15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

Stephanie Grau Contributor
15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

Stephanie Grau │ June 6, 2019

1) The Basics

D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944, when close to 160,000 Allied troops from America, the UK, and Canada landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coastline in a mission to liberate France from Nazi Germany control. The day set the groundwork for the liberation of Western Europe from Axis power and ultimately helped the Allies win the war. Most estimates say that there were up to 10,000 Allied casualties on that day alone. By the day’s end, however, nearly 156,000 Allied troops had successfully breached Normandy’s beaches.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley; Admiral Bertram Ramsay; Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory; Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith.

2) D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history

The invasion fleet — involving eight different navies — was comprised of 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels. Available to the fleet were five battleships, 20 cruisers, 65 destroyers, and two monitors. There was also nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers involved in the operation. In total, there was 195,700 naval personnel involved along with nearly 160,000 troops who crossed the English Channel that day.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: American troops approaching Omaha Beach on Normandy Beach, D-Day, World War II.

3) D-Day has several names

D-Day was a part of an extensive operation called the Normandy Landings but was also Codenamed, Operation Neptune.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Re-enactment groups staging a recreation of the landings on Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944. Here the US forces of the 1st Infantry Division and 2nd Ranger Battalion pitch against the defending German troops of the 352nd Infantry Division.

4) D-Day is actually a military term

In military vernacular, D-Day signifies the day when a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. D-Day and T-Hour are used to designate the day and hour of the operation, especially when secrecy is paramount to the success of the operation. It was first used during WWI, and its most popular use was for the Normandy Landings, but the term has been used many times after since then as well.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Troops of 3rd Infantry Division on Queen Red beach, Sword area, circa 0845 hrs, 6 June 1944. In the foreground are sappers of 84 Field Company Royal Engineers, part of No.5 Beach Group, identified by the white bands around their helmets. Behind them, medical orderlies of 8 Field Ambulance, RAMC, can be seen assisting wounded men. In the background commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade can be seen disembarking from their LCI(S) landing craft.

5) Four Different Sites were considered for landing

Extensive planning was done in order to prepare for the invasion, and four sites were considered in France: Brittany, Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy & Pas-de-Calais. Brittany and Cotentin were quickly rejected as they are peninsulas and Germans could have potentially cut off Allied advancement relatively easily. Pas-de-Calais was the most obvious choice to both the Allies and Germans. It was the closest point to continental Europe and thus easiest to quickly gain a strong footing in the Nazi-controlled territory. With that said, however, it was the most heavily fortified region by the Germans. Noting this, the Allies also realized the area would be difficult to travel in as it was surrounded by rivers and canals. Thus, Normandy was chosen as the landing spot.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Description: The 111th Naval Construction Battalion landing at Omaha Beach before the Mulberry was installed, 6 June 1944. Ships unloading on the beach while barrage balloons hover overhead. The Seabees constructed and operated camps for naval personnel behind the invasion beaches. On D-Day plus 6, work began on a beach camp designed to accommodate 6000 men.

6) Weather was a huge consideration for selecting the date

The Normandy invasion planners needed to control for several conditions in order to make the operation successful. This included the prime phase of the moon, tide, and time of day — a set of specifications that only aligned on a few days each month. The planners wanted a full moon, as it would provide illumination for the aircraft pilots and also yield the highest tides. They also wanted to have the landings right before dawn, with the tide coming in, as this would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach while also minimizing the time men would be exposed in broad daylight.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. “Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. ‘Full victory-nothing less’ to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe.” Eisenhower is meeting with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) of the 101st Airborne Division, photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men as he always did before a stressful operation (Eisenhower speaks with Hartsock).

7) June 6, 1944, was not the intended landing day

With that said, the Allies planned to launch the invasion on May 1st of 1944. The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference the year before, however, shortly afterward the plan expanded to include extra landing sites which necessitated a delay to June. The day they were aiming for was June 5, however, the weather was not ideal and the operation needed to be postponed once more. The operation’s meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed 24 hours later, but if not, the next available dates would be two weeks later. This would have been a huge setback for the Allies as men and ships would have had to be recalled when they were already in position to cross the Channel. This would have also allowed more time before the operation which would have increased the chances of the Germans detecting the plans. Ultimately, Eisenhower made the choice to move the invasion to June 6th, which, as history tells, was the right choice, as a major storm ran through Normandy two weeks later, making beach landings nearly impossible.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: D-day – British Forces during the Invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944. Commandos of 47 (RM) Commando coming ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. LCTs can be seen in the background unloading priority vehicles for 231st Brigade, 50th Division.

8) There were many decoy operations in place to mislead the Germans of the Allies’ plans

The Allies conducted several operations in order to mislead the Germans about the date and location of the Allied Landings, known as Operation Bodyguard. This included using fake radio traffic to trick the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway. It also included creating of phantom army group supposedly controlled by a well-decorated Lieutenant General in order to trick the Germans into believing an attack was scheduled for Pas-de-Calais. Lastly, on the night before the invasion, a group of Special Air Service operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny in order to lead the Germans to believe there were additional airborne landings.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Map depicting the targets of all the subordinate plans of Bodyguard.

9) Germans Had Prepared Extensively for an Allied Invasion

Despite their preparation, they weren’t sure where the invasion would take place. Hitler had ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected invasion. However, shortages, especially in building materials and manpower, meant that most of the strongholds were never built. Johannes Rommel, a German General, had reported right before D-Day that construction was only 18% complete on the Atlantic Wall. Moreover, the deception tactics used by the Allies had been successful, and the Germans were forced to protect a larger area.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: The Atlantic Wall (defense built by Nazi Germany, stood from 1942-44).

10) The Intended Plan was not accomplished on D-Day

The operation included amphibious landings that were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment — to clear the beaches and the surrounding areas as much as possible — and also an airborne assault of landing 24,000 U.S., British and Canadian troops after midnight. The amphibious landings started on Normandy at 6:30. The goal was to gain control of a 50-mile stretch of coast that was divided into five beachheads: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. While two of the beaches were linked on the first day, all five beachheads were not connected until June 12th. Despite the Allies failing to achieve some of their goals on the first day, the victories on D-Day paved the way for future successes in the following days.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move over a seawall on Utah Beach during the Allied Invasion of Europe. ww.army.mil/d-day.

11) Omaha Beach had the most devastating casualties

Omaha was the most heavily defended beach. For fear of hitting landing crafts, US bombers delayed their release and consequentially most of the beach obstacles remained undamaged. Strong currents forced many landing crafts away from their intended position and others got stuck on sandbars, forcing the men to wade in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach. Casualties were around 2,000, and by late morning only 600 men had reached higher ground.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Omaha beach, Dog red & Dog white sectors, at Saint-Laurent sur Mer, Normandy. One of the D-Day beaches. Taken at saint-laurent sur Mer, February 2011.

12) The French Resistance was a large part of D-Day’s Success

The French Resistance, along with the British Special Operations Executive, orchestrated a sabotage plan behind the scenes. The plan was to be executed on D-Day and the days following and included sabotaging the rail system, electrical facilities, and underground telephone cables. These tasks helped the Allies’ success, and because of their efforts, Normandy was isolated by June 7th. Axis forces simply could not send reinforcements or information.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: sabotage of railway lines by the French Resistance.

13) There was only one person who received a Victoria Cross on D-Day

Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award of the British military honors system. In a nutshell, Hollis initially rushed two German pillboxes (bunkers) taking a total of 31 prisoners. Later that day, he led an unsuccessful attack on an enemy position containing a field gun and Spandau machine guns. After withdrawling, he realized he left two men behind. To his commanding officer, Major Lofthouse he then said, “I took them in. I will try to get them out.” In full view of the enemy who were continually firing at him, he went forward alone distracting their attention from the other men. Under cover of his diversion, the two men were able to get back.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: The memorial plaque commemorating the Victoria Cross given to C.S.M Hollis located at no. 2 Hollis Crescent, Strensall.

14) Soldiers on Sword Beach had a Personal Piper

Bill Millin was asked by the brigade’s commanding officer, “Brigadier Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and 4th Baron Lovat” (yes, that’s his full name and title) to play on the beachhead to raise morale. This was against rules set during WWI that forbade playing bagpipes in fear of attracting enemy fire. Lord Lovat disregarded this rule, telling Millin, “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.” Millin played fervently up and down the beach as his comrades fought tirelessly. One of his commandos, Tom Ducan, said years later to the New York Times: “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes, as well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home, and why we were fighting there for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: Queen Red Beach, Sword Area. Lord Lovat, on the right of the column, wades through the water. The figure in the foreground is Piper Bill Millin.

15) Today’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day

June 6, 2019, will mark the 75th anniversary of the Allied landings at Normandy that was the beginning of the end to World War II in Europe. The 75th anniversary will be commemorated in France, as well as at war memorials and cemeteries in the United States, England, and Canada. This year may be the last major anniversary that D-Day veterans will be alive to see. It was one of the most paramount days of the entire 20th century, the signifying tipping point of WWII that defined the future of the world we know today.

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day

15 Facts You Need to Know About D-Day: A group of World War II veterans listens to speeches given during a ceremony honoring paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division.