The Western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy, located on the northern coast of France, on 6 June 1944. The invaders were able to establish a beachhead as part of Operation Overlord after a successful “D-Day,” the first day of the invasion.
To get a sense of how great a sacrifice the U.S. made 72 years-ago when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, consider this tragic arithmetic: That battle cost 29,000 American lives.
By contrast, a little over 4,800 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat during the entire war in Iraq.
D-Day was the largest naval, air and land operation in history
The scene on Omaha beach after the initial landings on 6 June 1944.
The five beaches selected for the landings are known by their code names. The two American beaches, Utah and Omaha. The two British Beaches, Sword and Gold , and the Canadian Beach, Juno.
The primary objective at Omaha was to secure a beachhead of some eight kilometres (5 miles) depth, between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, linking with the British landings at Gold to the east, and reaching the area of Isigny to the west to link up with VII Corps landing at Utah.
D-Day required unprecedented cooperation between international armed forces. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was an international coalition and although the Allies were united against Germany, the military leadership responsible for ‘Overlord’ had to overcome political, cultural and personal tensions.
By 1944, over 2 million troops from over 12 countries were in Britain in preparation for the invasion. On D-Day, Allied forces consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian troops but also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air or ground support.
Here are some more “facts” about D-Day you might find interesting:
The date June 5, 1944, was originally chosen for the invasion, but bad weather forced the Allies to postpone a day.More than 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships supported the operation.
Lieutenant James Doohan of the Winnipeg Rifles was shot in the hand and chest on D-Day. A silver cigarette case stopped the bullet to the chest, but the shot to his hand caused him to lose a finger. Doohan later became known to generations of TV viewers as the actor who played Scottie in Star Trek. While on camera, he always tried to hide his injured hand.
In a broadcast message to troops before they leave, Eisenhower tells them, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”
The oldest soldier to storm the beaches at Normandy in the first wave of troops was Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the fifty-six year old son of U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt also happened to be the only general in the first wave and the only soldier to serve with his son at Normandy.
The Land Craft Vehicle Personnel Ships used during D-Day to land soldiers on the beaches were originally designed for use in Louisiana swamps where the flat bottom of the boat prevented it from getting caught in shallow waters. Designed by lumber businessman and former Nebraska National Guard Infantry Officer Andrew Higgins, the shallow boat went for several years without attracting much attention from the U.S. government until World War II. Higgins’s company ultimately produced over 20,000 of the boats for the United States during the war.
Celebrated war photographer Robert Capa was in the second wave of troops to land at Omaha Beach. His pictures of the event are known as The Magnificent Eleven – a title that reflects their number. Despite taking two reels of film, totalling 106 pictures, only 11 survived after 16-year-old darkroom assistant Dennis Banks dried them at too high a temperature.
Lord Lovat led the British 1st Special Service Brigade. An inspiring but eccentric figure, he landed on Sword Beach wearing hunting brogues and carrying a wading stick used for salmon fishing.
Links to where I found the facts:
And this is an important aspect of WWII, too, one too often forgotten:
Everyone knows the French just rolled over and surrendered to the Nazis, right? Not all of them! The French resistance were our eyes and ears before the invasion, delivering 3,000 written reports and 700 radio reports to the allies during the month before D-Day. We knew where all the German units were, what their strength was, what equipment they had, and even where their Generals vacationed.
On the night before D-Day the French resistance struck all over France, blowing up ammo dumps, cutting telephone lines, and shooting up highway convoys. However, all these attacks pale in comparison to the destruction wrought on the German trains. Resistance fighters conducted nearly 1,000 separate attacks on the railway system the night before the invasion.
Some of these attacks were spectacular, such as blowing up engines or bridges with explosives. Some attacks were more subtle. For example, the rail cars which brought Panzers to the front had an oil reservoir between each set of wheels, lubricating the axles. Brave resistance fighters snuck into the rail yards totally unarmed and removed the drain plugs in these reservoirs with basic hand tools, letting all the oil drain out overnight. When those Panzers were desperately needed the next day to push us back to the ocean, they never got there. The axles overheated and seized up, and those Panzers were stuck on rail cars miles from the front instead of shooting at our fighting men.
D-Day is a day I honor in particular because it is very personal to me. My father landed at Omaha Beach. I was 5 months old and wouldn’t see him for over 3 years. My mother kept his photo by my bed and when He came home I recognized him and ran to him with open arms calling “Daddy, daddy.” Mom said he cried such tears of joy that I was the only dry-eyed one present.
He never talked about the Normandy Landing. He talked about a lot of other things that happened during the war but never that. I loved his war stories and he knew it. He also refused to watch the movie “The Longest Day”. He would get up and leave the room if it came on television. Some scars never fade.
Today when I put my flag in it’s hold it is to honor all the brave men who landed – who lived or died on the beaches of Normandy all those years ago. Without their sacrifice the world would be a very different place. And not for the better. I honor them. I honor them all.
And Dad, even after all this time, I am still so proud.