After surrendering on June 22, 1940, France and a large part of Europe were occupied by German forces. By opening a new front in the west, the landings on June 6 helped to precipitate the fall of the Axis and put an end to World War II.
Fearing an Allied response, the Germans built the Atlantic Wall, a coastal defense line that stretched from the north of Norway to the south of France. The beaches were filled with a variety of obstacles, such as this anti-tank mine.
Champs de Bataille. Opération Neptune. 6 juin 1944. Plage de Riva-Bella, Ouistreham, Normandie, France (2004) by Yan Morvan (photographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Remains of these obstacles can still be found on the beaches of Normandy today. Here, you can see dragon's teeth—small concrete pyramids designed to stop tank assaults.
The success of this crucial and bold operation relied above all on its surprise element. The German General Staff expected an attack, so there needed to be some uncertainty of when and where it would occur. In order to deceive German surveillance, the Allies launched a disinformation operation called Operation Titanic.
On the night of June 5 to the morning of June 6, a huge amount of chaff (codenamed Window) was launched by the Royal Air Force near Le Havre and Boulogne. These plain aluminum strips returned radar echoes similar to those of planes, making the Germans believe this sector was under attack.
Poupée parachutiste leurre (2nd quarter of the 20th century)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force dropped hundreds of dummies far from the Normandy beaches to fake an airborne operation and compel the Germans to deploy their forces far from the actual drop zones of paratroopers. This operation was codenamed Rupert.
Carte du secteur de Sainte-Mère-Eglise, 6 juin 1944 (août 1944) by U.S Army (Author)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
On the night of June 5, the first Allies to set foot on French soil were the paratroopers: 6,250 British and 13,500 American soldiers. Their mission? To control and cut German communication routes and prepare for the arrival of Allied reinforcements.
Parachutiste américain, débarquement de Normandie Vue de trois-quartMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Pictured here is the uniform of a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division. They were among the first to land in France, particularly in the area of Sainte Mère-Église.
The cricket was a famous part of the equipment of the 101st Division of paratroopers. Soldiers used it to identify each other in the Normandy groves—to a single click, another soldier had to answer two clicks.
On the dawn of June 6, an armada of 5,471 Allied ships were about to reach the Normandy coast. 55,072 German soldiers were deployed on 50 miles of beach. The Allied assault was spread over five beaches for better efficiency.
Pushed by currents, the 4th American Infantry Division landed 1.2 miles (2 km) south of the planned spot, in a less protected and more dangerous area. This mishap actually turned Utah Beach into a success with the lowest human casualties and equipment loss.
Liner M1 (sous casque) (1941)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
The American sector of Omaha came close to disaster—4,000 American soldiers were killed, wounded or reported missing. This earned Omaha the nickname of Bloody Omaha. Nowadays, many objects from the D-Day can still be found on the beaches.
Fantassin de la 50ème Northumbrian Division (Durham L.I.) (2001)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
In the British sector, Gold was one of the beaches where the German resistance was quickly overcome. The Allied troops progressed rapidly towards Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated on June 7, 1944.
Lance-Corporal du Régiment de la Chaudière, 3e division d'infanterie canadienne (2000)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Canadians landed in the Juno sector. Because of the swell, ships were delayed, so approached the coast at high tide and hit obstacles on the shore, which resulted in many casualties.
Matelot breveté du 1er bataillon de fusiliers marins commando (2000)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Sword beach was covered by the British, alongside 177 French soldiers of the 1st marine rifle battalion of the Kieffer Commando. Ordered to attack Ouistreham from the rear, these Frenchmen distinguished themselves in fierce street combat.
On the evening of June 6, 1944, casualties were significant—10,000 Germans, 6,000 Americans, 4,219 British-Canadians, and 47 French lives were lost. Although much progress had been made by the Allies, the battle for Normandy had only just started.
A story written and edited by the teams of the Musée de l'Armée.
© Musée de l’Armée