On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion. By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. This amphibious operation became the turning point for World War II in Europe. This famous battle is called D-Day or the Invasion of Normandy.
The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces was Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States. Other Allied generals included Omar Bradley from the United States as well as Bernard Montgomery and Trafford Leigh-Mallory from Britain. The Germans were led by Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt.
Interesting Facts about D-Day
- The troops needed the light of a full moon to see to attack. For this reason there were only a few days during a month when the Allies could attack. This led Eisenhower to go ahead with the invasion despite the bad weather.
- The Allies wanted to attack during high tide as this helped the ships to avoid obstacles put in the water by the Germans.
- Although June 6 is often called D-Day, D-Day is also a generic military term that stands for the day, D, of any major attack.
- The overall military operation was called "Operation Overlord". The actual landings at Normandy were called "Operation Neptune".
- The "D" stands for Day. D-Day and H-Hour stand for the secret time/day an operation is scheduled to begin. Over the years many people have wondered what the ‘D’ in D-Day stands for; some have suggested Disembarkement-Day, Decision-Day and even Death-Day. In reality the D just stands for ‘Day’. D-Day and H-Hour represent the secret time and day an operation is set to begin, so before and after WWII many other operations had a ‘D-Day’. The day before D-Day was known as ‘D-1’ and the day after as ‘D+1’, meaning that if the day of the operation changed, all the dates in the plans did not have to be changed. The main reason for the secrecy was that the Germans had 55 divisions stationed in France, and the Allies could only bring in about eight divisions to attack on D-Day.
- Code names for the five beaches where the Allies landed: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
- The date June 5, 1944 was originally chosen for the invasion, but bad weather forced the Allies to postpone one day.
- Four thousand ships released 133,000 troops onto the Normandy beaches. A further 23,000 parachuted from 822 aircraft - only a small part of the 13,000 planes flying that day. Bombers pounded German fortifications, communications and bridges, with Allied planes flying over 14,000 sorties in one day.
- Andrew Higgins, the man who designed and built LCVPs, the amphibious vehicles that enabled the Allied forces to cross the channel. Eisenhower is reported to have said, “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”
- The first U.S. soldier that died on D-Day was twenty-eight year old Lt. Robert Mathias of the 82nd Airborne Division. He sustained a bullet wound in the chest right before he jumped out of his aircraft. He commanded his men to follow his lead as he jumped from the plane and died mid-air. The first two British soldiers that were killed on D-Day were Lt. Den Brotheridge of the 6th Airborne Division and Lance Corporal Fred Greehalgh. Brotheridge was shot in the neck while leading his platoon, and Greehalgh immediately drowned when he stepped out of Brotheridge’s glider.
- There are 9,386 graves in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Each grave faces west, toward America. 307 of those graves contain the remains of "unknown" soldiers.
- The actor who played “Scotty” on Star Trek, James Doohan, was shot six times storming Juno beach on D-Day.
- Other famous celebrities that fought in D-Day were:
J.D Salinger — The author of The Catcher in the Rye, Yogi Berra — The Major League Baseball catcher, manager, and Hall of Fame, Alec Guinness - British actor.