Seventy-one years ago, the British, Canadians and Americans landed on the Normandy beaches to open a second ground front against Nazi
Operation Overlord -- the Allied invasion of
Brilliant planning, overwhelming naval support, air superiority and high morale ensured the successful landing of 160,000 troops on the first day -- at a cost of about 4,000 dead.
Three weeks after the
Yet Hitler held off for another 11 bloody months. Why?
What followed the D-Day landings was as confused as the initial assault was superbly carried out. Planners had underestimated the impassable terrain of the French boscage -- dense thickets planted along huge earthen berms -- just miles beyond the American sector beaches.
It would take most of June and early July for the stalled Americans to cut through the nearly impassable, well-defended hedgerows.
The stalled Allied armies had given time for the arrival of crack
Unfortunately, the command structure of the Allied invasion force was topsy-turvy. The swashbuckling U.S. Gen.
In contrast, the professional (but slow and methodical) Gen.
Meanwhile, U.S. Gen.
Patton, however, would have none of it. By early August, the Third Army was unleashed and off to the races -- in a series of brilliant armored outflanking movements that encircled and bypassed stunned German divisions.
Taking great risks, the mercurial Patton outsourced the protection of his flanks to the
It almost worked. The Third Army "rolled" with Patton right through
Hundreds of thousands of trapped Germans either surrendered or were killed by Allied pincers. British and American fighters blanketed the skies above nearly 2 million Allied soldiers, most of them motorized and protected by thousands of tanks and artillery pieces.
But then the wondrous American August came abruptly to an end.
Allied planners had never found a way to recapture intact the key French ports on the
The farther Patton and other Allied armies advanced from the beaches, almost 400 miles away, the longer their supply lines grew -- and the easier it became for the enemy to support its own retreating forces.
Shorter late-summer days, inclement weather, mounting casualties, supply shortages and the need to help liberate occupied
In an unwise move, Eisenhower in early September had diverted gasoline and ammunition from the American sector to Montgomery's theater. Montgomery, in a risky gambit, planned to leapfrog across the Rhine from
The result, however, was the disastrous Operation Market Garden, or "A Bridge Too Far," catastrophe.
Meanwhile, Patton's advance sputtered by early September and ran out of gas. The Third Army, like other American forces, prepared for a mostly static war near the German border for the next six months.
The American nightmares of fighting in the Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge lay ahead, as the war eventually turned into a World War I-style bloodbath until
But for a brief moment in