Friday, June 06, 2014

70th Anniversary of the Largest Amphibious Landing in History

"This Day In History"

June 6, 1944

In the military, the term D-Day is the day that a combat attack or operation is initiated.  The best known D-Day is June 6, 1944, which was the day that the Allied forces invaded Normandy, France.  Many historians look to this day as the turning point of World War II against Nazi Germany.  The invasion of Normandy was a two part operation.  Operation Neptune was the landing operation and Operation Overlord was the invasion of Normandy.

"This operation is not being planned with any alternatives.  This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be.  We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it, and we're going to make it a success."
--General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Operation Neptune had over 6,000 naval vessels that sailed to Normandy, France from Great Britain.  One German officer marveled at the sight of the approaching armada, “It’s impossible …there can’t be that many ships in the world.” USS Arkansas (BB-33) was among the naval vessels that conducted Operation Neptune. 

The preparation for Arkansas’s role in the European invasion began in April of 1944.  On April 18, she set sail for Bangor, Ireland and upon arrival, began training for the shore bombardment role she was to play during the invasion.  On May 19, Arkansas, along with the other battleships in her task force, USS Nevada and USS Texas, were inspected by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and deemed ready for action.

The three ships put to sea for Normandy on June 3, 1944.  In the pre-dawn darkness of June 6th, USS Arkansas took up position and dropped anchor 4,000 yards off Normandy's “Omaha” beach.  She was tasked with supporting the 1st Infantry Division.  At 0530 the surface around battleship Arkansas began erupting with near misses from four 150mm guns located at Longues sur Mer, south and east of Arkansas’s position.  At 0537, Arkansas was bracketed by shellfire from a German battery located at Port-en-Bessin, almost due south of her position.

Crew members of USS Arkansas stand atop one of the battleship's 12 inch gun turrets on June 6, 1944.

At 0552, June 6, 1944, Arkansas’s Captain gave the order to return fire.  For the first time in her career, Arkansas fired her guns in anger.  She, along with British and French warships began firing on the gun battery at Longues sur Mer.  Arkansas destroyed a German radar station and machine gun positions in the area.  She also targeted the battery located at Port-en-Bessin, expending 20 rounds from her main 12 inch batteries and 110 rounds of 5 inch ammunition.  When the battery had been silenced, she shifted her fire to the landing beach, as well as to targets farther inland.  All told, Arkansas would fire some 350, 12 inch shells at German positions during the day of June 6, 1944.


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