The first Allied soldiers to reach Normandy were the Pathfinders, paratroopers equipped with radio beacons with the task of signaling to the transport planes the route to follow. The first units to reach Normandy were the paratroopers. During the first hours of June 6, the 6th UK paratroopers landed near the objectives, the Orne River and the bridge over the canal, thereafter called “Pegasus Bridge.” The nearly one-thousand C-47 places that transported the 82nd and the 101st paratroopers US met dense clouds over Normandy and powerful opposition of the German anti-aircraft artillery. They could not maintain the cohesion of the complex flight formation and consequently the soldiers often launched themselves far from the planned zones. It was total chaos, for several units it would take days to join together again.
A few hours after the launch of the paratroopers began the landing of the gliders, which brought reinforcements and heavy weapons. The British paratroopers managed to reach the objectives established by the plans, while the American forces were disorganized and scattered over a very wide area. The reaching of several objectives is owed to the spirit of initiative of soldiers of every rank.
The positive side of the errors made during the launch of the American troops was that they induced the German Command to interpret initially the alarm as small raids to create disturbance. When the German Command comprehends that the invasion is in action, it overestimates the dimension of the paratrooper forces, given that almost everywhere, between the road from Carentan to Montebourg and the coast, paratroopers who engage German forces in combat were indicated.
This map shows the positions of the German forces on June 6 and approximate landing zones of the air transport forces.
At dawn on June 6 the invasion began.
At UTAH the first wave of the 4th Division US landed a few kilometers from the planned point due to an error in the navigation of the landing vehicles. This error brought them to a beach hardly defended through which they could advance inland to connect up with the troops transported by air and to proceed toward the landing zone where following waves were awaited. The landing zone had been hard hit by the air and naval bombings, and the obstacles were removed to allow the landing of the reinforcements.
At OMAHA the bombardments did not succeed in damaging the German defenses. This was the better defended sector, also thanks to the terrain with dunes and cliffs higher than the other landing zones. Moreover, the contingent of the 352nd German Division was underestimated, exceeding the previsions of number and quality. The first waves of the 29th and the 1st Divisions US endured enormous losses and with the passing of time the situation did not improve.
The situation was so grave and the progress was so scarce that the High Allied Command considered declaring failed the landing at OMAHA and directing the waiting reinforcements to other shores.
The soldiers' awareness of being destined to a certain death, if they were not able to surpass the line of German defense and to advance, had the upper hand over the objective elements and small groups found the force to move beyond the beach.
Only at the end of the day the bridgehead at OMAHA had been established and strongly defended, even if late by many hours. At Point Du Hoc the Rangers scaled the cliff under enemy fire only not to find the cannons of large caliber, which constituted the objective of their mission.
With GOLD the sector of British competence initiated. At GOLD, SWORD and JUNO the 50th division UK, the 3rd Division CA, the 3rd Division UK and parts of the 79th Armored Division UK did not meet obstacles larger than anticipated despite the presence and the use of 21st German Panzer Division during the day and they began to penetrate into to the interior establishing by the end of D-Day the most extensive and deepest bridgehead of all the sectors. The connection was established with the 6th division paratroopers UK, which formed the eastern flank.
The surprise effect was complete and I think that it is possible to affirm that without this the invasion would have diffcultly succeeded.
If we tried hard not to consider the historical outcome, but we analyzed only the Allied forces, their successes and failures the distance of Allied and Nazi reinforcements from the zone of invasion (it is to be noted for the Germans that 1 panzer division was in Normandy, while another 3 could arrive there in a few hours) we would bet with difficulty on the success of the Allies. At the end of D-Day the more important objectives, the taking of Caen and Bayeux, had not been reached and OMAHA had been a shock.
Paradoxically, the structure of command and the formation of the Nazi army would make the difference between a failure and a historical outcome. It was Nazism that failed in Normandy.
The German armored forces in Normandy were considerable and of good quality, while the Allies had few means to oppose them, and strangely the occasion did not present itself (excluding several episodes).
On the basis of the information at hand, Rommel, commander of the German theater of war, was in a position to direct these forces, but he could not because they were not under his effective control; these forces instead could be ordered only by the Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler. During the decisive morning of D-Day Hitler was deeply sleeping in his “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden and no official among the war heroes, advisers and high officials had the courage to challenge Hitler’s anger waking him, thus “reminding” him of his duties as supreme head. These are not picturesque and ironic elements of a situation, but represent the realty of the Nazi Reich.
From a military point of view it was a vertical structure that used terror and intimidation to obtain obedience and in which the supreme commander was obsessed with the care of details, losing sight of the general picture. A care for details that masked the incapacity to delegate and to place faith in his own subordinates. These were characteristics that did not regard only Hitler but also many other German commanders, Rommel included. It was an organization that impeded discussion, but professed blind obedience to the Fuhrer, a figure put forward as semi-divine and infallible.
For the Allies the opposite applied. Democracy maintained in high consideration the value of discussing the plans and politics, even among the different ranks, and the free initiative whether of an official or a simple soldier. In combat the Allies reacted readily to the loss of an official, reassigning the charge and planning a course of action.
The Germans did not dare make any decision fearing the consequences of autonomous actions that would not please superiors.