Once again, it’s the time of the month when we turn to our calendar of famous WW2 battle maps. This month, we’re focusing on the airborne component of the invasion of Normandy in 1944.
By the spring of 1944, preparations for the Allied invasion of France were well underway. The plan for Operation Overlord called for large-scale sea-borne landings at five key beaches along the Normandy coastline. Prior to that, Allied airborne troops would be parachuted behind enemy lines to secure vital objectives. This was a vital part of the plan and the entire operation relied on the success of the airborne element.
The plan involved transporting three full strength airborne divisions across the English Chanel to drop zones a few miles behind the landing beaches. It was to do the largest aerial assault of the war to date. In the early hours of 6 June, Allied paratroopers and glider troops landed in pre-designated locations all along the length of Normandy. The British and Canadian forces landed in the east, while the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions secured the western flanks. Due to a number of factors, including enemy ground fire and heavy cloud cover, the paratroopers ended up scattered all over Normandy; many of them far from their drop zones.
However, they soon rallied and were able to form ad-hoc units to seize their initial objectives. One of the main tasks was to secure the flanks of the invasion beaches in order to prevent a German counter-attack. In one of the most legendary battles of the war, British forces seized vital bridges over the Caen canal and the river Orne. By doing so, they successfully protected the eastern flank of the main landing forces, which hit the beaches a few hours later.
Thanks to the daring efforts of the Allied airborne forces, the main sea-borne forces were able to land and consolidate their position very rapidly. Ultimately, the airborne assault succeeded in achieving its main objectives and has gone down in history as one of the most iconic deployments of such forces.