The D-Day Invasion: Turning the Tide of World War II

After the United States entered World War II, it was only a matter of time that the Allies would invade Europe to defeat Nazi Germany.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Lexicon Learning, now available on Google Arts & Culture

LIFE Photo Collection

However, an invasion of this magnitude required a great and fearless leader to unite the twelve Allied nations, as well as absolute secrecy for battle plans. The Allies found this leader in General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Those Who Fight

During World War II, the United States mobilized millions of men to fight against the Germans and Japanese. While some men were drafted, many Americans, including some women, volunteered for military service to support the fight for freedom.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, thousands of Americans joined an Allied force of 150,000 men from 12 countries storming the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion in military history and the turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.

Blue Star: A Mark of Military Service

During World War II, families displayed a blue star banner in their windows to show their support for a family member serving in the war. Today, the National D-Day Memorial honors past and present veterans through this Blue Star garden.

D-Day’s Bedford Boys

On June 6, 1944, 40 men from Bedford, Virginia were a part of the first wave onto the beaches. By the end of the day, 21 of these men lost their lives giving Bedford the distinction of losing the most men proportionally on D-Day than any other town in the nation.

The Ties That Bind

In the aftermath of D-Day, dealing with loss was difficult not just by those at home, but also by those who continued to fight. This statue shows a soldier reflecting on a temporary grave marker, a rifle with a dog tag and helmet on top, used in battle.

Planning the Allied Invasion of Normandy

After the United States entered World War II, it was only a matter of time that the Allies would invade Europe to defeat Nazi Germany. 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

In December 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put Eisenhower in charge of planning and leading D-Day, codenamed Operation Overlord. This statue is based off of a picture of Eisenhower talking to paratroopers just before D-Day. Many assume he discussed the invasion with them, but he was actually talking about fly-fishing.

Mapping a Top-Secret Amphibious Invasion

Many soldiers did not know the location or logistics of the invasion until they were heading to Normandy. To keep the invasion map secret during the planning, Eisenhower ordered a toy company in England to print it as a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Uniting the Allied Expeditionary Force

The Allied Expeditionary Force was made up of 12 nations, including some nations that were under German rule in 1944. Uniting a group of nations with many languages and different experiences in World War II was a challenge that General Eisenhower faced.

However, he used the power of symbolism in a patch and a speech to unite and energize the Allied Expeditionary Force to fight courageously on D-Day.

SHAEF Patch by Google Arts & Culture

Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force patch

Eisenhower created the SHAEF patch for each soldier to wear on D-Day to unite them for the common cause of freedom. The sword represents their strength and courage piercing into the dark Nazi oppression of Europe. The rainbow represents the diversity of the Allied Expeditionary Force while the blue at the top represents hope for peace in Europe.

A Rallying Cry: The Order of the Day by Google Arts & Culture

A Rallying Cry: The Order of the Day

A copy of Eisenhower’s Order of the Day speech was given to every soldier as they left for Normandy on D-Day to encourage them to fight courageously and that they could defeat the Germans. Some soldiers kept their Orders of the Day, including the National D-Day Memorial’s founder, Bob Slaughter.

Enormity of the D-Day Invasion

On June 6, 1944, over 150,000 men, 11,000 airplanes, and 5,000 ships attacked a 50-mile stretch of beach heavily defended by the Germans in Normandy, France. 

This portion of the Memorial symbolizes the English Channel crossing and landing through a variety of features and sculptures, including the plaza floor that is divided into five segments representing the five D-Day landing beaches: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

Beach Tableau

The beach tableau depicts the fierce struggle Allied soldiers waged up and down the landing beaches against the Germans. A stylized German bunker serves as a backdrop for the scene.

Naval Forces

This section of the Memorial gives tribute to the 5,000 ships that assisted in the D-Day invasion from bombarding the Normandy beaches to remove German obstacles to moving soldiers and supplies from England to France across the English Channel.

Air Forces

This section of the Memorial gives tribute to the 11,000 planes that flew in support of the D-Day operations on June 6, 1944 from reconnaissance to dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines.

Necrology Wall

Enclosing the plaza are bronze plaques that bear the names of the 4,413 Allied service members killed in action on D-Day. The National D-Day Memorial is the only place in the world with the names of every single service member killed on June 6, 1944 in Normandy.

Operation Neptune: The Naval Forces of D-Day

In order to successfully cross the English Channel and attack the Normandy coast, the ships of the Allied Expeditionary Forces’ navies assisted in what was codenamed, Operation Neptune, to ensure the success of the water aspect of this amphibious invasion.

Ships started crossing the Channel on June 5 to prepare for the invasion on the 6th.


This anchor represents the 5,000 ships of the Allied Expeditionary Forces’ navies that transported troops and supplies from England to the beaches, swept the Channel for mines, and supported the landing assault by bombarding the coast to remove German defenses.

Coast Guard Bell

This Coast Guard bell represents the role of the Coast Guard on D-Day, which is often overlooked.

Many of the landing craft coxswains (pilots) were young Coast Guardsmen, responsible for transporting boatloads of soldiers from larger ships in the Channel to the five codenamed beachheads.

The Air Forces of D-Day

Although the Air Force was not established until after World War II, the Army and the Navy included air corps units that flew supporting missions for battles during the war, including D-Day.

The 11,000 airplanes that supported the invasion assisted through dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines in the early hours of June 6, 1944, transporting men and equipment, fire support, and reconnaissance.

L-3 Plane

The L-3 plane was nicknamed the “grasshopper” because of its size and as it would land it would tend to bounce. This plane was also mostly made out of fabric, and pilots would use duct tape to temporarily repair the holes, especially during battle.

The Importance of Reconnaissance

L-3 planes were used as spotters and could carry a pilot and one other person at a time. Look carefully in the back of the plane for a map that the second person would mark with the enemy’s location to report back to command to assist in troop movements during battle.

Plane Identification on D-Day

National markings were too small for anti-aircraft fire in prior invasions, so Eisenhower ordered all Allied aircraft participating in the invasion to have clear and distinguished markings.

Allied aircraft on D-Day were marked with white-black-white-black-white stripes to inform the troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force that passing planes were friendly.

Flight Nurses on D-Day

While they did not fight in combat, women, such as Evelyn Kowalchuk, served as flight nurses who flew onto the beaches as a part of the D-Day invasion to treat wounded soldiers. Although she landed on June 9, 1944, she recalled that many of the flight nurses had not seen such horrific wounds in their lives.

Landing on the Beaches of Normandy

June 6, 1944 was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and resulted in high casualties on the beaches of Normandy. Over 150,000 men of the Allied Expeditionary Force fought courageously against the heavily defended Germans in less than favorable conditions.

Crossing the English Channel

This granite Higgins Boat represents the various landing craft that transported troops from ships to shore on the morning of D-Day. These boats were made out of plywood, transported 36 men with their equipment, and were fired upon before reaching the shore.

Heading to Shore

Because of obstacles in the water, such as mines and hedgehogs designed to rip open the bottom of boats, landing craft anchored off shore in 3 to 5 feet of water. Soldiers waded through the water with their guns above their head unable to return fire.

The Role of Medics

As healers not fighters, medics did not carry weapons. However, enemy gunfire did not distinguish between medics and soldiers. The soldier in this statue understands the value of medics making it to shore and sacrificed his own safety for his fellow injured soldiers.

Pointe du Hoc

On D-Day, the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Omaha and Utah Beaches with German gun pits and concrete casemates. By the end of the day, the Rangers took Pointe du Hoc for the Allies but sustained a 50 percent casualty rate.

The Sacrifice of Americans on D-Day

Each of the names on these plaques represent stories of American soldiers who gave up their comfort to cross the world to fight against Nazi tyranny. 2,499 American service members lost their lives for freedom on D-Day on two of the beaches, Omaha and Utah.

To put this number in perspective, it took 6 years of fighting in Iraq to hit the number of American killed on June 6, 1944.

John D. Clifton by Google Arts & Culture

John D. Clifton

John D. Clifton, one of the Bedford Boys, decided to join the National Guard in 1940 straight out of high school. On D-Day, he rode to shore in a lead assault boat. As the boat ramp went down, John was hit with a spray of German gunfire.

Lawrence A. Roberts by Google Arts & Culture

Lawrence A. Roberts

Private First Class Lawrence A. Roberts was inducted into the Army in 1943. Roberts would be among some of the first men to hit Omaha Beach with the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. Their objective was to destroy underwater obstacles along the shore.

The Allied Sacrifice on D-Day

The other approximately 1,900 fatalities on D-Day by the Allied Expeditionary Force were concentrated to seven of the twelve nations on the other three beaches: Gold, Sword, and Juno. Although Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland also participated in the invasion, they did not sustain any fatalities on D-Day.

The Sacrifice of Seven Allied Nations

The British and Canadian forces led the charge on Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. The other five nations with fatalities on D-Day (Australia, Belgium, France, New Zealand, and Norway) fought under the British and Canadian flags on D-Day.

Belgium’s Flag

Many people confuse Belgium’s flag with the German flag. While they are very similar, the difference is found in the orientation of the stripes. Belgium’s stripes are vertical while Germany’s are horizontal.

Victory for Operation Overlord

The last section of the Memorial celebrates the success of the Normandy landing and the international effort that made it possible while remembering the price of victory through the sacrifice of 4,413 service members of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Overlord Arch

A triumphal arch rises 44 feet and 6 inches (representing the date of the invasion) above the National D-Day Memorial to mark the success of D-Day. Overlord is inscribed at the top with the white-black-white-black-white markings used on Allied aircraft.

Final Tribute

This statue of a temporary grave marker used in battle, an inverted rifle with a dog tag and helmet atop, is a sober tribute to the sacrifice of 4,413 members of the Allied Expeditionary Force who were killed on D-Day that led to the success of Operation Overlord.

An Allied Cause

The flags of the twelve nations of the Allied Expeditionary Force fly in an arc as a reminder of the importance of a united Allied front not just for the success of D-Day but the elimination of Nazi tyranny in World War II.

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