1944 D-Day Normandy Invasion: Facts, WWII History, Significance - Landing Beaches, Casualties, Weather

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D-day Summary

The invasion of Normandy during WWII was code named Operation Overlord. It originally was set to begin on June 5 but due to bad weather the actual invasion began the next day, June 6 1944. Control of the beachhead in France was established by the end of June thus ending D-day. The battle for Normandy ended successfully in August of the same year when the Allies crossed the River Seine.

D-Day was the largest invasion force of any kind in history.

Over 150,000 Allied troops participated in the invasion. These were mostly American, Canadian and British. Other participating nations included Australians, New Zealanders as well as free French, Polish, Dutch, Greek and Czech. The French Resistance also participated behind enemy lines.

Five Star General Eisenhower (US) was the Supreme Commander in Chief of the invasion forces. British Commander, Bernard Montgomery (Monty), developed the plans for the invasion. Monty was also commander of the 21st army which participated.

The code names for the 5 landing beaches were Omaha, Utah, Sword , Juno and Gold Beach. American troops were assigned both Omaha and Utah beach. The British were assigned both Gold and Sword beach. The Canadians landed on Juno.

Omaha beach was the heaviest fortified area. It was defended by veteran German troops. Therefore, Americans hitting the beaches here suffered the most casualties.

Paratroopers and gliders (101st airborne troops) landed in the early morning (before dawn) behind enemy lines. Their mission was to cut enemy communications, destroy guns and disrupt German troop movement. There was mass confusion as many airborne troops landed off course and many separated from their units.

Under heavy fire, the Rangers climbed the 98 foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. After accomplishing this task, the Rangers destroyed the German guns there and held their position for two days. As a result, the Rangers suffered extremely high casualties (60%).

Rommel was the German high commander at Normandy at the time of the invasion. In anticipation of an invasion, Rommel ordered several defensive tactics. He ordered the reinforcement of Hitler's Atlantic Wall which was a system of fortifications along the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel. The Atlantic Wall consisted of concrete pillboxes with machine guns, antitank guns, mines, artillery and other deadly obstacles. Rommel also ordered the installment of the 13-14 foot high wooden logs in various locations around coastal areas. The logs were nicknamed Rommelspargel or Rommel's asparagus. These logs were intended to either damage Allied gliders and/or kill paratroopers. This tactic did not result in a large number of Allied casualties. In addition, Rommel ordered the flooding of many fields in Normandy causing many Allied paratroopers to drown. Paratroopers carried packs weighing 80lbs or more. When they landed in the flooded areas, the paratroopers sunk unable to remove their packs in time.

Due to the confusion that incurred that day and the vast numbers of people involved in the operation, exact casualty figures are not accurate and vary.

Pictures of the Coast of Normandy

pointe du hoc cliffs cliffs  
dday landing picture
French mansion on Normandy coast  

The Germans expected the Allies to land at Calais. It was the most logical place to land as it was the shortest distance between France and England. The Allies took great measures to insure the Germans continued to believe the invasion would take place at Calais (Operation Bodyguard). The Germans also expected an invasion at Norway. Even after the invasion began, Hitler believed that it was not the true invasion but a diversion. Therefore, a large number of German forces remained at Calais waiting for the invasion that never came by sea. If the Germans had had their full forces at Normandy, the Allies might not have been successful and/or there would have been higher casualties.

D-Day newspaper frontpage