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The D-Day landing beaches

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The events of 6th June 1944 began shortly after midnight. At 6.30 a.m. the first waves of Allied assault set foot on French soil at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword and Point du Hoc. By the evening of 6th June, some 20,000 vehicles and 155,000 soldiers had landed. Losses totalled around 10,000 men

The events of 6th June 1944 began shortly after midnight with the dropping of the first British airborne troops between the Rivers Orne and Dives. The American paratroopers were soon to follow in the Cotentin peninsula, at the opposite extremity of the landing zone. In the meantime, RAF heavy bombers attacked what were deemed to be the most threatening artillery batteries forming the Atlantic Wall. At dawn, the Germans incredulously discovered a sea teeming with vessels of all sorts. Operation Neptune, the first phase of Operation Overlord, was underway. At 5.45 a.m. the naval fleet opened fire on the German defences. At 6.30 a.m. the first American waves of assault struck the beaches of Utah and Omaha. By the evening of the 6th of June, some 20,000 vehicles and 155,000 soldiers (including the paratroopers) had landed on French soil. Losses (killed, wounded or disappeared) totalled around 10,000 men.
- Utah Beach: the eastern part of the Cotentin peninsula and a particularly propitious terrain for an amphibious assault (dunes between the Bay of Veys and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue). At 6.30 a.m. on the 6th of June 1944, the 4th US Infantry Division's 8th Regiment led by General Barton landed before the dunes at La Madeleine, covered by amphibious tanks.
- Pointe du Hoc: A few miles to the east of the small fishing port of Granville, the cliff forms a promontory that overhangs a sheer drop down to a narrow stretch of beach: Pointe du Hoc. The Germans had built a powerful artillery battery on this particularly auspicious site. It was a formidable threat to both of the beaches chosen for landing the American troops: Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. However, the Rangers were to make a quite surprising discovery. Indeed, massive wooden beams had been placed within the concrete emplacements where the guns were originally located. Rudder's men were then subjected to an ordeal that was to last several hours. Ensnared at Pointe du Hoc, they were finally freed on the 8th of June, around midday, by troops on their advance from Omaha. Of the 225 Rangers enlisted in the combat, only 90 were still capable of fighting. Around 80 of their fellow soldiers had made the ultimate sacrifice on this tiny spot of Norman soil.
- Omaha Beach: If there is one site where the D-Day Landings could well have failed, it is Omaha Beach. The truth was that the site was far from ideal for an amphibious attack since it presented many risks, but it was the only one possible. The first waves of assault landed at 6.30 a.m. to find themselves literally rooted to the shore, under a deluge of enemy gunfire. The operation was nevertheless to meet with ultimate success, but at great cost! Over 3,000 men were put out of action on Omaha alone (fifteen times more than on Utah Beach), of whom – officially – 1,000 were killed.
- Gold Beach: To the east of Arromanches, the cliffs loom above a low and marshy coast. This was the spot where General Graham's men from the 50th Northumbrian Division were to land, between Asnelles and Ver-sur-Mer, in a spearhead mission. The assault began at 7.25 a.m. By the evening of the 6th of June, the British troops had landed 25,000 men on Gold Beach and had taken control of a quadrilateral zone of around 40 square miles.
- Juno Beach: Between the British sectors comprising Gold and Sword Beach, the Juno Beach sector was assigned to the Canadian troops. The area comprised two major coastal resorts. There were no heavy artillery batteries, but a profusion of small fortifications where antitank guns or machine guns were housed, most of them built along the sea wall in order to cover the entire zone. The mission to capture Juno Beach was entrusted to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, led by General Keller. When the landing operation began, around 8 a.m., the vast majority of the obstacles on the beach were still covered by the rising tide, causing many a misfortune to the incoming troops. In the incessant ebb and flow, several landing vessels encountered the mines that had been placed on stakes planted in the sand. There were heavy losses on the beaches. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, over 21,000 men had landed.
- Sword Beach: General Rennie's British 3rd Division landed on the beach at Hermanville. The 8th Brigade disembarked at a spot which already bore the predestined name of "La Brèche" (the breach), and succeeded in breaking through the Atlantic Wall. Hermanville was freed from enemy occupation mid morning. When the leading elements from the 3rd Division finally reached the outskirts of Caen, in the early evening, it was already too late. The Germans had established a defensive curtain around the town and the Allies were pinned to the spot.

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