By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, AMU Edge
June 6, 1944, saw the largest amphibious military landing in the history of human warfare. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the Allies landed over 150,000 troops across five beaches in Normandy, France.
This massive invasion changed the tide of WWII in Europe, helping the Allies to defeat the Axis powers. Here are five essential facts to know about D-Day.
#1: There Were Many ‘D-Days’ throughout World War II
“D-Day” is a general term for the start date of any military operation. It is often used when the exact date is either secret or unknown.
Many cynical servicemembers thought soldiers serving in Italy were avoiding real combat in France and called them “D-Day Dodgers.” But troops in Italy faced their own D-Days at Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio and were engaged in a dangerous and difficult advance up the Italian peninsula.
#2: D-Day Was Only Possible Because of Allied Efforts across Europe
Invading Normandy in 1944 was possible because of Allied efforts across every front, both before and after June 1944. In planning the D-Day invasion, Allied commanders drew important lessons from previous failures at Dieppe and Anzio.
Through the aerial bombing campaign that began in 1942, the Allies weakened German industry. In addition, the prolonged bombing forced Germany to prioritize its manpower and resources on securing its home defense at the expense of developing Normandy-based defenses.
The D-Day landings also depended on Allied control of the Atlantic, which was finally achieved in 1943 through victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The operations in Italy diverted German troops from both the Western and Eastern fronts. The Soviet Belorussian offensive, Operation “Bagration,” was launched after the “Overlord” invasion and completely destroyed the entire German Army Group Centre.
It also kept German forces tied down in the east. Ten weeks after D-Day, the Allies launched a second invasion on the southern coast of France and began a simultaneous advance towards Germany.
#3: German Defenses in Normandy Were Weak in Some Places and Strong in Others
While Germany and other Axis powers attempted to defend the northern coast of France with a series of fortifications known as the “Atlantic Wall,” Germany often deployed incomplete and insufficiently manned defenses.
Historical records indicate that members of the French Resistance and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) provided intelligence to the Allies and helped to reduce German defenses. The Allied deception campaigns succeeded in convincing the Germans as late as July 1944 that the main invasion force would still land elsewhere. The threat of this larger, second invasion kept German reinforcements tied down and away from Normandy.
#4: D-Day Was an International Effort
The D-Day operation required unprecedented international military cooperation. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was a diverse international coalition. Although the Allies were united against the German Nazi regime, the military leadership responsible for Operation Overlord had to overcome political, cultural and institutional tensions.
By 1944, over two million troops from over 10 countries were in Great Britain in preparation for the invasion. On D-Day, Allied forces consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian troops. However, the invasion also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian, and Polish air, ground and naval forces.
#5: Today, Normandy Can Be Visited by Those Seeking to Learn More about the Invasion
To see a great photo comparison between Normandy in 1944 and today, visit The Beaches Of Normandy, On D-Day And Today by Radio Free Europe.