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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Gold Beach

6 June 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: The Normandy coast, north of the town of Bayeux.
Players: Allies: 30th Corps of General Miles Dempsey's 2nd Army, including 50th Division and 47th Royal Marine Commando. Axis: General Friedrich Dollmann's 7th Army.
Outcome: Establishment of a British beachhead as part of the successful Normandy Landings.

By D-Day, German strategic thinking was split between two groups. One believed that invading forces could be worn down on the beaches, then defeated in a war of manoeuvre; the other, associated with the great mobile warfare general Erwin Rommel, held that Allied air superiority had made this kind of battle impossible, and that German defences must concentrate on preventing the Allies from establishing a beachhead. Hitler took no part in this debate, merely urging resistance to the death.

Under Rommel's influence, the coast of Normandy was heavily fortified, with multiple physical barriers as well as coastal gun emplacements. The first task of the invading Allies was to dismantle these. The British landings therefore began with squads of frogmen, tasked with removing underwater obstacles. They were followed by the 'funnies', tanks that had been modified to clear minefields as they went.

The main British objective at Gold beach was to reach the town of Bayeux, 10km (six miles) south west of the landing area. The force that landed at Gold was also to link up with the Juno beach force to the east; meanwhile 47th Commando would land at Port-en-Bessin, about 8km (five miles) west, capture the town and link up with US forces from Omaha.

By midnight on 6 June, neither Bayeux nor Port-en-Bessin had been taken; the sadly depleted American force was itself several kilometres short of Port-en-Bessin. However, the French Resistance had taken over Bayeux. To the east, Rommel's nightmare had been realised: a continuous British-Canadian beachhead, 20km (12 miles) across and up to 10km (six miles) deep. The achievements of D Day fell short of its ultimate objectives, but nonetheless provided a solid start to Operation Overlord.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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