Code-named "Operation Overlord", the assault phase was "Operation Neptune". Bad weather delayed the scheduled invasion by a day, from 5th to 6th June. After over a year of intensive planning and training including devising new weapons and techniques, such as specialised 'floating tanks', landing craft, and massive floating harbours called "Mulberries" the force was assembled in extraordinary secrecy.
On the 6th June 1944 in the greatest military operation in history the huge armada swept across the Channel. The Germans knew an attack was imminent; but thanks to a highly successful deception ("Operation Fortitude"), they did not know where. Neither did they know when it would come; lacking up to date meteorological information they thought that the weather on 6th June would be too bad to permit a landing. When the Allies struck at dawn on D-Day they achieved complete surprise. Combined British, Canadian, Free French and U.S. forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. D-Day was a major step on the road to victory. A victory that finally secured the liberation of occupied countries, the destruction of the Nazi regime and the end of World War II.
D-Day numbers are staggering. Among 156,000 Allied invasion troops were 73,000 American, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadian. Combined naval forces totalled 6,939 ships, including 864 merchant vessels and 4,126 landing craft. Some 7,000 aircraft took part, including transport planes and gliders carrying three airborne divisions, as well as aircraft supporting the convoys and making bombing or rocket attacks on the German defences, bridges and railways. By 11 June (D-Day + 5), the Allies had secured the stepping stone beaches of Normandy with 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies.
D - Day 6th June
Losses were tragic, but less than expected. On the beaches of Sword, Gold, Juno, Utah and Omaha, the Allies suffered some 10,000 casualties, including nearly 5,000 dead. The Germans sustained 4,000 to 9,000 casualties; no accurate figures were ever known. Helplessly caught between the ferocious Allied naval and air bombardment and fierce German counter-attacking fire were 15,000 to 20,000 French civilians; thousands more had fled.
It would take 2 more months of bitter fighting often at close quarters through the difficult 'bocage' terrain before the Allies broke out of the Normandy region. 'Bocage' was the term given to the chequerboard of small fields surrounded by dense hedgerows with narrow lanes in the Normandy countryside. This was ideal for German defenders to set up ambushes at every turn for Allied armour and infantry with snipers, machine guns, mortars, the deadly panzerfausts and 88mm AA/Anti tank guns. This period is remembered by the Allies as a period of incessant heat, mud, dust, deadly ambushes and constant sniper fire.
Finally on 25th July 'Operation Cobra' was initiated by the American forces after previous British attacks had tied down the German reserves. The Allies finally broke out of the 'bocage' and Normandy on the 27th July 1944. The race to Berlin was on and General Patton was to become a household name.
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