Close your eyes and imagine you are cold and sitting in the back of the boat. The sky is cloudy and many airplanes are flying overhead. The water from the chilly ocean is splashing into your boat and as you look ahead you see a beach which you and your team of soldiers must invade. Bombs explode in the water around you. Your boat tries to navigate through spikes and landmines that are guarding the water leading up to the beach. A boat nearby you is sinking from an explosion. “Out of the boat! Out of the boat!” someone shouts. The ramp to the front of the boat goes down and you rush out with the other soldiers. You are very scared, but you know in order to win the war this beach must be taken back! It is D-Day and you are one of the Allied soldiers preparing to take Normandy Beach in France.
For many years Hitler and the German Army controlled France and many other countries in Europe. The main goal of the Allies was to kick Hitler and his army out of France and take the fight to Germany. The Allies were made up of many countries, but the main ones were the United States, England, France, Russia, and Canada. D-Day was one of the most important missions of the war because it would take place on the beaches of France where the Allies would start taking back Europe from Hitler.
The United States General Eisenhower was made command of the D-Day operation in January 1944. The Allies knew they wanted to attack, but weren’t sure where. And part of the plan was to trick Hitler into believing the attack would be from somewhere else, so he wouldn’t be able to concentrate all of his forces in one place. The Allies used many tricks to go about this such as spies, secret agents, fake tanks, and fake radio messages. They even put one of their best generals, George Patton, in different area to confused Hitler. Over 3,200 reconnaissance missions were used to prepare for D-Day. Reconnaissance means to to spy on the enemy and do research to decide how to act next. The original name of the mission was Operation Overlord, and only later referred to as D-Day.
The plan was to attack the Germans on Normandy Beach. 5,000 ships and 11,000 airplanes were used during the attack. After the ships brought in the soldiers, the plan was to put them all on amphibious vehicles, move them to the beach, then the soldiers would attack the Germans guarding the beach.
But the morning before they started the attack the Allie’s planes dropped bombs on the Germans guarding the beach. French people living in a town nearby were awoken to the sound of bombs. A French villager lived near a house overlooking the beaches. He said: “I saw light coming from two bombs that exploded at the ridge of the cliff.” The Allies were doing everything they could to make sure the soldiers coming in on the beach would be safe.
The night before the invasion 24,000 soldiers also parachuted out of planes and landed behind the German army to help the troops who would be landing on the beach. These soldiers were called “paratroopers.”
One of the paratroopers was named Bob Nobles. He and his 16-man team flew in a plane across the English Channel. Just after midnight the light inside their plane told them it was time to jump out. They all lined up and one after another jumped out of the back of the plane. He said “By the time my parachute opened, I was on the ground!” He landed in a farmer’s field all by himself and took off his parachute. Then he hurried off on foot until he came across another paratrooper. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” the other paratrooper shouted. “I’m from Indiana! But I forgot the password!” They were supposed to have a password to know who was on their side and who was the enemy. Bob laughed as they looked for the rest of the teammates. But most of the other paratroopers had missed the drop zone, the place they were supposed to land.
These paratrooper missions proved to be very dangerous and a challenge in some cases where the soldiers landed in the wrong place or were captured or shot as soon as they landed. But in other cases the soldiers were able to regroup and take bridges and help the soldiers who would be landing on the beach the next day.
The original plan was to attack on June 5th, but the weather was very bad, so it was put off until June 6th. In a message to troops before they left, General Eisenhower told them, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”
On June 6th 1944 starting at 6:30 a.m. the amphibious vehicles took the Allied troops from the ships to the beach. Amphibious means something that works in water and on land. These vehicles were designed to float like a boat and drive like a car!
Over 100,000 Allied soldiers attacked the beach at the same time! They were from many different countries like the United States, England, and Canada. The invasion was the largest amphibious landing and assault in history!
For many months the German Army had prepared for an attack on the beach. They had built many defenses armed with machine guns, barbed wire, land mines, so attacking the beach was extremely dangerous.
One of the soldiers, Colonel Moulton, was on the amphibious landing craft with his soldiers. He told them to fire smoke bombs into the sky so they would be hidden from the enemy machine guns. It helped some, but their landing craft was still smashed up and some of the soldiers died when they hit the beach. Telling his story many years later, he said that the “Germans built concrete strong points in the villages and we landed right in front of one,” which caused much harm to his fellow soldiers.
Another soldier, Harry Timmins, said that when their landing craft came on the beach “the noise was more than you could possibly imagine. There were explosions all around us in the sea and the shells and mortars were kicking up sand all over the beach. A couple of buildings were on fire and the guns on our boat also joined in the barrage and deafened us.”
Many soldiers lost their lives as they came out of the landing vehicles. In some places the water was too high, so sadly they sank with all their heavy gear on.
Another soldier, Robert Watson remembered that nothing went quite as planned. Everything took longer than expected and his landing craft was taking on a lot of water. “Landing craft were exploding all around me,” he remembered and got very sick in his boat. He remembered someone yelling “Get to the beach!” Then their craft hit a floating mine and they had to climb onto another craft to get the rest of the way to the beach. After he finally got to the beach he said, “I was scared my ammunition wouldn’t work” because it was wet. But he was able to fire shots without any problem and started firing at the enemy. The company of soldiers he started with had 62 soldiers. Only 36 of them were left after the attack. Many of his friends never made it to the beach.
The beaches were given different codenames. Omaha Beach and Juno Beach had the most casualties. A casualty is when someone is hurt or dies in battle. By the end of the morning over 4,000 soldiers had died during the intense battle!
By the time the battle was done the Allies had taken the beach and started moving into France. It was one of the most dangerous battles of World War II, but also one of the most important as well. Now that the Allies were in France they had shown the world and Hitler that they were very strong and would be able to win the war. The war continued on for many more days, but because of the sacrifices made on D-Day there was hope for the people of France and people all around the world that the war would come to an end.
Do you know anyone who has served in the military? Take some time to think about their bravery in deciding to serve and what courage it must take to decide to put your life on the line for your country. Think about those who gave their life on D-Day and how many of the freedoms you have exist, because someone else has given up their own time and sometimes even their life. There is a quote that says “Freedom isn’t free.” Freedom is often something that has to be fought for. Because of this, we shouldn’t take our own freedom for granted. Think about what you might do to keep freedom strong wherever you live. This might mean learning more about government and your local leaders. This might mean learning about different laws and voting when you are the right age. It might also mean serving in the military as well. Whatever you do to help, remember that freedom is a wonderful thing that not everyone has; and something we should never take for granted.