On the morning of 6 June 1944 at 6:30 am, the most well-known seaborne invasion in history commenced.
The sea-landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, were part of Operation Overlord, otherwise known as the Battle of Normandy. We know this day as D-Day.
There’s much debate surrounding the term “D-Day” and its exact meaning. While all may carry some hint of truth, the simplest answer is often the correct one.
When military operations are planned actual dates and times are unknown. The term “D-Day” was typically used to refer to whatever date the actions would begin, often as-yet determined. The day before D-Day was known as “D-1” while the day after was “D+1”.
If the start date of a military action changed, preceding and following dates would not have to change.
In December 1943, a huge military force led by US General Dwight D. Eisenhower began planning operations. Deception campaigns were created to divert German attention away from Normandy, while British factories increased production to prepare for the invasion. By January 1944, Eisenhower was sworn in as supreme Allied commander.
The war plans division became SHAEF. By May 1944, over 1.5 million men from the United States and Canada were in Britain.
In the hours before dawn Allied airborne forces began landing in drop zones all across northern France. Thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were on the ground behind enemy lines, already securing bridges and exit roads by the time the sun rose to the horizon.
The assault was accompanied by a mass of ground troops landing on five beaches: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Troops and supplies began landing on the beaches, supported by more than 11,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships. Although the landings were plagued by bad weather, by the end of the day the Allies managed to land 156,115 troops on Normandy’s beaches.
British and Canadian troops met with light opposition on beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword as did American troops on Utah beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance on Omaha Beach, experiencing over 2,000 casualties.
By June 11, the beaches were fully secured, allowing Allied forces to land over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of supplies.
The Germans struggled with chaos in their ranks, Hitler believing the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from an Allied attack north of the Seine River.
As a result, Hitler refused to release nearby divisions to help in the defense of the coast.
Reinforcements had to be called from farther away, causing significant delays. They were also hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many important bridges, forcing the Germans to take long detours. By the end of June, the Allies had seized the vital port of Cherbourg, landed 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy, and were positioned to continue their advance across Normandy.
By the end of August 1944, the Allies had reached the Seine River, liberated Paris and pushed the Germans out of northwestern France, bringing the Battle of Normandy to its end. Allied forces prepared to enter Germany, whereupon they would join Soviet troops moving in from the east.
78 years have passed since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to defend Democracy and freedom. Let’s not forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before to defend what we are privileged to experience today.