Tuesday, June 25, 2024

D-Day

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Podcast Transcript

On June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious landing in world history took place on the shore of Normandy, France. The allied forces called it D-Day.

The landing marked the commencement of Operation Overlord, a strategic move that heralded the long-awaited opening of the second front in the European war. 

D-Day was the start of the most meticulously planned event in history and one of the greatest logistical operations of all time.

It was also the day that saw some of the war’s most horrific and heroic actions.

Learn more about D-Day and the start of the liberation of Western Europe on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


Despite being a single day, the events of June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, are actually an enormous topic. 

It was just the tip of the spear of what was a much larger operation known as Operation Overlord. Many people think that Operation Overlord was the landing on D-Day. 

Operation Overlord was the code name for the overarching operation for the entire invasion of Europe. The actual landings and events of D-Day were under the code name Operation Neptune. Hence, Operation Neptune and D-Day were just one part of the greater Operation Overlord.

In previous episodes, I touched on several topics surrounding the Normandy Invasion, including Operations Fortitude, the great deception to fool the Germans into thinking the invasion would take place further north, the Red Ball Express that carried supplies to troops on the front lines, and the Raid on Dieppe, which was a sort of trial run D-Day. 

For this episode, I want to zoom in and focus on the events of D-Day itself and leave some of the bigger-picture discussions of the invasion and planning for another episode.

Preparations for D-Day had gone on for over a year. As the time approached, the big question was exactly what day should the landings take place. 

This was not something you could just mark on the calendar as a successful landing would be highly dependent on the weather. Once the landing began, it couldn’t be stopped. There were too many moving parts to put it on pause. Furthermore, any stop in fighting would allow the Germans a chance to regroup.

Advanced planning initially scheduled D-Day for May 1, but changes in the number of divisions forced the landing to be postponed until June. As the fleet began to assemble in the first week of June, June 5 was set as the invasion date. 

They wanted a date and time that had a full moon to allow pilots to see targets in the dark, as well as a time when low tides would be just before sunrise. 

On June 4, the senior meteorologist of the Allies, Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force, said that conditions would be poor on June 5, but there would be a break in the weather on June 6, which would give the Allies enough time for the landings. 

It was arguably the most important weather forecast in history. 

The battle plan for D-Day was relatively straightforward, if extremely difficult. 

The Germans had been preparing for an invasion for several years. They build a series of fortifications known as the Atlantic Wall. Normally, an entrenched defense would have an advantage over offense, especially in an amphibious landing. 

However, the Germans had the disadvantage of not knowing where the Allies would land. They had to defend the entire coast of France, spreading their forces thin. 

The first phase of the operation began in the wee hours of the morning, just after midnight. Members of the American 101st Airborne and the British 6th Airborne are dropped behind enemy lines. Their objective on D-Day was to take key positions behind the beaches and hopefully meet up with the landing forces later that day. 

Within the hour, British gliders carrying reinforcements and supplies also landed in fields in the area. 

Between 1 and 2 am, paratroopers of the British 82nd airborne and more men from the American 101st are dropped into their landing zones.

This was the largest airdrop in military history at the time. Approximately 20,000 paratroopers were dropped on D-Day. However, everything did not go perfectly. Many paratroopers missed their targets and had to form ad hoc groups with other paratroopers until they could find their units.

Already, skirmishes were taking place. Paratroopers were attempting to seize bridges. Some Germans were sending radio notifications of a massive fleet off the coast and of paratrooper activity in Normandy.

Admiral Karl Hoffman, outside Paris, sends notification that he believes that the expected Allied invasion is underway.

At 1:50 am, 1,198 bombers of the US 8th Army Air Force began taking off from England. 

At about 2:30 am, jamming units in England began to broadcast to interfere with German communications. 

At 2:50, Marshal von Rundstedt responded to the German VII Army in Normany, informing them that he does not believe this is the main invasion. Hitler was adamant that the main Allied invasion would take place in Calle, much closer to the English mainland. 

Around 3 am, infantry off the coast of Normandy began embarking onto their landing vessels. Most of the 5,333 Allied ships began dropping anchor to prepare for the upcoming landings. 

Bombers began attacking their targets near the French city of Caen and other inland targets. 

Around 4 am, paratroopers liberate the town of Ste. Mère Eglise, the first town in France to be liberated from German occupation. 

As all the activity was taking place behind enemy lines, a little after 5 am, the main invasion was getting ready. 

At 5:10 am, the first naval guns started bombarding German positions along the shore. 

The bombardment of the coastal defenses was designed to soften and hopefully eliminate many of the obstacles that the landing forces would encounter. 

Over the next hour, more ships began opening fire on the respective landing beaches that they would be supporting. 

Many of the bombers flying over the area also began dropping their bombs as the sun was starting to rise and targets became visible. 

As the bombings and bombardments were happening, men were in the landing ships and were preparing to land on the beaches that were currently being bombed. 

5:58 am was sunrise, although no one could see the sun because of heavy cloud cover.

Shortly after 6 am, the first wave of landing ships began making their way to the beaches. 

Five landing beaches were selected. The Americans would land at the two westernmost beaches, code names Utah and Omaha.

British and Canadian forces would be landing at three beaches to the east. The British landed at Gold and Sword, and the Canadians in between at Juno. 

The men in the first wave of landings had one of the most inenviable jobs of the entire war. They would be sitting ducks as they exited their landing crafts and worked their way across open beaches with no defenses, attempting to take heavily fortified German cement bunkers. 

The bombardment stopped at exactly 6:27. This phase of the operation had to be scheduled with precision. The last thing the Allies wanted was for their soldiers to be hit with friendly fire as they attempted to make their landing.

The first landings took place just minutes after the bombardment ended. 

Each beach presented unique challenges. Some were relatively flat, and others had seacliffs that had to be scaled. 

The first men could hit the beach at a time dubbed H-Hour. 

They faced landmines, barbed wire, anti-tank barriers, and a host of other natural and man-made obstacles. 

Omaha Beach saw the first soldiers exit their landing craft at about 6:29 and Utah Beach a few minutes later. 

Landings on Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches began at approximately 7:25. The difference in landing times was due to the tides. 

For the next several hours, there were continued landings on all of the beaches. Success was uneven. 

By 9 a.m., the Canadians reported success at Juno Beach; however, Omaha Beach didn’t begin to report success until 11 a.m. 

By noon, most of the beaches were in the Allies’ control, save for Omaha Beach, which was the most stubborn and heavily defended. 

Fighting continued around the beaches for most of the day, but the beaches were mostly secure by early afternoon. By 3 pm, British and Canadian forces were able to link up, and by 5 pm, British airborne forces had linked with the ground forces on Sword Beach.

By 6:30, Utah Beach was considered secure, as was Omaha Beach by 8 pm. 

Despite the heavy German fortifications, they didn’t have the reinforcements or ammunition to continue holding off the onslaught. 

The first wave that landed in the morning was just that—the first wave. As the first wave and subsequent waves were able to take out the German defenses and establish a beachhead, it allowed more troops to land unmolested. 

Around 9 p.m., Operation Elmira began, with the landing of 176 gliders bringing more supplies and, more importantly, artillery. Unlike the gliders which landed that morning, these were able to land in a secured area. 

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the commander responsible for the Atlantic Wall, arrived in Normandy at 9:30 p.m., driving 800 kilometers nonstop to get there. 

At 11 p.m., a group of Germans attempted a counterattack at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha Beach, and the counterattack was still ongoing by the end of the day. 

Not all the objectives the Allies set out to achieve were accomplished on D-Day, but the landings and the first day of the invasion were largely successful. 

By the end of June 6, 1944, 156,000 Allied soldiers had been transported to France by sea and air: approximately 73,000 Americans, 61,700 British, and 21,400 Canadians.

In addition to the Allied forces, French resistance fighters also began a campaign of sabotage, blowing up railway lines and German communication channels. 

The success of D-Day came at a tremendous cost. There was an estimated 10,000 Allied casualties, including 3,400 killed or missing.

At least a half dozen towns and villages were liberated on D-Day alone. The amount of territory captured on the first day was relatively minor, but it was enough to begin the real work of bringing over the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in England.  

Artificial harbors were created, as were landing strips, all to facilitate the non-stop transfer of personnel, equipment, vehicles, supplies, and fuel. 

In the week after D-Day, 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles, and over 100,000 tons of equipment, such as ammunition and food, had been brought to France.

In less than a year after D-Day, the war in Europe would be over, and Hitler would be dead. 

The events that took place on June 6, 1944, can still be felt along the shores of Normandy today. 

If you ever have a chance to visit Normandy, and I highly recommend it, there are a plethora of museums in the area that commemorate the events of D-Day and the liberation of Europe. 

There are probably more than two dozen D-Day and D-Day-related museums in Normandy, some of which are public and some private. The largest museum is the Mémorial de Caen in the city of Caen. 

There is also the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église, the Overlord Museum in Colleville-sur-Mer, and museums near all of the landing beaches. 

An entire Liberation Route was created that follows the Allies’ route from Southern England to Normandy, to the Netherlands, ending in Berlin. 

There is also, of course, the American Normandy Cemetery outside Colleville-sur-Mer, which is the resting place for 9,388 Americans who died in the liberation of Europe. 

I’ll close by noting that before D-Day began, despite all of the planning and preparation that went into it, no one was sure if it would actually work. In fact, if Allied forces had become stranded in France, the entire operation could have been a disaster, setting back the Allied cause by months or possibly even years. 

In the event of such a disaster, the Supreme Allied Commander had a letter written before the invasion for just such an eventuality. It read, “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Thankfully, it was a letter he never had to send. 


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