Operation Overlord– D-Day– June 6, 1944– the most complex amphibious assault in history. A day to forever be remembered when U.S.-led Allied troops defeated Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall,” a 2,400-mile line of bunkers, landmines and beach and water obstacles on the French coast. An estimated 4 million landmines were planted throughout Normandy beaches.
The most decisive day of World War II occurred when 156,115 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of a heavily fortified coast.
They came on 6,939 ships and landing vessels. Airborne troops were delivered by 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders.
The U.S. military shipped 7 million tons of supplies to the staging area, including 450,000 tons of ammunition.
Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the Germans about where they were landing. They tricked the Nazis into believing the invasion would occur at Pas-de-Calais, the closest French coastline to England.
The Allies used fake radio transmissions, double agents, and even a “phantom army,” commanded by American General George Patton, to throw Germany off the real landing zone.
On June 5, 1,000 British bombers dropped 5,000 tons of bombs on Nazi gun batteries along the Normandy coast to cripple their defenses before the invasion the next day.
On D-Day Allies were up against 50,000 Germans troops, and very rocky seas, which made the landings even more difficult. From West to East, Allied forces landed on “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” “Juno” and “Sword” beaches.
Utah Beach: American troops included 14 Comanche “code-talkers” who relayed tactical messages in their tribal languages. American paratroopers suffered high casualties at Utah beach, some drowning under heavy equipment in flooded marshland, others shot in the air by Nazi snipers. By the end of the day,1,700 vehicles and nearly 23,250 American soldiers landed.The cost: 197 killed and 60 missing.
Omaha Beach: The worst battle of the entire operation happened here. Only two of the 29 amphibious tanks made it to land on their own power (three were later transported). The cost was high: 2,400 American troops were killed, wounded or unaccounted for after the fighting on Omaha Beach.
Thousands of paratroopers landed on the Utah and Sword beaches. The first to land were gunned down.
Gold Beach: 24,970 British soldiers landed here at midnight. By the next night they were at the gates of a major stronghold Bayeux and considerably impeded the movements of the German reinforcements. The cost: 400 British soldiers were killed, wounded, taken prisoner or missing from the initial assault. If the British hadn’t been successful here, the Canadians would have been slaughtered at Juno Beach.
Juno Beach: Canadian soldiers suffered terrible casualties battling rough seas and landing on a heavily defended beach. The first lines of Canadian troops were gunned down en masse by Nazi artillery—a 50 percent casualty rate.
Ultimately, Canadians troops captured more towns and territory than any other battalions in Operation Overlord.
Sword Beach: British, French, and Canadian paratroopers met less resistance here because the Germans were very disorganized. Allied forces quickly took two critical bridges and control of neighboring towns.
The D-Day battle lasted 5 days.
After defeating the Germans stationed there, Allied troops began installing two massive temporary harbors that were constructed in England. They unloaded approximately 2,500,000 men, 500,000 vehicles and 4,000,000 tons of supplies at the temporary harbors there for the rest of the war.
The beginning of the end.
The Normandy invasion would last one month– from June to August 1944. Within 30 days all of northern France was liberated from Nazi control. By the following spring the Allies defeated the Germans.
New Orleans critical to success.
It would not have been possible were it not for the Higgins amphibious crafts built in the shipyards of New Orleans.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a special exhibit just on the Normandy invasion.
Its original exhibit, located on the third floor of Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, helps visitors understand what the Allies faced, including the comprehensive preparations before the assault and the daunting challenges once they landed.
Visitors can hear from the men who fought for Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches via audio recordings.
One of the most realistic depictions of the landing was in the movie, Saving Private Ryan: