D-Day – 6 June 1944 – was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. The statistics of D-Day, codenamed Operation Overlord, are staggering. The Allies utilised over 5,000 ships and landing craft to land more than 150,000 troops on five beaches in Normandy.
The landings marked the start of a long and costly campaign in north-west Europe, which ultimately convinced the German high command that defeat was inevitable.
1. D-DAY WAS THE START OF OPERATION ‘OVERLORD’
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. The ‘D’ in D-Day stands simply for ‘day’ and the term was used to describe the first day of any large military operation.
Early on 6 June, Allied airborne forces parachuted into drop zones across northern France. Ground troops then landed across five assault beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, the Allies had established a foothold along the coast and could begin their advance into France.
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2. ‘OVERLORD’ OPENED THE LONG-AWAITED SECOND FRONT AGAINST GERMANY
The defeat of Germany was acknowledged as the western Allies’ principal war aim as early as December 1941. Opening a second front would relieve pressure on the Soviet Union in the east and the liberation of France would weaken Germany’s overall position in western Europe. The invasion, if successful, would drain German resources and block access to key military sites. Securing a bridgehead in Normandy would allow the Allies to establish a viable presence in northern Europe for the first time since the Allied evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.
3. D-DAY REQUIRED DETAILED PLANNING
Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan and his team of British, American and Canadian officers submitted plans for the invasion in July 1943. Although limited planning for an invasion of Europe began soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, detailed preparations for Operation ‘Overlord’ did not begin until after the Tehran Conference in late 1943.
4. D-DAY WAS AN INTERNATIONAL EFFORT
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.
5. THE LARGEST NAVAL, AIR AND LAND OPERATION IN HISTORY
The invasion was conducted in two main phases – an airborne assault and amphibious landings. Shortly after midnight on 6 June, over 18,000 Allied paratroopers were dropped into the invasion area to provide tactical support for infantry divisions on the beaches. Allied air forces flew over 14,000 sorties in support of the landings and, having secured air supremacy prior to the invasion, many of these flights were unchallenged by the Luftwaffe.