“Utah. Omaha. Gold. Juno. Sword.”
If the words sound like the cadence that a quarterback might shout before a snap, well, that is kind of the point.
These are the code names for the five beaches upon which Allied troops landed on June 6, 1944. The main countries involved were the United States, Britain, and Canada. Together, Allied troops made a brave and heroic dash across the English channel onto Nazi occupied France. This was no small feat. As seen below, the numbers were staggering. The risks were high. But, by the summer of 1944, the Allies had to take action. They decided that Hitler and his Nazi regime needed to be destroyed.
At the time, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, future American President, and all-around American badass, was the man in charge. Or for those of you who really know your acronyms, he was the HMFIC! Last year, I wrote about General Eisenhower and some of the history of one of America’s greatest generals.
The Invasion by the Numbers
This was the largest amphibious assault in U.S. military history. Let’s break it down by the numbers —
- 6,939 ships involved
- 15,000 total aircraft involved
- 156,000 Allied troops involved on D-Day
- 300 yards of beach that Allies fought across on Omaha
- 326,000 total number of troops that landed by June 11
- 50,000 total number of vehicles that landed by June 11
- 50 miles of beach invaded
- 7 million tons of supplies shipped to staging areas (WOW!!)
- 450,000 tons of ammunition shipped to staging areas
- 4 million landmines (estimated) along Normandy’s beaches
Imagine being a young soldier on that day. You are packed in a small landing craft and float to an unknown beach. Your gear is soaked. Your .30 cal M1 rifle is soaked. You’re shaking with cold and nerves. You’ve been trained, yet wonder if it is enough. Bullets ping the hatches. You must wonder if you will make it out alive. Many did not.
The “human factors” were remarkable. Soldiers packed gear to survive for three days. But, what happened when they didn’t land on the shore? What happened when the landing crafts dropped them in the water? Ammunition, rations, and medical supplies weighed the soldiers down. They had a choice to either drown or ditch their gear. Unfortunately, many soldiers did drown under the weight of their gear. One can only imagine how difficult the invasion was for the average soldier.
For further reading about the “soldier’s load”, S.L.A. Marhsall’s book Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation is one that is often studied.
Key Facts about D-Day
There are many books and resources that provide more details about the battle and the history which I will provide links to below. However, I think that it is important for people to have a basic understanding of the history. So, here is a list of some key facts to takeaway and reflect on in honor of today:
- Operation Overlord was the name of the D-Day operation. It took a significant amount of time to plan and prepare. “Exercise Tiger” was the name of the initial rehearsal. It was a disaster. German E-boats crashed the party. They killed 749 U.S. troops.
- The Allies carried out a major deception campaign prior to the invasion. There is an adage in warfare that “when you try to defend everywhere, you are strong nowhere.” This speaks to why intelligence is so critical. When the Allies kept the Nazis guessing as to their true point of invasion, they were able to stretch their forces thin. In fact, the Allies were able to make the Nazis think that Pas-de-Calais might have been the site of the invasion.
- Hitler tasked Field Marshal Erwin Rommel with defending against an invasion. “The Atlantic Wall” was a 2,400-mile network of bunkers and obstacles. The goal was to defend against the inevitable Allied invasion.
- Before the boats landed, paratroopers spearheaded the invasion. They came from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne among others.
- Weather delayed the invasion by one day. However, June 6 had to be the launch date or the invasion would have been delayed another few weeks as the invasion was based around phases of the moon.
- Omaha beach was the bloodiest. Very few of the landing craft made it to the beach. Allied forces were dropped in the water instead of the beach. A barrage of machine gun fire greeted Allied forces. They had to wade through obstacles, land mines, and barbed wire. When they finally made it across the beach, the sheer size of the cliffs presented further challenges. Casualty estimates are up to 2,400.
A Key Turning Point
D-Day was decisive. It turned the tide of World War II. In less than a year, Nazi Germany would declare unconditional surrender. That day of victory was called V-E day on May 8, 1945. V-E stands for “Victory Europe.”
Today, we remember the legacy of those that fought and died at Normandy. We live in turbulent times. However, D-Day is a moment to pause and reflect.
D-Day is an opportunity to be grateful for the millions of Americans that have been willing to serve their country and put their lives on the line. As highlighted earlier, the human factors were incredible. It is hard to imagine the difficulty of what America’s heroes accomplished. But, they accomplished it nonetheless. And the world is better for it!
Where to Visit
If one has the means, a visit to France is ideal. To actually see the beaches where the Normandy invasion took place is an amazing experience. The row of perfectly aligned white crosses is emotional.
But, if one does not have the time or the means, there is another great option. The National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford, Virginia. Why Bedford? Bedford was made famous for the “Bedford Boys”. The town sustained the most casualties per capita of any town in the United States. With a population of only 3,000 people, nineteen of its citizens were killed on Normandy.
However, COVID-19 is causing some temporary halts in activity. Nevertheless, the D-Day Memorial will open again. In the meantime, the website provides the opportunity to virtually commemorate the 76th Anniversary of D-Day.
Additional Reading and Resources
D-Day by Stephen E. Ambrose
The First Wave: The D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in World War II by Alex Kershaw
The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-day Sacrifice