The studies for a possible landing on the continent were begun at the British high command as early as December 1940, but it was only in the autumn of 1943 that the invasion plan was again put to study, and, this time, with intent more or less imminent implementation. The experiences of Dieppe, of Salerno, of Anzio had shown how, for the success of such a vast and complex operation, meticulous preparation, the support of a formidable air team and a density of troops were required above all to ensure a certain initial superiority.
The Norman peninsula had long been chosen as the landing area in Europe; first of all because it was endowed with a large port – that of Cherbourg – which due to its size and its modern equipment was suitable for such a far-reaching operation; the proximity of the British coast, then, would have made it possible to effectively support the troops landed, from the sea and from the air; finally, the shape of an elongated rectangle of that peninsula would have facilitated its defense, when the bottleneck between Isigny and Lessay was taken over.
According to zipcodesexplorer, the forces to be landed were initially limited to 5 divisions: the supreme command was assumed by gen. American Dwight Eisenhower, joined by air marshal Sir Arthur Tedder; the naval forces were placed under the command of the English admiral Ramsay; those on land: two armies, the 1st American (Bradley) and the 2nd English (Dempsey), under that of Montgomery.
The invasion was preceded and prepared by a great air offensive, which lasted from the first days of January until 6 June 1944, the day when the landing began (see Normandy, in this App.). The German resistance was harsh and tenacious, so that only after two months – on the 7th of August – Brittany could be considered as entirely cleared of opposing forces, and the allied offensive could turn resolutely towards the east and the south-east. Indeed, the Germans, severely tested by the losses, which had worn down as many as 13 of their divisions, no longer had an efficient front section except between Caen and the great Mayenne-Chartres-Paris road: to the south, between this road and the The Loire opened a vast breach, into which the allied armored divisions were preparing to throw themselves, to open the way to the Seine and the French capital.
The allied forces were now ordered on two groups of armies: the Montgomery group, with the 1st Canadian army (Crerar) and the 2nd English army (Dempsey), and the Bradley group, with the 1st and 3rd American armies (gen Courtney and Patton). It was this latter army, deployed on the allied right wing, which, launching with its armored divisions on the road to Paris, reached Le Mans on 9 August, threatening at the same time, through the action of one of its swift column in direction of Alençon, to envelop the German forces still lingering in the area between Falaise and Mortain. Rommel, then, decided to retreat, but this, above all due to the relentless action of the allied aviation, could not be accomplished without serious losses of men and materials. Meanwhile the Americans, continuing their victorious march eastward, they reached Chartres on the 10th, Châteaudun on the 11th, Dreux and Orléans on the 17th. Finally, on the 19th, the US avant-gardes reached the Seine.
While Allied operations in the north-west of France continued so swift and fortunate, another important landing action was carried out in southern France – foreseen, moreover, in the general plan of operations – in order to thwart a potential threat from the of the German divisions stationed in those regions, and to seize the great ports of Toulon and Marseilles and complete the great maneuver of enveloping the German occupation armies from there. This operation was entrusted to a complex of troops previously massed in North Africa, Sardinia and Corsica; these forces, under the command of General Patch, were made up of French troops, partly taken from the Italian front and constituting the so-called Army B, under the command of General de Lattre, and a corps of American army, under the command of General Truscott. The German forces deployed on the French coast, between Sète and Cannes, included seven divisions, as well as the garrisons of the ports, and were under the command of General Blaskovitz.
After a convenient aerial preparation, which began on August 6, and continued vigorously for several days, the landing was carried out at dawn on the 15th in the peninsula of Cap Nègre, about twenty miles east of Toulon. The allied forces went ashore and advanced rapidly towards the interior, with the help of French and Italian partisans who sabotaged the lines of communication between France and Italy and prevented the influx of reinforcements; airborne departments and paratroopers, moreover, took steps to eliminate the subsequent opposing resistances, which appeared, moreover, weak and disordered.
Constituted, therefore, from the day 18 August, a fairly extensive and solid bridgehead, the allied forces developed a double maneuver: while, that is, the bulk of the American forces aimed, for the Napoleonic road, on Grenoble and Lyon, the French ones, on the other hand, they concentrated their maximum effort against Toulon and Marseille, where the opposing resistance was particularly strong and decisive. In fact, even when the Allies, after about a week, almost completely encircled Toulon, the German garrison continued to fight obstinately in the immediate suburbs of the city, in the arsenal and even in the interior of the city itself; only on the 26th did Admiral Ruhfus, commander of the square, surrender, with his 2,000 sailors, to the French commander. Two days later, General Schaeffer, too,
Major events, meanwhile, had taken place in the north of France, where as early as 21 August the allied troops had managed to establish a bridgehead across the Seine. By now the cannon could be heard thundering from Paris, and from that voice the French patriots felt animated to draw new incentive for their initiatives.
Thus, while in southern and central France it was essentially the FFI (Forces françaises de intérieur) who subsequently liberated Lyon, Grenoble, Limoges, Montélimar, Larche, in Paris, where the National Resistance Council had given, since the day 19, the order of insurrection, the barricades were erected and for five days they fought in the streets. Finally, on the evening of August 24, the troops of the American 3rd Army arrived at the gates of the French capital. Cavalierly, the commander of it, gen. Patton, he stopped, wishing that first to enter the city were the French tanks under the command of gen. Leclerc. The commander of the German garrison, gen. von Choltitz, tried to put up some more resistance, but finally realizing the now obvious defeat, he resolved, the next day,
Between the last days of August and the beginning of September, the retreat of the remains of the German troops, already stationed in France, was carried out towards the Siegfried line. While the surviving pockets in Normandy were rounded up, with the capture of a few more tens of thousands of prisoners, the Allied armies everywhere accelerated their advance. Thus, the 1st Canadian Army, continuing its advance along the coast, freed Rouen on 30 August and Dieppe on 1 September. To his right, the Dempsey army crossed the Somme, freeing Amiens on 31 August and Arras on 1 September. Further south, the 1st and 3rd American armies crossed the Marne, the Aisne and finally, on 31 August, the Meuse, freeing, on the 28th, Château-Thierry, Vitry-le François and Soissons on the 29th, Reims on the 30th, and Verdun on September 1st. At the same time, the 1st American Army – the same one that had been the first to land in Normandy, crossed the Belgian border, and the 2nd British Army, after crossing the Somme at Abbeville, also entered Belgian territory, further north -west, entering Lille and Brussels on 3 September. Some resistance still opposed the Germans in front of Antwerp and on the Alberto canal. In French territory, around 10 September, the pursuit of the retreating German forces could be considered complete and a provisional front line was established along the Moselle (Nancy-Metz-Thionville-Trèves) in front of the first defenses of the Siegfried line and in the massif of the Eifel.
In sixty-four days, France and Belgium had almost entirely achieved their liberation. For the rest of the operations see germany, in this App.