Operation Neptune

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The Operation Neptune was a part of under the code name Operation Overlord conducted Allied landing in Normandy in World War II . Neptune was the assault on the German fortifications in Normandy and the establishment of a bridgehead . Operation Neptune began with the first major training maneuvers in January 1944 and culminated in the Allied landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day . The end of the operation can be dated June 30, 1944. The overarching Operation Overlord did not end until August 19, 1944, when Allied forces crossed the Seine River in France. Operation Neptune was the largest landing operation in world history to date.

In addition to the task of gaining a foothold in Normandy, which was occupied by the Germans, Operation Neptune was also intended, among other things, to protect the landing craft from enemy attacks from the air and from the sea. The operation was also intended to ensure that no enemy ship in the Canal learned of the impending invasion. Furthermore, the landing should be actively supported by the shelling of the Atlantic Wall in the area of ​​the landing zones with heavy ship artillery. After the successful landing, the bridgeheads were supplied with supplies under this name.

The operation was split up into many more small operations in order to confuse the German defense . For the same reason, many phantom associations were set up that never really existed. An overview of the partial operations performed (without practice operations) is given in the table under Overview of Operations .

Map of Normandy with Operation Neptune


The Second World War began in Europe with the German invasion in Poland on September 1, 1939. The so-called Axis ( German Reich , Italy and Japan ) conducted campaigns of conquest against many countries; Its main military opponents were initially France , Great Britain and the Republic of China and, after the breach of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, the Soviet Union , and then after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USA . The theaters of war were in Asia , the Pacific , Europe and North Africa .

In order to relieve the Red Army , Stalin had urged the Western Allies to open a second front, especially since the British and American landing in Italy in 1943 did not bring the desired quick success (→ Operation Husky ). At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt , Stalin and Churchill agreed on a landing operation in northern France to be presented across the English Channel.

This operation took place in Normandy. Operation Neptune facilitated the invasion of the beaches. The German units should be unsettled and worn out. Furthermore, the Allied troops that landed in the course of Operation Neptune were able to gain a foothold in Normandy and form bridgeheads, which were then expanded by the advancing troops.

Child Operations

Training operations

Invasion training on the English coast: (i) Amphibious exercise in front of the beach
(ii) Landing maneuvers

The early Japanese success of amphibious landing operations in the Philippines , New Britain , the Aleutian Islands , the Malay Peninsula, and East India demonstrated the usefulness of such operations to the American and British leaders. From 1942 onwards, the landings on the African north coast as well as the European south coast on the Mediterranean Sea and the European north and north-west coast on the English Channel were increasingly considered. With the landing on Guadalcanal in the Pacific on August 7, 1942, the Americans were the first of the Allies to carry out an amphibious operation. Shortly afterwards, on August 19, British, American, Canadian and French units stormed ashore near Dieppe on the French north coast during Operation Jubilee and destroyed the German coastal battery near Varengeville-sur-Mer with very high losses of their own . Both ventures resulted in a lot of helpful knowledge for the later landings in Africa and Europe.

The first American unit to practice sea landings was the 1st US Infantry Division , which was set up in the winter of 1940/41. She trained on beaches in Buzzard's Bay , Massachusetts , Onslow Beach , New River , North Carolina, and other beaches for several months . The last training took place on Virginia Beach in January 1942. Then the division went to Great Britain. At that time there was no question of an amphibious division.

At Camp Edwards , the First Amphibious Brigade and the 531st Coastal Pioneer Regiment were established on June 15, 1942 under the command of Colonel Henry C. Wolf . They were the first to be specially trained to build, develop and maintain a bridgehead. The command limits of the units could not yet be clearly defined because the competencies between the army and navy had not yet been distributed. For this reason, the soldiers could hardly take part in exercises before their departure for Great Britain on August 5, 1942.

After the formation of an American section in the Combined Operations Headquarters under Brigadier General Lucian K. Truscott on April 20, 1942, the first joint exercises took place. The formation of the United States Army Rangers also emerged from this collaboration .

Exercises / Maneuvers (Exercise) ATLANTIC, PUNCH and BUMPER

The first joint landing maneuver ATLANTIC, which took place in Northern Ireland between Belfast and Lough Meagh , lasted from July 1 to 8, 1942 . Essentially, the common communication and cooperation between the individual units should be tested.

A similarly designed maneuver that was held in the same area took place from September 21 to 29, 1942 under the code name PUNCH.

The British also conducted their own exercises without Allied participation, for example the BUMPER exercise from September 27 to October 3, 1942 on the Salisbury Plain. It was observed by an American military attaché , who subsequently determined that the British were far from being ready for a large-scale landing operation. Other British maneuvers were called ADDER, AERIAL, BULL, CUCKOO, CURLEN, LIGHTNING, LONGHOP, MANCHESTER, MARS and TYNE.

Landing maneuver (exercise) DUCK

The first large-scale maneuver for Operation Neptune was codenamed DUCK I. It took place in early January 1944. From this point on, further maneuvers were carried out continuously, which took place in the most realistic possible troop deployment with regard to Operation Overlord. DUCK I was proposed in the summer of 1943 and worked out from November. Initially it was supposed to be a replenishment drill, but was then expanded into a full drill for an impending invasion.

The landing maneuver took place at Slapton Sands , five miles south of Dartmouth in Devonshire . The area was relatively sparsely populated and the coastline was very similar to that of Normandy, especially around Omaha Beach .

DUCK II and DUCK III were the logical follow-up maneuvers, which should take up criticism of DUCK I and remove them after new planning. DUCK II took place on February 7th and DUCK III from February 29th to March 1st, 1944.

However, all three maneuvers were not yet based on the Neptune pattern, as this was not yet established. So the individual units were not those that were later to take over the Neptune tasks.

Maneuver (Exercise) FOX

FOX was the largest maneuver that took place in the first half of March 1944 before the actual FABIUS I and TIGER dress rehearsals. The planning for this ran parallel to the preparation of the concrete plan for Operation Neptune, which was finally announced on February 15. For this reason, the planning for FOX lagged a little behind the actual landing plans, so this maneuver was more of a kind of training than an actual test for an amphibious landing. The differences to Operation Neptune should therefore be adjusted in the following FABIUS maneuvers.

Finally, FOX was held in Slapton Sands from March 9th to 10th. The landing went well and was accompanied by a coastal fire with real ammunition. One point of criticism began with the hasty planning and the associated poor coordination when building the bridgehead. The timing was a bit mixed up, and camps were not being set up quickly enough.

Other smaller maneuvers that took place in March and April and only included individual units were MUSKRAT I and II, OTTER I and II, MINK I and II and BEAVER.

Airborne exercises for the 82nd Airborne Division were the CURVEBALL maneuvers at the end of April and beginning of May 1944. The 101st Airborne Division carried out smaller exercises itself, and on May 11, 1944 the EAGLE exercise took place together with the 82nd at Hungerford. Newbury place.

There were also minor maneuvers carried out by Canadian, French, Polish and other units involved in Operation Overlord.

Maneuver (Exercise) TIGER

The first major dress rehearsal for the Normandy landings was Exercise Tiger , in which all troops were deployed according to the plan for Operation Neptune . Two bridgeheads should be established. It was expected that the two would join forces after two to three days.

All British, Canadian and US units for the Caen-Isigny area were to take part in the FABIUS maneuvers, the units for Utah-Beach in the TIGER exercise, which took place from April 22 to 30 at Slapton Sands under the Leadership of the VII Corps took place.

The plan for Utah Beach included special airborne operations to be carried out by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions . Since corresponding exercises could not be carried out at Slapton Sands, the units were driven to the simulated landing area by truck. A total of 25,000 soldiers and 2,750 vehicles took part in the TIGER landing maneuver with the Zeeland troops.

Invasion training on the British coast - maneuvers with real ammunition

TIGER took a total of nine days, from the beginning of the loading of the ships on April 22nd to the end of the maneuver. D-Day was scheduled for April 28th. There were significant delays in implementing the plan, so there was a lot of improvisation. The loading tables for the ships had to be rewritten during the maneuver, so that a number of ships left too late and arrived at the site with further delay, which led to traffic jams and confusion.

The actual landing exercise went according to plan in good weather. The attack troops went ashore after a previous coastal bombardment and quickly advanced inland against a simulated German defense. There they met the units of the 101st Airborne Division who were waiting for them. As in previous maneuvers, the main criticism was that most soldiers often forgot to take cover.

At the same time, after the landing, pioneers practiced clearing minefields, blasting exits on the beaches, creating road pavements and supply depots. The unloading activities of more than 2,200 tons of material began on D-Day and lasted two days. For this purpose, the respective flood was awaited.

The German speedboat attack

During the development phase of the TIGER exercise maneuver eight American were tank landing ships ( Landing Ship Tank , LST) by German speedboats attacked the two LST with torpedoes could sink. The number of victims this caused was higher than that of those who later fell on Utah Beach . U.S. Army records report the following incident:

On the night of April 27th to 28th, eight American LSTs drove in convoy T4 at about five knots off the Isle of Portland . The ships were supposed to take part in the setup phase of the TIGER exercise and had run east from their ports of departure, Plymouth and Dartmouth. After a subsequent turn, they now drove west towards Bruxham .

The units were loaded with soldiers of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade of the 4th Division of the VII Corps. The corvette HMS Azalea accompanied the convoy without being mentioned in the investigation papers of the incident.

It was a clear night with no moonlight. At least one of the LSTs was equipped with a radar system and reported two unknown ships approaching. Tragically, these were mistaken for separate units belonging to the convoy.

The time specified for the attack varies between 1:30 a.m. and 2:04 a.m. on the morning of April 28th. It is believed that the attackers from Cherbourg were German speedboats that leaked. But they could not be positively identified.

LST 507 was the first ship to be hit by several torpedoes, all of which were duds. Another hit, however, set the landing craft on fire about five minutes later. The enemy boat smeared the deck with gunfire, so that the soldiers tried to save themselves by jumping overboard. LST 507 then began to sink.

Around the same time, LST 531 was hit and burned too. Some men saw falling flares , but could make no hostile aircraft. The fire from flak could also be heard, but no ship was hit by bombs. LST 511 was hit twice by torpedoes, but they did not explode. At around 2:10 a.m., another torpedo hit destroyed the crew quarters, the rudder and the rear guns of LST 289.

A commanding officer suggested lowering the ramps and disembarking the soldiers in the floating vehicles . But when the penetrating water could be brought under control, the plan was dropped again. In order to realign the boat, LCVPs were lowered into the water, so the LST 289 could reach Dartmouth around 14:30 on its own.

Other LSTs went to full speed and thus escaped another attack. Only LST 515 turned back according to army reports and took in some survivors. LST 507 and 531 continued to burn and sink. The machine guns on deck had not been manned, so only a few shots could be fired. At 4:00 a.m., a British destroyer reached the area, picked up survivors from the water and sank LST 507, of which only the bow protruded from the water.

Most of the casualties were on LST 531. Only 290 of a total of 744 soldiers and 282 seamen survived. There were 13 dead and 22 wounded on board LST 507. The 1st Brigade lost 413 soldiers and had 16 wounded. The 3206th Quartermaster Brigade had been formally wiped out. Of the 251 officers and soldiers, 201 were killed or wounded. Other companies complained about 69 deaths. There is no complete list of victims, but the records report at least 749 dead and more than 300 men, some seriously wounded. Nothing is known of German victims of the attack.

Landing maneuvers (Exercise) FABIUS

Immediately after the TIGER exercise, the six FABIUS maneuvers followed, which together made up the largest amphibious landing maneuver in history. At TIGER only the landing forces for the Utah Beach participated; at FABIUS, all invasion units were combined in one complete maneuver.

  • FABIUS I was the dress rehearsal for attack unit “O”, the 1st and 29th US infantry divisions, the provisional engineer brigade group and their affiliated units, which were to go ashore under the command of the V Corps on Omaha Beach. The assembly took place in Area D, disembarkation at Portland-Weymouth and landing at Slapton Sands.
  • FABIUS II was the dress rehearsal for attack unit "G", the 50th British Infantry Division and its affiliated units, which were to go ashore on Gold Beach. The compilation took place in areas B and C, disembarkation at Southampton and Lymington and landing at Hayling Island.
  • FABIUS III was the dress rehearsal for attack unit "J", the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and its affiliated units, which were supposed to go ashore on Juno Beach. The assembly took place in A and C, the disembarkation in Southampton and Grosport and the landing in Bracklesham Bay.
  • FABIUS IV was the dress rehearsal for the attack unit "S", the 3rd British Infantry Division and their affiliated units, which were to go ashore on Sword Beach. The assembly took place in Area A and the Southeast British Command Area, disembarkation at Frosport and Portsmouth and landing at Littlehampton.
  • FABIUS V was a collective exercise for putting together the British units for Gold, Juno and Sword. Parts of the fleet ran out of the Thames estuary and eastern British ports.
  • FABIUS VI was a collective exercise for the assembly of attack unit "B", which included US and British units that sailed from Portland, Weymouth and Southampton.
US troops being loaded into England on June 5th

The FABIUS maneuvers I to IV were carried out simultaneously under the direction of the 21st Army Group. They started on April 23rd and ended on May 7th. In the period between April 23 and 26, the observers found errors and deficiencies that were discussed in an interim meeting. The day of landing (D-Day) was scheduled for May 2nd, but this was postponed shortly after the formation of the troops began. FABIUS V and VI were scheduled for May 4-6, but due to the postponement of the other exercises, they did not end until May 7th.

The coordination between the individual exercises was at a high level. The participating troops did not return to their home bases afterwards, but instead gathered again in their staging rooms, since the scheduled date for the actual invasion was only a month away. As a result, there was hardly any time left to eradicate serious errors. The FABIUS maneuvers were therefore designed to convey empirical values ​​for the troops in their special areas of responsibility. Every possible effort has been made to mimic the conditions to be expected on the beaches of Normandy. The expected limitations in equipment and other equipment should also come very close to carrying out Operation Neptune .

The tactical plan followed the operation Neptune to be carried out very precisely. After an air and sea bombardment, both of which were only simulated, the landing forces went to the beaches. The floating tanks on board could without exception reach the mainland. Pioneers removed the underwater obstacles and then the obstacles on the beaches. After some time it was possible to open beach exits to the hinterland. Special task forces destroyed enemy artillery positions while the next waves landed on the beaches.

FABIUS was interrupted for 24 hours shortly after the landings as the weather deteriorated drastically. With the next floods, more LCTs landed, bringing supplies to the beaches. Strictly speaking, the return of the units to their deployment rooms after the exercise was also part of Operation Neptune . Now the troops had to regroup and wait for the actual invasion.

Operations of the 82nd Airborne Division

American airplane flying over the Utah beach

Late in the evening of the day before the invasion day, known as D-Day, the first aircraft of the US 9th Troop Command took off for Operation Boston . They dropped the paratroopers of the 82nd US Airborne Division in the area around Sainte-Mère-Église and Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in the west of the Utah beach section shortly after midnight. Almost simultaneously, under the code name Operation Detroit, the first 52 cargo glider teams arrived over the landing area and disengaged the tow ropes. In the dark of night and due to the many stone walls and hedgerows in this area, many glider crews only managed to crash land. In addition, many of the sailors were hit by German flak fire. Towards evening a second wave followed, in which 177 more cargo gliders flew in under the name Operation Elmira and brought the first supplies of soldiers and equipment. On the morning of the following day, 98 sailors flew under the code Operation Galveston and in the evening another 101 cargo sailors under the name Operation Hackensack to Normandy to bring the 82nd further supplies. In the following nights, first 148 and then another 117 Dakotas flew from Great Britain during Operations Freeport and Memphis a total of 432 tons of supplies into the drop and landing area of ​​the 82nd US Airborne Division, whose task it was to protect the western flank of the invasion.


James M. Gavin

Early in the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the paratroopers of the US 82nd Airborne Division (landed 82nd Airborne ) at 4:00 am (according to other sources 5:00) in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The 82nd US Airborne Division succeeded in taking over the place, in which many jumpers of the 101st US Airborne Division (see below) took part because of a jump error.

U.S. 82nd Airborne Division deputy commander Brigadier General James M. Gavin landed with a few other paratroopers on marshland west of Merderet on D-Day , with many of the paratroopers drowning. Gavin gathered a hundred strong unit there, with whom he managed to hold the small village of La Fière , which then became the outpost of Sainte-Mère-Église.

In Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the American parachutist John Steele of the 505th Paratrooper Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division had a mishap: he got caught with his parachute on one of the corner towers of the church tower and could not free himself because the church square was fiercely contested. Besides him, a second soldier, 17-year-old Ken Russell, got stuck at the church. From up there they had to watch as their comrades were shot. Russell later reported that Sergeant John Ray was trying to save her when he noticed a German soldier was targeting her. The German soldier shot Ray in the stomach. When he fell to the ground, he shot the German soldier in the back of the head and was able to save the lives of the two paratroopers Steele and Russell.

Operations of the 101st Airborne Division

Gliders on the approach for landing before the battle
The 101st Airborne Division in the area northwest of
Carentan is supplied with weapons, ammunition, food and other supplies with gliders , which are pulled by C-47 Skytrains to the drop-off point

The landings of the 101st Airborne Division in Normandy near Vierville did not go according to plan.

On June 5, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division prepared its first mission: the air landing in Normandy. This was supposed to bring 6,700 soldiers behind the German lines by parachute landing in order to weaken the defense of the beaches sufficiently for the planned sea landing.

The first units took off on the late evening of June 5 with aircraft of the 9th US Troop Command under the code name Operation Albany for the hinterland of the Utah Beach. But because of the strong anti-aircraft fire over France, the pilots had to break out of their formation, so that the soldiers of the division were spread over the whole of Normandy after the jump. A major problem was that the transport plane pilots had little or no combat experience. The result was that many of them panicked at the defensive fire, causing the troops to jump out too early or in the wrong place. Therefore the landed troops were cut off from their units or landed alone behind the German lines. The cargo glider teams that followed a little later and flew under the code name Operation Chicago only reached their landing zones with high losses. At the end of the first day, only one in three soldiers had found their way back to their unit.

During the second day, the 101st Airborne Division managed to regroup. During Operation Keokuk supplies were flown in with the help of gliders, but many of the sailors were broken on landing, resulting in high human and material losses. The operation has now been concentrated on the hinterland of the Utah landing zone. The city of Carentan , which was the key to control the peninsula, was captured after two days of heavy fighting and had to be defended by the division against a German counter-attack for another two days. After that, relief finally arrived. After a month, the Normandy mission of the 101st Airborne Division was over. Every fourth soldier in the division was either dead or seriously injured.

British glider and parachute operations

The day before D-Day, the Royal Air Force flew under the code name Operation Sunflower Special Air Service to reconnaissance troops in six landing areas in Normandy. An additional task force landed on D-Day under the name Operation Coney and further SAS units in Operations Sunflower II and III . On the days following the landing, RAF machines brought soldiers and material to the British units during Operations Robroy I, II, III ...

Operation Tonga

Map of Operation Tonga and the landings behind the Sword beach section

Operation Tonga was the code name for part of the British airborne divisions in Normandy. The operation took place on June 5, 1944. The British 6th Airborne Division landed in the course of the operation with gliders and parachutes in the part of Normandy behind the Sword beach section in order to take important key bridges  - including the Benouville Bridge - to keep German tank units off the beach and an artillery battery at Merville as well to destroy German supply routes.

The operation succeeded on all lines. The units could take and hold all key bridges. The battle for the bridge over the Orne became one of the most famous events of the invasion.

The Benouville Bridge was renamed the Pegasus Bridge after reaching the Airborne Division. When the traffic on the road over the bridge increased after the Second World War, the Pegasus Bridge was replaced by an enlarged copy of the original construction in order to preserve the overall historical impression. The original bridge is now part of the Pegasus Bridge Museum.

Operation Gambit

Operation Gambit was the code name for the placement of two mini-submarines each on the left and right with navigation lights and navigation flags to mark the Sword , Gold and Juno landing sections . The boats were the HMS X20 under Lieutenant K. Hudspeth and the HMS X23 under Lieutenant G. Honor. On June 4th they took up their positions on the Normandy coast and were briefly informed of the postponement of the invasion due to the bad weather conditions.

On the morning of June 6th, the two submarines appeared in the rough sea and extended the almost five-meter-long handrails with the signal lights. The green lights could be seen up to eight kilometers away on the English Channel. They could not be seen from land.

By means of radio beacons and echo sounders , the boats gave the arriving miners who were to carry out Operation Maple signals for orientation. The invasion fleet arrived at the specified time and passed the intended line of both boats. Operation Gambit ended at sunrise. The boats retracted the signal masts and hoisted the D-Day flag.

Operation Maple

Operation Maple was the code name for the extensive laying out of sea ​​mines in support of Operation Neptune. The main objectives were:

  1. Prevention of enemy movements in the English Channel during landing operations from the direction of the North Sea
  2. Prevention of enemy movements in the English Channel during landing operations from the direction of the Atlantic
  3. Enforce a seaward course for enemy ships that does not hinder the Allied fleet from bombarding the coastal batteries
  4. Preventing enemy maritime relief efforts in support of coastal defense

The mines were not only laid by sea-based units such as the HMS Apollo and the HMS Plover , but were even dropped from the air. For this purpose, the RAF launched Handley Page HP57 , Short Stirling and Avro Lancaster bombers in Great Britain , which operated under the command of the British Navy.

Operation Maple began in April 1944, when the mine-layers and aircraft began to lay out normal sea mines in large numbers. These operations continued until May 9, with special mines being laid at IJmuiden , Hoek van Holland , the Scheldt estuary , Boulogne-sur-Mer , Fécamp , Le Havre , and the coast of Brittany and the Frisian Islands .

Additional mining in the vicinity of Ouessant and Cherbourg continued until May 28th . A large-scale mining operation affected the island of Helgoland , the Kattegat and the Biscay . On the night of May 12th to 13th, mosquitos dropped mines in the waters leading to the Baltic Sea near Kiel .

During the day of the invasion, further mine-laying operations were planned at Pointe de Barfleur , southwest of Le Havre, at Étretat and in front of Saint-Malo . Only the mine laying at Etretat was actually carried out. The other actions were canceled in view of the high volume of own ships.

After June 6th, mine-laying by ships and planes continued. Above all, the actions in front of Le Havre were made up for. Further minefields in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel were built.

In Operation Maple, the British laid a total of 6,850 mines, of which 42% by ships and 58% by aircraft in 1,800 missions. These mines caused considerable damage to German ships and submarines and the German minesweeping fleet fought the abandoned mines to their limits. Allied losses amounted to only one mine-layer and 19 planes.

Execution of Operation Neptune

Landing in Normandy

American landing craft are loaded in an English port
Fully occupied American troop transport in an English port

On May 8, 1944, the Allied Commander in Chief of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), General Dwight D. Eisenhower , set D-Day for June 5, 1944. After bad weather was forecast for the next day on June 4th, Eisenhower postponed the date to June 6th. At the crucial meeting at 4:15 a.m. on June 5, the company was given the go-ahead (see main article Weather forecast for June 5 and 6, 1944 in the English Channel ). Then a huge war machine set in motion, the process of which had been meticulously planned since 1943.

About 5,300 ships of all sizes and types left in the early morning of June 5 and headed for the coast of the Calvados department . To secure the fleet and to support the ground troops, the Allies provided around 4,000 fighters and 4,000 bombers , together with other types of aircraft, around 11,000 aircraft. The attack took place over a width of 98 km between Sainte-Mère-Église on the Cotentin peninsula in the west and Ouistreham in the east. In the western sections of the American troops, code-named Utah and Omaha, three infantry divisions landed, in the adjacent sections Gold, Juno and Sword two British and one Canadian divisions, a total of about 170,000 men that day. In addition, the 101st US Airborne Division and the 82nd US Airborne Division ( Operation Detroit and Operation Elmira ), as well as between the Orne and Dives rivers , the British 6th Airborne Division ( Operation Tonga ) discontinued.

German troops

This force faced a relatively small German air force. On the day of the landing there were exactly two German aircraft, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Josef Priller and Sergeant Heinz Wodarczyk , which attacked the Allied landing forces, as all other aircraft had been moved inland on June 4th. During D-Day, the Allies had absolute control of the air.

The well-equipped Allied divisions faced five German divisions , only three of which were mobile and motorized. The commander-in-chief in the west , Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt , was bound by Hitler's instructions when his three armored divisions were deployed in Normandy . The tank units were only allowed to be used on the express orders of Hitler. Field Marshal Rommel , commander of the German divisions in the invasion area ( Army Group B ), was on vacation in his native Württemberg on this crucial day .

Rommel had campaigned heavily for the expansion of the beach fortifications and the nearby hinterland with obstacles and mines . Large parts of the landing area of ​​the American paratroopers in the west were flooded by German pioneers by damming the rivers Merderet and Douve . Wooden stakes, the so-called “ Rommel asparagus ” , were driven into fields suitable for the landing of gliders . The beaches were reinforced with bunkers , mines, overwater and underwater obstacles wherever a landing was possible . The invasion came as no surprise to the Germans; only the time and place were unknown.

However, the German defense knew of two lines from Paul Verlaine's poem Herbstlied , which were intended to trigger disruptive actions by the French resistance movement shortly before the invasion and which were read out via the BBC . The decisive second stanza announced the invasion within the next 48 hours, calculated from midnight on the day following the announcement. This verse was tapped on June 5th at 9:15 pm by German radio stations. The 15th Army, which was stationed on the Pas de Calais , another possible invasion area considered by the Germans to be much more likely, was then put on alert. The 7th Army in Normandy was not notified for reasons that were no longer comprehensible.

The only German motorized combat unit in the immediate landing area of ​​the Allies was the 21st Panzer Division . Since August 1943, its commander was Major General Edgar Feuchtinger (1894–1960); he had been an artilleryman in the First World War . Knowing that he had no knowledge of commanding tanks, he left his regimental commanders, who were experienced in tank combat, to train and manage their units. Feuchtinger stayed in Paris very often; so on June 6, 1944. His division attacked in the direction of Caen and Strand; this attack was caught in the fire of heavy ship artillery and bombing by the Allies and was called off by the regimental commanders.

Aerial operations

On the night of June 6th, the Royal Air Force flew two diversionary maneuvers to deceive the German defenders.

16 Lancaster flew a low-level maneuver off the coast at Cape d'Antifer and dropped cluster bombs as part of Operation Taxable . Together with a cover operation by the Royal Navy, it was used to simulate an invasion convoy.

In Operation Glimmer , six Short Stirlings flew a similar maneuver to simulate an invasion convoy in the direction of Boulogne-sur-Mer .

The 8th Air Force flew four sorties with heavy bombers over Normandy in preparation for the invasion.

During the first mission 1,361 bombers flew, of which 1,015 attacked the German coastal positions. 47 planes bombed goods transfer points in Caen and 21 bombers other targets. Bad visibility and the partial lack of scout planes resulted in frequent bombs being dropped incorrectly.

The second wave bombed other important transport points in the intended invasion area. However, most of the 528 bombers had to turn back with their bomb load due to the now closed cloud cover. 37 machines attacked their targets at Argentan .

The important German communication center in Caen was the destination of the third wave. 56 B-24 bombers dropped their bombs through the cloud cover.

The fourth wave attacked targets in Vire , Saint-Lô , Coutances , Falaise , Lisieux , Thury-Harcourt , Pont-l'Évêque , Argentan and Condé-sur-Noireau with 553 bombers .

Bombing of Pointe du Hoc by 9th Air Force bombers

In total, the 8th Air Force bombers dropped 3,596 tons of bombs on Normandy. They only lost three machines to the fire of German flak and a collision.

The escort fighters should not only accompany the bombers, but also shoot at any moving target in the combat area and protect the Allied ships. The hunters flew a total of 1,880 sorties. They attacked 17 bridges, ten marshalling yards and a number of other targets, including convoys, freight wagons, road and rail crossings, track systems, tunnels and a dam. They did not encounter any German resistance. The fighters were able to destroy 28 German machines on the ground and seriously damage 14. A number of locomotives, trucks, tankers, armored cars, barges and tugs were also damaged. The 8th Air Force lost 25 fighters in the operations.

The 9th Air Force (Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton ) attacked the German coastal batteries, road and rail crossings and bridges with more than 800 A-20 and B-26 bombers. More than 2,000 hunters accompanied low-flying aircraft on their attack missions on the French Normandy coast. About 30 machines were lost.

Airborne operations

Between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m., around 1,300 transport planes and gliders of the Allied airborne divisions took off for operations Titanic, Detroit, Chicago and Tonga.

Operation Titanic

Around midnight a small fleet of 40 Hudsons , Halifaxes and Stirlings was over the Cotentin Peninsula. At 12:11 a.m., two SAS teams landed 50 kilometers west of Dieppe near Yvetot as part of Operation Titanic . Together with 200 Paradummies , they had the task of creating confusion among the Germans and distracting them from the actual landings. In order to deceive the radar signals, aluminum strips (so-called chaffs ) were thrown off during the jumps , which significantly increased the number of signals. On the ground, the SAS agents started machine gun fire that had been dropped - simulators and the dolls, which from a distance look like British paratroopers, self-destructed and burned with an explosive charge shortly after landing. To the Germans, this looked like a parachute burning and they had to assume that the associated soldier had taken cover. The SAS agents had strict orders to fire live ammunition at the Germans, but to let some escape in order to have them report the fake landing sites. After about 30 minutes they withdrew. Similar jumps took place 8 kilometers west of Saint-Lô with 200 Paradummies, east of the Dives with 50 Paradummies and southwest of Caen with another 50 dolls. Lieutenant Noel Poole was the first soldier to jump over Normandy as part of this operation. Of the 40 aircraft, the Germans shot down two Stirlings.

Operations Detroit, Chicago and Tonga

The first marking squads for the landing zones of the subsequent paratroopers and gliders of the Detroit and Chicago operations jumped over Normandy between midnight and 12:20 a.m. They only had 30 minutes to explore the area and mark the zones with beacons and "Eureka" radar transmitters. The "Eureka" signals were located on board the aircraft by the "Rebecca" receivers and the course was aligned accordingly. However, some marking teams lost their beacons and radar transponders in the swamp around the landing zones. Due to the still thick clouds and the strong cross wind, teams could not go down in the correct places. One team even accidentally landed in a different landing zone. Apparently knowing that they were in the right place, they began sending the signal to the wrong zone.

The gliders of the British Operation Tonga landed at about 12:16 a.m. at the bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne . About three quarters of an hour later, the majority of the airborne divisions landed. Due to the bad weather conditions, the confusion around the landing markings and the strong onset of fire from the German flak, the American pilots of the transport aircraft in particular had problems holding the flight formations together. The US paratroopers were scattered over a very large area. The British jumpers, however, had fewer problems.

The soldiers wandered about in the darkness; tried to find their units and their targets, such as bridges, road and railroad crossings, and small towns and villages to be conquered. Many of the heavily packed paratroopers drowned in the flooded marshland. There was general confusion among the Allies and the Germans. In the first hours of the night there was no big fight. Only here and there did fights break out around smaller towns and raids from both sides fired at each other.

It was only at 2:11 a.m. that an officer of the German 716th Infantry Division informed General Erich Marcks , the commanding general of the LXXXIV. Army corps in Saint-Lô, over enemy air landings east of the Orne. Four minutes later I received a call from the 709th Infantry Division reporting the air landings at Sainte-Mère-Église. Marcks immediately declared the highest level of alert for all German battalions , batteries, and regimental headquarters .

Actions from the sea

Allied fire at sea

The first ships to anchor off the Normandy coast were the USS Bayfield at 2:29 a.m. 21 kilometers off Utah Beach with General J. Lawton Collins on board and the USS Ancon at 2:51 a.m. 20 kilometers off Omaha Beach. The other 5,300 ships in the invasion fleet gradually reached their positions. Many of the soldiers on board suffered from seasickness after hours of crossing in heavy seas .

At 4:15 a.m., the landing forces began to transfer to the landing craft (LCVPs and LCAs).

Since SHAEF was still convinced about three weeks before D-Day that there was a strong German battery on the Saint Marcouf Islands 5.5 kilometers from Utah Beach, four lone fighters of the 4th and 24th landed there around 4:30 a.m. Cavalry Squadron. Armed only with knives, they went ashore to mark the beaches there for the other landing craft, which shortly afterwards brought 132 more soldiers under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward C. Dunn. There was not a single German soldier on the islands, but the beaches were heavily mined. Although Dunn managed to send the security signal to the fleet, 19 of his men died in the minefields. The four soldiers Kenzie, Killeran, Olsen and Zanders were the first to reach Europe by sea during the invasion.

The actual landing begins

Startled by the reports from the coast, General Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt ordered the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth" and the Panzer Lehr Division to Saint-Sever-Calvados (south of Saint-Lô, east of the coastal town of Granville , 70 km west of Falaise ). Colonel-General Alfred Jodl in the High Command of the Wehrmacht , who was annoyed by this order because both divisions were subordinate to the Fuehrer's headquarters as OKW reserves , withdrew the order two hours later and decided to wait until Hitler woke up.

Around 4:30 a.m. - 45 minutes before dawn - the first landing craft were on their way to the beaches of Utah and Omaha. They had to struggle with the high waves, currents and strong cross winds, which repeatedly distracted them from their intended course.

The German group command West left reconnaissance patrols at 4:35 a.m. The 5th  torpedo boat flotilla , the 15th patrol boat flotilla and the 38th  minesweeping flotilla ran out of the Seine estuary. The 5th and 9th speedboat flotilla crossed on both sides of the Cotentin Peninsula. Corvette captain Heinrich Hoffmann left Le Havre with the three ready-to-use boats of the 5th torpedo boat flotilla, the T 28 , the Jaguar and the Seagull and at 5:30 a.m. was with his boats directly in front of the British ships in front of Sword Beach. Hoffmann decided to attack immediately and had 18 torpedoes fired. The allied ships around HMS Warspite reacted immediately with evasive maneuvers and were able to avoid the approaching torpedoes. Only the Norwegian destroyer Svenner got a direct hit amidships and sank. In the meantime the German boats had turned and escaped in the fog.

The British cruiser HMS Belfast bombarded the Normandy coast

Shortly after 5:00 a.m., more and more reports of enemy glider landings in the Orne region came in at the German headquarters. The artillery position at Longues-sur-Mer began at 5:37 a.m. to open fire on the destroyer USS Emmons off Omaha Beach. The ten shots fired missed the American ship. The battleship USS Arkansas was targeted by the battery as the next target . Again, no hits could be recorded. In return, the USS Arkansas opened fire on the battery at 5:52 a.m. and fired 130 rounds at it, but all of them missed their target. When closer targets appeared, the German battery aimed its tubes at them.

The battleships and cruisers off Utah Beach began shelling at 5:55 a.m. Shortly thereafter, 276 B-26s bombed seven targets between Dunes-de-Varreville and Beauguillot . Meanwhile, the landing craft were getting closer and closer to the coast. The German gun emplacements at Omaha Beach were also to be attacked at this point. Vierville was hit by bombs from the approaching 480 B-24 , but the mission was a failure because of the extremely low visibility and low cloud cover. The defensive positions at Omaha Beach remained undamaged and 117 bombers began their return flight fully loaded.

At 6:30 a.m., 30 minutes after sunrise, landings began on Utah and Omaha Beach. The ships lying off the coast had stopped firing shortly beforehand or had moved their targets further into the hinterland so as not to endanger the soldiers on the beaches.

From around 7:00 a.m., the Royal Air Force bombed the German positions and gun batteries on the Gold Beach and western Juno Beach sections between Longues-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer with 385 B-17s . The eastern area of ​​the Juno section and Sword Beach between Bernières-sur-Mer and Ouistreham was served by another 322 aircraft.

To eliminate the German 155 mm coastal battery on the Pointe du Hoc , which threatened the landing forces on the Utah and Omaha sections, 225 rangers landed at 7:10 a.m. and began the 30 meter high cliff from the east side on the coast to climb.

Into the Jaws of Death : D-Day, Americans land on Omaha Beach
Rescue operation on Omaha Beach

British, Canadian and French units began landings on the beaches of the Gold, Juno and Sword sections between 7:25 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. Around this time, Rommel received a phone call in Herrlingen with which his command staff informed him about the reported hostile parachute landings in Normandy. More information was expected later.

During the day the landings and the advance across the beaches reach the interior of all beaches. On Omaha Beach, however, the situation was so critical until early afternoon that an evacuation of the beach was even considered. The Canadians also suffered heavy losses on Juno Beach. The high numbers of casualties arose, among other things, because German riflemen had holed up in the ruins of the houses on the beach and fired from them at the attacking troops. The riflemen could only be made out with difficulty and large air or sea attacks could not be carried out because the own troops had already landed.

When bombing the stretches of beach, some Allied associations are said to have dropped the bombs with a delay so as not to endanger their own troops on the beach . It can be proven that some French villages in the hinterland were badly hit, but not all of the bunkers on the beach. Furthermore, many of the Sherman tanks , temporarily converted to floating tanks, were lost during the landing without reaching the beach. The sometimes heavy swell caused the vehicles to fill up and capsize.

The German positions, some of which were occupied by soldiers from conquered or allied countries, were gradually taken. The fighting was fierce on both sides.

Around 7:30 a.m., units of the 101st Airborne Division reached the Utah Beach section at Exit 3 at Audouville-la-Hubert . The patrols formed by the beach units behind the dunes encountered more and more paratroopers from the two divisions. Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., all Allied troops began to advance inland from the beaches - with the exception of the Omaha Beach area.

Hitler woke up at 9:15 a.m. and had the latest news explained to him. He immediately called a meeting with Keitel and Jodl. At the same time, the SHAEF issued its first communique on the radio announcing the Normandy landing. Rommel, who had still not been informed of the sea landings, called his chief of staff, Hans Speidel, at around 10:00 a.m. to get more information. He then immediately decided to cancel a planned meeting with Hitler and return to Normandy.

At the end of the day

American wounded on the Omaha Beach section

On the evening of D-Day, the British and Canadians had advanced an average of 9 km deep on a front width of 32 km. That was just half as far as planned. The weak German forces no longer had the opportunity to "throw the Allies back into the sea". The tank divisions, which are so important for the Germans, were released too late by Hitler because he was still asleep at the Berghof near Berchtesgaden . No one had dared to wake him up and deliver the news of the Allied invasion of Normandy. During the day, during the march to the invasion area, the Allied air force lost many tanks that could have been used during a night march and an earlier alarm.

In the American section of Omaha a width of the landing head of about 6 km had been reached, but due to the strong German resistance it was only 2.5 km deep. In the Utah section, the landing head was 4 km wide and 6 km deep. There the connection with one airborne division was already established, the other was still cut off west of the Merderet river. The American and British bridgeheads had no connection at this point.

After the landing

The reported failures of the units can only be roughly reproduced due to the chaos of this day:

  • two US airborne divisions: approx. 6,400 casualties
  • two US infantry divisions: approx. 4,600 casualties
  • British Airborne Division: approx. 850 sorties
  • three British and Canadian divisions: approximately 4,000 failures

On the German side, one division was almost completely destroyed and the 21st Panzer Division suffered heavy losses.

Two weeks after D-Day, on June 23, 1944, the New York Times falsely assumed that Hitler himself had been at the headquarters in Le Mans during the fighting , but had withdrawn via Paris to Berchtesgaden “because he was there didn't want to afford to see another defeat linked to his name ”.

The US military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy is still a reminder of that day.

The now beginning battle for Normandy should last well into August and claim significantly more victims than this first day. Please refer

Battle of Caen · Battle of Carentan  · Battle of Cherbourg  · Battle of Saint-Lô  · Operation Cobra  · Battle of Brittany  · Operation Liège  · Cauldron of Falaise  · Battle of Paris

Ships involved

79% of the ships used were British and Canadian, 16.5% US, and another 4.5% belonged to other allied states.

ship number
Combat ships 1,213
Landing ships and boats 4.126
Support ships and boats 736
Merchant ships 864
All in all 6,939

Overview of the operations

Partial operation Units) task
Operation Titanic Special Air Service Deception of the German defenders. z. B. by dropping paradise at previously selected strategic locations.
Operation Boston 9th US troop transport command The 82nd Airborne Division flies in to capture German positions behind the Utah beach
Operation Detroit 9th US troop transport command Glider transport of the 82nd Airborne Division
Operation Elmira,
Operation Galveston,
Operation Hackensack,
Operation Freeport,
Operation Memphis
9th US troop transport command Supply flights for the 82nd Airborne Division
Operation Albany 9th US troop transport command The 101st Airborne Division flew in to capture German positions behind the Utah beach
Operation Chicago 9th US troop transport command Glider transport of the 101st Airborne Division
Operation Keokuk 9th US troop transport command Supply flights for the 101st Airborne Division
Operation Sunflower I - III
Operation Coney
Operation Robroy I, II, III ...
British troop transport command Air landing flights with SAS units.
Supply flights for the British units behind the beaches of Sword, Gold and Juno
Operation Tonga 6th British Airborne Division Capture of German positions behind Sword Beach
Operation Gambit Royal Navy Submarines for briefing the invasion units
Operation Maple Royal Navy & Royal Air Force Sea and airborne actions to design minefields
Landing at Utah, Omaha, Sword, Gold and Juno Beaches Allied units Beach landing on the Normandy coast and building a bridgehead

Reception in the media

  • Jean-Christophe Rosé: Invasion at Dawn - The Landing in Normandy. F 2014, two-part documentary (Original: La lumière de l'aube ; English title: The Light of Dawn - The Normandy Landings .) German version 2015 (German editing Marx Video; The planning; The invasion begins)
  • Band of Brothers - US TV feature film series from 2001 about an airborne unit that dropped over Normandy.
  • Saving Private Ryan (US, feature film, 1998)
  • The Longest Day (US, feature, 1962)
  • Pathfinders - The Company of Unknowns (USA 2009) - Film about the Eureka transmitters in Normandy
  • Prisoners of War

See also


  • Antony Beevor: D-Day - The Battle of Normandy. C. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 2010, ISBN 978-3-570-10007-3 .
  • David Brown: Operation Neptune. Frank Cass Publishers, London 2004, ISBN 0-415-35068-9 .
  • Thomas Ensminger: Spies, Supplies And Moonlit Skies - The French Connection April – June 1944 - Code Name Neptune. Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia 2004, ISBN 1-4134-4674-4 .
  • Joseph Balkoski: Omaha Beach, D-Day - June 6, 1944. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2004, ISBN 0-8117-0079-8 .
  • John Prados: Neptunus Rex - Naval Storys of the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944, Voices of the Navy Memorial. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1998, ISBN 0-89141-648-X .
  • Janusz Piekalkiewicz: The Invasion - France 1944. Südwest Verlag, Augsburg 1998, ISBN 3-517-00670-X .
  • Charles J. Masters: Glidermen of Neptune. The American D-Day Glider Attack. Southern Illinois University Press, Illinois 1995, ISBN 0-8093-2007-X .
  • Tony Hall (Ed.): Operation Overlord. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-613-02407-1 .
  • Cornelius Ryan: The longest day. Normandy: June 6, 1944. Heyne TB, 1998, ISBN 978-3-453-15577-0 .
  • Percy Ernst Schramm (Ed.): Invasion 1944. From the war diary of the Wehrmacht High Command. DTV, Munich 1984 (paperback), ISBN 3-423-02942-0 .

Web links

Commons : Landing in Normandy  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Hans von Luck : With Rommel at the front .
  2. (producer)
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on October 10, 2005 in this version .