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 first Allied troops landed on the Italian peninsula on September 3, 1943, and Italy surrendered on September 8 (although Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic was established soon afterwards). The first American troops landed at Salerno on September 9, 1943. The Germans launched fierce counterattacks. The U.S. 5th Army and other Allied armies broke through two German defensive lines (Volturno and the Barbara Line) in October and November 1943. After a heavy winter and challenges that it posed to the Allies, Rome fell on June 4, 1944.
In May 1944, the Western Allies were finally prepared to deliver their greatest blow of the war, the long-delayed, cross-channel invasion of northern France, code-named Overlord. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was supreme commander of the operation that ultimately involved the coordinated efforts of 12 nations.
After much deliberation, it was decided that the landings would take place on the long, sloping beaches of Normandy. There, the Allies would have the element of surprise. The German high command expected the attack to come in the Pas de Calais region, north of the river Seine where the English Channel is narrowest. It was here that Adolf Hitler had put the bulk of his panzer divisions after being tipped off by Allied undercover agents posing as German sympathizers that the invasion would take place in the Pas de Calais.
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.
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.
(Photo credit: AP Photo).