“Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?” Churchill said to his wife the night before D-Day.
On the 6th June 1944 shortly after midnight the allied assault on Hitler’s army commenced. Due to the Allied deception plans, low tides and bad weather the German army was caught unawares. The Germans believed that an attack was unlikely. More than 1,000 British bombers began to pummel the Normandy’s coast line whilst the German commander Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday.
The initial assault secured key bridges and the flanks of the landing zone. Some of the most important achievements included the capture of Pegasus Bridge and the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise as well as other key targets. The taking of Pointe-De-Hoc by US rangers was important as this headland was stocked with German soldiers ready to threaten the landing on the beaches by the Allied forces.
The Allied forces were faced with scaling a 30 meter cliff face whilst being battered by German fire. The success by the Allied forces was due to the confusion by the Germans. It was not until 2:15 am that the hierarchy received news of the attack which was not confirmed until 4:15 am. It was not until 6:00 am that when a line of unbroken Allied ships were spotted that all doubts were removed. Allied warships and aircraft pounded German defences along almost 100 kilometres of coast. The U S soldiers went ashore at 6:30 am by landing craft at Utah and Omaha beaches. An hour later the British and Canadians arrived at the beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword. The troops at Utah accidentally landed two kilometres from their target, on a virtually unguarded beach. The landing zone was quickly secured with few losses.
There was a fierce battle on the Omaha Beach where the aerial bombardment had done little to dent German defenses. As soon as landing craft ramps were lowered the allied forces were bombarded with machine gun fire from the cliff-top bunkers. Those who made it ashore found it difficult to advance across 200 meter of open beach. The German bombardment had sunk the amphibious tanks intended to cover the infantry’s advance. American infantry worked their way around the German defences, outflanked and stormed them, allowing the beachhead to be secured. There were more than 2,000 American casualties. When the British and Canadian troops landed at 7.30 am, the tide was high and left few meters of beach to traverse. Even though mines sunk a number of boats, soldiers succeeded in silencing the German machine guns within half an hour.
At the end of the day although they had not taken their objective of Caen, the soldiers had penetrated six kilometers inland, and their foothold in Normandy was secure. At 6:00 pm when Churchill addressed the House of Commons, it was to announce the astounding success of an operation which would go down in military history.
Did you know? The Normandy landings were the largest amphibious operation in history. In one day 175,000 troops landed on the Normandy coast, with the help of more than 5,000 ships, crewed by 195,700 personnel from the Allied navies and merchant navies. D-Day, or Operation Neptune, was the first move in Operation Overlord, the code name for the Battle of Normandy. Nine thousand Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, but 100,000 went on to march against the Axis forces – in what would eventually lead to the successful Allied invasion of Western Europe occupied by Nazi Germany.
Australia’s part in the invasion In 1944 Australia’s war effort was focused on the Pacific War, and most elements of the country’s military were in Australia and the islands to its north. The Australian Government had very little influence over where Australian graduates of EATS (Empire Air Training Scheme) were posted, and many were assigned directly to British units.
The Australian contribution to the Battle of Normandy involved approximately 3,000 military personnel serving under British command. The majority of these personnel were members of the Royal Australian Air force (RAAF), though smaller numbers of Australians serving with the Royal Navy and the British Army also participated in the fighting prior to and after the Allied landings on 6 June 1944.
While all the RAAF units based in the United Kingdom (UK) took part in the battle, Australians made up only a small portion of the Allied force. Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved.