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The Great Crusade begins in Europe

23“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force boosted the morale of his troops before the Normandy invasion. On June 6, 1944 at dawn, commonly known as D-Day, Allied forces launched Operation Overlord to oust German troops from Western Europe.

Before releasing the massive military steam roller a significant deception plan was conducted, including fake radio broadcasts and simulated attacks, with the aim of making the Germans believe that instead of Normandy the invasion would occur at Pas de Calais.

Hitler and his legendary general Erwin Rommel, who was moved to France in 1943 as a commander of Army Group B in Normandy, suspected that the Allies were carrying on a deceptive campaign. However, Gerd Von Rundsted, supreme commander of the Nazi troops defending the Atlantic Coast, disagreed with them. The experienced field marshal was misled by the deceptive campaigns of the Allies, and concentrated significant German forces at Pas de Calais.

Germans were totally unprepared for the attack at Normandy. Although the invasion forces committed several errors (e.g. most of the paratroopers were dropped in the wrong places) those mistakes did not prove fatal as German military leaders did not really realize, even in the midst of the fight, what was really going on: Rommel was on holiday and Rundstedt was still convinced that the real landing would take place at Pas de Calais.

At dawn of June 6, some 156 thousand British, Canadian and American troops invaded the shores of Normandy. Although the 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army suffered significant losses, all of the five designated sectors on the shore were secured by the end of the day. During the following weeks invasion forces advanced deeper and deeper into the land, liberating northern France and Paris by the end of August, closing triumphantly the first phase of “the Great Crusade” in Europe.

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