D-Day

Page 8 – The battle for Europe

The landings on 6 June 1944 were just the first part of a sustained campaign to end the war in Europe. For months after D-Day planes flew over European cities, and the Allied troops pushed further inland.

The bombing of Caen

One of the first objectives of Allied troops on D-Day was the city of Caen, a few kilometres inland from Sword Beach. Caen lay on a vital road and rail junction. General Montgomery’s plan was to take the city immediately then drive the short and direct route to Paris.

A month after the landings the city was still in German hands. Montgomery requested a massive aerial strike. Late in the evening of 7 July, 447 planes from Bomber Command attacked. More than 5000 citizens of Caen died as a result, which brought the total number of French civilians killed in the war, up to that time, to 17,000. Within two days of that bombing Allied troops had finally captured the devastated city.

Bomber Command over Europe

From early 1942 Bomber Command attacked the most densely populated areas of German cities. This was a controversial strategy to break the morale of the German people and cause widespread dislocation. Often, several hundred planes would fly together to saturate one city with their bombs.

In the months after D-Day this Allied bombing of Germany intensified. As in the German bombing of British cities, incendiary bombs were widely used. These caused firestorms in places such as Dresden, where an estimated 50,000 people were killed as a result.

For the airmen involved in this bombing, the risks were high. More than 55,000 airmen from Bomber Command were killed during the Second World War; 1850 of them were New Zealanders.