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The D-Day Invasion: The Beginning of the End of Nazi Germany

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  • 0:05 WWII 1939-1943
  • 1:46 Operation Overlord & D-Day
  • 4:10 Logistics of Operation…
  • 5:28 The Liberation of France
  • 6:54 1945: Battle of the…
  • 8:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi-occupied Western Europe, began with the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with Hitler's last stand taking place at the Battle of the Bulge. Learn about these and other events that contributed to the end of Nazi Germany.

WWII 1939 - 1943

For the first three years of WWII, the Axis powers prevailed. Japan advanced throughout the Pacific, Germany blazed across Europe, and Italy fought for North Africa with Germany's help. But by 1942, the tide was beginning to turn. Adolf Hitler, Germany's leader, focused his attention on an invasion of the Soviet Union. Despite a rapid initial advance, the invasion slowed to a crawl in '42, and by that winter (after the Battle of Stalingrad), the Nazis were in retreat. Meanwhile, American forces in the Pacific had Japan on the run after the Battle of Midway in 1942, and British forces defended Egypt in the Battle of El Alamein.

American troops' first action in the west was Operation Torch, helping to reclaim French colonies in North Africa. Next, the joint forces invaded Sicily in the summer of 1943. They crept up the Italian peninsula, building airfields from which they launched bombing raids throughout Nazi territory. Italy overthrew its fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, and declared war on Germany (its former ally) in 1943. This forced Hitler to divert troops and resources from the Soviet front to defend the Italian peninsula. Yet, in the face of stiff Nazi resistance, the Allied leaders agreed: it was time to retake Europe. While most American forces withdrew from Italy in preparation, the remaining troops liberated Rome on June 4, 1944.

Operation Overlord and D-Day

Two days later, the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi-occupied Western Europe. In the weeks prior, the French resistance had sabotaged communication and transportation networks supporting the region. Then, shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, as many as 24,000 Allied paratroopers dropped behind German lines in northern France with the goal of weakening their defenses. For a variety of reasons, including scattered landings and fatal mishaps, the paratroopers were not as effective as planned. Before dawn, thousands of ships unloaded amphibious landing craft, which spent up to an hour in the storm-tossed sea, headed for five different beaches. Just after 6:00 a.m., heavy air support dropped 13,000 bombs, but their caution to avoid the Allied landing craft meant that almost none of the beach defenses were hit. A naval bombardment likewise did minimal damage. But promptly at 6:30 am, the landing craft rallied and stormed the beaches of Normandy in an action known as D-Day.

Most of the American troops were headed for the beaches code-named Omaha and Utah. As soon as the ramps dropped, German machine guns opened fire. Some men who made it off the boats alive were shot in the water; others drowned, weighed down by equipment. The landing craft crushed some men who slipped under the ramp while disembarking. Those who made it to shore faced heavy fire on the open beach, some of them having lost their guns or ammunition to the waves. Many of their weapons didn't fire after being drenched in sand and salt water, nor did their radios work. Officers had been among the first off the boats - the first to die. There were 3,000 American casualties on Omaha Beach that morning. But despite the chaos, disorder, terror and death, later-arriving officers ordered the men to clean their weapons and attack German positions. And by the end of the day, June 6, 1944, the Allies controlled the coast of France about a mile deep.

The Logistics of Operation Overlord

Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious invasion on record, although precise numbers are difficult to pinpoint because so many nations were involved. On D-Day, 11,000 or more Allied aircraft dropped bombs and paratroopers, targeted Nazi troops moving to the front line, kept every German airplane away from the beaches until dark and stopped every enemy U-boat that approached the English Channel. By D-Day+5, up to 7000 vessels had participated, and before it was over, nearly 2 million men had taken part in the invasion effort.

The fact that such a massive operation was pulled off in secret is practically a miracle in itself. Hitler did expect an invasion, but counter-intelligence, decoy operations, and false radio traffic ensured that he did not know the date or location. Notorious General George Patton was the commander of an enormous 'ghost' army, completely fabricated by artists, threatening a different location. The bad weather on June 6 also played a part in convincing Nazi leaders for hours that D-Day was not the real thing.

The Liberation of France

Coordination among the Allies remained paramount in the weeks to come. From his headquarters in Normandy, General Eisenhower (commander of Allied forces) linked American ground troops with scattered paratroopers, and directed British movements, as well. The Germans were defeated in one bloody battle after another until Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944 by General Patton, leading a very real army this time. The general sent a famous telegram to his commander reading, 'Dear Ike: Today I spat in the Seine' (that's the river that runs through Paris). By the end of 1944, the Allies were approaching the Rhine River, the border between Germany and France. But the engagements had taken their toll, and many experienced troops were lost, to be replaced by fresh recruits.

Keeping all of these forward units supplied was also a logistical challenge, and a special transport group nicknamed the 'Red Ball Express' was organized. Comprised mostly of African Americans, they drove continuously in tag-team fashion to bring the combat troops as much fuel, food and ammunition as possible to advance as fast as the Nazis could retreat. But as the supply line grew, it slowed down, and soon, a shortage of fuel was seriously hindering the invasion.

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