On this day 69 years ago, during World War II it was all kicking off in France, as thousands of Allied troops began storming the Normandy beaches in a major offensive against the Germans. The 6th June 1944 is known as D-Day, and it marks the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
Codenamed ‘Operation Overlord’, around 156,000 British, American, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches in Normandy during World War II.In the early hours of 6 June RAF bombers dropped aluminium foil of the Pas de Calais to simulate the radar profile of a great invasion fleet. Meanwhile thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads.
Across the Orne River, British glider-borne troops seized the vital 'Pegasus' Bridge, while others attacked and temporarily disabled a German battery at Merville - the guns of which covered Sword Beach. Further drops allowed 6th Airborne Division to form a defensive shell protecting the eastern flank of the beachhead.
At 6.30am the amphibious invasions began and the British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword. Supported by the specialised assault vehicles of 79th Armoured Division, the British and Canadian troops pushed forwards and a combination of Petard mortar and Crocodile tank soon smashed the defences.
Sadly, only a few miles further east on Omaha beach the situation was very different and US forces without armour support faced heavy resistance. There were over 2,000 American casualties.
Some estimates state that more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing. However, by the end of the day around 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.
The Allies strong campaign contrasted against the Germans who suffered from confusion in the ranks and loss of leadership – luckily celebrated commander Rommel was away on leave. Hitler also refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and delayed calling armoured divisions to aid in the defence because he believed that the invasion was designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River.
Despite Eisenhower's concerns about the Omaha beach situation, by mid-afternoon it was clear that even on Omaha the battle was running in the Allies' favour. Churchill addressed the House of Commons at 6pm to announce an “astounding success”.
In the following weeks after D-Day, the Allies fought their way across the Normandy countryside in the face of determined German resistance and by the end of June, the Allies had seized the vital port of Cherbourg, landed approximately 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy, and were poised to continue their march across France.
Losses were lighter than anticipated and a lot of this was down to the fine planning, strong command, and of course the bravery and tenacity of the allied troops.
The Normandy invasion made a vital psychological blow to the enemy and prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern Front. By May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.
Do you have any D-Day heroes in your family? Maybe you are researching them and your family's military history - search the Forces war records site and fill in the missing pieces...
You’ll also find plenty of interesting finds relating to World War II and D-Day in the Forces War Records historic document library.
For more information regarding the airborne assault on D-Day, 'Operation Deadstick', then click here to read an interesting article on our sister site Forces Reunited.