6 June 1944 was a momentous day in the Second World War: D-Day. This signalled the beginning of Operation Overlord, or the Battle for Normandy, which culminated in the liberation of Paris.
D-Day: 6 June 1944
That morning, 130,000 Allied troops landed on beaches across Normandy, dubbed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The coastline was subjected to naval bombardment as over 4,000 landing craft approached.
Simultaneously, paratroopers were dropped behind the German defences and bombers, fighter-bombers and fighters helped to disrupt and nullify gun batteries and armoured columns sent to counter the Allied advance. The assault was also ably assisted by resistance fighters, who performed a series of pre-planned sabotage attacks on the rail infrastructure in Normandy.
Montgomery had hoped to win Caen within 24 hours before going on to take Cherbourg, but the German defence in the countryside was more stubborn than anticipated and the Normandy bocage proved an obstacle to the Allies. The weather also disrupted plans.
Although Cherbourg was secured on 26 June it took a month to eventually gain control of Caen. French civilian casualties were great when the push for Caen came, with 467 Lancaster and Halifax bombers delaying their deposits on 6 July in order to ensure missing the advancing Allied troops.
Soviet action helps the Allies
Between June and August, Soviet forces drove the Germans backwards along a front from Lake Peipus to the Carpathian Mountains as part of Operation Bagration. German losses were extremely heavy, both in terms of men and machinery.
Soviet action in the east helped to create the conditions that would allow the Allies to break out of Normandy, following the implementation of Operation Cobra on 25 July. Despite dropping bombs on their own troops twice at the start of this initiative, the Allies launched an assault between Saint-Lô and Périers by 28 July and two days later Avranches was taken.
The Germans were sent into retreat, giving clear access to Brittany and paving the way towards the Seine, and were dealt a decisive blow at the Battle of the Falaise Gap, 12-20 August.
On 15 August, 151,000 more Allied troops entered France from the south, landing between Marseille and Nice. This further encouraged the German withdrawal from France. Eisenhower was eager to press them back all the way, but De Gaulle insisted the Allies march on Paris to re-establish control and order in the capital.
He had already started to prepare for this by infiltrating the city with administrators-in-waiting. On 19 August plain-clothed Parisian policemen re-took their headquarters and the following day a group of de Gaulle’s fighters seized the Hôtel de Ville.
A feeling of great anticipation swept across the city and civilian resistance again played its role, with barricades established across the city to limit German movement.
By 22 August the American generals had been persuaded to head for Paris and French troops set off almost immediately. They pushed through the suburbs on August 24 and a column reached the Place de l’ Hôtel de Ville that night. News quickly spread and the bell of Notre Dame pealed to mark the achievement.
Some small-scale fighting occurred as French and American troops moved through into an ecstatic Paris the following day. The Germans swiftly surrendered, however, signalling the liberation of the French capital after over four years of Nazi subjugation and allowing three days of victory parades to begin.