Tens of thousands of allied soldiers stormed the Normandy coast in 1944 on a mission to push German forces out of France and reclaim Europe. Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history.
When was D-Day?
Tuesday 6 June, 1944.
What is D-Day?
D-Day, the Normandy Landings, Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy – it goes by many names, but all refer to the campaign whereby Allied forces crossed the English Channel, stormed the beaches of Normandy, and began to reclaim northern France from the occupying Nazi German forces.
The operation is still one of the largest amphibious military operations in history. Allied forces took to the water, land, and sky for this huge push to reclaim Europe. Approximately 6,000 landing crafts, ships, and vessels set off from England for France, joined by more than 800 aircraft, in the early hours of the 6 June. By the end of the day about 155,000 allied troops had landed along the 60-mile stretch of coastline.
Who was involved in D-Day?
Operation Overlord was a great collaboration of international forces. On the beaches of Normandy, the German soldiers faced predominately British, US, and Canadian troops. However, across the the ground, sea, and air, troops also hailed from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and as far as Australia, New Zealand, and Rhodesia – to name a few.
What had happened before D-Day?
By June 1944, the Second World War had been raging for almost five years; Hitler had taken France, pushing British troops back across the Channel, in 1940. Meanwhile, Soviet soldiers were being slaughtered in bloody battles against Germany in the east since 1941.
The Allied forces knew something big needed to be done to undermine Nazi hold in Europe and help the Soviet troops on the eastern front. The British and Americans began plotting a carefully planned attack on France’s north-west coast from as early as 1942.
Hitler had gone as far as to build a chain of defensive fortifications along Europe’s west coast, known as the Atlantic Wall, so the Allied forces needed to make sure the plan worked.
Was Hitler expecting them?
In the run up to D-Day, the Allied forces ran a deception campaign, using tricks, illusions, and false information to confuse the Germans about the time and location of the attack.
Code name ‘Operation Titanic’, the series of deceptions included false radio messages between ‘army officials’, fake army forces, inflatable tanks and aircraft plotted in strategic areas. They even dropped dummy paratroopers across north-west France to mislead German officials.
Why is D-Day so important?
Years in the making, D-Day was a huge collaboration of the Allied forces and one part of a larger campaign intended to bring about the end of Hitler’s power in Europe. It is often seen as the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
By the end of August in the same year, troops had liberated Paris and were preparing to push through into Germany. Then it was in May the following year, 1945, that the Allies accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany.
Why is it called D-Day?
‘D-Day’ is actually just a general military term for the day an important operation is due to begin. Technically it can be applied to any number of military operations, but has become synonymous with the Normandy Landings in June 1944.
What is D-Day not?
D-Day is not Dunkirk. The Dunkirk Evacuation was an operation to safely remove more than 300,000 Allied soldiers from Dunkirk beach, in north France, in 1940. The soldiers were pushed back across the Channel by advancing Germany forces, who then occupied France until the Allied forces returned four years later, on D-Day.
Learn more about the Second World War
Feature image: A US landing craft disembarks troops of Company A, 16th infantry, 1st Infantry Division wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach. (Wikimedia Commons)