D-Day: Did You Know?

The following information can be found on PBS.org/American Experience.

The invasion of France on June 6, 1944 was a triumph of intelligence, coordination, secrecy, and planning. The bold attack was also a tremendous risk. Ultimately it succeeded because of individual soldiers’ bravery in combat. Learn some of the basic facts about D-Day.

The Meaning of the “D”
Ever since June 6, 1944, people have been asking what the “D” in “D-Day” means. Does it stand for “decision?” The day that 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy was certainly decisive. And with ships, landing craft and planes leaving port by the tens of thousands for a hostile shore, it is no wonder that some would call it “disembarkation” or “departed.”

There is not much agreement on the issue. But the most ordinary and likely of explanations is the one offered by the U.S. Army in their published manuals. The Army began using the codes “H-hour” and “D-day” during World War I to indicate the time or date of an operation’s start. Military planners would write of events planned to occur on “H-hour” or “D-day” — long before the actual dates and times of the operations would be known, or in order to keep plans secret. And so the “D” may simply refer to the “day” of invasion.

D-Day’s Impressive Numbers
Convoy of ships crossing the English ChannelAn invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 — and once the massive force set out, there was no turning back. The 5000-vessel armada stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting over 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the channel to the French beaches. Six parachute regiments — over 13,000 men — were flown from nine British airfields in over 800 planes. More than 300 planes dropped 13,000 bombs over coastal Normandy immediately in advance of the invasion.

War planners had projected that 5,000 tons of gasoline would be needed daily for the first 20 days after the initial assault. In one planning scenario, 3,489 long tons of soap would be required for the first four months in France.

By nightfall on June 6, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were dead or wounded, but more than 100,000 had made it ashore, securing French coastal villages. And within weeks, supplies were being unloaded at UTAH and OMAHA beachheads at the rate of over 20,000 tons per day.

Captured Germans were sent to American prisoner of war camps at the rate of 30,000 POWs per month from D-Day until Christmas 1944. Thirty-three detention facilities were in Texas alone.

Tuning in to D-Day
In the pre-television era, Americans got their breaking news from their radios. London-based American journalist George Hicks made history with his radio broadcast from the deck of the U.S.S. Ancon at the start of the D-Day invasion. “…You see the ships lying in all directions, just like black shadows on the grey sky,” he described to his listeners. “…Now planes are going overhead… Heavy fire now just behind us… bombs bursting on the shore and along in the convoys.” His report, including the sounds of heavy bombardment, sirens, low-flying planes, and shouting, brought Americans to the front line, with all its chaos, confusion, excitement, and death.

An American Noah
Allied landing craftLouisiana entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins first designed shallow-draft boats in the late 1920s to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Higgins tried for years to sell his boats to the U.S. military, but he was rejected repeatedly. At last, the Marine Corps selected the flat-bottomed landing craft for troop landings on Pacific beaches. Higgins, who had paid heavily out-of-pocket to promote his boats, finally landed the government contract — and his factories produced 20,000 of the versatile craft for the war effort — including D-Day.

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10 Facts about D-Day – June 6, 1944

June 6, 2014 by NCC Staff

D-Day Landings: Normandy on June 6, 1944

Approximately 1. 5 million Allied servicemen landed on 5 Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. It was the largest amphibious assault in military history. Read more at History.com

On June 6, 1944, about 150,000 troops stormed the beaches of France in the epic D-Day invasion that proved pivotal to the Allied war effort. But how did the idea originate and how did the Allies pull off such a huge task?

The numbers involved in the Normandy landings are still staggering today, and unlikely to be seen again in a modern age of combat. Here are a few of the numbers, and some fascinating facts about this historic event.

1. What does D-Day mean anyway? That remains a topic of debate today, since the operation was cloaked in secrecy. One prominent theory is that the word D-Day originated in a World War I tradition of assigning generic words like D-Day and H-Hour to events with unassigned dates. Another is that the “D” stands for the word “departed,” as in “departed date.”

2. The invading force by sea and air was staggering. The D-Day attack consisted or more than 150,000 personnel coming across the English Channel by sea and air, and about 100,000 troops were involved in the invasion on June 6.

3. The cost of the invasion was high. Of the 100,000 or so fighters in the invading force, about 9,000 were killed or wounded on June 6, 1944.

4. How rare is a major amphibious attack? Throughout history, attacks over water were a feature of many wars and campaigns, but not on the scale of the D-Day invasion. The Spanish Armada in 1588 that failed to invade England had about 130 ships and a potential 55,000 fighters. The D-Day force had about 5,000 vessels involved in various roles.

5. Was D-Day the biggest marine invasion ever? Again, that is another debate topic. Many people believe the Normandy invasion was the largest such operation during World War II, but others can make an argument for the April 1945 invasion of Okinawa in the Pacific. The 1943 Allied landing in Sicily was also a very large and complicated operation.

6. There were live broadcasts of the invasion on radio. After a German news agency scooped the Western press by confirming the invasion in a wire report, press coverage began in the Allied nations. One CBS reporter broadcasted live from a ship within the invading force. In all, more than 700,000 words recounting the events of June 6, 1944 were relayed back to the public.

7. How did the Allies fool the Germans? The grand plan included the construction of a dummy invasion force across from the Pas de Calais near Dover. Rubber ships and plywood tanks were part of the fake invasion force.

8. How did D-Day happen on June 6th? Since everyone knew an invasion of some type was imminent, so weather and timing played prominent roles. General Dwight Eisenhower picked June 5, 1944 as the date for the invasion, but bad weather forced a postponement. After meteorologists told Eisenhower that the weather would clear the next day, the invasion was on. In reality, the weather was nearly as bad on June 6.

9. Where did the name Operation Overlord come from? Winston Churchill is believed to be the person who assigned the codename to the D-Day invasion, since he had a very high interest in selecting code names. The Germans actually pioneered the use of code names in World War I.

Eisenhower and Churchill inspect troops in England, 1944.  Photo from The New York Times Photo Archives.

Eisenhower and Churchill inspect troops in England, 1944.
Photo from The New York Times Photo Archives. Copies available.

10. What was Eisenhower’s message to the troops? Ike’s Orders of the Day told the force, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”

 

Did you know?

The date June 5, 1944 was originally chosen for the invasion, but bad weather forced the Allies to postpone one day.

Code names for the five beaches where the Allies landed: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

 

Timeline:

  • August 19, 1942 – A raid on the French port of Dieppe that resulted in heavy losses convinces D-Day planners to land on the beaches, so discussions and preparations for an Allied invasion across the English Channel begin.
  • May 1943 – The Trident Conference, a British and American strategy meeting on the war. In Washington, DC, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and their military advisers discuss, among other things, crossing the English Channel.
  • August 1943 – The Quadrant Conference, where the British and American military chiefs of staff outline Operation Overlord.
  • November and December 1943 – The Sextant and Eureka Conferences, where the British and American military chiefs discuss the specifics of the assault on France.
  • 1944 – The Germans expect an invasion along the north coast of France, but they do not know where. They build up their troops and artillery near Calais, where the English Channel is the narrowest.
  • June 5, 1944 – Between 11 pm and 3 am, 13,000 allied paratroopers and gliders carrying heavy equipment leave England to begin the invasion of France by air.

In a broadcast message to the troops, delivered before they leave, President Eisenhower says, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”