Allies land at Normandy

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 defenders' nerve.

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 before.

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.

Betty GrableIt was the year when Betty Grable, topped the GI poll to become the official US forces' sweetheart, beating Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth.

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.


In brief

January 19. In a half-four lightning raid, the RAF dropped 2,300 tons of bombs on Berlin.

March 19. British troops stepped up their war against the Japanese in Burma with a glider attack behind enemy lines.

June 4. Rome liberated by the Allies.

July 1. 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 to Shrewsbury.

July 17. A new weapon, napalm, was used for the first time in a US air raid at Coutances, France.

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

October 25. 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.