If you’ve watching Tom Hanks’ Saving Private Ryan, you’ve seen a graphic depiction of the battle that’s commonly known as “D-day.” On June 6, 1944, 156,000 Allied troops – primarily American, British and Canadian soldiers, stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in one of the bloodiest, yet successful battles of the Second World War. At least 2,500 American soldiers perished that day (the bloodiest battle for Americans to that point was the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War).
Operation Overlord, as D-day was called during its planning phase, took two years to set up, and one reason was the deception that had to be set up by the Allies. (Much of this planning can be seen depicted in a film starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill – Darkest Hour.)
Germany had occupied France early in the war. After the United States entered the war, the British and other European allies began considering an Allied-driven invasion across the English Channel. Hiltler, who had already anticipated such a move, placed military expert Erwin Rommel in charge of the defense of German strongholds in this area of France. Rommel was directed to finish what he termed the Atlantic Wall, over 2,000 miles of bunkers, landmines, and other fortifications against an Allied amphibious invasion.
Just six months prior to the storming of the Normandy beaches, General Dwight Eisenhower had been appointed the Operation Overlord commander. Eisenhower and the British worked together to trick the Germans into believing that an Allied invasion was coming, but could occur at Pas-de-Calais (another part of the plan was to get the Germans thinking that the Allies might invade Norway). The Allies used fake equipment, radio transmissions bearing false intelligence, double agents, and assistance from General George Patton.
The false narrative campaign worked.
Originally, June 5, 1944 was intended to be the day Operation Overlord was carried out, but days of inclement weather delayed the invasion by one day.
Eisenhower told the troops moving into Normandy: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade . . .the eyes of the world are upon you.”
On the morning of June 6, 1944, the amphibious Higgins boats (1,500 in total) made their way to Normandy’s beaches. At dawn, paratroopers – including those from the hailed Easy Company depicted on HBO’s Band of Brothers – as well as glider teams were already landing behind enemy lines in order to secure roads that could be utilized for exiting the area as well as bridges.
The Allies nicknamed the beaches of Normandy Sword, Gold, and Juno. However, Utah and Omaha Beaches are the most recognizable of the names given. At Omaha Beach, at least 4,000 Allied troops perished (including the 2,500 Americans). Therefore, it is considered to be ground zero for one of the most important WWII battles.
Rommel was away on leave when the beaches were invaded, making Hitler the de facto commander. Hitler initially refused to send support to the troops near the French side of the English Channel (he incorrectly believed that the attack at Normandy was a ruse for an attack further north; it was not). Hitler also failed to send in armored divisions that could have assisted those near Normandy.
The paratroopers including Easy Company had already blown many of the bridges those armored divisions would have needed. Allied Naval troops near the beach also provided support to the soldiers on the beaches.
Operation Overlord, or D-day, is known as one of the first battles signaling the end of the Second World War. By August, Paris had been liberated by the Allies, and the Allies were ready to invade Germany itself. It would be just over ten months later when Germany would officially and unconditionally surrender to the Allies.
Hitler is said to have committed suicide a week prior to the unconditional surrender, on April 30, 1945.
In 2022, we celebrate the 78th anniversary of one of the most pivotal battles of the Second World War.