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Editorial Note on Normandy Landings
June 6, 1944
Allied armies invaded northwestern France early on June 6, 1944, landing five reinforced divisions between the village of Quinéville and the Caen Estuary. The Normandy landings took place over five beaches, with the initial assault supported by three airborne divisions that had landed the previous night. General Sir Bernard Montgomery (Twenty-first Army Group) was the Allied ground commander for the initial landing operation. The United States First Army (Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley) had responsibility for the two western beaches, with the objective of taking Cherbourg and clearing the Cotentin Peninsula. Bradley’s right formation, the U.S. Seventh Corps (Major General J, Lawton Collins), made the initial landing on UTAH Beach with the 4th Infantry Division (Major General Raymond O. Barton [U.S, M.A., 1912]). The UTAH landing was supported by the 82d Airborne Division (Major General Matthew B. Ridgway) and the 101st Airborne Division (Major General Maxwell D. Taylor), which had landed between the villages of Sainte-Mère-Eglise and Carentan. Bradley’s left formation, the U.S. Fifth Corps (Major General Leonard T Gerow), made the initial landing on OMAHA Beach with the 1st Infantry Division (Major General Clarence R. Huebner), reinforced by elements of the 29th Infantry Division (Major General Charles H. Gerhardt). The assault on OMAHA Beach was the most difficult, producing the most American casualties, as it landed against vigorous opposition by the Germans. The British Second Army (Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey) had responsibility for the remaining three eastern beaches, with the objective of taking Caen and securing a firm Allied left flank. Dempsey’s right formation, the British Thirtieth Corps (Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall), made the initial landing on GOLD Beach with the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division (Major General D. A. H. Graham). Dempsey’s left formation, the British First Corps (Lieutenant General J. T Crocker), controlled the initial landing on the two remaining beaches; the 3d Canadian Infantry Division (Major General R. F. L. Keller) landed on JUNO Beach and the British 3d Infantry Division (Major General T. G. Rennie) landed on SWORD Beach. The Commonwealth landings on JUNO and SWORD beaches were supported by the British 6th Airborne Division (Major General R. N. Gale), which had landed the previous night, taking key points around Caen on the Orne River and holding positions from there to the village of Cabourg. (Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 278–335; L. F. Ellis et al., Victory in the West, volume 1, The Battle of Normandy, a volume in the History of the Second World War [London: HMSO, 1962], pp. 149–223; and H. F. Joslen, Orders of Battle: United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, 2 vols. [London: HMSO, 1960], l:43, 81, 106, and 2: 578–79.) The official British history of the Normandy invasion estimates that over 156,000 Allied troops were landed in France during the first day of the operation; approximately 132,715 landed from the sea and 23,400 landed from the air. (Ellis, Victory in the West, 1: 223.)
General Marshall, General Henry H. Arnold, and Admiral Ernest J. King left the United States on June 8 for England to meet with the Allied staffs and commanders and to observe the situation on the Normandy beaches. They arrived in England on June 9, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff met on June 10 for a general discussion of the war situation. General Marshall and Admiral King outlined the manpower situation; Marshall discussed replacements and the “new policy by which divisions at the front were being kept at full strength throughout operations with resultant increase in morale and in the length of the periods possible for units to operate without relief.” (Pogue, Organizer of Victory, pp. 390–96; H. H. Arnold, Global Mission [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949], pp. 503–8; quote from Minutes of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Meeting, June 10, 1944, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, CCS Minutes]. For Admiral King’s account of the trip, see Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record [New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1952], pp. 547–55.) General Marshall visited with Prime Minister Churchill at Chequers that evening.
On June 11 the C.C.S. discussed operations in Italy and the air situation in Europe. General Marshall supported mounting ANVIL, a landing on the southern French coastline to support the OVERLORD operations in northwestern France. Marshall urged “advancing as much as possible the target date of amphibious operations in the Mediterranean.” The Combined Chiefs agreed that, although precise objectives would be determined later, an amphibious operation with a three-division lift would be mounted from the Mediterranean theater with a target date of July 25. They also discussed the prospect of British assistance to the American effort in the war against the Japanese. (Minutes of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Meeting, June 11, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, CCS Minutes].)
The evening of the eleventh the American and British Chiefs of Staff and Prime Minister Churchill left by train for the southern English coast to embark on a trip to the Normandy beaches planned for June 12. The American party toured the United States sectors: first the harbor, then the beaches, a field hospital, and lunch at Bradley’s headquarters. General Eisenhower, a member of the party, recalled: “Their presence, as they roamed around the areas with every indication of keen satisfaction, was heartening to the troops. The importance of such visits by the high command, including, at times, the highest officials of government, can scarcely be overestimated in terms of their value to soldiers’ morale.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1948], p. 254; Bradley, A Soldier’s Story, pp. 289–91.) It was extremely gratifying to General Marshall, who had worked tirelessly for the invasion of France, for him to see what was now a reality. Returning to London on the train that evening, Churchill recalled: “During the dinner I noticed General Marshall writing industriously, and presently he handed me a message he had written to Admiral Mountbatten, which he suggested we should all sign.” (Winston S. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, a volume in The Second World War [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953], p. 13.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943–December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 476–478.