D-Day: Attacking German-Controlled France

A German gun emplacement that was part of the Atlantic Wall.
The German Atlantic Wall was mounted along the yellow line on the map. Grey areas show German-occupied territories, German vassal states, German allies and Germany itself at the height of WW2.
Adolf Hitler wearing a red Nazi armband.
Allied soldiers in a landing craft approaching a French beach on D-Day.

For several years in World War II, Germany occupied most of Continental Europe, including France. With France being both symbolically and strategically important, it was quite obvious to Hitler that the Allied powers sooner or later would launch an offensive to try to retake the country, but he didn’t know when or where. For this reason, the Wehrmacht fortified the entire French north and west coast to impede attacks by sea, wherever they came from.

Bomber planes missing their targets

While Germany was still holding on to France, by mid-1944, the United States and its allies had halted Germany’s advances elsewhere and were starting to gain momentum. Now, they all decided, was a good time to prove Hitler’s suspicions correct and try to oust Germany from France.

To neutralize Germany’s coastal fortifications ahead of the planned offensive on June 6 1944, the Allies decided to carpet-bomb the particular stretch of coastline in northern France where they were to invade. This operation was then carried out in the morning of the day of the invasion. However, unluckily for the Allies, the sky was cloudy this morning and most bombers missed their targets, hitting French pastures instead of German bunkers. This meant that the Nazi gun emplacements that were located in the bunkers would still be in place when the invasion of France got underway only hours later.

Amphibious tanks

Another Allied undertaking that largely failed on the morning of June 6 was a landing operation of amphibious tanks. Few tanks reached the shore, leading to the accompanying lightly armed Allied infantry having to fend alone and without cover against the heavy German guns that the bombers had failed to take out. As explained in the next chapter, this was to have disastrous consequences for the foot soldiers who got off their boats first at the beaches where the invasion was to take place.