This year marks 75 years since the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, more commonly known as D-day. Today’s post comes from Megan Huang in the National Archives History Office.
On June 6, 1944, in one of the most well-remembered moments of World War II, American, British, and Canadian forces stormed the 50-mile stretch of coastline in northwest France in the largest seaborne invasion in history: 150,000 troops, 7,000 ships, and over 13,000 aircraft were involved. Twenty-four thousand soldiers descended by air, the rest by sea.
The assault, code-named Operation Neptune, was rooted in cross-channel plans that had begun years earlier after France fell to the Nazis in 1940. Real action, however, only began to get under way in the period following the Tehran Conference of 1943. The overall goal was to establish a position that would allow for the liberation of Western Europe before marching onward to Berlin. For this to be achieved, the Allies needed to secure Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches and take the nearby towns of Carentan, St. Lô, and Caen.
The original invasion was scheduled for June 5, but severe weather meant that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had to postpone the operation to the next day. On June 5, Eisenhower spoke to paratroopers in England just before they boarded their airplanes.
Also, in his order of the day, Eisenhower emphasized the importance of their mission and wished them good luck. The order was distributed to thousands of Allied soldiers.
Aware of the possibility that the invasion might not go as planned, Eisenhower also drafted a message in case of failure, in which he took full responsibility and praised the actions and bravery of those on the ground. Fortunately for the Allies, this message never had to be delivered.
Because of the tides, the attacks on the beaches were not simultaneous. The first took place at 04:55 at Utah, followed by Omaha, Gold, Juno, and ending at Sword at 07:25. None of the Allies’ first-day objectives had been achieved on June 6, and they suffered heavy casualties: an estimated 10,000 were killed, wounded, or missing in action. Of those, 6,603 were Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians.
Despite their losses, the Allied forces were able to establish a foothold on the beaches that they would continue to consolidate with more fighting. The battle of Carentan, for example, resulted in the Allies securing the city on June 14 and allowed Omaha and Utah beaches to link together.
Meanwhile, as news of the successful invasion was announced to the American people, President Roosevelt called upon his countrymen to join with him in prayer: “Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.”
Operation Overlord came to its conclusion at the end of August. Paris was liberated on August 25, and the German forces retreated across the Seine five days later. There was still a great deal of hard fighting to be done, and the Allies were in for a difficult winter. However, thanks to the success at Normandy, Allied troops were able to lay the foundation for the final defeat of the Nazis the following spring.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy we are having a special D-day document display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from May 23, 2019 – July 2, 2019.