Allied forces launched the assault on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, the day that ever since has been remembered as D-Day.
Codenamed Operation Neptune, the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II were the largest seaborne invasion in history, began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the restoration of the French Republic, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.
In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners set conditions regarding the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.
The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France starting at 06:30. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandycoast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha.
The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialized tanks.
The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 12,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.
So when we remember D-Day we mourn for many lost men. But we also remember D-Day as a huge triumph. Not because things went perfectly, but because it set the stage for eventual victory over Hitler and the end of World War II.
Before the battle General Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the troops about to land on the beaches of Normandy:
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
General George S. Patton, when addressing his troops before the assault, said (among other things – including a lot of profanity), “the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared” .
Each year we lose more of those who fought for freedom, our country, and the security of the entire world. May we always remember the obstacles they overcame and do the hard daily work to ensure we do not lose what they gave so much to pass on to us.
At the very least we should start by honoring our responsibilities to those still with us who have served or are serving.