Tag Archives: Western Allies

Normandy Landings – D-Day – They Fought & Died for our Freedom

Normandy Landings –  D-Day

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Rare D Day Footage In Colour

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The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.

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Archive Video Of The D-Day Normandy Landings

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Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialised tanks.

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Surviving D-Day Omaha Beach 1944 – Full Documentary

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The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June. However, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area host many visitors each year.

Background

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, over 338,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army, trapped along the northern coast of France, were evacuated in the Dunkirk evacuation.[12] After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in western Europe.[13] In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and United States made a joint announcement that a “… full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942.”[14] However, Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with American help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such a strike.[15]

Instead of an immediate return to France, the Western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943, the North African Campaign had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.[16] Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.[17] At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944.[18]

Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley; Admiral Bertram Ramsay; Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory; Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith

Four sites were considered for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.[19] As the Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.[20] But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,[21] whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.[22] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours.[23] A series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart’s Funnies, were created to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign, such as scaling sea walls and providing close support on the beach.[24]

The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.[21] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).[25] General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.[26] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg.[27] The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.[27] Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two American, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops[28] all under overall British command.[29]

Operations

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.[23] To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields.[23] Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.[30]

The landings were to be preceded by airborne landings near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lô the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold Beach and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the AvranchesFalaise line within the first three weeks.[31][32] Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the Seine.[33]

Deception plans

Shoulder patches were designed for units of the fictitious First United States Army Group under Patton.

Under the overall umbrella of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted several subsidiary operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings.[34] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,[35] and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the main attack would take place at Calais.[30][36] Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.[37] Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.[38]

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.[39] In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of “window”, metal foil that caused a radar return which was mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy near Le Havre. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small craft towing barrage balloons. A similar deception was undertaken near Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area by No. 218 Squadron RAF in Operation Glimmer.[40][2]

Weather

The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfied on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach, while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open.[41] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing: high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.[42]

Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June.[43] The next available dates with the required tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would have required recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel, and would have increased the chance that the invasion plans would be detected.[44] After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead on the 6th.[45] A major storm battered the Normandy coast from 19 to 22 June, which would have made the beach landings impossible.[42]

Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists had less information than the Allies on incoming weather patterns.[39] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.[46] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife’s birthday and to meet Hitler to try to obtain more Panzers.[47]

German order of battle

Nazi Germany had at its disposal fifty divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another eighteen stationed in Denmark and Norway. Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany.[48] Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant that the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions) – conscripts and volunteers from Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. They were provided mainly with unreliable captured equipment and lacked motorised transport.[49] Many German units were under strength.[50]

German Supreme commander: Adolf Hitler

Cotentin Peninsula

Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced the following German units stationed on the Cotentin Peninsula:

Grandcamps Sector

German troops using captured French tanks (Beutepanzer) in Normandy, 1944

Americans assaulting Omaha Beach were faced the following troops:

  • 352nd Infanterie-Division logo.jpg 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments.[53]
    • 914th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 915th Grenadier Regiment (as reserves)[54]
    • 916th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 726th Infantry Regiment (from 716th Infantry Division)[54]
    • 352nd Artillery Regiment[54]

Allied forces at Gold and Juno faced the following elements of the 352nd Infantry Division:

  • 914th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 915th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 916th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 352nd Artillery Regiment[55]

Forces around Caen

Allied forces attacking Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches faced the following German units:

Atlantic Wall

Main articles: Atlantic Wall and English Channel

Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in green

  German Reich and Axis powers
  Allies
  Neutral countries

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler had ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, meant that most of the strongpoints were never built.[59] As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, the Pas de Calais was heavily defended.[59] In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.[27] Rommel was assigned to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg,[59][60] and was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. Reserves for this group included the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions.[61][62]

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beaches to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.[63] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high water mark.[41] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.[63] On Rommel’s order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.[27] The Allied air offensive over Germany had crippled the Luftwaffe and established air supremacy over western Europe, so Rommel knew he could not expect effective air support.[64] The Luftwaffe could muster only 815 aircraft[65] over Normandy in comparison to the Allies’ 9,543.[66] Rommel arranged for booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel’s asparagus) to be installed in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings.[27]

Armoured reserves

Rommel believed that Germany’s best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore. He requested that the mobile reserves, especially tanks, be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, Geyr, and other senior commanders objected. They believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. He also noted that, in the Italian Campaign, the armoured units stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel’s opinion was that, because of Allied air supremacy, the large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was under way. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three Panzer divisions under Geyr’s command and give Rommel operational control of three more as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.[67][68][69]

Allied order of battle

D-day assault routes into Normandy

Commander, SHAEF: General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Commander, 21st Army Group: General Bernard Montgomery[70]

American zones

Commander, First Army (United States): General Omar Bradley[70]

The First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.

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D-Day – Omaha/Utah Beach

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Utah Beach

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Omaha beach amazing real pictures

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Omaha Beach

British and Canadian zones

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey[70]

Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British.[11] The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons, and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships.[74] The RAF supplied two-thirds of the aircraft involved in the invasion.[75]

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D-Day Gold Beach WWII British Landing Beach Normandy France

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Gold Beach

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WW2: Juno Beach

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Juno Beach
                                              

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D-Day revisited: assault on Sword Beach

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Sword Beach

Some elements of the 79th Armoured Division (commanded by Major General Percy Hobart[79]) provided specialised armoured vehicles which supported the landings on all beaches in Second Army’s sector.

Coordination with the French Resistance

French Resistance members and Allied paratroopers discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944

Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D-Day and the following days:

  • Plan Vert was a 15-day operation to sabotage the rail system.
  • Plan Bleu dealt with destroying electrical facilities.
  • Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed at the enemy forces that would potentially reinforce Axis forces at Normandy.
  • Plan Violet dealt with cutting underground telephone and teleprinter cables.[80]

The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by messages personnels transmitted by the BBC’s French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which might be snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to resistance groups.[81] An increase in radio activity on 5 June was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most units ignored the warning.[82][83]

A 1965 report from the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center details the results of the French Resistance’s sabotage efforts: “In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June.”[84]

Naval activity

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944.

Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett as a “never surpassed masterpiece of planning”.[85] In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had served as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier. He had also been responsible for the naval planning of the invasion of North Africa in 1942, and one of the two fleets carrying troops for the invasion of Sicily the following year.[86]

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.[11] The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK and Canada, who provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft.[75] There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.[11] The invasion fleet was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.[87][86] Available to the fleet were five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors.[88] German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, twenty-nine fast attack craft, thirty-six R boats, and thirty-six minesweepers and patrol boats.[89] The Germans also had several U-boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.[41]

Naval losses

At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After firing, the German vessels turned away and fled east into a smoke screen that had been laid by the RAF to shield the fleet from the long-range battery at Le Havre.[90] Allied losses to mines included USS Corry off Utah and USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol craft.[91] In addition, many landing craft were lost.[92]

Bombing

Main article: Bombing of Normandy

Map of the invasion area showing channels cleared of mines, location of vessels engaged in bombardment, and targets on shore

Bombing of Normandy began around midnight with over 2,200 British and American bombers attacking targets along the coast and further inland.[41] The coastal bombing attack was largely ineffective at Omaha, because low cloud cover made the assigned targets difficult to see. Concerned about inflicting casualties on their own troops, many bombers delayed their attacks too long and failed to hit the beach defences.[93] The Germans had 570 aircraft stationed in Normandy and the Low Countries on D-Day, and another 964 in Germany.[41]

Minesweepers began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn without encountering the enemy.[94] The Western Task Force included the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, plus eight cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, and one monitor.[95] The Eastern Task Force included the battleships HMS Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts, twelve cruisers, and thirty-seven destroyers.[6] Naval bombardment of areas behind the beach commenced at 05:45, while it was still dark, with the gunners switching to pre-assigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50.[96] Since troops were scheduled to land at Utah and Omaha starting at 06:30 (an hour earlier than the British beaches), these areas received only about 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault troops began to land on the shore.[97] Some of the landing craft had been modified to provide close support fire, and self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks), specially designed for the Normandy landings, were to land shortly before the infantry to provide covering fire. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.[98][99]

The landings

Airborne operations

The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the buildup of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the buildup of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy’s ability to organise and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralise German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.[100][101]

The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach, where they hoped to capture and control the few narrow causeways through terrain that had been intentionally flooded by the Germans. Reports from Allied intelligence in mid-May of the arrival of the German 91st Infantry Division meant the intended drop zones had to be shifted eastward and to the south.[102] The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east, and destroy the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach.[103] Free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June through August in Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.[104][105]

BBC war correspondent Robert Barr described the scene as paratroopers prepared to board their aircraft:

Their faces were darkened with cocoa; sheathed knives were strapped to their ankles; tommy guns strapped to their waists; bandoliers and hand grenades, coils of rope, pick handles, spades, rubber dinghies hung around them, and a few personal oddments, like the lad who was taking a newspaper to read on the plane … There was an easy familiar touch about the way they were getting ready, as though they had done it often before. Well, yes, they had kitted up and climbed aboard often just like this – twenty, thirty, forty times some of them, but it had never been quite like this before. This was the first combat jump for every one of them.[106]

American airborne landings

Gliders are delivered to the Cotentin Peninsula by Douglas C-47 Skytrains. 6 June 1944.

The American airborne landings began with the arrival of pathfinders at 00:15. Navigation was difficult because of a bank of thick cloud, and as a result only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately marked with radar signals and Aldis lamps.[107] Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 Skytrains of the IX Troop Carrier Command.[108] To avoid flying over the invasion fleet, the planes arrived from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited over Utah Beach.[109][107]

Paratroops from 101st Airborne were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River.[110] The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their parachutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields.[111] Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.[112][113] Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach.[114]

Troops of the 82nd Airborne began arriving around 02:30, with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve.[110] On the east side of the river, 75 per cent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone, and within two hours they captured the important crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église (the first town liberated in the invasion[115]) and began working to protect the western flank.[116] Because of the failure of the pathfinders to accurately mark their drop zone, the two regiments dropped on the west side of the Merderet were extremely scattered, with only four per cent landing in the target area.[116] Many landed in nearby swamps, with much loss of life.[117] Paratroopers consolidated into small groups, usually a combination of men of various ranks from different units, and attempted to concentrate on nearby objectives.[118] They captured but failed to hold the Merderet River bridge at La Fière, and fighting for the crossing continued for several days.[119]

Reinforcements arrived by glider around 04:00 (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit), and 21:00 (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), bringing additional troops and heavy equipment. Like the paratroopers, many landed far from their drop zones.[120] Even those that landed on target experienced difficulty, with heavy cargo such as Jeeps shifting during landing, crashing through the wooden fuselage, and in some cases crushing personnel on board.[121]

After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd Airborne were under the control of their divisions, approximately a third of the force dropped. This wide dispersal had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.[122] The 7th Army received notification of the parachute drops at 01:20, but Rundstedt did not initially believe that a major invasion was underway. The destruction of radar stations along the Normandy coast in the week before the invasion meant that the Germans did not detect the approaching fleet until 02:00.[123]

British and Canadian airborne landings

Main article: Operation Tonga

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops.

The first Allied action of D-Day was Operation Deadstick, a glider assault at 00:16 at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and the bridge (since renamed Horsa Bridge) over the Orne, half a mile (800 metres) to the east. Both bridges were quickly captured intact, with light casualties, by members of the 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.[124][125] The five bridges over the Dives were destroyed with minimal difficulty by the 3rd Parachute Brigade.[126][127] Meanwhile, the pathfinders tasked with setting up radar beacons and lights for further paratroopers (scheduled to begin arriving at 00:50 to clear the landing zone north of Ranville) were blown off course, and had to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers, also blown too far east, landed far from their intended drop zones; some took hours or even days to be reunited with their units.[128][129] Major General Richard Gale arrived in the third wave of gliders at 03:30, along with equipment, such as antitank guns and jeeps, and more troops to help secure the area from counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate vicinity of the landings.[130] At 02:00, the commander of the German 716th Infantry Division ordered Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzer Division into position to counter-attack. However, as the division was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger was obliged to seek clearance from OKW before he could commit his formation.[131] Feuchtinger did not receive orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meantime on his own initiative he put together a battle group (including tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne.[132]

Only 160 men out of the 600 members of the 9th Battalion tasked with eliminating the enemy battery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous point. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, in charge of the operation, decided to proceed regardless, as the emplacement had to be destroyed by 06:00 to prevent it firing on the invasion fleet and the troops arriving on Sword Beach. In the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied forces disabled the guns at a cost of 75 casualties. The emplacement was found to contain 75 mm guns rather than the expected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery.[133]

With this action, the last of the D-Day goals of the British 6th Airborne Division was achieved.[134] They were reinforced at 12:00 by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach, and by the 6th Airlanding Brigade, who arrived in gliders at 21:00 in Operation Mallard.[135]

Utah Beach

Main article: Utah Beach

Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background.

Utah Beach was in the area defended by two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment.[136] Members of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division were the first to land, arriving at 06:30. Their landing craft were pushed to the south by strong currents, and they found themselves about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zone. This site turned out to be better, as there was only one strongpoint nearby rather than two, and bombers of IX Bomber Command had bombed the defences from lower than their prescribed altitude, inflicting considerable damage. In addition, the strong currents had washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles. The assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the first senior officer ashore, made the decision to “start the war from right here”, and ordered further landings to be re-routed.[137][138]

The initial assault battalions were quickly followed by 28 DD tanks and several waves of engineer and demolition teams to remove beach obstacles and clear the area directly behind the beach of obstacles and mines. Gaps were blown in the sea wall to allow quicker access for troops and tanks. Combat teams began to exit the beach at around 09:00, with some infantry wading through the flooded fields rather than travelling on the single road. They skirmished throughout the day with elements of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, who were armed with antitank guns and rifles. The main strongpoint in the area and another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south were disabled by noon.[139] The 4th Infantry Division did not meet all of their D-Day objectives at Utah Beach, partly because they had arrived too far to the south, but they landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties.[140][141]

Pointe du Hoc

Main article: Pointe du Hoc

Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc, a prominent headland situated between Utah and Omaha, was assigned to two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Their task was to scale the 30-metre (98 ft) cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. The cliffs were defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division and French collaborators firing from above.[142] Allied destroyers Satterlee and Talybont provided fire support. After scaling the cliffs, the Rangers discovered that the guns had already been withdrawn. They located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them with explosives.[142]

The now-isolated Rangers fended off numerous counter-attacks from the German 914th Grenadier Regiment. The men at the point became isolated and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not arrive until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others arrived.[143][144] By then, Rudder’s men had run out of ammunition and were using captured German weapons. Several men were killed as a result, because the German weapons made a distinctive noise, and the men were mistaken for the enemy.[145] By the end of the battle, the Rangers casualties were 135 dead and wounded, while German casualties were 50 killed and 40 captured. An unknown number of French collaborators were executed.[146][147]

Omaha Beach

Main article: Omaha Beach

Assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944.

Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division.[148] They faced the 352nd Infantry Division rather than the expected single regiment.[149] Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed.[150] For fear of hitting the landing craft, American bombers delayed releasing their loads and, as a result, most of the beach obstacles at Omaha remained undamaged when the men came ashore.[151] Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50 to 100 yards (46 to 91 m) in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach.[99] In spite of the rough seas, DD tanks of two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 m) from shore, and 27 of the 32 flooded and sank, with the loss of 33 crew.[152] Some tanks, disabled on the beach, continued to provide covering fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swamped by the rising tide.[153]

Casualties were around 2,000, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.[154] Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to provide fire support so landings could resume.[155] Exit from the beach was possible only via five heavily defended gullies, and by late morning barely 600 men had reached the higher ground.[156] By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the gullies of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach.[156] The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives for Omaha were accomplished by D+3.[157]

Gold Beach

Main article: Gold Beach

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach.

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were released close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned.[158] Three of the four guns in a large emplacement at the Longues-sur-Mer battery were disabled by direct hits from the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut at 06:20. The fourth gun resumed firing intermittently in the afternoon, and its garrison surrendered on 7 June.[159] Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint, which had its embrasure facing east to provide enfilade fire along the beach and had a thick concrete wall on the seaward side.[160] Its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00, when a modified Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank fired a large petard charge into its rear entrance.[161][162] A second casemated emplacement at La Rivière containing an 88 mm gun was neutralised by a tank at 07:30.[163]

Meanwhile, infantry began clearing the heavily fortified houses along the shore and advanced on targets further inland.[164] The No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando moved toward the small port at Port-en-Bessin and captured it the following day in the Battle of Port-en-Bessin.[165] Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis received the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day for his actions while attacking two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury high point.[166] On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry “B”), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.[167] Bayeux was not captured the first day due to stiff resistance from the 352nd Infantry Division.[164] Allied casualties at Gold Beach are estimated at 1,000.[11]

Juno Beach

Main article: Juno Beach

Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” land on Mike Beach sector of Juno Beach, 6 June 1944.

The landing at Juno was delayed because of choppy seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences.[168] Several exits from the beach were created, but not without difficulty. At Mike Beach on the western flank, a large crater was filled using an abandoned AVRE tank and several rolls of fascine, which were then covered by a temporary bridge. The tank remained in place until 1972, when it was removed and restored by members of the Royal Engineers.[169] The beach and nearby streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day, making it difficult to move inland.[92]

Major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns, machine-gun nests, concrete fortifications, barbed wire, and mines were located at Courseulles-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer.[170] The towns themselves also had to be cleared in house-to-house fighting.[171] Soldiers on their way to Bény-sur-Mer, 3 miles (5 km) inland, discovered that the road was well covered by machine gun emplacements that had to be outflanked before the advance could proceed.[172] Elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade advanced to within sight of the Carpiquet airfield late in the afternoon, but by this time their supporting armour was low on ammunition so the Canadians dug in for the night. The airfield was not captured until a month later as the area became the scene of fierce fighting.[173] By nightfall, the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.[174] Casualties at Juno were 961 men.[175]

Sword Beach

Main article: Sword Beach

British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach.

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks of the first wave made it safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30.[176] The beach was heavily mined and peppered with obstacles, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous.[177] In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, so manoeuvring the armour was difficult. The beach quickly became congested.[178] Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and his 1st Special Service Brigade arrived in the second wave, piped ashore by Private Bill Millin, Lovat’s personal piper.[179] Members of No. 4 Commando moved through Ouistreham to attack from the rear a German gun battery on the shore. A concrete observation and control tower at this emplacement had to be bypassed and was not captured until several days later.[180] French forces under Commander Philippe Kieffer (the first French soldiers to arrive in Normandy) attacked and cleared the heavily fortified strongpoint at the casino at Riva Bella, with the aid of one of the DD tanks.[180]

The ‘Morris’ strongpoint near Colleville-sur-Mer was captured after about an hour of fighting.[178] The nearby ‘Hillman’ strongpoint, headquarters of the 736th Infantry Regiment, was a large complex defensive work that had come through the morning’s bombardment essentially undamaged. It was not captured until 20:15.[181] The 2nd Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry began advancing to Caen on foot, coming within a few kilometres of the town, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support.[182] At 16:00, the 21st Panzer Division mounted a counter-attack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the Channel. It met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Division and was soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.[183][184] Estimates of Allied casualties on Sword Beach are as high as 1,000.[11]

Analysis

Situation map for 24:00, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.[185] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,[29] with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.[186] Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.[187] The Germans lost 1,000 men.[188] The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved.[32] The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep.[189] Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.[190] The Germans had ordered French civilians, other than those deemed essential to the war effort, to leave potential combat zones in Normandy.[191] Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.[192]

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.[193] The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obligated to defend a huge stretch of coastline.[194] The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.[195] Transportation infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies.[196] Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact,[151] but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches.[197] Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success.[198]

War memorials and tourism

The La Cambe German war cemetery, near Bayeux

At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbour are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. A memorial to the American National Guard sits at the location of a former German strongpoint. Pointe du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is nearby, in Colleville-sur-Mer.[199] A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the American airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby.[200]

Pegasus Bridge, a target of the British 6th Airborne, was the site of some of the earliest action of the Normandy landings. The bridge was replaced in 1994 by one similar in appearance, and the original is now housed on the grounds of a nearby museum complex.[201] Sections of Mulberry Harbour B still sit in the sea at Arromanches, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery is nearby.[202] The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003, was funded by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans

Burma Campaign – WW2

Burma Campaign – WW2

Vera Lynn with British troops in Burma in 1944

Burmese Campaign in World War II – The Stilwell Road (1945)

The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II was fought primarily between the forces of the British Empire and China, with support from the United States, against the forces of the Empire of Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Empire forces peaked at around 1,000,000 land, naval and air forces, and were drawn primarily from British India, with British Army forces, 100,000 East and West African colonial troops, and smaller numbers of land and air forces from several other Dominions and Colonies.[4] The Burmese Independence Army was trained by the Japanese and spearheaded the initial attacks against British Empire forces.

The campaign had a number of notable features. The geographical characteristics of the region meant that factors like weather, disease and terrain had a major effect on operations. The lack of transport infrastructure placed an emphasis on military engineering and air transport to move and supply troops, and evacuate wounded. The campaign was also politically complex, with the British, the United States and the Chinese all having different strategic priorities.

It was also the only land campaign by the Western Allies in the Pacific Theatre which proceeded continuously from the start of hostilities to the end of the war. This was due to its geographical location. By extending from Southeast Asia to India, its area included some lands which the British lost at the outset of the war, but also included areas of India wherein the Japanese advance was eventually stopped.

The climate of the region is dominated by the seasonal monsoon rains, which allowed effective campaigning for only just over half of each year. This, together with other factors such as famine and disorder in British India and the priority given by the Allies to the defeat of Nazi Germany, prolonged the campaign and divided it into four phases: the Japanese invasion which led to the expulsion of British, Indian and Chinese forces in 1942; failed attempts by the Allies to mount offensives into Burma, from late 1942 to early 1944; the 1944 Japanese invasion of India which ultimately failed following the battles of Imphal and Kohima; and, finally, the successful Allied offensive which reoccupied Burma from late-1944 to mid-1945.

The Last Queen Supayalat

 

Japanese conquest of Burma

Japanese objectives in Burma were initially limited to the capture of Yangon (known at the time as “Rangoon”), the capital and principal seaport. This would close the overland supply line to China and provide a strategic bulwark to defend Japanese gains in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese Fifteenth Army under Lieutenant General Shōjirō Iida, initially consisting of only two infantry divisions, moved into northern Thailand (which had signed a treaty of friendship with Japan), and launched an attack over jungle-clad mountain ranges into the southern Burmese province of Tenasserim (now Tanintharyi Region) in January 1942.

The Japanese successfully attacked over the Kawkareik Pass, and captured the port of Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein) at the mouth of the Salween River after overcoming stiff resistance. They then advanced northwards, outflanking successive British defensive positions. Troops of the 17th Indian Infantry Division tried to retreat over the Sittaung River, but Japanese parties reached the vital bridge before they did. On 22 February, the bridge was demolished to prevent its capture, a decision that has since been extremely contentious.

General Archibald Wavell,

The loss of two brigades of 17th Indian Division meant that Yangon could not be defended. General Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command, nevertheless ordered Yangon to be held as he was expecting substantial reinforcements from the Middle East. Although some units arrived, counterattacks failed and the new commander of Burma Army (General Harold Alexander), ordered the city to be evacuated on 7 March after its port and oil refinery had been destroyed. The remnants of Burma Army broke out to the north, narrowly escaping encirclement.

Japanese advance to the Indian frontier

After the fall of Yangon in March 1942, the Allies attempted to make a stand in the north of the country (Upper Burma), having been reinforced by a Chinese Expeditionary Force. The Japanese had also been reinforced by two divisions made available by the capture of Singapore, and defeated both the newly organised Burma Corps and the Chinese force. The Allies were also faced with growing numbers of Burmese insurgents and the civil administration broke down in the areas they still held. With their forces cut off from almost all sources of supply, the Allied commanders finally decided to evacuate their forces from Burma.

The retreat was conducted in very difficult circumstances. Starving refugees, disorganised stragglers, and the sick and wounded clogged the primitive roads and tracks leading to India. Burma Corps managed to make it most of the way to Imphal, in Manipur in India just before the monsoon broke in May 1942, having lost most of their equipment and transport. There, they found themselves living out in the open under torrential rains in extremely unhealthy circumstances. The army and civil authorities in India were very slow to respond to the needs of the troops and civilian refugees.

Due to lack of communication, when the British retreated from Burma, almost none of the Chinese knew about the retreat. Realising that they could not win without British support, some of the X Force committed by Chiang Kai-shek made a hasty and disorganised retreat to India, where they were put under the command of the American General Joseph Stilwell. After recuperating they were re-equipped and retrained by American instructors, the rest of the Chinese troops tried to return to Yunnan through remote mountainous forests and out of these, at least half died.

Thai army enters Burma

In accordance with the Thai military alliance with Japan that was signed on 21 December 1941, On 21 March, the Thais and Japanese also agreed that Kayah State and Shan State were to be under Thai control. The rest of Burma was to be under Japanese control.

The leading elements of the Thai Phayap Army crossed the border into the Shan States on 10 May 1942. Three Thai infantry and one cavalry division, spearheaded by armoured reconnaissance groups and supported by the air force, engaged the retreating Chinese 93rd Division. Kengtung, the main objective, was captured on 27 May.

On 12 July, General Phin Choonhavan, the Thai military governor of Shan State, ordered the 3rd Division of the Phayap Army from south of Shan State to occupy Kayah State and expel the Chinese 55th Division from Loikaw. The Chinese troops could not retreat because the routes to Yunnan were controlled by the Thais and Japanese. The Thais captured many Chinese soldiers.

Allied setbacks, 1942–1943

The Japanese did not renew their offensive after the monsoon ended. They installed a nominally independent Burmese government under Ba Maw, and reformed the Burma Independence Army on a more regular basis as the Burma National Army under Aung San. In practice, both government and army were strictly controlled by the Japanese authorities.

On the Allied side, operations in Burma over the remainder of 1942 and in 1943 were a study of military frustration. Britain could only maintain three active campaigns, and immediate offensives in both the Middle East and Far East proved impossible through lack of resources. The Middle East was accorded priority, being closer to home and in accordance with the “Germany First” policy in London and Washington.

The Allied build up was also hampered by the disordered state of Eastern India at the time. There were violent “Quit India” protests in Bengal and Bihar,[14] which required large numbers of British troops to suppress. There was also a disastrous famine in Bengal, which may have led to 3 million deaths through starvation, disease and exposure. In such conditions of chaos, it was difficult to improve the inadequate lines of communication to the front line in Assam or make use of local industries for the war effort. Efforts to improve the training of Allied troops took time and in forward areas poor morale and endemic disease combined to reduce the strength and effectiveness of the fighting units.

Nevertheless, the Allies mounted two operations during the 1942–1943 dry season. The first was a small offensive into the coastal Arakan Province of Burma. The Indian Eastern Army intended to reoccupy the Mayu peninsula and Akyab Island, which had an important airfield. A division advanced to Donbaik, only a few miles from the end of the peninsula but was halted by a small but well entrenched Japanese force. At this stage of the war, the Allies lacked the means and tactical ability to overcome strongly constructed Japanese bunkers. Repeated British and Indian attacks failed with heavy casualties. Japanese reinforcements arrived from Central Burma and crossed rivers and mountain ranges which the Allies had declared to be impassable, to hit the Allies’ exposed left flank and overrun several units. The exhausted British were unable to hold any defensive lines and were forced to abandon much equipment and fall back almost to the Indian frontier.

The second action was controversial. Under the command of Brigadier Orde Wingate, a long-range penetration unit known as the Chindits infiltrated through the Japanese front lines and marched deep into Burma, with the initial aim of cutting the main north-south railway in Burma in an operation codenamed Operation Longcloth. Some 3,000 men entered Burma in many columns. They damaged communications of the Japanese in northern Burma, cutting the railway for possibly two weeks but they suffered heavy casualties. Though the results were questioned the operation was used to propaganda effect, particularly to insist that British and Indian soldiers could live, move and fight as effectively as the Japanese in the jungle, doing much to restore morale among Allied troops.

The Balance Shifts 1943–1944

Main article: Burma Campaign 1944

From December 1943 to November 1944 the strategic balance of the Burma campaign shifted decisively. Improvements in Allied leadership, training and logistics, together with greater firepower and growing Allied air superiority, gave Allied forces a confidence they had previously lacked. In the Arakan, XV Indian Corps withstood, and then broke, a Japanese counterstrike, while the Japanese invasion of India resulted in unbearably heavy losses and the ejection of the Japanese back beyond the Chindwin River.

Allied plans

Lord Louis Mountbatten

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, seen during his tour of the Arakan Front in February 1944.

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC), a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre, under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The training, equipment, health and morale of Allied troops under British Fourteenth Army under Lieutenant General William Slim was improving, as was the capacity of the lines of communication in North-eastern India. An innovation was the extensive use of aircraft to transport and supply troops.

SEAC had to accommodate several rival plans, many of which had to be dropped for lack of resources. Amphibious landings on the Andaman Islands (Operation “Pigstick”) and in Arakan were abandoned when the landing craft assigned were recalled to Europe in preparation for the Normandy Landings.

The major effort was intended to be by American-trained Chinese troops of Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) under General Joseph Stilwell, to cover the construction of the Ledo Road. Orde Wingate had controversially gained approval for a greatly expanded Chindit force, which was given the task of assisting Stilwell by disrupting the Japanese lines of supply to the northern front. Chiang Kai-shek had also agreed reluctantly to mount an offensive from the Yunnan.

Under British Fourteenth Army, the Indian XV Corps prepared to renew the advance in Arakan province, while IV Corps launched a tentative advance from Imphal in the centre of the long front to distract Japanese attention from the other offensives.

Japanese plans

Lieutenant General Kawabe

About the same time that SEAC was established, the Japanese created Burma Area Army under Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe, which took under command the Fifteenth Army and the newly formed Twenty-Eighth Army.

The new commander of Fifteenth Army, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi was keen to mount an offensive against India. Burma Area Army originally quashed this idea, but found that their superiors at Southern Expeditionary Army Group HQ in Singapore were keen on it. When the staff at Southern Expeditionary Army were persuaded that the plan was inherently risky, they in turn found that Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo was in favour of Mutaguchi’s plan.

The Japanese were influenced to an unknown degree by Subhas Chandra Bose, commander of the Indian National Army. This was composed largely of Indian soldiers who had been captured in Malaya or Singapore, and Indians (Tamils) living in Malaya. At Bose’s instigation, a substantial contingent of the INA joined in this Chalo Delhi (“March on Delhi”). Both Bose and Mutaguchi emphasised the advantages which would be gained by a successful attack into India. With misgivings on the part of several of Mutaguchi’s superiors and subordinates, Operation U-Go was launched.[15]

Northern and Yunnan front 1943/44

Stilwell’s forces (designated X Force) initially consisted of two American-equipped Chinese divisions with a Chinese-manned M3 Light Tank battalion and an American long-range penetration brigade known as “Merrill’s Marauders“.

In October 1943 the Chinese 38th Division led by Sun Li-jen began to advance from Ledo, Assam towards Myitkyina and Mogaung while American engineers and Indian labourers extended the Ledo Road behind them. The Japanese 18th Division was repeatedly outflanked by the Marauders and threatened with encirclement.

In Operation Thursday, the Chindits were to support Stilwell by interdicting Japanese communications in the region of Indaw. A brigade began marching across the Patkai mountains on 5 February 1944. In early March three other brigades were flown into landing zones behind Japanese lines by the Royal Air Force and the USAAF established defensive strongholds around Indaw.

Meanwhile, the Chinese forces on the Yunnan front (Y Force) mounted an attack starting in the second half of April, with nearly 40,000 troops crossing the Salween river on a 300 kilometres (190 mi) front. Soon some twelve Chinese divisions of 72,000 men, under General Wei Lihuang, were attacking the Japanese 56th Division. The Japanese forces in the North were now fighting on two fronts in northern Burma.

On 17 May, control of the Chindits passed from Slim to Stilwell. The Chindits now moved from the Japanese rear areas to new bases closer to Stilwell’s front, and were given additional tasks by Stilwell for which they were not equipped. They achieved several objectives, but at the cost of heavy casualties. By the end of June, they had linked up with Stilwell’s forces but were exhausted, and were withdrawn to India.

Also on 17 May, a force of two Chinese regiments, Unit Galahad (Merrill’s Marauders) and Kachin guerrillas captured the airfield at Myitkyina.[16] The Allies did not immediately follow up this success and the Japanese were able to reinforce the town, which fell only after a siege which lasted until 3 August. The capture of Myitkyina airfield nevertheless immediately helped secure the air link from India to Chongqing over the Hump.

By the end of May, the Yunnan offensive, though hampered by the monsoon rains and lack of air support, succeeded in annihilating the garrison of Tengchong and eventually reached as far as Longling. Strong Japanese reinforcements then counterattacked and halted the Chinese advance.

Southern front 1943/44

In Arakan, Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant General Philip Christison renewed the advance on the Mayu peninsula. Ranges of steep hills channelled the advance into three attacks each by an Indian or West African division. The 5th Indian Infantry Division captured the small port of Maungdaw on 9 January 1944. The Corps then prepared to capture two railway tunnels linking Maungdaw with the Kalapanzin valley but the Japanese struck first. A strong force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Indian Infantry Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ.

Sikhs of the 7th Indian Division at an observation post in the Ngakyedauk Pass, February 1944.

Unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box from 5 to 23 February, the Japanese concentrated on XV Corps’ Administrative Area, defended mainly by line of communication troops but they were unable to deal with tanks supporting the defenders, while troops from 5th Indian Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the defenders of the box. Although battle casualties were approximately equal, the result was a heavy Japanese defeat. Their infiltration and encirclement tactics had failed to panic Allied troops and as the Japanese were unable to capture enemy supplies, they starved.

Over the next few weeks, XV Corps’ offensive ended as the Allies concentrated on the Central Front. After capturing the railway tunnels, XV Corps halted during the monsoon.

The Japanese invasion of India 1944

Imphal and Kohima Campaign

IV Corps, under Lieutenant-General Geoffrey Scoones, had pushed forward two divisions to the Chindwin River. One division was in reserve at Imphal. There were indications that a major Japanese offensive was building. Slim and Scoones planned to withdraw and force the Japanese to fight with their logistics stretched beyond the limit. However, they misjudged the date on which the Japanese were to attack, and the strength they would use against some objectives.

The Japanese Fifteenth Army consisted of three infantry divisions and a brigade-sized detachment (“Yamamoto Force”), and initially a regiment from the Indian National Army. Mutaguchi, the Army commander, planned to cut off and destroy the forward divisions of IV Corps before capturing Imphal, while the Japanese 31st Division isolated Imphal by capturing Kohima. Mutaguchi intended to exploit the capture of Imphal by capturing the strategic city of Dimapur, in the Brahmaputra River valley. If this could be achieved, the lines of communication to General Stilwell’s forces and the airbases used to supply the Chinese over the Hump would be cut.

The Japanese troops crossed the Chindwin River on 8 March. Scoones (and Slim) were slow to order their forward troops to withdraw and the 17th Indian Infantry Division was cut off at Tiddim. It fought its way back to Imphal with aid from Scoones’s reserve division, supplied by parachute drops. North of Imphal, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was defeated at Sangshak by a regiment from the Japanese 31st Division on its way to Kohima. Imphal was thus left vulnerable to an attack by the Japanese 15th Division from the north but because the diversionary attack launched by Japanese in Arakan had already been defeated, Slim was able to move the 5th Indian Division by air to the Central Front. Two brigades went to Imphal, the other went to Dimapur from where it sent a detachment to Kohima.

View of the Garrison Hill battlefield, the key to the British defences at Kohima.

By the end of the first week in April, IV Corps had concentrated in the Imphal plain. The Japanese launched several offensives during the month, which were repulsed. At the start of May, Slim and Scoones began a counter-offensive against the Japanese 15th Division north of Imphal. Progress was slow, as movement was made difficult by monsoon rains and IV Corps was short of supplies.

Also at the beginning of April, the Japanese 31st Division under Lieutenant-General Kotoku Sato reached Kohima. Instead of isolating the small British garrison there and pressing on with his main force to Dimapur, Sato chose to capture the hill station. The siege lasted from 5 to 18 April, when the exhausted defenders were relieved. A new formation HQ, the Indian XXXIII Corps under Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, now took over operations on this front. The 2nd British Infantry Division began a counter-offensive and by 15 May, they had prised the Japanese off Kohima Ridge itself. After a pause during which more Allied reinforcements arrived, XXXIII Corps renewed its offensive.

By now, the Japanese were at the end of their endurance. Their troops (particularly 15th and 31st Divisions) were starving, and during the monsoon, disease rapidly spread among them. Lieutenant-General Sato had notified Mutaguchi that his division would withdraw from Kohima at the end of May if it were not supplied. In spite of orders to hold on, Sato did indeed retreat. The leading troops of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps met at Milestone 109 on the Dimapur-Imphal road on 22 June, and the siege of Imphal was raised.

Mutaguchi (and Kawabe) continued to order renewed attacks. 33rd Division and Yamamoto Force made repeated efforts, but by the end of June they had suffered so many casualties both from battle and disease that they were unable to make any progress. The Imphal operation was finally broken off early in July, and the Japanese retreated painfully to the Chindwin River.

A view of the 1,100ft Bailey bridge across the Chindwin River as it nears completion, less than 12 hours after the 14th Army captured Kalewa, 2 December 1944.

It was the greatest defeat to that date in Japanese history. They had suffered 50-60,000 dead,[17] and 100,000 or more casualties[18] Most of these losses were the result of disease, malnutrition and exhaustion. The Allies suffered 12,500 casualties, including 2,269 killed.[19] Mutaguchi had already relieved all his divisions’ commanders, and was himself subsequently relieved of command.

During the monsoon from August to November, Fourteenth Army pursued the Japanese to the Chindwin River. While the 11th East Africa Division advanced down the Kabaw Valley from Tamu, the 5th Indian Division advanced along the mountainous Tiddim road. By the end of November, Kalewa had been recaptured, and several bridgeheads were established on the east bank of the Chindwin.

The Allied Reoccupation of Burma 1944–1945

The Allies launched a series of offensive operations into Burma during late 1944 and the first half of 1945. The command on the front was rearranged in November 1944. Eleventh Army Group HQ was replaced by Allied Land Forces South East Asia and NCAC and XV Corps were placed directly under this new headquarters. Although the Allies were still attempting to complete the Ledo Road, it was apparent that it would not materially affect the course of the war in China.

The Japanese also made major changes in their command. The most important was the replacement of General Kawabe at Burma Area Army by Hyotaro Kimura. Kimura threw Allied plans into confusion by refusing to fight at the Chindwin River. Recognising that most of his formations were weak and short of equipment, he withdrew his forces behind the Irrawaddy River, forcing the Allies to greatly extend their lines of communication.

Southern Front 1944/45

British troops in a landing craft make their way ashore on Ramree Island, 21 January 1945.

In Arakan, XV Corps resumed its advance on Akyab Island for the third year in succession. This time the Japanese were far weaker, and retreated before the steady Allied advance. They evacuated Akyab Island on 31 December 1944. It was occupied by XV Corps without resistance on 3 January 1945 as part of Operation Talon, the amphibious landing at Akyab.

After Battle

Landing craft had now reached the theatre, and XV Corps launched amphibious attacks on the Myebon peninsula on 12 January 1945 and at Kangaw ten days later during the Battle of Hill 170 to cut off the retreating Japanese. There was severe fighting until the end of the month, in which the Japanese suffered heavy casualties.

An important objective for XV Corps was the capture of Ramree Island and Cheduba Island to construct airfields which would support the Allies’ operations in Central Burma. Most of the Japanese garrison died during the battle of Ramree Island. XV Corps operations on the mainland were curtailed to release transport aircraft to support Fourteenth Army.

Northern Front 1944/45

NCAC resumed its advance late in 1944, although it was progressively weakened by the flyout of Chinese troops to the main front in China. On 10 December 1944, the 36th British Infantry Division on NCAC’s right flank made contact with units of Fourteenth Army near Indaw in Northern Burma. Five days later, Chinese troops on the command’s left flank captured the city of Bhamo.

NCAC made contact with Chiang’s Yunnan armies on 21 January 1945, and the Ledo road could finally be completed, although by this point in the war its value was uncertain. Chiang ordered the American General Daniel Isom Sultan, commanding NCAC, to halt his advance at Lashio, which was captured on 7 March. This was a blow to British plans as it endangered the prospects of reaching Yangon before the onset of the monsoon, expected at the beginning of May. Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, appealed directly to American chief of staff George Marshall for the transport aircraft which had been assigned to NCAC to remain in Burma.[20] From 1 April, NCAC’s operations stopped, and its units returned to China and India. A US-led guerrilla force, OSS Detachment 101, took over the remaining military responsibilities of NCAC.

Central Front 1944/45

An RAF Hawker Hurricane Mk IIC flies alongside Aya Bridge, which spans the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay, Burma, during a low-level reconnaissance sortie, March 1945.

The Fourteenth Army, now consisting of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps, made the main offensive effort into Burma. Although the Japanese retreat over the Irrawaddy forced the Allies to completely change their plans, such was the Allies’ material superiority that this was done. IV Corps was switched in secret from the right to the left flank of the army and aimed to cross the Irrawaddy near Pakokku and seize the Japanese line-of-communication centre of Meiktila, while XXXIII Corps continued to advance on Mandalay.

Sherman tanks and trucks of 63rd Motorised Brigade advancing on Meiktila, March 1945.

During January and February 1945, XXXIII Corps seized crossings over the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay. There was heavy fighting, which attracted Japanese reserves and fixed their attention. Late in February, the 7th Indian Division leading IV Corps, seized crossings at Nyaungu near Pakokku. 17th Indian Division and 255th Indian Tank Brigade followed them across and struck for Meiktila. In the open terrain of Central Burma, this force outmanoeuvered the Japanese and fell on Meiktila on 1 March. The town was captured in four days, despite resistance to the last man.

The Japanese tried first to relieve the garrison at Meiktila and then to recapture the town and destroy its defenders. Their attacks were not properly coordinated and were repulsed. By the end of March the Japanese had suffered heavy casualties and lost most of their artillery, their chief anti-tank weapon. They broke off the attack and retreated to Pyawbwe.

XXXIII Corps had renewed its attack on Mandalay. It fell to 19th Indian Division on 20 March, though the Japanese held the former citadel which the British called Fort Dufferin for another week. Much of the historically and culturally significant portions of Mandalay were burned to the ground.

Race for Yangon

An M3 Stuart of an Indian cavalry regiment during the advance on Yangon, April 1945

Though the Allied force had advanced successfully into central Burma, it was vital to capture the port of Yangon before the monsoon to avoid a logistics crisis. In the spring of 1945, the other factor in the race for Yangon was the years of preparation by the liaison organisation, Force 136, which resulted in a national uprising within Burma and the defection of the entire Burma National Army to the allied side. In addition to the allied advance, the Japanese now faced open rebellion behind their lines.

XXXIII Corps mounted Fourteenth Army’s secondary drive down the Irrawaddy River valley against stiff resistance from the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army. IV Corps made the main attack down the “Railway Valley”, which was also followed by the Sittaung River. They began by striking at a Japanese delaying position (held by the remnants of the Japanese Thirty-Third Army) at Pyawbwe. The attackers were initially halted by a strong defensive position behind a dry waterway, but a flanking move by tanks and mechanised infantry struck the Japanese from the rear and shattered them.

From this point, the advance down the main road to Yangon faced little organised opposition. An uprising by Karen guerillas prevented troops from the reorganised Japanese Fifteenth Army from reaching the major road centre of Taungoo before IV Corps captured it. The leading Allied troops met Japanese rearguards north of Bago, 40 miles (64 km) north of Yangon, on 25 April. Heitarō Kimura had formed the various service troops, naval personnel and even Japanese civilians in Yangon into the 105 Independent Mixed Brigade. This scratch formation held up the British advance until 30 April and covered the evacuation of the Yangon area.

Operation Dracula

Unloading a landing craft of troops and vehicles of the 15th Indian Corps at Elephant Point, south of Yangon at the beginning of operation ‘Dracula’, 2 May 1945.

The original conception of the plan to re-take Burma had envisaged XV Corps making an amphibious assault on Yangon well before Fourteenth Army reached the capital, in order to ease supply problems. This operation, codenamed Operation Dracula, was postponed several times as the necessary landing craft were retained in Europe and finally dropped in favour of an attack on Phuket Island, off the west coast of Thailand.

Slim feared that the Japanese would defend Yangon to the last man through the monsoon, which would put Fourteenth Army in a disastrous supply situation. He therefore asked for Operation Dracula to be re-mounted at short notice. The naval forces for the attack on Phuket were diverted to Operation Dracula, and units of XV Corps were embarked from Akyab and Ramree.

On 1 May, a Gurkha parachute battalion was dropped on Elephant Point, and cleared Japanese rearguards from the mouth of the Yangon River. The 26th Indian Infantry Division landed by ship the next day. When they arrived they discovered that Kimura had ordered Yangon to be evacuated, starting on 22 April. After the Japanese withdrawal, Yangon had experienced an orgy of looting and lawlessness similar to the last days of the British in the city in 1942. On the afternoon of 2 May 1945 the monsoon rains began in full force. The Allied drive to liberate Yangon before the rains had succeeded with only a few hours to spare.

The leading troops of the 17th and 26th Indian divisions met at Hlegu, 28 miles (45 km) north of Yangon, on 6 May.

Final operations

Following the capture of Yangon, a new Twelfth Army headquarters was created from XXXIII Corps HQ to take control of the formations which were to remain in Burma.

The Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army, after withdrawing from Arakan and resisting XXXIII Corps in the Irrawaddy valley, had retreated into the Pegu Yomas, a range of low jungle-covered hills between the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers. They planned to break out and rejoin Burma Area Army. To cover this break-out, Kimura ordered Thirty-Third Army to mount a diversionary offensive across the Sittang, although the entire army could muster the strength of barely a regiment. On 3 July, they attacked British positions in the “Sittang Bend”. On 10 July, after a battle for country which was almost entirely flooded, both the Japanese and the Allies withdrew.

The Japanese had attacked too early. Sakurai’s Twenty-Eighth Army was not ready to start the break-out until 17 July. The break-out was a disaster. The British had placed ambushes or artillery concentrations on the routes the Japanese were to use. Hundreds of men drowned trying to cross the swollen Sittang on improvised bamboo floats and rafts. Burmese guerrillas and bandits killed stragglers east of the river. The break-out cost the Japanese nearly 10,000 men, half the strength of Twenty-Eighth Army. British and Indian casualties were minimal.

Fourteenth Army (now under Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey) and XV Corps had returned to India to plan the next stage of the campaign to re-take Southeast Asia. A new corps, the Indian XXXIV Corps, under Lieutenant-General Ouvry Lindfield Roberts was raised and assigned to Fourteenth Army for further operations.

This was to be an amphibious assault on the western side of Malaya codenamed Operation Zipper. The dropping of the atomic bombs forestalled this operation, but it was undertaken post-war as the quickest way of getting occupation troops into Malaya.

Results

East African troops in Burma, 1944. The experience of African soldiers during the war would stimulate early development of African nationalism

The military and political results of the Burma campaign have been contentious on the Allied side. In military terms, the Japanese retained control of Burma until the result of the campaign was irrelevant to the fate of Japan. It was recognised by many contemporary US authorities and later American historians that the campaign was a “sideshow” and (apart from distracting some Japanese land forces from China or the Pacific) did not contribute to the defeat of Japan, although the recovery of Burma was reckoned a triumph for the British Indian Army. After the war ended, a combination of the pre-war agitation among the Burman population for independence and the economic ruin of Burma during the four years’ campaign made it impossible for the former regime to be resumed. Within three years, both Burma and India were independent.

Against these criticisms, the attempted Japanese invasion of India in 1944 was launched on unrealistic premises and resulted in the greatest defeat the Japanese armies had suffered to that date. After the Singapore debacle and the loss of Burma in 1942, the British were bound to defend India at all costs, as a successful invasion by Japanese Imperial forces would have been disastrous. The defence operations at Kohima and Imphal in 1944 have since taken on huge symbolic value as the turning of the tide in British fortunes in the war in the East.

The American historian Raymond Callahan concluded “Slim’s great victory … helped the British, unlike the French, Dutch or, later, the Americans, to leave Asia with some dignity.”[21]

American goals in Burma had been to aid the Nationalist Chinese regime. Apart from the “Hump” airlift, these bore no fruit until so near the end of the war that they made little contribution to the defeat of Japan. These efforts have also been criticised as fruitless because of the self-interest and corruption of Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime.

5 Strangest Photos of World War II

See also