June 6. The long-awaited Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied
France began at dawn on five Normandy beaches codenamed Gold,
Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha. Hours earlier, British and American
paras and glider-borne troops landed to seize key points and isolate
the invasion area.
The Germans at first believed the D-Day landings were a diversion.
They still expected the main attack to come in the Calais area.
On some beaches, the landings went as smoothly as an exercise
but at "bloody Omaha," overlooked by German guns, the US attackers
suffered a large number of casualties before a combination of
true grit and supporting gunfire from Allied warships broke the
With Hitler in a deep sleep back in Germany and his aides too
frightened to wake him, Nazi commanders were unwilling to commit
large numbers of tanks to the battle. The only serious attack
by German panzers was repulsed by British guns and tanks of the
Staffordshire Yeomanry in an ambush that had been planned weeks
D-Day was not a total success. Congestion on the beaches and
a cautious drive inland made it impossible to take the key city
of Caen on the first day. But that hardly mattered. The German
commander Rommel knew that the Allied invasion would be stopped
on the beaches or not at all. His much-vaunted Atlantic Wall of
guns, mines, tank traps and other obstacles had taken five years
to construct. It had been breached in a matter of hours.
was the year when Betty Grable, topped the GI poll to become
the official US forces' sweetheart, beating Lana Turner and Rita
All the hype was helped along by the decision of her studio,
20th Century Fox, to insure her legs for one million dollars.
A chorus girl at 12, Grable's career was unspectacular until
she starred in the hit musical, Down Argentina Way. Whatever that
famous photograph suggested, she never looked back.
September 17. In a bid to break into Germany by the back
door, the 1st British Airborne Division dropped at Arnhem, northern
Holland, to seize the last of three vitally important bridges.
If the gamble had paid off, Allied armour would have poured north
and turned east, straight into the heart of Hitler's Germany.
Operation Market Garden might even have ended the war in 1944.
But the British paras dropped into a town held by a crack Panzer
division. Cut off and with parachute-dropped supplies falling
into German hands, they fought a bloody rearguard action before
slipping over the river to safety. Arnhem was a disaster. As the
critics had warned, it was a bridge too far.
September 8. The first V-2 rocket fell on London. For
months, Londoners had been steadily getting used to the pilotless,
jet-powered V-1 "doodlebug." When its distinctive throbbing motor
cut out, folk knew it would fall to earth in a matter of seconds.
But the V-2 was supersonic. So there was no defence and warning
of its arrival, only a sudden, vast explosion in the midst of
unprepared and unsheltered people. For two months the authorities
refused to confirm the existence of the new terror weapon. In
the remaining months of the war literally hundreds of these rockets
fell in and around London.
January 19. In a half-four lightning
raid, the RAF dropped 2,300 tons of bombs on Berlin.
British troops stepped up their war against the Japanese
in Burma with a glider attack behind enemy lines.
Rome liberated by the Allies.
On a visit to Wolverhampton School of Art, top designer
Norman Hartnell predicted that women would soon be wearing
clothes made from parachute silk.
July 11. As flying bombs rained on
the capital, 900 women and children were evacuated from London
July 17. A new weapon, napalm,
was used for the first time in a US air raid at Coutances,
August 25. Paris liberated.
August 26. Wolverhampton's own Major-General
Sir Donald Banks was revealed as the man responsible for the
latest flame-throwers used by British troops.
September 14. A Cannock man on
war work was fined 5 under the Official Secrets Act for
displaying highly secret items from his munitions factory
at a local club. He told the court: "I thought they would
be of interest to the lads."
October 14. German war hero Erwin
Rommel committed suicide after he was discovered to have
known of a plot to kill Hitler
US General Douglas MacArthur who had declared "I will return"
when the Philippines fell to Japan in 1941, duly returned,
stepping ashore with invasion forces at Leyte Island.
November 2. Sailor Horace Brookes
of Wednesfield gave a dramatic account of the sinking of
his destroyer, HMS Hardy, torpedoed in northern waters.
He praised the "splendid discipline" of his shipmates, 32
of whom died.
November 12. RAF bombers sank the
German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord.