Lesson Plan - Get It!
What battle is considered the turning point of World War II?
On June 6, 1944, one of the largest battles in modern history ensued on the beaches of Normandy, France.
The battle was given the code name "Operation Overlord" and is referred to as "D-Day." Overtaking the Germans in France was a long shot, but necessary to win the war. As you read about D-Day and the events leading up to it, make a list of all the things that enabled the Allies to be successful on June 6.
Image by United States Coast Guard service personnel, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.
After the start of World War II, in May 1940, the Germans took control of France. This strategic position prevented the Allies from entering central Europe and Germany. As the war lingered, it became clear that the Allies would have to gain access to the English Channel and France if they were going to win the war.
In January 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower, who would eventually become president of the United States, was put in charge of a top-secret mission to invade France, called "Operation Overlord." Although the Germans were unsure of when, where, or how, they knew the Allies would soon attack France. For that reason, Operation Overlord was kept very quiet, and few were aware of what it would actually entail. To keep the mission even more secret, General Eisenhower launched a massive deception campaign to lead the Germans to believe the attack would occur at Calais rather than Normandy. If you look at the map below, you can see where Calais is in relationship to Normandy.
Image by Hel-hama, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
As part of Eisenhower's deception campaign, many strategies were used.
For months, fake radio messages and double agents were used to plant ideas about where the military strike would take place. In addition to Calais, the Allies led the Germans to believe that attacks in Norway and other parts of northern France were also likely.
In the weeks leading up to D-Day, the Allies worked to make it difficult for the Germans to move troops and supplies, by destroying roads and bridges that could be potentially used to provide German aid to Normandy. The final few days leading up to D-Day were when the most large-scale deception tactics were used.
General George Patton was one of the leading officers on the Allies' side. The Germans were certain that an attack on France would be led by General Patton. Just before the attack on D-Day, General Eisenhower stationed General Patton and a large army on the coast of England across from Pas-de-Calais. With Patton and his men, Eisenhower also sent hundreds of fake tanks, weapons, and equipment.
Operation Overlord was supposed to take place on June 5, but inclement weather postponed the attack 24 hours. While the Germans were watching General Patton, 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft were sent across the English Channel to Normandy. Before they arrived, paratroopers were dropped behind the beaches to secure roads and routes from the beach into France. At 6:30 am, over 150,000 men stormed the beaches of Normandy in what has become known as one of the most gruesome battles in modern history. The Allied troops literally stepped off the boats and into the hands of their enemy. It is estimated that within a few hours, around 4,000 men were killed and thousands more were wounded and went missing.
Despite all that, D-Day was a success for the Allies. The troops managed to secure the beaches, making way for more than 300,000 Allied troops to move into France.
To learn more about D-Day, read the following articles. As you read the articles, continue to add to your list of reasons why the Allies were successful on June 6:
- D-Day (from the History Vault, A&E Television Networks)
- D-Day June 6, 1944 (U.S. Army)- Make sure to listen to General Eisenhower's D-Day speech.
- D-Day Overview (D-Day Memorial Foundation)
The Allies knew invading France would be a challenge and there was a high probability that they would fail. Review the list you created with your teacher or parent. What measures did the Allies take to ensure D-Day would be a success? Who, if anyone, can be credited with the success of securing the French beaches?
When you are finished discussing, move on to the Got It? section to learn about the events of D-Day from the men who lived through it.