D-Day and the Normandy Invasion

U.S. National Archives

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, German soldiers defending the French coast at Normandy beheld an awe-inspiring sight—the largest amphibious invasion force in history massed in the waters of the English Channel. The long-awaited invasion of northwest Europe was underway.

The massive armada included over 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight Allied countries.  The troops consisted chiefly of Americans, Britons, and Canadians, but members of the Free French and many other nations also participated.

The operation brought together land, air, and sea forces.  Almost 133,000 troops landed on D-Day.   

Six months earlier, in November of 1943, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill - the Big Three - had convened for the Teheran Conference.   The Russian Premier, had pressed President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to commit  to a date for an invasion of southern France, code named Overlord. 

In this document from the Teheran Conference, FDR penciled in "During the month of May"  to launch Overlord because it was the time-frame he had agreed upon with Winston Churchill.  

Stalin also asked that a commander in chief for the cross-Channel invasion be selected.  FDR chose General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.

FDR, Churchill, and Stalin signed the Military Conclusions of the Teheran Conference.  Shown here, it summarized the agreements made for Operation Overlord, including the coordination of a "cover plan to mystify and mislead the enemy..."

President Roosevelt with Dwight D. Eisenhower  after the decision was made to appoint the General as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.

The operation delivered five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France. The beaches were given the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

The giant invasion had taken years to organize, in part because of the need to build up adequate forces in Britain and the lack of suitable landing craft.  Hundreds of thousands of troops were assembled in southern England and intensively trained for the complicated amphibious action against Normandy. 

Millions of tons of supplies, ships, planes and weapons were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain in advance of the operation.  This photo shows heavy bombs being shipped to England via Boston's Port of Embarkation.  May, 1944.

Sherman tanks being put on ships for the invasion.  Boston Port.

The invention of small "Higgins" boats that could  transport military equipment to the beaches without the use of wharves or docks was crucial.  This is the patent for Andrew Higgins' landing boat.  It is dated February 15, 1944, less than four months before D-Day.

The patent sketch for the Higgins boat.  Dwight D. Eisenhower emphasized its strategic importance in a 1964 interview: "If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel), we never could have landed over an open beach.  The whole strategy of the war would have been different."

The complex operations also relied on outside factors such as weather, moonlight, and tides. The forecast predicted a break in storms for June 6. General Eisenhower gave the order that put the vast operation in motion before dawn on June 5. 

Eisenhower scribbled a note accepting responsibility for the decision to launch the invasion, and full blame should the Normandy landings fail. His "In Case of Failure" message is mistakenly dated for "July" 5 instead of "June" 5.  

General Eisenhower's "Order of the Day" statement  that was issued to the soldiers, sailors, and  airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force on June 6, 1944.

A British soldier reading the "Order of the Day" on the way to Normandy, France.  

Resolute faces of paratroopers before they took off for the initial assault of D-Day.  The Order of the Day is held in the hand of one paratrooper.  

Crossing the English Channel aboard a Coast Guard "Elsie" or LCI.  American soldiers eat their K rations and celery soup from the top of 22mm rady boxes.

Back in Washington, FDR and his advisors waited anxiously for early news about the operation. At 8:00 am (London time) on June 6, General Eisenhower cabled this top secret preliminary progress report.

"The enthusiasm, toughness, and obvious fitness of every single man were high and the light of battle was in their eyes." -from Eisenhower's preliminary progress report.

The White House Stenographer's Diary from June 6, 1944.

On the first night of battle, President Roosevelt went onto national radio to speak about the Normandy invasion. His speech is a prayer. 

As the attack began, Allied troops came against formidable obstacles. Germany had thousands of soldiers dug into bunkers, defended by artillery, mines, tangled barbed wire, machine guns, and other hazards to prevent landing craft from coming ashore.  Here, the Coast Guard lands the British Marines.

Gliders bring in supplies to Army troops fighting on Utah Beach.

American medics provide first aid to troops in the initial landing on Utah Beach.  Les Dunes de Madeleine.  Northern Coast, France.  

Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Omaha Beach, Normandy.  June 6, 1944.  

Coast Guard LCIs advance onto the beaches.  They are protected by barrage balloons against the low-flying Nazi strafers.

A medical officer bandages the hand of a soldier.  

Stretchers cover the deck of a Coast Guard boat.  About 4,900 U.S. troops were killed on D-Day.

By the end of the day 155,000 Allied troops were ashore and in control of 80 square miles of the French coast.  A photo of gun fire in the night skies off the Cherbourg Peninsula.  Cherbourg was a major seaport that the Allies set to gain control of.  

"Eve of Battle." A Universal Newsreel on D-Day and the Allied Expeditionary Forces.

American soldiers march German prisoners along a beachhead.  

German prisoners rest in a barbed-wire enclosure.  

Caring for the wounded on an American hospital ship.

American troops of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move over the crest of a hill to the interior of Northern France.  June 9, 1944. 

After the first days of intense fighting, Nazi forces were forced back into the interior.  The wreckage, injured, and dead were removed and Allied reinforcements traveled up the beaches of France. 

The Allies installed vast landing platforms, like the ones shown here, that extended 1000 feet into the Channel. Omaha Beach, June 23.  By June 30th, over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies had landed on the Normandy shores.

The Normandy invasion established a solid “Second Front” in Europe. Its success left Hitler’s armies trapped in a vise, fighting the Red Army in the East and an expanding Anglo-American-Canadian force in the West.  Here, Army glider pilots who were among the first to land in Normandy and disrupt enemy communications are on their way back to England.  

French civilians place crosses at the graves of American soldiers in a cemetery on Omaha Beach, France.  August 8, 1944.  Germany would surrender unconditionally in May, 1945.  

On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan spoke at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France.  "Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns...Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only ninety could still bear arms."

President Reagan with former U.S. Rangers.  Normandy, France.  June 6, 1984.  

The reading copy of President Reagan's speech. 

Crédits : histoire

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum — http://fdrlibrary.marist.edu/
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum — http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum — http://www.reaganlibrary.gov/
Research Services, Washington D.C. —
National Archives Special Media Archives Services Division — http://blogs.archives.gov/mediamatters/about-media-matters
National Archives at Boston —
National Archives at Kansas City —

Remerciements : tous les supports
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