Magazine article American Heritage


Magazine article American Heritage


Article excerpt

What began as a simple World War II code name more than 50 years ago has become known the world over as the consummate symbol for victory over tyranny. Except for its name, little else about D-Day is simple. For those crafting the plot to liberate France, D-Day required two painstaking years of preparation. For the rest of us, the Allied invasion of Normandy has crystallized into a single, historic day -- June 6, 1944, which marked the turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.

For an unparalleled look at the inside story behind D-Day, The History Channel is staging a peaceful bombardment of World War II programming. On Sunday, June 4, it will air a three-hour special, D-Day: The Total Story, that follows the invasion of Normandy, from concept to the tense aftermath. Interviews with D-Day veterans -- both Allied and German soldiers -- combine a rich personal dimension with authentic battle footage. Then, on Tuesday, June 6, a full day of programming will commemorate the invasion, featuring The Best Kept Secret: D-Day, the astonishing tale of how espionage played a crucial role in the invasion's success.

From Concept to Launch

Fifty years ago, the fate of Europe hinged on a massive amphibious invasion of Normandy. After the 1940 defeat at Dunkirk in which the Germans drove the British back across the English Channel, Winston Churchill began preparations for another crusade to liberate Europe. But Germany's grip could only be broken by confronting the Atlantic Wall.

After two years of meticulous preparations, the Allied leaders were ready for the greatest aerial and sea invasion ever planned. A quarter of a million fighting men aboard more than 7,000 ships headed across the English Channel to carry out Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy and the ultimate defeat of Hitler.

The Best Laid Plans

But the operation had scarcely begun when the Allied leaders realized that their daring invasion was not going according to plan. Many of the troops that landed on the beaches were rocked by rough seas, miscalculated beach landings and the collapse of elaborate timetables. Moreover, the Allies' aerial bombardment had gone too far inland to knock out the waiting Germans.

The days immediately following the June 6 assault were decisive in determining how the tides of war would flow. With their backs to the sea, the well-supplied and numerically superior Allied armies struggled to advance their positions. An all-out attack was the Allies' only chance to break free of the beaches and push inland to Paris.

Ultimately the Germans' vulnerabilities kept Hitler's army from ever seeing the Normandy coast again. …

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