to a mass landing. A diversionary attack on Calais has been decided in hope to deceive the Germans.

valeursactuelles

Inflatable Tank. Photo by Valeur Actuelle

To ensure the credibility of a landing in Pas-de-Calais, Sherman rubber tanks, inflatable trucks and Jeeps painted in the colors of the U.S. Army had settled in the fields of South-East England. The general’s staff had even hired decorators to complete the theater staging.
The press and several undercover officers were also involved with a fascinating character, Juan Pujol, a spy operating under the pseudonym « Garbo. » This actor deceived the enemy by giving false information to his German superiors with messages and reports for the « Fortitude » operation. He managed to persuade the high German authorities and Hitler, himself, that the Normandy landings were a diversionary tactic designed to hide the true operation at Pas-de-Calais. While the soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, the Führer was sleeping soundly.
The operation also included the construction of an artificial harbor so that people and materials could land with greater ease.

The fact that the Germans were taken by surprise in Normandy and that the most important losses had only occurred in Juno and Omaha Beach is indicative of the success of the Allies in the operation Overlord.

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About the Author

was born in the royal city of Versailles, France and have lived in the United States since 1996. After earning a Bachelor's degree in History from the University of California Berkeley and studying for a Master program in education at the University of Southern California, she went on to teach French to aspiring UNLV and CSN students in Nevada. When she is not teaching, she is writing, interviewing people in a wide range of circumstances, pitching story ideas to writers and editors, taking pictures, traveling, painting or trying delicious foods.



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