United States and American History: 1944 WWII and D-Day

About the history of the United States in 1944, World War II continues, D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, fighting Germans in France.


June 6 D-Day in Europe. In the 1st 48 hours, over 156,000 Allied soldiers were landed on the Normandy beaches or parachuted behind the German lines. Just over 1/2 (53%) were British and Canadian. The original plan called for 3 divisions to make the assault. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery recommended 5, and 6 were finally used: the U.S. 1st, 4th, and 29th divisions, assigned to "Omaha" and "Utah" beaches; the British 3rd and 50th divisions, plus the Canadian 3rd, coming ashore on "Gold," "Sword," and "Juno."

Realizing that it would take 15 weeks to build up a force equal to the number the Germans already had in readiness in France and Belgium, General Eisenhower approved a massive bombing proposal. It called for the destruction of railroad marshaling yards, major rail and road junctions, and every repair shop of importance between Normandy and the Rhine. Without transportation, movement of the German troops to repulse the invasion would be extremely limited. The campaign succeeded. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's defense plan required at least 48 troop trains daily to assemble the reserves he would need to throw back the assault; he was able to muster only 6.

The Germans were aware that the invasion was imminent. A Frenchman who was also a double agent working for the Germans had already passed on the starting signal. In the British Broadcasting Company's regular messages of coded instructions for the French underground, Paul Verlaine's poetic line about autumn-Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne ("The long sobs of the violins of autumn")--was to be sent out on the 1st, 2nd, 15th, or 16th day of the month. Its release was the directive to listen continuously for the 2nd half of the signal--Blessent mon coeur d'une languer monotone ("Wound my heart with a monotonous languor")--which would indicate invasion within 48 hours. At 9:15 P.M. on June 5, the German 15th Army intelligence officers intercepted the Verlaine "heart" signal 4 times within the hour, and dutifully notified their superiors. Rommel ignored the report, preferring to believe that the attempt would not be possible because of the foul weather over the Channel. He left for a brief visit to Germany. Field Marshal von Rundstedt likewise refused to accept the intelligence message, saying that such a decision was impossible from a tactician of Eisenhower's caliber.

In an internal dispute on command, both Rommel and Von Rundstedt had demanded sole control over the 6 armored divisions kept in reserve for the Normandy sector. The argument was carried up to Hitler, who gave 3 to Rommel but placed the remaining 3 under new orders, to be used only by his direct command. The orders never came, and Rommel lost the immediate use of uncommitted troops which might have stopped the invasion. He did succeed in surprising the Allied forces with a secret weapon never seen before: tiny, 26"-high tanks called "Goliaths." The tracked vehicles carried 200 lbs. of explosives and were directed by remote control at the Allied tanks.

Despite extraordinary precautions to keep the operational plan for D-Day a secret, at least 10,000 people knew fragments of it. The British War Office furnished over 170 million maps for personnel who were to take part, using every small print shop in the British Isles. The individual map units were parcelled out in small segments to different printers, so that no one man could draw any significant conclusions. The maps for the invasion sectors were complete to the last detail, but false coordinates and proper names were substituted. The real identities were given out to the men only after their ships had left the English harbors.

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