World War II: The Allied Invasion of Europe


Starting with the Invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, and culminating in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy, Allied forces took the fight to the Axis powers in many locations across Western Europe. The push into Italy began in Sicily, but soon made it to the Italian mainland, with landings in the south. The Italian government (having recently ousted Prime Minister Benito Mussolini) quickly signed an armistice with the Allies -- but German forces dug in and set up massive defensive lines across Italy, prepared to halt any armed push to the north. After several major offensives, the Allies broke through and captured Rome on June 4, 1944. Two days later on D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history took place. Nearly 200,000 Allied troops boarded 7,000 ships and more than 3,000 aircraft and headed toward Normandy. Some 156,000 troops landed on the French beaches , 24,000 by air and the rest by sea, where they met stiff resistance from well-defended German positions across 50 miles of French coastline. After several days of intense warfare, Allied troops gained tenuous holds on several beaches, and they were able to dig in with reinforcements and bombardment. By the end of June, Allies were in firm control of Normandy, and on August 25, Paris was liberated by the French Resistance with help from the French Forces of the Interior and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. In September, the Allies launched another major invasion, Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation of its time, in which tens of thousands of troops descended on the Netherlands by parachute and glider. Though the landings were successful, troops on the ground were unable to take and hold their targets, including bridges across the Rhine River. Despite that setback, by late 1944, the Allies had successfully established a Western Front and were preparing to advance on Germany. (This entry is Part 16 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)

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