In the spring of 1944, in one steamroller offensive, nearly two hundred thousand troops landed on the coast of France in a last ditch effort to reverse the Nazi occupation of Europe.
It was a plan orchestrated by the greatest military minds the Allies could muster. But there were others who have been forgotten – a colourful collection of inventors and boffins who were drafted in to design and build an all-new mechanised armoury: machines that could breathe fire, tanks that could swim, and a huge array of other ingenious gadgets and devices that would penetrate the weak spots in Hitler’s impressive defences.
This is their story, and the story of the men who put these machines to the ultimate test on the battlefield – the ordinary soldiers who carried out the greatest amphibious invasion in history – D-Day.
The Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled France looms larger in our collective conscience than perhaps any other single battle in history. Even today, the logistics of the assault stagger the imagination: 7,000 ships, 3,000 planes, 17,000 paratroopers and nearly 160,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers. The risks were immense. The Germans had erected the infamous Atlantic Wall, a seemingly impregnable belt of fortifications and gun emplacements designed to repel such an invasion, and had littered the coast and countryside of France with two million mines.
The invasion appeared to be a death trap-but Allied ingenuity saved the day. In the three years leading up to D-Day, the Allies had assembled an array of weapons and transport vessels specially designed to overcome Hitler’s defenses-among them gliders, landing craft, minesweepers, and swimming tanks. This is the story of the maverick innovators who conceived such an armory and its implementation into the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world, and the brave young men who wielded it so capably on the beaches of Normandy.
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