Operation Overlord – The Battle of Normandy

June 6, 2022

World War II is a story of normal people who stepped away from their everyday lives into an alternate existence marked by devastation unfathomable to those who didn’t experience it firsthand. It is the story of men and women who left behind their loved ones and the comforts of home to join the fight against enemies who threatened the lives of the innocent and the autonomy of sovereign nations.

Before Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, before the liberation of Paris and before Germany’s ultimate surrender, a fleet of 1,200 warbirds set its course for France.

Paratroopers were transported via the Douglas C-47, a warbird originally built as a civilian aircraft and re-engineered for battle under the direction of the U.S. Army Air Force. The D-Day paratrooper drops occurred shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944 and involved 13,000 airborne troops jumping from Douglas C-47 aircraft. They would be the first wave of Allied troops to assault the “impenetrable defenses” of Fortress Europe on D-Day.

At the top of the chain of command was Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower.

The overarching objective of the airborne forces’ mission was to clear the way for their counterparts who were arriving by sea to make a clean sweep through German defenses. Eisenhower was convinced that airborne forces were of vital importance to ensure access to inland France from the beachfront via roads connecting the coast to France’s interior. If these causeways weren’t secured before the arrival of ground forces on the beaches, the push inland would be slowed significantly, buying time for German troops to coordinate and carry out countermeasures.

British Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory had tried to talk Ike out of the airborne attack, claiming it would result in horrendous casualties—perhaps 80 percent of the men would be lost, he warned. Eisenhower, who knew that the paratroops would be essential in securing the causeways out of the invasion zones, rejected Leigh-Mallory’s doomsday warning.

Before the planes took off, Eisenhower wanted to be with those he was sending into harm’s way. He had already made the hard decision to launch the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, a day after having canceled the assault because of weather (D-Day was originally scheduled for June 5). After making that gut-wrenching call, General Eisenhower went to visit the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, hours before they were to drop into the dark, flak-ridden skies over Normandy. That decision led to one of World War II’s most famous photographs of Eisenhower walking among the troops providing inspiration and encouragement.

His stirring words on the eve of D-Day will never be forgotten: “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

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