The D-DAY Landings and the Battle of Normandy

The Battle of Normandy

This exhibition space deals exclusively with the Invasion of Normandy, a key episode in the liberation of Europe.

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For the first time ever, we cover every detail of the Invasion of Normandy. Indeed, few people really know how much Normandy suffered following 6 June 1944. 20,000 inhabitants of Normandy were killed, that is a third of all French civilians killed during the Second World War. Towns were razed to the ground in mass bomb attacks, battles as fierce as those on the Eastern front raged, civilians underwent terrible suffering and many were evacuated, the German army fled and was pursued.

The Battle of Normandy was not supposed to last more than a few weeks. It would only end on 12th September with the liberation of Le Havre, one hundred days after the Landings.

July : the Allies mark time

Their taking of Cherbourg at the end of June had been a major success on the part of the Americans.

Their taking of Cherbourg at the end of June had been a major success on the part of the Americans. Once the town’s port was rehabilitated, it would serve as a logistics base for the reconquest of France. But the month of July, which saw fresh attacks being launched in the south, was a good deal less favourable to the allied cause. In the “bocage” of Cotentin, the GIs strove to gain the upper hand and suffered terribly for it. It was “the hell of the hedgerows”. The fields were fiercely defended by the Germans and had to be taken one by one, at the cost of considerable and repeated losses. The advance was discouragingly slow. “This damn war could well last twenty years!” one American general bemoaned. On their side, the British and Canadians were blocked at the gates of Caen, which they had hoped to take on the evening of the 6 June. It is true that they were confronted with the best the German army had to offer, with its formidable Wehrmacht and Waffen SS armoured divisions.

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The liberation of Caen

After a month of siege, Montgomery decided to try a frontal attack on Caen in an attempt to break the deadlock.

After a month of siege, Montgomery decided to try a frontal attack on Caen in an attempt to break the deadlock. On 4 July, the final attack was preceded by a Canadian assault on the 12th Panzer SS Hitlerjugend entrenchments around Carpiquet and its aerodrome, which were taken after hard fighting. On the evening of the 7th, heavy aerial bombing opened a breach in the German defences to the north of Caen. The Canadians and British finally entered Caen on 9 July. The right bank of the Orne, however, was not to fall for another ten days and the Germans were able to re-establish their lines of defence south of the town and continue to block the road to Falaise.

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Operation Cobra: The American breakthrough

General Bradley had put the finishing touches to a plan for getting his troops out of “the hell of the hedgerows”.

General Bradley had put the finishing touches to a plan for getting his troops out of “the hell of the hedgerows”. Operation Cobra was launched on 25 July with massive aerial bombardment to the west of Saint-Lô that opened up a passageway through the enemy lines. The armoured divisions swept into the breach and overran the Germans, who were severely weakened after weeks of fighting and had no more in-depth defences left likely to stave off the assault. The front cracked from end to end and the Americans forged ahead with dazzling speed, advancing 60 km in six days and entering Avranches on 30 July before taking the fight on into Brittany under Patton’s leadership. The war of movement had replaced the war of position.

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The Falaise pocket

In mid-August, the success of Operation Cobra and the failure of the rash counterattack launched in Mortain upon Hitler’s orders gave General Bradley the idea of carrying out a vast encircling manoeuvre.

In mid-August, the success of Operation Cobra and the failure of the rash counterattack launched in Mortain upon Hitler’s orders gave General Bradley the idea of carrying out a vast encircling manoeuvre. Forced to fight on the run, the German armies were rapidly caught between two jaws (Anglo-Canadian to the north and American to the south), which inexorably closed upon them. Relentlessly pounded by aircraft and artillery, the pocket grew smaller by the day, finally closing once and for all on 21 August, near the village of Chambois.

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The Germans cross back over the Seine

The German armies in Normandy had not been annihilated in the Falaise pocket.

The German armies in Normandy had not been annihilated in the Falaise pocket. They were, however, no longer in any fit state to hold off their adversaries. At the end of August, the hour had come for retreat to the Seine, and then on to the borders of the Reich. The Allies tried their best to encircle the enemy to the south of the river, but were not quick enough. Almost all the bridges over the lower Seine had been destroyed. Nonetheless, the Germans, using ferryboats and whatever other means of transport they could rig up, managed to get 240,000 men and 30,000 vehicles across upstream and downstream of Rouen, at the price of having to abandon much of their heavy equipment. The operation was carried out in good order despite allied aircraft, which were hampered by cloudy skies.

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