D-day began on 6th June 1944 and was the start of Allied operations which would ultimately liberate Western Europe, defeat Nazi Germany and end the Second World War. It was the largest invasion ever assembled, before or since. In one day, 156,000 Allied troops landed by sea and air on five beaches in Normandy, France.

Why the term ‘D-Day’?

When a military operation is being planned, its actual date and time is not always known. The term ‘D-Day’ was therefore used to mean the date on which operations would begin, whatever date that was. The day before D-Day was known as ‘D-1’, while the day after D-Day was ‘D+1’, and so on. This meant that if the date changed, none of the other dates had to be corrected. The armed forces also used the term ‘H-Hour’ for the start time.

What does the ‘D’ stand for?

The ‘D’ simply stands for ‘day’. ‘D-Day’ means the day on which a military operation begins. The term ‘D-Day’ has been used for many different operations, but it is now generally only used to refer to the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944.

Who took part in the fighting?

The majority of troops who landed on the D-Day beaches were from the United Kingdom, Canada and the US. However, troops from many other countries participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy: Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

  • 73,000 American (23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops).
  • 83,115 British and Canadian (61,715 of them British) with 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7,900 airborne troops.
  • 1,590 Allied aircraft supported the landings. They flew 14,674 sorties and 127 were lost.

By the end of 11 June 1944 (D+5) 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.

Operation Neptune as a whole involved 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels – 6,939 vessels altogether.

What other names were used for the operations?

Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of north-west Europe, which began on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on 19 August 1944.

Operation Neptune was the codename for the assault phase of Operation Overlord and involved landing the troops on the Normandy beaches. It began on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) and ended on 30 June 1944. By then, the Allies had established a firm foothold in Normandy.

The Battle of Normandy is the name given to the fighting in Normandy from D-Day until the end of August 1944. The liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 is sometimes used as the end point of the Battle of Normandy.

How many people were killed?

The number of people killed in the fighting is not known exactly. Accurate record keeping was very difficult under the circumstances. Books often give a figure of 2,500 Allied dead for D-Day. However, research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has uncovered a more accurate figure of 4,413 Allied personnel killed on D-Day. These include 2,499 from the USA, 1,449 British dead, 392 Canadians and 73 from other Allied countries. Total German losses on D-Day (not just deaths, but also wounded and prisoners of war) are estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000. Over 100,000 Allied and German troops were killed during the whole of the Battle of Normandy, as well as around 20,000 French civilians, many as a result of Allied bombing.

Advancing through the Apple Orchards of Normandy

In 1944, as it is today, the beautiful undulating ‘bocage’ region of Normandy is known for the towns of Bayeux and Caen and its hundreds of villages and cider orchards. Cider also forms the basis for calvados, an apple brandy made in the Calvados area from distilled cider.

But after the terrible beach battles on the 60-mile Normandy coast, codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah, and making good progress in the days after 6th June 1944, the Allies were brought to a halt by a three-day storm from 19th-22nd June. This stopped supplies and troops being unloaded at the artificial harbours. The element of surprise was lost and the Germans were able to re-group and bring in reinforcements. The Allies also had to overcome a compartmentalised landscape divided into separate orchard and livestock holdings and dominated by sunken lanes and hedgerows as high as five metres, which the Germans used to their advantage. To overcome this, the Allies used tanks to advance on Caen in Operation Goodwood. The most famous was the American tank christened the “Sherman Rhinoceros”, which was fitted with a pair of metal prongs that enabled it to grapple and push through the hedge, rather than roll up it, exposing its vulnerable undercarriage to German fire.

In July 1944, after a massive air-born bombardment of German forces, the Allies broke through German defences, allowing 100,000 Allied soldiers to break through into Caen. This was known as Operation Cobra. Hitler’s refusal to withdraw and re-group, against the advice of his commanders, caused huge German losses. When the Germans finally withdrew in early August, this cleared the way for the Allied advance on Paris.