June 6, 1944 was the beginning of the end of World War II. The objective of D-Day was to prevent Hitler from launching an eleventh-hour effort to destroy London. And there was fear that Germany had the atomic bomb. Hitler had to be stopped.
Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces [SHAEF], commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned a huge operation that would begin with D-Day in June and continue through August. Code-name for the project was OVERLORD.
In 2013 several docents from Lyon Air Museum visited the headquarters in Southwick, England where SHAEF met and mapped out the details for the invasion. In nearby Portsmouth is a D-Day museum with a handmade embroidered pictorial presentation of the D-Day Story. The *embroidery is 272 feet long and is a tribute to the heroism of the men and women who took part in OVERLORD. It is a work of historical importance.
Eisenhower and SHAEF staff on fabric.
For a successful mission it was crucial to create an element of surprise to the German High Command – to keep them guessing where the landing would be – Pas de Calais or Normandy. The help of the Resistance was extremely important. Underground intelligence agents penetrated enemy bases and collected valuable information needed by the allies, and helped greatly in the success of D-Day.
Troops lined up were ready to go on June 2nd. Men waited patiently and apprehensively for the command. They waited and waited. And they waited some more for the weather to clear. If they had known what was in store for them, they would not have been so anxious to go.
Sailing from Portsmouth and southern England 4,500 vessels came together at a rendezvous in mid-Channel. The fleet was already at sea on June 4th when Eisenhower had to delay the operation until the 6th due to weather conditions.
Eisenhower talked with and prepared troops for combat. 57,500 men arrived by boat and landed in the American sector and 15,500 Americans parachuted or landed by glider.
11,590 aircraft participated in the Normandy invasion and among them was Lyon Air Museum’s DC-3. Built as a C-47 in Long Beach, California in 1942, this ship dropped parachutists on June 6, 1944. A single C-47 carried 25 to 30 parachutists. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were to carry out a mission that would be vital to the success of the invasion. Their mission was to seize Ste-Mere-Eglise, cut off access from Cherbourg to Paris, establish a bridgehead on the West Bank and prevent a crossing by the Germans, and control the coast. 1,661 aircraft and 512 gliders were deployed. Drops were made in successive waves but unfortunately due to poor radio communication and anti-aircraft fire, some units landed in flooded areas, in hedges and behind enemy lines. There were heavy casualties like that at Ste-Mere-Eglise where Sgt. John Steele’s parachute got caught in the bell tower of the church, where he hung and watched the devastating scene below. [A replica of his parachute still hangs on the church at Ste-Mere-Eglise in commemoration of that fatal day].
German bunkers with heavy guns heavily fortified the coast over the beaches. [The only original coastal gun battery remaining is at Longue-sur-Mer].
Overall the D-Day invasion was successful in spite of heavy casualties.
*The Overlord Embroidery was inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and worked on by members of the Royal School of Needlework. It has 34 panels and took five years to complete. Over 50 fabrics were used including khakis and gold braid from uniforms and berets.
Article by Lyon Air Museum Docent, Nancy Robison