To continue our series of Turning Points of WW2 we are next going to look at the opening of the Western Front: D-Day.
State of play beforehand
On the Eastern Front, Germany and the Soviet Union were at a standstill with the Soviets managing to hold the Germans back.
At the Tehran Conference of 1943 it had been agreed by ‘The Big Three’ of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin that the UK and the US would open a Western Front in France to help relieve the pressure on the Soviets in the East and also to stretch the German Army’s supplies and to divide their attention.
This was made difficult by the Atlantic Wall. A massive line of defence that Germany had built up that stretched from the French border with Spain, all the way around to the tip of Denmark and the whole coast of Norway.
Germany were also expecting an invasion attempt. There had been small raids on French ports previously and daily flyovers by reconnaissance aircraft.
They knew the Allies were building up an invasion force in the UK.
Why didn’t it work for the Axis
German intelligence, successfully mislead by the Allies, believed that there would be two simultaneous invasions consisting of a small invasion in Norway whilst the main attack would be based around Calais. The Germans therefore concentrated most of their defence there. The deception worked so well, that even after the Normandy landings had taken place, the Germans still believed the main attack was still to happen in Calais. It wasn’t until seven weeks after D-Day that the extra reinforcements based near Calais were moved.
The Germans were caught unaware by the timing of the attack as well. Due to the bad weather that had preceded June the 6th and the poor weather that was predicted, they did not think the attack would happen and so most high ranking Germans were absent at the time of invasion.
Rommel, who was in charge of the defence of France, decided that he would spend a few days at home with his family for the first time since war broke out. June the 6th happened to be his wife’s birthday.
Because of the defeats that Germany had started to suffer, Hitler’s trust in his generals had decreased. So much so, that he was the only one allowed to commit reserve troops to the battlefield. These troops were deployed too late to prevent the Allies getting their foothold into France and building the port that they needed to sustain the momentum of their attack.
Why considered a turning point
D-Day is when the Germans stopped pushing forwards and started being pushed back. The direction of the War literally turned around.
Due to the massive losses the German army had suffered, they were not big enough to mount attacks on two fronts. The opening of a second front stretched their manpower and resources too thinly.
At the end of the series, we’ll have a vote to see which of the featured events you think is the most significant. Will D-Day be your choice?