The Miracle that was D-Day

Readability

The Miracle that was D-Day

Since this week’s arti­cle fell on the 75th anniver­sary of the D-​Day land­ings I decided to make my arti­cle about that mirac­u­lous event. Call­ing D=Day a mirac­u­lous event is not an over­state­ment. Dur­ing the first 24 hours of the inva­sion the entire oper­a­tion very nearly spi­raled out of con­trol into an absolute dis­as­ter many times. There were sev­eral key turn­ing points where very timely actions by indi­vid­u­als or groups of indi­vid­u­als pre­vented absolute disaster,

I found this very detailed time­line of the events of D=Day. It is a very lengthy time­line and is in reverse chrono­logic order so for this arti­cle I copied a series events that were the most cru­cial turn­ing points and pasted them here.

00.00 (mid­night,
Dou­ble British Sum­mer Time): Oper­a­tion Titanic – part of Oper­a­tion For­ti­tude –
begins, designed to dis­tract Ger­man anti-​paratrooper units while the real
land­ings take place.

RAF air­craft drop hun­dreds of dummy para­troop­ers across Seine-​Maritime,
Cal­va­dos, Manche.

00.16 Six Horsa glid­ers are dropped above Cabourg. Major
John Howard com­mands 180 men whose objec­tive is to cap­ture two bridges,
code-​named Ham and Jam – the Bénou­ville
Bridge over the Caen
Canal (Ham) and the Ranville
Bridge (Jam) over the river Orne.
Staff Sgt Jim Wall­work pilots lead glider.

The Pont de Bénou­ville will later be renamed Pega­sus
Bridge after the emblem of the
British air­borne forces, and the Pont de Ranville renamed Horsa
Bridge.

They must be cap­tured to secure the east­ward route for troops land­ing at
Sword beach and to pre­vent Ger­man tanks com­ing west from Calais.

00.35 Both bridges are cap­tured in less
than 15 min­utes, with two men killed and 14 wounded. L/​Cpl Edward Tap­pen­den
sends the “Ham and Jam” vic­tory radio message.

00.50 RAF air­craft drop para­troop­ers of the
6th Air­borne Divi­sion over Ranville, Merville, Trouf­feville and Troarn. Their
aim is to take out the bat­tery of Merville to the south-​east of Cabourg,
destroy the bridges and occupy the crest of Troarn to pre­vent the arrival of
Ger­man rein­force­ments dur­ing the landings.

01.00 To the west, para­troop­ers of the US
101st and 82nd Air­borne Divi­sions are dropped. They too are to pro­tect troops
land­ing on the beaches but they are scat­tered widely across the Cotentin
penin­sula and some drown in flooded fields.

02.40 Field Mar­shal von Rund­st­edt com­mands the Ger­man army in France. He is hear­ing reports from Nor­mandy of fight­ing but still believes an inva­sion is aimed at Pas-​de-​Calais. The 21st Panzer Divi­sion could be mobilised but Hitler is aleep at Bercht­es­gaden and can­not be woken to give the order. (

04.00 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 505th Para­chute
Infantry Reg­i­ment (505th PIR) – an infantry reg­i­ment of the 82nd Air­borne
Divi­sion – cap­tures Sainte-​Mère-​Eglise, the first town to be liberated.

04.40 Von Rund­st­edt orders the 12th SS
Panzer Divi­sion and Panzer-​Lehr to move imme­di­ately to Cal­va­dos. Gen Jodl, at
OKW, the Armed Forces High Com­mand, can­cels the order at 06.30 and decides to
wait for Hitler to wake up.

05.30 Shortly after sun­rise, Allied naval
forces begin bom­bard­ment of the beaches; seven bat­tle­ships, 23 cruis­ers and 103
destroy­ers pound the shore­line. is among those bom­bard­ing Juno beach. USS
Tuscaloosa bom­bards the 30 bat­ter­ies around Utah
beach.

06.30 H-​Hour on Omaha
and Utah
beaches. The 1st and 29th Amer­i­can Divi­sions land over a four-​mile front at Omaha.
The US 4th
Divi­sion assaults Utah. 23,250
are to land at Utah.

06.40 Prob­lems are imme­di­ately obvi­ous at Omaha,
where 34,000 men and 3,300 vehi­cles are to be landed. Many land­ing craft miss
their tar­gets; 10 are swamped by rough seas; Duplex
Drive tanks – mod­i­fied Sher­mans
with floats attached – are sink­ing in the swell (27 of the first 29 are lost).
And Ger­man resis­tance – from the 352nd Infantry Divi­sion – is stronger than
anticipated.

07.10 A US Army Ranger Assault Group of 225
men led by Colonel Rud­der attacks the east­ern face of Pointe du Hoc, a 100-​ft
high for­ti­fied cliff between Utah
and Omaha beaches. After fierce
fight­ing the gun emplace­ments are taken but found to be empty – artillery had
already been moved. Fight­ing con­tin­ues for 36 hours after which only 90 Rangers
emerge unscathed.

07.40 After hours with­out a deci­sion, and
with Hitler still sleep­ing, Gen Edgar Feuchtinger uni­lat­er­ally orders his 21st
Panzer Divi­sion to move on the east­ern beaches.

08.25 There are Sher­man
tanks on Omaha beach giv­ing cover
to troops but casu­al­ties are severe. Pho­tog­ra­pher Robert Capa has come ashore
in the sec­ond wave with the 16th Reg­i­ment of the US
1st Infantry Divi­sion. He takes 106 pic­tures but only 11 sur­vive mis­takes
in the pro­cess­ing lab — those images will become the most endur­ing of the day.

09.05 Hitler is finally
awake at the Berghof, Bercht­es­gaden.
He regards the news from Nor­mandy
as excel­lent, still think­ing — thanks to Oper­a­tion Fortitude’s chain of
decep­tions — that the morning’s events are a cover for the real inva­sion at
Pas-​de-​Calais.

09.15 Gen­eral Omar Bradley, com­man­der of
the US First Army and in charge of the assaults on Omaha
and Utah, is watch­ing the chaos
at Omaha from the cruiser the USS
Augusta. He con­sid­ers evac­u­a­tion or divert­ing troops from Utah,
the sit­u­a­tion appears so perilous.

09.48 There are hun­dreds of bod­ies on the
beach at Omaha and
float­ing in the water. Ger­man machine gun­ners of the 352nd Infantry Divi­sion
are find­ing it too easy to pick off US forces as they attempt to sprint across
the sand to the poten­tial shel­ter of the 10ft-​high seawall.

10.18 Destroy­ers and smaller craft close to
shore are des­per­ately try­ing to pro­vide cover for the landed men at Omaha.
There are in the­ory five exits from the beach — a paved road lead­ing to
Vierville-​sur-​Mer, two dirt roads lead­ing to Colleville-​sur-​Mer and
Saint-​Laurent-​sur-​Mert, and two dirt paths — but given the level of fire the
only prac­ti­ca­ble way out is to scale the cliffs as the US Rangers had at Pointe
du Hoc

11.22 There are per­haps 2,000 dead at Omaha
but troops are reach­ing the cliffs led by US Rangers. Gen Bradley is mes­saged
that “things look better”.

13.35 From Omaha,
Gen Bradley aboard USS Augusta receives the mes­sage: “Troops pre­vi­ously
stopped on Easy Red, Easy Green and Red Fox beaches, progress on hills behind
the beaches.

23.59 By the end of D-​Day, 159,000 Allied
troops, marines, air­men and naval per­son­nel ashore have suc­cess­fully
estab­lished four size­able beach­heads. The inva­sion front remains vul­ner­a­ble to
Ger­man counter-​attack, and there will be ter­ri­ble fight­ing ahead, but a cru­cial
step has been taken towards lib­er­at­ing Europe.

Since this week’s article fell on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings I decided to make my article about that miraculous event.  Calling D=Day a miraculous event is not an overstatement. During the first 24 hours of the invasion the entire operation very nearly spiraled out of control into an absolute disaster many times.  There were several key turning points where very timely actions by individuals or groups of individuals prevented absolute disaster,

I found this very detailed timeline of the events of D=Day.  It is a very lengthy timeline and is in reverse chronologic order so for this article I copied a series events that were the most crucial turning points and pasted them here.

00.00 (midnight, Double British Summer Time): Operation Titanic – part of Operation Fortitude – begins, designed to distract German anti-paratrooper units while the real landings take place.

RAF aircraft drop hundreds of dummy paratroopers across Seine-Maritime, Calvados, Manche.

00.16 Six Horsa gliders are dropped above Cabourg. Major John Howard commands 180 men whose objective is to capture two bridges, code-named Ham and Jam – the Bénouville Bridge over the Caen Canal (Ham) and the Ranville Bridge (Jam) over the river Orne. Staff Sgt Jim Wallwork pilots lead glider.

The Pont de Bénouville will later be renamed Pegasus Bridge after the emblem of the British airborne forces, and the Pont de Ranville renamed Horsa Bridge.

They must be captured to secure the eastward route for troops landing at Sword beach and to prevent German tanks coming west from Calais.

00.35 Both bridges are captured in less than 15 minutes, with two men killed and 14 wounded. L/Cpl Edward Tappenden sends the “Ham and Jam” victory radio message.

00.50 RAF aircraft drop paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division over Ranville, Merville, Trouffeville and Troarn. Their aim is to take out the battery of Merville to the south-east of Cabourg, destroy the bridges and occupy the crest of Troarn to prevent the arrival of German reinforcements during the landings.

01.00 To the west, paratroopers of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions are dropped. They too are to protect troops landing on the beaches but they are scattered widely across the Cotentin peninsula and some drown in flooded fields.

02.40 Field Marshal von Rundstedt commands the German army in France. He is hearing reports from Normandy of fighting but still believes an invasion is aimed at Pas-de-Calais. The 21st Panzer Division could be mobilised but Hitler is aleep at Berchtesgaden and cannot be woken to give the order. (

04.00 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (505th PIR) – an infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division – captures Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the first town to be liberated.

04.40 Von Rundstedt orders the 12th SS Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr to move immediately to Calvados. Gen Jodl, at OKW, the Armed Forces High Command, cancels the order at 06.30 and decides to wait for Hitler to wake up.

05.30 Shortly after sunrise, Allied naval forces begin bombardment of the beaches; seven battleships, 23 cruisers and 103 destroyers pound the shoreline. is among those bombarding Juno beach. USS Tuscaloosa bombards the 30 batteries around Utah beach.

06.30 H-Hour on Omaha and Utah beaches. The 1st and 29th American Divisions land over a four-mile front at Omaha. The US 4th Division assaults Utah. 23,250 are to land at Utah.

06.40 Problems are immediately obvious at Omaha, where 34,000 men and 3,300 vehicles are to be landed. Many landing craft miss their targets; 10 are swamped by rough seas; Duplex Drive tanks – modified Shermans with floats attached – are sinking in the swell (27 of the first 29 are lost). And German resistance – from the 352nd Infantry Division – is stronger than anticipated.

07.10 A US Army Ranger Assault Group of 225 men led by Colonel Rudder attacks the eastern face of Pointe du Hoc, a 100-ft high fortified cliff between Utah and Omaha beaches. After fierce fighting the gun emplacements are taken but found to be empty – artillery had already been moved. Fighting continues for 36 hours after which only 90 Rangers emerge unscathed.

07.40 After hours without a decision, and with Hitler still sleeping, Gen Edgar Feuchtinger unilaterally orders his 21st Panzer Division to move on the eastern beaches.

08.25 There are Sherman tanks on Omaha beach giving cover to troops but casualties are severe. Photographer Robert Capa has come ashore in the second wave with the 16th Regiment of the US 1st Infantry Division. He takes 106 pictures but only 11 survive mistakes in the processing lab – those images will become the most enduring of the day.

09.05 Hitler is finally awake at the Berghof, Berchtesgaden. He regards the news from Normandy as excellent, still thinking – thanks to Operation Fortitude’s chain of deceptions – that the morning’s events are a cover for the real invasion at Pas-de-Calais.

09.15 General Omar Bradley, commander of the US First Army and in charge of the assaults on Omaha and Utah, is watching the chaos at Omaha from the cruiser the USS Augusta. He considers evacuation or diverting troops from Utah, the situation appears so perilous.

09.48 There are hundreds of bodies on the beach at Omaha and floating in the water. German machine gunners of the 352nd Infantry Division are finding it too easy to pick off US forces as they attempt to sprint across the sand to the potential shelter of the 10ft-high seawall.

10.18 Destroyers and smaller craft close to shore are desperately trying to provide cover for the landed men at Omaha. There are in theory five exits from the beach – a paved road leading to Vierville-sur-Mer, two dirt roads leading to Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mert, and two dirt paths – but given the level of fire the only practicable way out is to scale the cliffs as the US Rangers had at Pointe du Hoc

11.22 There are perhaps 2,000 dead at Omaha but troops are reaching the cliffs led by US Rangers. Gen Bradley is messaged that “things look better”.

13.35 From Omaha, Gen Bradley aboard USS Augusta receives the message: “Troops previously stopped on Easy Red, Easy Green and Red Fox beaches, progress on hills behind the beaches.

23.59 By the end of D-Day, 159,000 Allied troops, marines, airmen and naval personnel ashore have successfully established four sizeable beachheads. The invasion front remains vulnerable to German counter-attack, and there will be terrible fighting ahead, but a crucial step has been taken towards liberating Europe.