« I have to announce to the House that the first series of landings in force upon the European continent has taken place... The fire of shore batteries has beenn largery quelled. Everything is proceeding according to plan. »
CHURCHILL to the House of Commons, on June 6th, 1944.
At midnight, on 5th June, the battle starts on each flank of the landing zone : to the east, on the right bank of the river Orne, between Caen and the sea, the first British paratroopers and gliders land.
The principle objectives are reached on time, thanks to individual initiatives : the bridge at Benouville known as "Pegasus Bridge" at 00h20, the Merville battery at about 04h30. On the other side of the invasion area, the US paratroopers descend on Sainte-Mère-Eglise which is liberated early at 00h30.
At 02h00, off the five beaches, about six thousand ships are waiting. Helped by the sailors, the men board the landing craft. The time has come for the assault. The first American wave reaches Utah beach and Omaha beach at 06h30 ; meanwhile the first British troops arrive on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches at 07h30.
On all fronts of the invasion zone, since 00h15, eighteen thousand American, Canadian and British paratroopers are fighting against the surprised Germans.
Along the coast, the naval bombings are being replaced by heavy aerial bombardment.
It is at Utah and Omaha that the first battles are taking place. At Utah, the first American troops get on the beach at exactly 06h30 two kilometres south of the planned area but without heavy losses. Luckily for them, this sector is not so well defended! Soon, one beachhead is formed and then another, thanks to the engineers. The junction with the 101st airborne division is made during the early hours of the day.
At Omaha, the battle is immediately very tough. While they are still in the water, many soldiers fall under the fire of the automatic weapons. The German defences look intact. US B-24 Liberator aircraft have bombed too far inland. Trapped between the water and the concrete seawall, the American troops count their casualties. Some companies have lost nearly 70% of their men.
The Americans are pinned down on the beach until midday. Inside the German bunkers, ammunition is running short. At last, at 12h30, some breaches have been opened: Vierville is taken. As night falls, short of reinforcements because of the Allied aerial superiority, the German soldiers surrender.
Between Omaha and Utah, at the top of La Pointe du Hoc, a thirty-metre high sharp cliff, the guns in the concrete shelters jeopardize the landings along Omaha beach. US Rangers were given the mission to take the battery. They manage to capture La Pointe du Hoc by scaling the cliffs, using fire-ladders attached to the landing crafts and rocked-fired grapnels. Unfortunately the Rangers have to fight off German counter-attacks until 8th June before being relieved.
On Sword beach, between Hermanville and Ouistreham, there is little resistance. The landing operation is carried out methodically: the special tanks quickly open breaches, and at 09h30 the progression inland starts. The British armoured divisions arrive some 6 kilometers from Caen at about 16h00, but, there, the 21st Panzer division stops them. In the meantime, the 177 French fusiliers, lead by Commandant Kieffer, have succeeded in "cleaning-up" the casino at Ouistreham...
At Juno, Courseulles-sur-mer, the 3rd Canadian division has landed. And there too, the special tanks are extremely effective. At about 09h30, Bernières-sur-mer is captured. The Canadians can now continue South.
At the centre of the landing zone, Gold beach is dominated by cliffs. The British 50th Northumberland division progresses rapidly and destroys bunkers and other German obstacles. At the end of the morning, several breaches are opened and the British troops capture Creully and Arromanches, where an enormous artificial harbour is to be installed.