Battle of Normandy

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: World War II

Normandy Campaign
Part of World War II

Assault landing. One of the first waves at Omaha Beach. The U.S. Coast Guard caption identifies the unit as Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.
Date June 6, 1944 – August 25, 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Allied victory
United States
United Kingdom
Free France
Dwight Eisenhower
( Supreme Allied Commander)
Bernard Montgomery (land)
Bertram Ramsay (sea)
Trafford Leigh-Mallory (air)
Gerd von Rundstedt (OB WEST)
Erwin Rommel (absent) ( Heeresgruppe B)
Friedrich Dollmann ( 7.Armee)
326,000 (by June 11) Unknown, probably some 1,000,000 in France by early June, but split up over the entire region
United States: 29,000 dead, 106,000 wounded and missing;
United Kingdom: 11,000 dead, 54,000 wounded and missing;
Canada: 5,000 dead; 13,000 wounded and missing;
France: 12,200 civilian dead and missing
200,000 dead, wounded and missing; 200,000 captured
Battle of Normandy
Sword – Juno – Gold – Omaha – Utah – Pointe du Hoc – Brécourt Manor – Chicago – Villers-Bocage – Cherbourg – Epsom – Goodwood – Atlantic – Spring – Cobra – Bluecoat – Lüttich Totalise – Tractable – Falaise – Brest – Paris
Western European Campaign
Normandy - Dragoon - Siegfried Line - Ardennes Offensive - Elbe
Western Front (World War II)
France - The Netherlands - Dunkirk - Britain - Dieppe - Villefranche-de-Rouergue - Normandy - Dragoon - Arnhem - Scheldt - Hurtgen Forest - Aachen - Bulge - Plunder - Varsity - Aintree

The Battle of Normandy was fought in 1944 between Nazi Germany in Western Europe and the invading Allied forces as part of the larger conflict of World War II. Over sixty years later, the Normandy invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord, still remains the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving almost three million troops crossing the English Channel from England to Normandy in then German-occupied France.

The primary Allied formations that saw combat in Normandy came from the United States of America, United Kingdom and Canada. Substantial Free French and Polish forces also participated in the battle after the assault phase, and there were also contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, and Norway.

The Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks and naval bombardments, and an early morning amphibious assault on June 6, “ D-Day”. The battle for Normandy continued for more than two months, with campaigns to establish, expand, and eventually break out of the Allied beachheads, and concluded with the liberation of Paris and the fall of the Falaise pocket in late August 1944.

The battle of Normandy was described thus by Adolf Hitler : “In the East, the vastness of space will… permit a loss of territory… without suffering a mortal blow to Germany’s chance for survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds… consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.”


Allied preparations

Invasion training in England - Hitting the beach.
Invasion training in England - Hitting the beach.
Training with live ammunition in England.
Training with live ammunition in England.
Eisenhower speaks with U.S. paratroops of the 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on the evening of June 5, 1944.
Eisenhower speaks with U.S. paratroops of the 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on the evening of June 5, 1944.

After the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union ( Operation Barbarossa), the Soviets had done the bulk of the fighting against Germany on the European mainland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill had committed the United States and the United Kingdom to opening up a “second front” in Europe to aid in the Soviet advance on Germany, initially in 1942, and again in spring 1943.

The British, under Churchill, wished to avoid the costly frontal assaults of World War I. Churchill and the British staff favoured a course of allowing the insurgency work of the SOE to come to widespread fruition, while themselves making a main Allied thrust from the Mediterranean to Vienna and into Germany from the south. Such an approach was also believed to offer the advantage of creating a barrier to limit the Soviet advance into Europe. However, the U.S. believed from the onset that the optimum approach was the shortest route to Germany emanating from the strongest Allied power base. They were adamant in their view and made it clear that it was the only option they would support in the long term. Two preliminary proposals were drawn up: Operation Sledgehammer, for an invasion in 1942, and Operation Roundup, for a larger attack in 1943, which was adopted and became Operation Overlord, although it was delayed until 1944.

The planning process was started in earnest in March 1943 by British Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Morgan, who was nominated Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (or COSSAC for short). His plan was later adopted and refined starting in January 1944 by SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force), led by General Dwight David Eisenhower.

The short operating range of Allied fighters, including the British Spitfire and Typhoon, from UK airfields greatly limited the choices of amphibious landing sites. Geography reduced the choices further to two sites: the Pas de Calais and the Normandy coast. Because the Pas de Calais offered the shortest distance to the European mainland from the UK, the best landing beaches, and the most direct overland route to Germany, it was the most heavily fortified and defended landing site. Consequently, the Allies chose Normandy for the invasion.

In part because of lessons learned by Allied troops in the raid on Dieppe of 19 August 1942, the Allies decided not to assault a French seaport directly in their first landings. Landings in force on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Bretagne, and an overland attack towards Paris and towards the border with Germany. Normandy was a less-defended coast and an unexpected but strategic jumping-off point, with the potential to confuse and scatter the German defending forces.

It was not until November 1943 that General Dwight David Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, effectively giving him overall charge of the Allied forces in Western Europe. In January 1944, General Sir Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, to which all of the invasion ground forces belonged, and also in charge of developing the invasion plan.

At that stage the COSSAC plan proposed a landing from the sea by three divisions, with two brigades landed by air. Montgomery quickly increased the scale of the initial attack to five divisions by sea and three by air, reflected in the plans for an additional assault at Utah Beach. In total, 47 divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: 19 British, 5 Canadian and 1 Polish divisions under overall British command, and 21 American divisions with 1 Free French division, totaling 140,000 troops. On 7 April and 15 May Montgomery presented his strategy for the invasion at St Paul’s School. He envisaged a ninety day battle, ending when all the forces reached the Seine, pivoting on an Allied-held Caen, with British and Canadian armies forming a shoulder and the U.S. armies wheeling to the right.

U.S. soldiers march through Weymouth, a southern English coastal town, en route to board landing ships for the invasion of France.
U.S. soldiers march through Weymouth, a southern English coastal town, en route to board landing ships for the invasion of France.

About 6,900 vessels would be involved in the invasion under the command of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay (who had been directly involved in the North African and Italian landings), including 4,100 landing craft. 12,000 aircraft under Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory were to support the landings, including 1,000 transports to fly in the parachute troops. 10,000 tons of bombs would be dropped against the German defenses, and 14,000 attack sorties would be flown.

The objective for the first 40 days was to create a lodgement that would include the cities of Caen and Cherbourg (especially Cherbourg, for its deep-water port). Subsequently, there would be a break out from the lodgement to liberate Brittany and its Atlantic ports, and to advance to a line roughly 125 miles (190 km) to the southwest of Paris, from Le Havre through Le Mans to Tours, so that after ninety days the allies would control a zone bounded by the rivers Loire in the south and Seine in the northeast.


In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a deception operation, Operation Bodyguard, designed to persuade the Germans that other points would be threatened as well as northern France (such as the Balkans and the south of France). Then, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, in order to persuade the Germans that the main invasion would really be coming to the Pas de Calais, as well as to lead them to expect an invasion of Norway, the Allies prepared a massive deception plan, called Operation Fortitude. Operation Fortitude North would lead the Axis to expect an attack on Norway; the much more vital Operation Fortitude South was designed to lead the Germans to expect the main invasion at the Pas de Calais, and to hold back forces to guard against this threat rather than rushing them to Normandy. An entirely fictitious First U.S. Army Group (“FUSAG”), supposedly located in southeastern England under the command of General Lesley J. McNair and General George S. Patton, Jr., was created in German minds by the use of double agents and fake radio traffic. The Germans had an extensive network of agents operating in England. Unfortunately for them, every single one had been “turned” by the Allies as part of the Double Cross System, and appropriate agents were dutifully sending back messages “confirming” the existence and location of FUSAG and the Pas de Calais as the likely main attack point. Dummy landing craft, constructed from scaffolding and canvas, were placed in ports on the eastern and southeastern coasts of Britain, and the Luftwaffe was allowed to photograph them.

In aid of Operation Fortitude North, Operation Skye was mounted from Scotland using radio traffic, designed to convince German traffic analysts that an invasion would be also mounted into Norway. Against this phantom threat, German troops that otherwise could have been moved into France were instead kept in Norway.

Special equipment

Some of the more unusual Allied preparations included armoured vehicles specially adapted for the assault. Developed under the leadership of Major-General Percy Hobart (Montgomery’s brother-in-law), these vehicles (called Hobart’s Funnies) included “swimming” Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, mine-clearing tanks, bridge-laying tanks and road-laying tanks and the Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers (AVRE) - equipped with a large-caliber mortar for destroying concrete emplacements. Some prior testing of these vehicles had been undertaken at Kirkham Priory in Yorkshire, England. The majority would be operated by small teams of the British 79th Armoured Division attached to the various formations.

The invasion plan also called for the construction of two artificial Mulberry Harbours in order to get vital supplies to the invading forces in the first few weeks of the battle in the absence of deep-water ports, and Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), a series of submarine pipes that would deliver fuel from Britain to the invading forces.

Rehearsals and security

Allied forces rehearsed their roles for D-Day months before the invasion. On April 28, 1944, in south Devon on the English coast, 749 U.S. soldiers and sailors were killed when German torpedo boats surprised one of these landing exercises, Exercise Tiger.

The effectiveness of the deception operations was increased by a news blackout from Britain. Travel to and from the Irish Free State was banned, and movements within several miles of the coasts restricted. The German embassies and consulates abroad were flooded with all sorts of misleading information, in the well-founded hope that any genuine information on the landings would be ignored with all the confusing chaff.

In the weeks before the invasion it was noticed that the crossword of the British Daily Telegraph newspaper contained a surprisingly large number of words which were codewords relating to the invasion. MI-5 (the Security Service) first thought this was a coincidence, but when the word Mulberry was one of the crossword answers, MI-5 then interviewed the compiler—a schoolmaster—and were convinced of his innocence. Decades later it was revealed that the words were suggested by his pupils, and that they had heard nearby soldiers using them, without knowing what they meant.

There were several leaks on or before D-Day, of which one is of major interest. It involved General de Gaulle’s radio message after D-Day. He, unlike all the other leaders, stated that this invasion was the real invasion. This had the potential to ruin the Allied deceptions Fortitude North and Fortitude South. For example, Eisenhower referred to the landings as the initial invasion. The Germans did not believe de Gaulle and waited too long to move in extra units against the Allies.

German preparations

Through most of 1942 and 1943, the Germans had rightly regarded the possibility of a successful Allied invasion in the West as remote. Preparations to counter an invasion were limited to the construction by the Organisation Todt, of photographically impressive fortifications covering the major ports.

In late 1943, the obvious Allied buildup in Britain prompted the German Commander-in-Chief in the West, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, to request reinforcements. Most of his units were static garrison formations only, lacking transport and supporting services, and composed of men in low-grade physical categories (e.g. those who had lost fingers or toes to frostbite on the Eastern Front), or unwillingly conscripted Poles or other non-German nationalities.

In addition to fresh units, von Rundstedt also received a new subordinate, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rommel was originally intended only to make a tour of inspection of the Atlantic Wall. After reporting to Hitler, Rommel requested command of the defenders of northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. These were organised as Army Group B in February 1944. (The German forces in southern France were designated as Army Group G, under General Johannes Blaskowitz).

Rommel had recognised that for all their propaganda value, the Atlantic Wall fortifications covered only the ports themselves. The beaches between were barely defended, and the Allies could land there and capture the ports from inland. He revitalised the defenders, who laboured to improve the defences of the entire coastline. Steel obstacles were laid at the high-water mark on the beaches, concrete bunkers and pillboxes constructed, low-lying areas flooded and booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) set up on likely landing grounds to deter airborne landings.

These works were not fully completed, especially in the vital Normandy sector, partly because Allied bombing of the French railway system interfered with the movement of the necessary materials, and also because the Germans were convinced by the Allied deception measures and their own preconceptions that the landings would take place in the Pas de Calais, and concentrated their efforts there.

Rommel's defensive measures were also frustrated by a dispute over armoured doctrine. In addition to his two army groups, von Rundstedt also commanded a headquarters known as Panzer Group West under General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (usually referred to as von Geyr). This formation was nominally an administrative HQ for von Rundstedt's armoured and mobile formations, but it was to be renamed Fifth Panzer Army and brought into the line in Normandy. Von Geyr and Rommel disagreed over the deployment and use of the vital Panzer divisions.

Rommel recognised that the Allies would possess air superiority, and would be able to harass his movements from the air. He therefore proposed that the armoured formations be deployed close to the invasion beaches. In his words, it was better to have one Panzer division facing the invaders on the first day, than three Panzer divisions three days later when the allies would already have established a firm beachhead. Von Geyr argued for the standard doctrine that the Panzer formations should be concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen, and deployed en masse against the main Allied beachhead when this had been identified.

The argument went all the way up to Hitler, who characteristically imposed an unworkable compromise solution. Three Panzer divisions were given to Rommel, too few to cover all the threatened sectors, and three to von Geyr, not enough for a decisive intervention. (Four others were dispersed in Southern France and the Netherlands, under the tactical control of neither commander). Also, Hitler reserved to himself the authority to move most of these divisions, or commit them to action. On June 6, many Panzer division commanders were unable to move, as Hitler had not given the necessary authorization.

The Allied invasion plan

D-day assault routes into Normandy.
D-day assault routes into Normandy.

The order of battle was approximately as follows, east to west:

British sector (Second Army)

  • 6th Airborne Division was delivered by parachute and glider to the east of the River Orne to protect the left flank.
  • 1st Special Service Brigade comprising No.3, No.4, No.6 and No.45(RM) Commandos landed at Ouistreham in Queen Red sector (leftmost). No.4 Commando were augmented by 1 and 8 Troop (both French) of No.10 (Inter Allied) Commando.
  • I Corps, 3rd Infantry Division and the 27th Armoured Brigade on Sword Beach, from Ouistreham to Lion-sur-Mer.
  • No.41(RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) landed on the far right of Sword Beach.
  • Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade and No.48 (RM) Commando on Juno Beach, from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to La Rivière-Saint-Sauveur.
  • No.46(RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) at Juno to scale the cliffs on the left side of the Orne River estuary and destroy a battery. (Battery fire proved negligible so No.46 were kept off-shore as a floating reserve and landed on D+1).
  • XXX Corps, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade on Gold Beach, from La Rivière to Arromanches.
  • No.47(RM) Commando (part of 4th Special Service Brigade) on the West flank of Gold beach.
  • 79th Armoured Division operated specialist armour (" Hobart's Funnies") for mine-clearing, recovery and assault tasks. These were distributed around the Anglo-Canadian beaches.

U.S. Sector (First Army)

  • V Corps, 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division on Omaha Beach, from Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to Vierville-sur-Mer.
  • 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions at Pointe du Hoc (The 5th diverted to Omaha).
  • VII Corps, 4th Infantry Division and the 359th RCT of the 90th Infantry Division on Utah Beach, around Pouppeville and La Madeleine.
  • 101st Airborne Division by parachute around Vierville to support Utah Beach landings.
  • 82nd Airborne Division by parachute around Sainte-Mère-Église, protecting the right flank. They had originally been tasked with dropping further west, in the middle part of the Cotentin, allowing the sea-landing forces to their east easier access across the peninsula, and preventing the Germans from reinforcing the north part of the peninsula. The plans were later changed to move them much closer to the beachhead, as at the last minute the 91st Air Landing Division was found to be in the area.

Naval participants

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on June 6, 1944.
Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on June 6, 1944.

The Invasion Fleet was drawn from 8 different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,125 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft) and 1,600 support vessels which included a number of merchant vessels.

The overall commander of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, providing close protection and bombardment at the beaches, was Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. The Allied Naval Expeditionary Force was divided into two Naval Task Forces: Western (Rear-Admiral Alan G Kirk) and Eastern (Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Vian).

The warships provided cover for the transports against the enemy whether in the form of surface warships, submarines or as an aerial attack and give support to the landings through shore bombardment. These ships included the Allied Task Force "O".

Full details of the naval participants in the landings are given at Operation Neptune.


The Allies assigned codenames to the various operations involved in the invasion. Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Neptune. According to the D-day museum :

"The armed forces use codenames to refer to the planning and execution of specific military operations. Operation Overlord was the codename for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Neptune. (...) Operation Neptune began on D-Day (6 June 1944) and ended on 30 June 1944. By this time, the Allies had established a firm foothold in Normandy. Operation Overlord also began on D-Day, and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on 19 August 1944."
German coastal artillery in the Pas-de-Calais area, with laborers at work on casemate.
German coastal artillery in the Pas-de-Calais area, with laborers at work on casemate.

German defenses

The Germans had extensively fortified the foreshore area as part of their Atlantic Wall defences, with the thought that the forthcoming landings would be timed for high tide (this caused the landings to be timed for low tide). It was guarded by four divisions, of which only one (352nd) was of high quality (in fact, the only quality was from a cadre of the 321st Division—the core of 352nd). The 352nd had many troops who had seen action on the eastern front and on the 6th, had been carrying out anti-invasion exercises. The other defending troops included Germans who, usually for medical reasons, were not considered fit for active duty on the Eastern Front, and various other nationalities such as Soviet prisoners of war from the southern USSR who had agreed to fight for the Germans rather than endure the harsh conditions of German POW camps.

German defenses located in the Allies' planned landing areas consisted of four divisional areas or responsibility, with reserves also deployed in these areas.

Divisional Areas

  • 716th Infantry Division (Static) defended the Eastern end of the landing zones, including most of the British and Canadian beaches.
  • 352nd Infantry Division defended the area between approximately Bayeux and Carentan, including Omaha beach. Unlike the other divisions this one was well-trained and contained many combat veterans.
  • 6th Parachute Regiment (Oberstleutnant Dr. Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte) defended Carentan.
  • 91st Air Landing Division (Luftlande – air transported) (Generalmajor Wilhelm Falley), comprising the 1057th Infantry Regiment and 1058th Infantry Regiment. This was a regular infantry division, trained, and equipped to be transported by air (i.e. transportable artillery, few heavy support weapons) located in the interior of the Cotentin Peninsula, including the landing zone of the American airdrops.
  • 709th Infantry Division (Static) (Generalleutnant Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben), comprising the 729th Infantry Regiment, 739th Infantry Regiment (both with four battalions, but the 729th 4th and the 739th 1st and 4th being Ost, these two regiments had no regimental support companies either), and 919th Infantry Regiment. This coastal defense division protected the eastern, and northern (including Cherbourg) coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, including the Utah beach landing zone.

Adjacent Divisional Areas

Other divisions occupied the areas around the landing zones, including:

  • 243rd Infantry Division (Static) (Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich), comprising the 920th Infantry Regiment (two battalions), 921st Infantry Regiment, and 922nd Infantry Regiment. This coastal defense division protected the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.
  • 711th Infantry Division (Static), comprising the 731th Infantry Regiment, and 744th Infantry Regiment. This division defended the western part of the Pays de Caux.
  • 30th Mobile Brigade (Oberstleutnant Freiherr von und zu Aufsess), comprising three bicycle battalions.

Mobile Reserves

The 21st Panzer Division (Generalmajor Edgar Feuchtinger) was deployed near Caen as a mobile striking force, and the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend (Brigadeführer Fritz de Witt) was stationed to the southeast. Its officers and NCOs were long-serving veterans, but the junior soldiers had all been recruited directly from the Hitler Youth movement at the age of seventeen in 1943, and it was to acquire a reputation for ferocity and war crimes in the coming battle.

The landings

Weather Forecast

British Pathfinders synchronizing their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle.
British Pathfinders synchronizing their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle.

The final factor in determining the date of the landing was the anticipated weather. By this stage of the war, the German U-Boats had largely been driven from the Atlantic and their weather stations in Greenland had been closed down. The Allies possessed an advantage in knowledge of conditions in the Atlantic which was to prove decisive.

A full moon was required both for light for the aircraft pilots and for the spring tide. Most of May had seen fine weather, but this deteriorated in early June. Eisenhower had tentatively selected June 5 as the date for the assault, but on June 4, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing; wind and high seas made it impossible to launch landing craft and low cloud would prevent aircraft finding their targets. The Allied troop convoys already at sea were forced to take shelter in bays and inlets on the south coast of Britain.

It seemed possible that everything would have to be cancelled and the troops returned to their camps (a vast undertaking, as the enormous movement of follow-up formations was already proceeding). The next full moon period would be nearly a month away. At a vital meeting on June 5, Eisenhower's chief meteorologist (Group Captain J.M. Stagg) forecast a brief improvement for June 6. Montgomery and Eisenhower's Chief of Staff (General Walter Bedell Smith) were keen to proceed with the invasion. Leigh Mallory was doubtful, but Admiral Ramsay allowed that conditions would be marginally favourable. On the strength of the weather forecast, Eisenhower ordered the invasion to proceed.

The Germans meanwhile took comfort from the existing poor conditions, and believed no invasion would be possible for several days. Some troops stood down, and many senior officers were absent. (Rommel, for example, took a few days' leave with his wife and family).

The French Resistance

The various factions and circuits of the French Resistance (also known as the Maquis) were included in the plan for Overlord. Groups were tasked with attacking railway lines, ambushing roads, or destroying telephone exchanges or electricity sub-stations. They were to be alerted to carry out these tasks by means of the messages personnels, transmitted by the BBC in its French service from London. Several hundreds of these were regularly transmitted, masking the few of them that were really significant.

One famous pair of these messages is often mistakenly stated to be a general call to arms by the Resistance. A few days before D-Day, the (slightly misquoted) first line of Verlaine's poem, "Chanson d'Automne", was transmitted. "Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne" (Long sobs of autumn violins) alerted resistants of the "Ventriloquist" network in the Orléans region to attack rail targets within the next few days. The second line, "Bercent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone" (wound my heart with a monotonous langour), transmitted late on June 5, meant that the attack was to be mounted immediately.

Other famous words broadcast by the BBC at 21:00 CET on June 5, were the messages Les carrotes sont cuites (The carrots are cooked) and Les dés sont jetés (The dice have been thrown).

Josef Götz, the head of the signals section of the German intelligence service (the SD) in Paris, had discovered the meaning of the second line of Verlaine's poem, and no less than fourteen other executive orders they heard late on June 5. His section rightly interpreted them to mean that invasion was imminent or underway, and they alerted their superiors, and all Army commanders in France. Unfortunately for them, they had issued a similar warning a month before, when the Allies had begun invasion preparations and alerted the Resistance, but then stood down because of a forecast of bad weather. The SD having given this false alarm, their genuine alarm was ignored or treated as merely routine.

In addition to the tasks given to the Resistance as part of the invasion effort, the Special Operations Executive planned to reinforce the Resistance with three-man liaison parties, under Operation Jedburgh. The Jedburgh parties would coordinate and arrange supply drops to the Maquis groups in the German rear areas. Also operating far behind German lines and frequently working closely with the Resistance, although not under SOE, were larger parties from the British, French and Belgian units of the Special Air Service brigade.

Airborne landings

The airborne landings were intended to secure the flanks of the assault area.

British landings

The 6th Airborne Division was the first full unit to go into action, at sixteen minutes past midnight, in Operation Tonga. One set of objectives was Pegasus Bridge and other bridges on the rivers at the east flank of the landing area. The bridges were very quickly captured by glider forces and held until relieved by the Commandos later on D-Day. Another objective was a large gun battery at Merville. Although this larger glider and paratroop force was widely scattered, the battery was destroyed. However, the diminished assault team suffered 50% casualties in the attack.

American landings

The 82nd ( Operation Detroit) and 101st Airborne Divisions ( Operation Chicago) were less fortunate in quickly completing their main objectives. Partly owing to unmarked landing zones, radio silence, poor weather and difficult terrain, many units were widely scattered and unable to rally. Efforts of the early wave of pathfinder teams to mark the landing zones were largely ineffective. Some paratroopers drowned when they landed in the sea or in areas deliberately flooded by the Germans.

After 24 hours, only 2,500 of the 6,000 men in 101st had assembled. The dispersal of the American airborne troops, however, had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response. In addition, the Germans' defensive flooding, in the early stages, also helped to protect the Americans' southern flank.

Many continued to roam and fight behind enemy lines for days. The 82nd occupied the town of Sainte-Mère-Église early in the morning of June 6, giving it the claim of the first town liberated in the invasion.

Sword Beach

British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach
British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach

On Sword Beach, the regular British infantry got ashore with light casualties. They had advanced about five miles (8 km) by the end of the day but failed to make some of the deliberately ambitious targets set by Montgomery. In particular, Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands by the end of D-Day.

1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO and MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No.4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The 1st Special Service Brigade's landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin. The British and French of No.4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham: the French a blockhouse and the Casino, and the British two batteries which overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.

Juno Beach

The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced 11 heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75 mm guns, as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach. The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads. The use of armour was successful at Juno, in some instances actually landing ahead of the infantry as intended and helping clear a path inland.

Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando "W" landing on Mike Beach, Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead. June 6th, 1944.
Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando "W" landing on Mike Beach, Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead. June 6th, 1944.

Despite the obstacles, within hours the Canadians were off the beach and beginning their advance inland. The 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada achieved their June 6 objectives, when they crossed the Caen– Bayeux highway over nine miles (15 km) inland.

By the end of D-Day, 15,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water's edge and later counter-attacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer divisions on June 7 and 8.

Gold Beach

At Gold Beach, the casualties were also quite heavy, partly because the swimming Sherman DD tanks were delayed, and the Germans had strongly fortified a village on the beach. However, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the Canadians at Juno Beach, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.

No.47 (RM) Commando was the last British Commando unit to land and came ashore on Gold east of Le Hamel. Their task was to proceed inland then turn right (west) and make a ten-mile (16 km) march through enemy territory to attack the coastal harbour of Port en Bessin from the rear. This small port, on the British extreme right, was well sheltered in the chalk cliffs and significant in that it was to be a prime early harbour for supplies to be brought in including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore.

Omaha Beach

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach June 6, 1944.
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach June 6, 1944.
Senior military officials aboard the USS Augusta during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944. General Omar N. Bradley is the second man from the left.
Senior military officials aboard the USS Augusta during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944. General Omar N. Bradley is the second man from the left.
Survivors of a sunken troop transport wade ashore on Omaha Beach
Survivors of a sunken troop transport wade ashore on Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach was the bloodiest landing beach on D-Day. Elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division faced the German 352nd Infantry Division, one of the best trained on the beaches. Allied intelligence failed to realize that the relatively low-quality 714th Infantry Division (static) had been replaced by the 352nd a few days before the invasion. Omaha was also the most heavily fortified beach, and the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. On the Eastern sector, 27 of the 32 DD tanks deployed never reached the beach. On the Western sector the DDs were landed directly on the beach, but suffered heavy losses due to German artillery defending the beach. The official record stated that "within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue". There were about 2,400 casualties on Omaha on D-day, most in the first few hours. Commanders considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units, often forming ad hoc groups, eventually took the beach and pressed inland.

Pointe du Hoc

The massive, concrete cliff-top gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc was the target of the 2nd Ranger battalion, commanded by James Earl Rudder. The task was to scale the 100 foot (30 metre) cliffs under enemy fire with ropes and ladders, and then attack and destroy the guns, which were thought to command the Omaha and Utah landing areas. On capturing the emplacements the guns were found to have been moved. The Rangers did, however push further inland to find and destroy the guns.

Utah Beach

Casualties on Utah Beach, the westernmost landing zone, were 197 out of around 23,000 landed, the lightest of any beach. The 4th Infantry Division troops landing at Utah Beach found themselves in the wrong positions due to a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast. Instead of landing at Tare Green and Uncle Red sectors, they came ashore at Victor sector, which was lightly defended. Relatively little German opposition was encountered. The 4th Infantry Division was able to press inland relatively easily over beach exits that had been seized from the inland side by the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. This was partially by accident, as their planned landing was further down the beach. By early afternoon the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st. American casualties were light, and the troops were able to press inward much faster than expected, making it an almost complete success.

After the landings

Landing supplies at Normandy.
Landing supplies at Normandy.
How the beachheads were supplied on D-Day. Photo taken 6 June 1944 by Steck SC190631 public domain.
How the beachheads were supplied on D-Day. Photo taken 6 June 1944 by Steck SC190631 public domain.
The build-up of Omaha Beach: reinforcements of men and equipment moving inland.
The build-up of Omaha Beach: reinforcements of men and equipment moving inland.

Once the beachhead was established, two artificial Mulberry Harbours were towed across the English Channel in segments and made operational around D+3 ( 9 June). One was constructed at Arromanches by British forces, the other at Omaha Beach by American forces. By the 19 June, when severe storms interrupted the landing of supplies for several days and destroyed the Omaha harbour, the British had landed 314,547 men, 54,000 vehicles, and 102,000 tons of supplies, while the Americans put ashore 314,504 men, 41,000 vehicles, and 116,000 tons of supplies.. Around 9,000 tons of materiel was landed daily at the Arromanches harbour until the end of August 1944, by which time the port of Cherbourg had been secured by the Allies, and had begun to return to service. The German defenders positioned on the beaches put up relatively light resistance, being ill-trained and short on transport and equipment, and having been subject to a week of intense bombardment. An exception was the 352nd Infantry division, moved earlier by Rommel from St. Lo, which defended Omaha beach. The tenacity of the 352nd's defence, and perhaps also the indication by Allied intelligence that there would be only two 2 battalions of the 716th Division there, was responsible for Omaha's high casualty rate. Other German commanders took several hours to be sure that the reports they were receiving indicated a landing in force, rather than a series of raids. Their communication difficulties were made worse by the absence of several key commanders. The scattering of the American parachutists also added to the confusion, as reports were coming in of Allied troops all over northern Normandy.

Despite this the German 21st Panzer division mounted a concerted counterattack, between Sword and Juno beaches, and succeeded in reaching the sea. Stiff resistance by anti-tank gunners and fear of being cut off caused them to withdraw before the end of 6 June. According to some reports the sighting of a wave of airborne troops flying over them was instrumental in the decision to retreat.

The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches linked except Utah, and Sword (the last linked with paratroopers) and a front line six to ten miles (10 to 16 km) from the beaches. In practice none of these had been achieved. However, overall the casualties had not been as heavy as some had feared (around 10,000 compared to the 20,000 Churchill feared), and the bridgeheads had withstood the expected counterattacks.

The German 12th SS (Hitler Youth) Panzer division assaulted the Canadians on June 7 and June 8, and inflicted heavy losses, but was unable to break through. Meanwhile, the beaches were being linked: Sword on June 7, Omaha June 10, Utah by June 13. The Allies were actually reinforcing the front faster than the Germans. Although the Allies had to land everything on the beaches, Allied air superiority and the destruction of the French rail system made every German troop movement slow and dangerous.

The resulting disposition of Allied forces within the bridgehead was then the U.S. First Army in the west and the British Second Army in the east.


In the western part of the lodgement, U.S. troops were to occupy the Cotentin Peninsula, especially Cherbourg, which would provide the allies with a deep water harbour. The country behind Utah and Omaha beaches was characterised by bocage; ancient banks and hedgerows, up to three metres thick, spread one to two hundred metres apart, and so both being impervious to tanks, gunfire, and vision, and making ideal defensive positions. The U.S. infantry made slow progress, and suffered heavy casualties, as they pressed towards Cherbourg. The airborne troops were called on again and again to restart a stalled advance. The far side of the peninsula was reached on the 18th June. Hitler prevented German forces from retreating to the strong Atlantic Wall fortifications in Cherbourg, and after initially offering stiff resistance the Cherbourg commander, Lieutenant General von Schlieben, capitulated on June 26 after destroying most of the facilities, making the harbour inoperable until the middle of August.


Map showing operations close to Caen.
Map showing operations close to Caen.

Believing Caen to be the "crucible" of the battle, Montgomery made it the target of a series of attritional attacks. The first was Operation Perch, which attempted to turn the Germans' flank at Villers-Bocage, which was halted at the Battle of Villers-Bocage. After a delay owing to the difficulty of supply because of storms from the 17 until the 23 June, a German counterattack (which was known through Ultra intelligence) was pre-empted with Operation Epsom. Caen was severely bombed and then occupied north of the River Orne in Operation Charnwood from 7 July until the 9 July. A major offensive in the Caen area followed under General Dempsey with all three British armoured divisions, codenamed Operation Goodwood from the 18 July until the 21 July that captured the remainder of Caen and the high ground to the south at a high cost. A further operation, Operation Spring, from the 25 July until 28 July by the Canadians secured limited gains at a high cost.

The breakout from the beachhead

An important element of Montgomery's strategy was to cause the Germans to commit their reserves to the eastern part of the theatre to allow an easier breakout from the west. By the end of Goodwood the Germans had committed the last of their reserve divisions there so now there were six and a half Panzer divisions facing the British and Canadian forces compared to one and a half facing the United States armies. Operation Cobra, was launched on July 24 by the U.S. First Army, and was extremely successful with the advance guard of VIII Corps entering Coutances at the western end of the Cotentin Peninsula, on July 28, after a penetration through the German lines.

Map showing the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead.
Map showing the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead.

On August 1, VIII Corps became part of Lieutenant General George S. Patton's newly arrived U.S. Third Army. On August 4, Montgomery altered the invasion plan by detaching only a corps to occupy Brittany and hem the German troops there into enclaves around the ports while the rest of the Third Army continued south. The U.S. First Army turned the German front at its western end. Because of the concentration of German forces south of Caen, Montgomery moved the British armour west and launched Operation Bluecoat from 30 July until 7 August to add to the pressure from the United States armies. This drew the German forces to the west, allowing the launch of Operation Totalize south from Caen on the 7 August.

The Falaise Pocket

At the beginning of August more German reserves became available with the realisation that no landings were going to take place near Calais. The German forces were being encircled, and the German High Command wanted these reserves to help an orderly retreat to the Seine. However, they were overruled by Hitler who demanded an attack at Mortain at the western end of the pocket on the August 7. The attack was repelled by the Allies, who again had advance warning from Ultra. The original Allied plan was for a wide encirclement as far as the Loire valley, but Bradley realised that many of the German forces in Normandy were not capable of manoeuvre by this stage, and obtained Montgomery's agreement by telephone on August 8 for a "short hook" further north to encircle German forces. This was left to Patton to effect, moving nearly unopposed through Normandy via Le Mans, and then back north again towards Alençon. The Germans were then left in a pocket with its jaws near Chambois. Fierce German defence and the diversion of some American troops for a thrust by Patton towards the Seine at Mantes prevented the jaws closing until August 21, trapping 50,000 German troops. Whether this could have been achieved earlier and more prisoners taken has been a matter of some controversy. Patton's thrust prevented the Germans from establishing the Seine as a defensive line, and the Canadian First and British Second Armies both advanced there, bringing the war in Normandy in their sector to a close, and meeting the projected schedule set by Montgomery with time to spare.

The liberation of Paris followed shortly afterwards. The French Resistance in Paris rose against the Germans on 19 August; and the French 2nd Armoured Division under General Jacques Leclerc, along with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division pressing forward from Normandy, received the surrender of the German forces there and liberated Paris on August 25.


  • May 1944 was originally planned date as the time for the invasion. Difficulties assembling landing craft postponed invasion until June.
  • June 5/ June 6: British 6th Airborne Division ( Operation Tonga), U.S. 82nd Airborne Division ( Operation Detroit) and 101st Airborne Division ( Operation Chicago) were airlanded.
  • June 6: Seaborne D-Day landings ( Operation Neptune)
  • June 7-17: 3rd Parachute Brigade of the British 6th Airborne Division repulse several German Attacks at Le Mesnil Crossroads.
  • June 12: U.S. 101st Airborne Division captures Carentan
  • June 13: U.S. 101st Airborne Division repel a German Counter Attack west of the city at a place called Hill 30, Elements of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division are ordered to help relieve the paratroopers. British armor engaged in the Battle of Villers-Bocage.
  • June 25– June 29: Operation Epsom, an offensive to the west of Caen, was repulsed by the German defenders.
  • July 7: Caen was liberated.
  • July 17: Erwin Rommel was severely injured when his car was strafed by a Royal Canadian Air Force Spitfire.
  • July 18– July 20: Operation Goodwood initiated.
  • July 24: Operation Cobra begins a breakout near Saint-Lô.
  • August 3– August 9: Operation Totalize, a trap to capture retreating German armour in the Falaise pocket starts.
  • August 25: Paris is liberated.

Political considerations

The Normandy landings were long foreshadowed by a considerable amount of political maneuvering amongst the Allies. There was much disagreement about timing, appointments of command, and where exactly the landings were to take place. The opening of a second front had been long postponed and a particular source of strain between the Allies. Stalin had been pressing the Western Allies to launch a "second front" since 1942, but Churchill had argued for delay until victory could be assured, preferring to attack Italy and North Africa first. The appointment of Bernard Montgomery was questioned by some Americans, who would have preferred the urbane Harold Alexander to have commanded the land forces. Montgomery, in turn, had doubts about the appointment of Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the end, however, Montgomery and Eisenhower cooperated to excellent effect in Normandy: their well-known disagreements came much later.

Normandy presented serious logistical problems, not the least of which being that the only viable port in the area, Cherbourg, was heavily defended and many among the higher echelons of command argued that the Pas de Calais would make a more suitable landing area on these grounds alone.

Campaign Close

Normandy Campaign Streamer
Normandy Campaign Streamer

The campaign in Normandy is considered by historians to end either at midnight on 24/25 July 1944 (the start of Operation Cobra on the American front) or 25 August 1944 (the advance to the Seine). The original Overlord plan anticipated a ninety day campaign in Normandy with the ultimate goal of reaching the Seine; this goal was met with time to spare. The Americans were able to end the campaign on their front early with the massive breakout of Operation Cobra.

The US official history describes the fighting beginning on 25 July as the "Northern France" campaign, and includes the fighting to close the Falaise Gap, which the British/Canadians/Poles consider to be part of the Battle of Normandy.

SHAEF, back in England, and the governments were very nervous of stagnation, and there were reports of Eisenhower requesting Montgomery's replacement in July. Lack of forward progress is often attributed to the nature of the terrain in which much of the post-landing fighting in the US and parts of the British sectors took place, the bocage, as well as the usual difficulties of opposed landings. These were small farm fields separated by high earth banks covered in dense shrubbery, which were well suited for the defence. However, as at El Alamein, Montgomery kept to his original attritional strategy, reaching the objectives within his original ninety day target.

Victory in Normandy was followed by a pursuit to the French border in short order, and Germany was forced once again to reinforce the Western Front with manpower and resources from the Soviet and Italian fronts.

Assessment of the battle

The German military cemetery in La Cambe
The German military cemetery in La Cambe

The Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel for nine centuries. They were costly in terms of men, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the campaign led to the loss of the German position in most of France and the secure establishment of a major new front. By September, Allied forces of seven field armies (two of which came through southern France in Operation Dragoon) were approaching the German frontier.

The Allies were victorious in Normandy due to several factors. The Allies ensured material superiority at the critical point (concentration of force) and logistical innovations like the PLUTO pipelines and Mulberry harbors enhanced the flow of troops, equipment, and essentials such as fuel and ammunition. Movement of cargo over the open beaches exceeded Allied planners' expectations, even after the destruction of the US Mulberry in the channel storm in mid-June. By the end of July 1944, 1 million American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops, hundreds of thousands of vehicles, and adequate supplies in most categories were ashore in Normandy. Although there was a shortage of artillery ammunition, at no time were the Allies critically short of any necessity. This was a remarkable achievement considering they did not hold a port until Cherbourg fell. By the time of the breakout the Allies also enjoyed a considerable superiority in numbers of troops (approximately 3.5-1) and armored vehicles (approximately 4-1) which helped overcome the natural advantages the terrain gave to the German defenders.

Allied Intelligence and counterintelligence efforts were successful beyond expectations. The Operation Fortitude deception plan before the invasion kept German attention focused on the Pas-de-Calais, and indeed high-quality German forces were kept in this area, away from Normandy, until July. Prior to the invasion, few German reconnaissance flights took place over Britain, and those that did saw only the dummy staging areas. Ultra decrypts of German communications had been helpful as well, exposing German dispositions and revealing their plans such as the Mortain counterattack.

Allied air operations also contributed significantly to the invasion, via close tactical support, interdiction of German lines of communication (preventing movement of supplies and reinforcements- particularly the critical Panzer units), and rendering the Luftwaffe as practically useless in Normandy. German naval units were largely ineffective. "Carpet-bombing" raids by fleets of Allied heavy bombers on sections of the German lines helped ensure breakthroughs at critical points.

Despite initial heavy losses in the assault phase, Allied morale remained high. Casualty rates among all the armies were tremendous, and the Commonwealth forces had to create a new category - Double Intense - to be able to describe them. Manpower problems would plague the Allies for the remainder of the war. Britain disbanded an entire division (the 59th) in Normandy, and Canada would bring about conscription for overseas service in November 1944 due to the losses in Normandy and later operations in the Low Countries (like the Battle of the Scheldt).

German leadership

Faulty German dispositions and decisions also contributed to Allied victory. German commanders at all levels failed to react to the assault phase in a timely manner. Communications problems exacerbated the difficulties caused by Allied air and naval firepower; local commanders also seemed unequal to the task of fighting an aggressive defence on the beach, as Rommel envisioned. For example, the commander of the German 352nd Infantry Division failed to capitalize on American difficulty at Omaha, committing his reserves elsewhere when they might have been more profitably used against the American beachhead.

The German High Command remained fixed on the Calais area, and von Rundstedt was not permitted to commit the armored reserve. When it was finally released late in the day, success was immeasurably more difficult, and even the 21st Panzer Division, which was able to counterattack a bit earlier, was stymied by strong opposition that had been allowed to build at the beaches. The Germans generally fought with their customary energy and skill, despite uneven performance by some units. The Panzer units faced withering air interdiction that reduced their effectiveness, yet they offered glimpses of what might have been possible in way of counterattack, had additional mobile forces like the 12th SS Panzer Division and the Panzer Lehr Division been committed earlier into the battle. Despite considerable Allied material superiority, the Germans kept the Allies bottled up in a small bridgehead for nearly two months.

Although there were several well-known disputes among the Allied commanders, their tactics and strategy were essentially determined by agreement between the main commanders. By contrast, the German leaders were constantly bullied and their decisions interfered with by Hitler, controlling the battle from a distance with little knowledge of local conditions. Field Marshals von Rundstedt and Rommel repeatedly asked Hitler for more discretion, but were refused. Von Rundstedt was sacked on June 29 after he bluntly told the Chief of Staff at Hitler's Armed Forces HQ (Field Marshal Keitel) to "Make peace, you idiots!" Rommel was severely injured by Allied aircraft on July 16. Field Marshal von Kluge, who took over the posts held by both von Rundstedt and Rommel, was compromised by his association with some of the military plotters against Hitler, and refused to disobey or argue with Hitler for fear of arrest. As a result, the German armies in Normandy were placed in deadly peril by Hitler's insistence on counter-attack rather than retreat after the American breakthrough. Kluge was relieved on August 15, and took his own life shortly afterwards. The more independent Field Marshal Model took over when the Germans in Normandy were already in the midst of defeat.

Allied leadership

Much has been written about the Allied delay at taking Caen as the battle developed. Pre-invasion schedules were rarely fulfilled as planned. The Land Forces Commander, British General Bernard Montgomery, maintained mastery of the developing battle. His concept that Caen would be a "pivot", upon which the front would turn, was accurate, and as the battle of Normandy developed, the British and Canadian armies faced the bulk of German armor in the theatre. While US forces faced fewer German armored divisions, their own armor was severely limited by both the close-in terrain of the bocage and the large number and variety of German anti-tank weapons deployed all along the front. The open terrain on the British front on the eastern flank left the Germans little choice but to concentrate their armor there. Eventually this played into Allied hands when the breakout took place, not in the east as the Germans feared, but in the west in Operation Cobra.

Normandy and the Eastern front

The lodgement established at Normandy was vital for the Allies to bring pressure on German armies in western Europe. By this time the Soviet forces had the capacity to crush Germany in Europe on their own, and therefore a western invasion was not strictly required to defeat the German Reich. The military forces at the disposal of Nazi Germany, moreover, steadily declined from 1943 onwards. On D-Day, the Red Army was steadily advancing towards Germany and engaging four-fifths of all German land forces. In France, and Italy, the western Allies faced the remaining 20% of the German army.

The third front in France diverted German resources and attention from the Eastern Front and thereby aided the Soviets substantially. The Germans had long expected an Allied invasion of France and had been required to garrison the country as well as divert manpower and materials to coastal fortifications along many hundreds of miles of shore. Hitler's thinking is documented in his Führer Directive 51, of November 1943, which stressed that the Western approaches to the Reich were to be strengthened even at the expense of those in the East. In addition, Hitler was anxious to hold on to the Belgian and northern French coasts as bases for the "V" weapons to be launched against England.

Hitler maintained his "West first" focus after the landings in Normandy and all efforts were made to contain Allied forces within the lodgement area; in fact as the fighting in Normandy increased in tempo, Hitler accepted the annihilation of an entire German Army Group on the Russian front. Hitler would continue to redeploy desperately needed units from the East against the Western Allies, with this practice peaking in December 1944 in the Ardennes Offensive.

Given the Soviets' later domination of Eastern Europe, if the Normandy invasion had not occurred there might conceivably have been a complete occupation of northern and western Europe by communist forces. Alternately, Hitler might have deployed more forces to the Eastern Front, conceivably delaying or even preventing a Soviet advance beyond their prewar border. In practice though, German troops remained in the West even in the absence of an invasion.

After the war Hitler's foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop presented three main reasons for German's defeat:

Unexpectedly stubborn resistance from the Soviet Union
The large-scale supply of arms and equipment from the US to the Soviet Union, under the lend-lease agreement
The success of the Western Allies in the struggle for air supremacy.

Many historians, such as Richard Overy, have also concluded that Normandy was not very important for the outcome of the war. Since the Germans suffered 93% of their casualties on the Eastern front, the battle of Normandy only shortened the war.

War memorials and tourism

The visitor will find many reminders of June 6, 1944. Most noticeable are the beaches, which are still referred to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. Then come the vast cemeteries. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person's religious symbol and their unit insignia. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the German one at La Cambe, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses. There is also a Polish cemetery.

Streets near the beaches are still named after the units that fought there, and occasional markers commemorate notable incidents. At significant points, such as Pointe du Hoc and Pegasus Bridge, there are plaques, memorials or small museums. The Mulberry harbour still sits in the sea at Arromanches. In Sainte-Mère-Église, a dummy paratrooper hangs from the church spire. On Juno Beach, the Canadian government has built the Juno Beach Information Centre, commemorating one of the most significant events in Canadian military history. In Caen is a large Museum for Peace, which is dedicated to peace generally, rather than to the battle itself. The people of Normandy will continue to remember Operation Overlord long into the future.

Every year on June 6, American cartoonist and World War II veteran Charles M. Schulz (1922–2000) reserved his Peanuts comic strip to memorialise his comrades who fell at Normandy.

In 1994, for the 50th anniversary, the French issued a commemorative medal which depicted General Charles de Gaulle leading a heroic charge of French troops on an un-named beach. The medal was hastily withdrawn after it was pointed out that de Gaulle did not set foot upon French soil until the 14th June.


  • Morning: Normandy Invasion (June–August 1944), episode 17 of the famous 1974 ITV series The World at War features an extensive coverage of the Allied preparations and the actual events.
  • D-Day: The Lost Evidence, 100 minute 2004 "History Channel" documentary that relies on Allied reconnaissance photos, computer graphics, reenactments, and the firsthand eye witness accounts of combatants, (Allies and Germans), who were there.
  • Battlefield-The Battle for Normandy, 100 minute 2001 documentary that compares Allied and German commanders, personnel, equipment, and tactics before, during, and after the June-August battle.


  • The Longest Day, a 1962 American film based on the book, starring Richard Burton, Sean Connery, John Wayne and a host of stars in small roles.
  • Testa di sbarco per otto implacabili (Hell in Normandy), a 1967 Italian and French film directed by Alfonso Brescia.
  • The Big Red One, a 1980 American film by Samuel Fuller, based on his own experiences in The First Infantry Division, or The Big Red One.
  • Saving Private Ryan, a 1998 American film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.
  • Zvezda (The Star), a 2002 Russian film directed by Nikolai Lebedev.
  • Overlord, a 1975 British movie directed by Stuart Cooper. The film uses documentary footage of the landing, rather than a recreation.
  • The Blockhouse, a 1973 movie starring Peter Sellers about French construction labourers trapped inside a German fortification on D-Day and for a further six years.
  • D-Day, the Sixth of June, a 1956 love triangle involving Robert Taylor, Dana Wynter, and Richard Todd that allocates 10 minutes, (more or less), of the 106 minute movie to reenacting the invasion. Richard Todd, (D-Day combat veteran), would later co-star in The Longest Day.
  • The Americanization of Emily, a 1964 anti-war satire/romance with Julie Andrews, James Garner, and James Coburn.
Music Videos
  • " The Longest Day", by Iron Maiden
  • " The Ghost of You", by My Chemical Romance
  • The British heavy metal band Iron Maiden, on the album entitled "A Matter of Life and Death", wrote the song "The Longest Day" about the Battle of Normandy.
  • The title track on Swedish power metal band Sabaton's third album, "Primo Victoria", is about the Normandy invasion. "Primo Victoria" means "Beginning of Victory".
  • Band of Brothers, a 2001 American miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks that was based on the book of the same name by Steven E. Ambrose.
  • Ike: Countdown to D-Day, a 2004 American movie aired on The History Channel starring Tom Selleck.
Video games
  • Battlefield 1942, a 2002 Swedish video game.
  • Call of Duty, a 2003 American computer and video game.
  • Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30, a 2005 American computer and video game.
  • Brothers In Arms: Earned in Blood, a 2005 American computer and video game.
  • Call of Duty 2, a 2005 American computer and video game.
  • Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, a 2005 American video game for the Nintendo GameCube.
  • Call of Duty 3, a 2006 American video game. The game is based on the Normandy Breakout.
  • Commandos 3: Destination Berlin,a 2003 American computer and video game. The Omaha Beach invasion is dramatised in the Normandy campaign.
  • Company of Heroes, a 2006 real-time strategy game.
  • Medal of Honour, a 1999 American computer and video game series.
  • Medal of Honour: Frontline, a 2002 American computer and video game.
  • Unreal Tournament, a 1999 American computer and video game. An assault campaign loosely depicted the invasion.
  • Soldiers: Heroes of WWII, a 2004 European computer and video game. The German campaign of the game, titled "Hunter", takes place after the invasion of D-Day and has the player in control of the legendary German tank commander, Michael Wittmann.
  • Return To Castle Wolfenstein, An Axis vs Allied Multiplayer game.
  • 1944 D-Day Operation Overlord , a complete simulation of the entire Battle of Normandy. Players have the option to be a pilot, a sailor, a tank commander, or any other person who was fighting for either army.
  • The Longest Day, a 1980 American board wargame by Avalon Hill depicting the battle from the landings through to the breakout.
  • D-Day: The Great Crusade, 2004 wargame covering the first 30 days of the Normandy Campaign.
  • Memoir '44, a 2004 American wargame.
  • Axis and Allies: D-Day, the fifth installment in the popular Axis & Allies series. It specifically deals with the D-Day landings.
  • Oklahoma D-Day, a woodsball-style paintball game played in Wyandotte, Oklahoma that recreates the events of Normandy. Known as the World's Largest Paintball game.

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