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America in the Second World War

51c. D-Day and the German Surrender

Amphibious vehicle landing on D-Day
Hitler's refusal to surrender to the Allies led to "Operation Overlord" on June 6, 1944. British, Canadian, and American forces managed to take key points on the coast of Nazi-occupied France, signaling a beginning to the end of war in Europe.

The time had finally come. British and American troops had liberated North Africa and pressed on into Italy. Soviet troops had turned the tide at Stalingrad and were slowly reclaiming their territory. The English Channel was virtually free of Nazi submarines, and American and British planes were bombing German industrial centers around the clock.

Still, Hitler refused to surrender and hid behind his Atlantic Wall. Since the outbreak of war, Stalin was demanding an all-out effort to liberate France from German occupation. An invasion force greater than any in the history of the world was slowly amassing in southern Britain toward that end.

Invasion of Normandy
D-Day troops wade into the waist-deep water and onto the shore to face the enemy in battle.

A great game of espionage soon unfolded. If the Germans could discover when and where the attack would occur, they could simply concentrate all their efforts in one area, and the operation would be doomed to failure. The Allies staged phony exercises meant to confuse German intelligence. Two-dimensional dummy tanks were arranged to distract air surveillance. There was considerable reason to believe the attack would come at Calais, where the English Channel is narrowest. In actuality, Operation Overlord was aiming for the Normandy Peninsula on the morning of June 4, 1944.

Foul weather postponed the attack for two days. Just after midnight on June 6, three airborne divisions parachuted behind enemy lines to disrupt paths of communications. As the German lookout sentries scanned the English Channel at daybreak, they saw the largest armada ever assembled in history heading toward the French shore. There were five points of attack. Gold and Sword Beaches were taken by the British, and Juno Beach was captured by Canadian forces. The American task was to capture Utah and Omaha Beaches. The troops at Omaha Beach met fierce resistance and suffered heavy casualties. Still, by nightfall a beachhead had been established. Eventually, German troops retreated.

After D-Day, the days of the German resistance were numbered. Paris was liberated in August 1944 as the Allies pushed slowly eastward. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was moving into German territory as well. Hitler, at the Battle of the Bulge, launched a final unsuccessful counteroffensive in December 1944. Soon the Americans, British, and Free French found themselves racing the Soviets to Berlin.

Liberated Holocaust survivors
Following the defeat of the Nazi regime, the full extent of the Holocaust was at last revealed. These survivors of the Ebensee concentration camp were among the 250,000 liberated by Allied troops. Approximately 12,000,000 individuals were killed between 1933-45.

Along the way they encountered the depths of Nazi horrors when they discovered concentration camps. American soldiers saw humans that looked more like skeletons, gas chambers, crematoriums, and countless victims. Although American government officials were aware of atrocities against Jews, the sheer horror of the Holocaust of 12 million Jews, homosexuals, and anyone else Hitler had deemed deviant was unknown to its fullest extent.

When the Allies entered Berlin, they discovered that the mastermind of all the destruction — Adolf Hitler — had already died by his own hand. With little left to sustain any sort of resistance, the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, hereafter known as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day.

On the Web
National D-Day Memorial Foundation
WWII veterans as well as volunteers have come together in Bedford, Virginia, to create an organization honoring the soldiers who landed, fought, and died on the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944. This site details the accounts of veterans and civilians who endured the D-Day operation. Includes stunning graphics and first-person accounts of the D-Day operation.
D-Day's Mighty Host
As the clock passed midnight and into June 6, 1944, one of the largest military forces ever assembled began the attack on German fortifications on the beaches of Normandy. TheHistoryNet provides an engaging essay and a few pictures which detail not only the battle, but also the preparations leading up to this epic clash. You'll begin by reading of the Allies' strategy and then you're plunged into the battle itself.
Anne Frank Online
The Diary of Anne Frank has introduced countless numbers of students and adults alike to the horrors of the Holocaust. Anne was one of the more than 1,000,000 children under age 16 put to death by the Nazi regime. The Anne Frank Center has produced this resource which includes a section on "Her Life and Times" along with several excerpts from her famous diary, written while Anne and her family were in hiding.
A Cybrary of the Holocaust
Millions of innocent people died at the hands of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II. For those who survived, the task has been to ensure that future generations would not forget the horrific events of those years. Remember.org uses the stories of survivors, pictures of the concentration camps, poems, links, and activities to meet that challenge.
New Yorkers Remember V-E Day
People throughout Long Island, New York, celebrated Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day as it came to be known, on May 8, 1945. This site on the history of Long Island has published accounts of recollections of V-E Day by both soldiers and civilians alike. For some it was a day to remember, for others bittersweet.
The Drop Zone Virtual Museum
A monstrous archive of photos, written accounts, and audio excerpts from all theaters and both the Allied and Axis forces is found at this webpage dedicated to World War II. The image galleries are fully described, the accounts well-written, and the audio files easily accessible. See especially the scrapbook for exclusive photos of Normandy and the Pacific.
We were behind an Army 6x6, picking up bodies of German and American soldiers piled up like logs, arms and legs sticking out of the stakes that formed the sides with hair like fright. — Private Art Pranger in a warfront letter home to his Mom.
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George was able to get a look at Ronzoni. He had been hit in the chest four, five, maybe even six times. Ronzoni never knew what hit him -from a paratrooper's D-Day diary.
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I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can't do anything to change events anyway. I'll just let matters take their course and concentrate on studying and hope that everything will be all right in the end. -Anne Frank diary entry, Feb. 3, 1944
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More than 1,000,000 soldiers took part in the "Battle of the Bulge." Of those, nearly 200,000 were injured or killed.
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