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AP WAS THERE, 1944: Allies win footholds in France

Thursday - 6/5/2014, 10:26pm  ET

CORRECTS DATE OF PHOTO, REMOVES REFERENCE TO TODAY - FILE - In this June 6, 1944, file photo, Allied troops crouch behind the bulwarks of a landing craft as it nears Omaha Beach during a landing in Normandy, France. The D-Day invasion broke through Adolf Hitler’s western defenses and led to the liberation of France from Nazi occupation just as the Soviet Army was making advances in the east, turning the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor. Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”(AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, File)
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WES GALLAGHER
Associated Press Staff Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE:

The newsflash came on a slip of paper in a red-and-white striped courier pouch: "EISENHOWERS HEADQUARTERS ANNOUNCES ALLIES LAND IN FRANCE."

The Associated Press had some two dozen writers and photographers among the Allied forces as they landed on Normandy's coast on June 6, 1944. From Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's London headquarters, Wes Gallagher -- who later went on to become AP's top executive -- wrote up the first Allied official dispatches announcing D-Day and sent them in the sealed pouch to AP's London office by military courier, after the military censor authorized their release.

They arrived at 9:32 a.m. and were sent to the rest of the world by teletype one minute later.

In France, the AP team included Don Whitehead, who was making his fifth landing with Allied troops, and Bede Irvin, a photographer who would soon be killed by friendly fire while covering the American forces.

Months of planning went into that flash and subsequent dispatches, from securing a dedicated phone line and berths on planes and ships, to reconfiguring the office furniture in London to ensure AP would be fastest at getting out word of the expected invasion of France. At the end, an editor ran down the hall to intercept the courier and bolted back into the newsroom. Subsequent detail on the invasion made its way back to England in a variety of ways -- including radio transmission, messages tied to the legs of carrier pigeons, and hand-carried dispatches from Henry Jameson, who returned to England with the wounded after an exploding shell dislocated his shoulder.

Seventy years after its original publication, the AP is making Gallagher's original report available.

_____

Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight today and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which "we will accept nothing less than full victory."

German broadcasts said the Allies penetrated several kilometers between Caen and Isigny, which are 35 miles apart and respectively nine and two miles from the sea.

Prime Minister Churchill told the House of Commons part of the record-shattering number of parachute and glider troops were fighting in Caen, and had seized a number of important bridges in the invasion area.

German opposition apparently was less effective than expected, although fierce in many respects, and the Germans said they were bringing reinforcements continuously up to the coast, where "a battle for life or death is in progress."

The seaborne troops, led by Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, surged across the channel from England by 4,000 regular ships and additional thousands of smaller craft.

They were preceded by massed flights of parachute and glider forces who landed inland during the dark. Eleven thousand planes supported the attack.

The German radio said the landings were made from Cherbourg to Le Havre -- a strip of coast roughly 100 miles long -- and later said additional landings, were being made "west of Cherbourg," indicating the Allies intended to seize the Normandy peninsula with its ports and airdromes as the first base.

Germans Expect More Invasions Hourly

The initial landings were made from 6 to 8:25 a.m. British time. The Germans said subsequent landings were made on the English channel isles of Jersey and Guernsey and that invasion at new points on the continent was expected hourly.

Aside from confirming that Normandy was the general area of the assault, Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was silent concerning the location.

From Moscow came word that the Russian army was massing in preparation for another great attack from the east as its part in defeating Germany.

All reports from the beachhead, meager though they were in specific detail, agreed that the Allies had made good the great gamble of amphibious landing against possibly the strongest fortified section of coast in the world.

Reconnaissance pilots said the Allied troops had secured the beaches and were slashing inland, some of them actually running in a swift advance. The unofficial word at headquarters confirmed this, while the Vichy radio admitted the Allied drive inland was going right ahead.

Naval Guns Shell Fortifications

More than 640 naval guns, ranging from 4 to 16-inch, hurled many tons of shells accurately into the coastal fortifications which the Germans had spent four years preparing against this day.

Prime Minister Churchill was able to tell parliament the shore batteries had been "largely quelled," the underwater obstructions had proven less dangerous than feared and the whole operation was "proceeding according to plan."

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