This June 6, we celebrate the 76th commemoration of the Normandy Landings, and what is considered the beginning of the end of WWII in Europe.
The landings, the largest amphibious invasion in all of history, were carried out on a Tuesday. The invasion overall was codenamed Operation Overlord with Operation Neptune referring specifically to the seaborne invasion of the coast of France.
As you may have guessed, extensive preparation went into the invasion, with planning beginning the year before and great care taken to keep those plans secret. Operation Bodyguard was conducted in the months prior to the invasion, specifically designed to mislead the Germans about the date and location of the attack, which they saw as inevitable once the U.S. had entered the war.
It included misinformation campaigns designed to mask the invasion location, like fake radio traffic to lead Germans to expect an attack on Norway. Another campaign created a fictitious First United States Army Group under Gen. George Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Yet another campaign intended to lead the Germans to think most Allied troops were stationed in Kent. The radio messages were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast to complete the illusion.
The weather on D-Day was foggy and visibility was low, leading to a 24-hour delay. If you’ve ever seen Band of Brothers , you know how frustrating that was for the troops waiting to get in the boats or into their planes to jump behind enemy lines and help clear the way for the seaborne invasion forces. The bad weather still caused most of the Allied paratroopers to miss their drop zones by a considerable distance, hampering their effectiveness .
The landings at Normandy ultimately took place on June 6, 1944 with troops from the U.S., the UK, and Canada taking part against German defenses. Allied forces also coordinated with the French Resistance to orchestrate a sabotage campaign that targeted rail systems, electrical facilities, underground communication lines to disrupt enemy communications and supply lines—as well as enemy forces themselves.
In 1965, it was revealed by the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center that, “In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June.”
Beach landings were carried out at Utah Beach, Ponte du Hoc, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach. The landings were the largest seaborne invasion ever conducted with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.
Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of the month. Allied casualties on D-Day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed KIA. The Germans lost about 1,000 men.
The efforts of those who fought and died that day led to the establishment and expansion of Allied forces in France, which lead to the Nazis being ousted from the country. And that, in turn, provided the necessary foothold to invade Germany while the Soviets came at Berlin from the other direction, chasing the Germans from the Eastern Front, ending the war in Europe.
When the war was over, unfathomable numbers of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians had lost their lives, with casualties totaling in the tens of millions, along with the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust—and cities across Europe lay in ruins. Most of Germany was bombed to rubble, with German forces in Europe sustaining 6.9 – 7.4 million casualties. The USSR suffered a staggering 26.6 million casualties, including civilian deaths from famine and disease related to the war. The U.S. suffered over a million casualties in both theaters of war.
Range365 is commemorating the 75th Anniversary of D-Day by taking a look at the firearms troops used during the invasion. First, we examine the guns used by U.S., British, and German forces on the beaches of Normandy. Then we take a look at the accuracy of depictions of D-Day, guns included, in movies and in video games over the years.
Plus we compare and contrast the big guns—tanks and major artillery pieces—used by U.S. and German forces, with a look at stateside museums that allow you to get an up close look at D-Day history without going across the Atlantic.
To help get you in the right headspace, here are some quotes and poetry about D-Day said and written by people who were there, and the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, regarded by many to be the most accurate depiction of the beach landings ever put on film.
“And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.”
— Winston Churchill
“They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.”
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
“The waiting for history to be made was the most difficult. I spent much time in prayer. Being cooped up made it worse. Like everyone else, I was seasick and the stench of vomit permeated our craft.’
— Pvt. Clair Galdonik, 359th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 90th Division
“Four years ago our nation and empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall…Now once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause… ‘At this historic moment surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nation-wide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.”
– King George VI, radio address, 6 June 1944.
“You get your ass on the beach. I’ll be there waiting for you and I’ll tell you what to do. There ain’t anything in this plan that is going to go right.”
— Col. Paul R. Goode, addressing the 175th Infantry Regiment, Twentyninth Infantry Division, before D-Day.
“The first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive. . . . [T]he fate of Germany depends on the outcome. For the Allies as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.”
—Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 22 April 1944.
“We’ll start the war from right here.”
—Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, upon finding that his force had been landed in the wrong place on Utah Beach.