It began last night, sixty-seven years ago.

Paratroopers from the British 6th Airborne and American 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions took off from England, preparing to drop into occupied France. Their tasks were to secure key bridges, intersections and towns to clear the way for the invasion force that would land a few hours later at Normandy.

In the early morning hours of June 6th, some 5000 vessels of all kinds began the short but intense transit across the English Channel. The first troops to disembark arrived at around 6:30am.

Of the five beaches, Omaha was the worst. It is estimated that only a third of the first wave made it ashore. In all, Allied forces suffered 9000 casualties, mostly during the first hours of the invasion. 2500 of them were at Omaha. The airborne forces sacrificed too, suffering an additional 2500 casualties of their own.

It was so bad that General Eisenhower considered calling off the invasion. But slowly, led by junior officers and senior NCOs, the troops began to work their way across the beaches. The resistance was fierce, but the Allies forged ahead, eventually breaking through and wrestling control away from the German defenders.

By sunset, the entire coastline was in the control of the Allies, and over 100,000 troops had landed. The Great Crusade had begun.


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