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Normandy campaign

Normandy campaign, June to Aug., 1944, in World War II. The Allied invasion of the European continent through Normandy began about 12:15 a.m. on June 6, 1944 (D-day). The plan, known as Operation Overlord, had been prepared since 1943; supreme command over its execution was entrusted to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In May, 1944, tactical bombing was begun in order to destroy German communications in N France. Just after midnight on June 6, British and American airborne forces landed behind the German coastal fortifications known as the Atlantic Wall. They were followed after daybreak by the seaborne troops of the U.S. 1st Army and British 2d Army. Field Marshal B. L. Montgomery was in command of the Allied land forces. Some 4,000 transports, 800 warships, and innumerable small craft, under Admiral Sir B. H. Ramsay, supported the invasion, and more than 11,000 aircraft, under Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, formed a protective umbrella. While naval guns and Allied bombers assaulted the beach fortifications, the men swarmed ashore. At the base of the Cotentin peninsula the U.S. forces established two beachheads—Utah Beach, W of the Vire River, and Omaha Beach, E of the Vire, the scene of the fiercest fighting. British troops, who had landed near Bayeux on three beaches called Gold, Juno, and Sword, advanced quickly but were stopped before Caen. On June 12 the fusion of the Allied beachheads was complete. The German commander, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, found that Allied air strength prevented use of his reserves. U.S. forces under Gen. Omar N. Bradley cut off the Cotentin peninsula (June 18), and Cherbourg surrendered on June 27. The Americans then swung south. After difficult fighting in easily defendable "hedgerow" country they captured (July 18) the vital communications center of Saint-Lô, cutting off the German force under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The U.S. 3d Army under Gen. George S. Patton was thrown into the battle and broke through the German left flank at Avranches. Patton raced into Brittany and S to the Loire, swinging east to outflank Paris. A German attempt to cut the U.S. forces in two at Avranches was foiled (Aug. 7–11). The British had taken Caen on July 9, but they were again halted by a massive German tank concentration. They resumed their offensive in August and captured Falaise on Aug. 16. Between them and the U.S. forces driving north from Argentan the major part of the German 7th Army was caught in the "Falaise pocket" and was wiped out by Aug. 23, opening the way for the Allies to overrun N France.

See G. A. Harrison, Cross Channel Attack (1951); C. Ryan, The Longest Day (1959, repr. 1967); A. McKee, Last Round against Rommel (1964); A. A. Mitchie, The Invasion of Europe (1964); Army Times Ed., D-day, the Greatest Invasion (1969); S. E. Ambrose, D-day, June 6, 1944 (1994); R. J. Drez, Voices of D-day (1994); R. Miller, Nothing Less than Victory (1994); T. A. Wilson, D-day 1944 (1994); A. Beevor, D-day: The Battle for Normandy (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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