On 6 June 1944 - D-Day - Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. This successful action signalled the beginning of the end of the Second World War: it was the first stage in the liberation of western Europe and a major step towards the defeat of Nazi Germany. The campaign was code-named Operation Overlord.
Operation Overlord was a complex operation involving the land, sea and air forces of the USA, Britain, Canada and other allies. It required extensive planning and preparation, a process dogged by political and strategic arguments. Stalin, whose forces were engaging the Germans in the east, pressured the Allies to open a second front in Europe without such detailed preparation, and the Americans and British also had disagreements.
Planning was affected by a lack of forces and equipment, notably landing craft, and by the need to divert resources to campaigns elsewhere, especially in the Mediterranean. During 1943, however, the Allies achieved a much more favourable strategic position in Europe. The German U-boats in the Atlantic were defeated and the Allied armies in the Mediterranean achieved increasing success, as did Soviet forces on the Eastern Front.
Planning the invasion
Thorough preparations began during 1943. A new planning staff was assembled, and General Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the operation.
Normandy was chosen for the landings because it was in range of fighter aircraft based in England and had open beaches that were not as well defended as those of the Pas de Calais. It also had a fairly large port (Cherbourg), and was opposite the main ports of southern England.
In the last few months before D-Day, the Allied air forces wrecked the railways and bridges of northern France and achieved the necessary weakening of German air force strength. Other preparations included the manufacture of equipment including transport ships, landing craft, amphibious tanks and artificial harbours.
Intelligence, deception and German preparations
The Allies enforced tight security to prevent the Germans learning the details of the invasion. The skilful use of intelligence and deception was also a key factor in the operation. An elaborate plan was implemented in order to convince the Germans that the invasion would be in the Pas de Calais. It worked: the Germans, faced with the need to defend coastlines stretching from Norway to south-west France, paid most attention to the Pas de Calais.