D-Day in Rare Photos, Film and Maps: The Longest Day, The Greatest Generation

Almost immediately after France fell to the Nazis in 1940, the Allies planned a cross-Channel assault on the German occupying forces. At the Quebec Conference in August 1943, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt reaffirmed the plan, which was code-named Overlord. Although Churchill acceded begrudgingly to the operation, historians note that the British still harbored persistent doubts about whether Overlord would succeed.

Credit: British Ministry of Defense

The decision to mount the invasion was cemented at the Teheran Conference held in November and December 1943. Joseph Stalin, on his first trip outside the Soviet Union since 1912, pressed Roosevelt and Churchill for details about the plan, particularly the identity of the Supreme Commander of Overlord. Churchill and Roosevelt told Stalin that the invasion “would be possible” by August 1, 1944, but that no decision had yet been made to name a Supreme Commander. To this latter point, Stalin pointedly rejoined, “Then nothing will come of these operations. Who carries the moral and technical responsibility for this operation?” Churchill and Roosevelt acknowledged the need to name the commander without further delay. Shortly after the conference ended, Roosevelt appointed Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower to that position.

United We Are Strong Poster

By May 1944, 2,876,000 Allied troops were amassed in southern England. While awaiting deployment orders, they prepared for the assault by practicing with live ammunition. The largest armada in history, made up of more than 4,000 American, British, and Canadian ships, lay in wait. More than 1,200 planes stood ready to deliver seasoned airborne troops behind enemy lines, to silence German ground resistance as best they could, and to dominate the skies over the impending battle theater. Against a tense backdrop of uncertain weather forecasts, disagreements in strategy, and related timing dilemmas predicated on the need for optimal tidal conditions, Eisenhower decided before dawn on June 5 to proceed with Overlord. Later that same afternoon, he scribbled a note intended for release, accepting responsibility for the decision to launch the invasion and full blame should the effort to create a beachhead on the Normandy coast fail.

Credit: British Ministry of Defense

Leaving headquarters at Portsmouth, Eisenhower first visited the British 50th Infantry Division and then the U.S. 101st Airborne at Newbury; the latter was predicted to suffer 80 percent casualties. After traveling 90 minutes through the ceaseless flow of troop carriers and trucks, his party arrived unannounced to avoid disrupting the embarkation in progress.

The stars on the running board of his automobile had been covered, but the troops recognized “Ike,” and word quickly spread of his presence. According to his grandson David, who wrote about the occasion in Eisenhower: At War 1943-1945, the general wandered through the formless groups of soldiers, stepping over packs and guns. The faces of the men had been blackened with charcoal and cocoa to protect against glare and to serve as camouflage. He stopped at intervals to talk to the thick clusters of soldiers gathering around him.

He asked their names and homes. “Texas, sir!” one replied. “Don’t worry, sir, the 101st is on the job and everything will be taken care of in fine shape.” Laughter and applause. Another soldier invited Eisenhower down to his ranch after the war. “Where are you from, soldier?” “Missouri, sir.” “And you, soldier?” “Texas, sir.” Cheers, and the roll call of the states went on, “like a roll of battle honors,” one observer wrote, as it unfolded, affirming an “awareness that the General and the men were associated in a great enterprise.”

Credit: British Ministry of Defense

The Normandy beaches were chosen by planners because they lay within range of air cover, and were less heavily defended than the obvious objective of the Pas de Calais, the shortest distance between Great Britain and the Continent. Airborne drops at both ends of the beachheads were to protect the flanks, as well as open up roadways to the interior. Six divisions were to land on the first day; three U.S., two British and one Canadian. Two more British and one U.S. division were to follow up after the assault division had cleared the way through the beach defenses.

Disorganization, confusion, incomplete or faulty implementation of plans characterized the initial phases of the landings. This was especially true of the airborne landings which were badly scattered, as well as the first wave units landing on the assault beaches. To their great credit, most of the troops were able to adapt to the disorganization. In the end, the Allies achieved their objective.

Normandy

England Jumping Off Areas and Normandy Landing Areas

Map -

D-Day

ON THE WAY TO THE ASSAULT BOATS: England,

Olin Dows, 1944
At half past midnight, as Eisenhower returned to his headquarters at Portsmouth, the first C-47s were arriving at their drop zones, commencing the start of “The Longest Day.” The confusion and carnage of the landing efforts as troops in full kit (combat gear) waded through choppy, blood-stained water amid the deadly, deafening thunder of enemy fire must be deeply etched in the memory of those who took part in or witnessed the assault. During the invasion’s initial hours, Eisenhower lacked adequate information about its progress. After the broadcast of his communiqué to the French people announcing their liberation, SHAEF switchboards were overwhelmed with messages from citizens and political officials. SHAEF communications personnel fell 12 hours behind in transcribing radio traffic. In addition, an Army decoding machine broke down.

General view of a port in England; in foreground, jeeps are being loaded onto LCTs – in background, larger trucks and ducks are being loaded onto LSTs. Undated – June 1944.

According to his secretary-chauffeur Kay Summersby, as recounted in David Eisenhower’s book, “Eisenhower spent most of the day in his trailer drinking endless cups of coffee, ‘waiting for the reports to come.’ Few did, and so Eisenhower gained only sketchy details for most of the day about the British beaches, UTAH and the crisis at OMAHA, where for several hours the fate of the invasion hung in the balance.”

View of an LCT with American troops and equipment loaded aboard awaiting the signal for the assault against the continent. England. Undated – June 1944

In the early morning message reproduced as this article’s feature document, Eisenhower reported to his superior officer General Marshall that preliminary reports were all “satisfactory.” At that time, he had received no official information that the “leading ground troops are actually ashore.” The incomplete and unofficial reports, however, were encouraging.

Paratroopers get final instructions before leaving for Normandy.

RG-208-MO-10H, National Archives.

His comments concerning the weather speak to the one crucial factor of the invasion over which he held no control. Meteorologists were challenged to accurately predict a highly unstable and severe weather pattern. As he indicated in the message to Marshall, “The weather yesterday which was [the] original date selected was impossible all along the target coast.” Eisenhower therefore was forced to make his decision to proceed with a June 6 invasion in the predawn blackness of June 5, while horizontal sheets of rain and gale force winds shuddered through the tent camp. The forecast that the storm would abate proved accurate, as he noted in the document.

These American troops are marching through the streets of a British port town on their way to the docks where they will be loaded into landing craft for the big assault. Undated – June 1944.

He closed his brief message on a confident note, describing the steely readiness of the men he sent to battle, recalling the resoluteness in their faces that he termed “the light of battle . . . in their eyes.” This vivid and stirring memory doubtless heartened him throughout the day until conclusive word reached him that the massive campaign had indeed succeeded.

American troops load onto landing craft at a port in Britain from where they will shove off for the invasion of Europe on D-Day. Undated – June 1944.

“OK, let’s go.”
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, giving the final order for D-day, the assault on Nazi-occupied France, June 5, 1944
The greatest invasion force in the history of warfare stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was the beginning of a campaign of liberation to eliminate Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and its commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, called it “The Great Crusade.”
Eisenhower gave the final order that put the vast operation in motion in the early morning hours of June 5, as meteorologists predicted a temporary break in the stormy weather. Hours later he wrote this note, in case the operation were to fail. In the statement, he praised the men he commanded and accepted total responsibility for the failure the next day could bring. The only apparent hint of nerves on his part is his error in dating the note “July 5” instead of June 5.
Getting Ready

Convoy of attack transports (APA) and LSTs anchored off shore in preparation for the invasion of France. Photograph filed 10 June 1944.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Army troops on board a LCT, ready to ride across the English Channel to France. Some of these men wear 101st Airborne Division insignia. Photograph released 12 June 1944.


Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Credit: British Ministry of Defense
Credit: British Ministry of Defense

Artillery equipment is loaded aboard LSTs at Brixham,England.
U.S. National Archives
Crossing the English Channel

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: A convoy of Landing Craft Infantry (Large) sails across the English Channel toward the Normandy Invasion beaches on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Each of these landing craft is towing a barrage balloon for protection against low-flying German aircraft. Among the LCI(L)s present are: LCI(L)-56, at far left; LCI(L)-325; and LCI(L)-4.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-eur/normandy/nor3.htm

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Convoy of LCI(L)s en route to the Normandy beaches, with barrage balloons overhead, 6 June 1944. Photographed from USS Ancon (AGC-4). Note 20mm guns, with Mark 14 lead computing sights, on board Ancon.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: LCI(L)s and a submarine chaser (PC, in right center) maneuver off the invasion beaches, under cover of barrage balloons, on 6 June 1944.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: U.S. Navy PT boats crossing the English Channel on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944, as twelve B-17 bombers pass overhead. Note the twin .50 caliber machine guns on the boat from which the photograph was taken.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Men on board a Coast Guard manned LCI(L) attend Mass while en route to the invasion beaches, June 1944.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: A Coast Guard manned LST approaches the Normandy coast on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Note small radar antenna on the LST’s bridge, signalman using a blinker lamp, U.S. star markings on some truck covers, and the folded bicycle stowed atop the vehicle in the lower right.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Forward 14″/45 guns of USS Nevada (BB-36) fire on positions ashore, during the landings on “Utah” Beach, 6 June 1944.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.
USS Tide (AM-125): Sinking off “Utah” Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Troops and crewmen aboard a Coast Guard manned LCVP as it approaches a Normandy beach on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: A loaded “Rhino” ferry approaches the invasion beaches on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. This ferry is RHF-3, with “Rhino” tug RHT-3 assisting. Note the name “Hell’s Angels” on the RHT-3’s conning station shields. A U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat is in the distance.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

On 6 June 1944 the Western Allies landed in northern France, opening the long-awaited “Second Front” against Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Though they had been fighting in mainland Italy for some nine months, the Normandy invasion was in a strategically more important region, setting the stage to drive the Germans from France and ultimately destroy the National Socialist regime.

It had been four long years since France had been overrun and the British compelled to leave continental Europe, three since Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union and two and a half since the United States had formally entered the struggle. After an often seemingly hopeless fight, beginning in late 1942 the Germans had been stopped and forced into slow retreat in eastern Europe, defeated in North Africa and confronted in Italy. U.S. and British bombers had visited ruin on the enemy’s industrial cities. Allied navies had contained the German submarine threat, making possible an immense buildup of ground, sea and air power in the British Isles.

Schemes for a return to France, long in preparation, were now feasible. Detailed operation plans were in hand. Troops were well-trained, vast numbers of ships accumulated, and local German forces battered from the air. Clever deceptions had confused the enemy about just when, and especially where, the blow would fall.

Commanded by U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Normandy assault phase, code-named “Neptune” (the entire operation was “Overlord”), was launched when weather reports predicted satisfactory conditions on 6 June. Hundreds of amphibious ships and craft, supported by combatant warships, crossed the English Channel behind dozens of minesweepers. They arrived off the beaches before dawn. Three divisions of paratroopers (two American, one British) had already been dropped inland. Following a brief bombardment by ships’ guns, Soldiers of six divisions (three American, two British and one Canadian) stormed ashore in five main landing areas, named “Utah”, “Omaha”, “Gold”, “Juno” and “Sword”. After hard fighting, especially on “Omaha” Beach, by day’s end a foothold was well established.

As German counterattacks were thwarted, the Allies poured men and materiel into France. By late July these reinforcements, and constant combat, made possible a break out from the Normandy perimeter. Another landing, in southern France in August, facilitated that nation’s liberation. With the Soviets advancing from the east, Hitler’s armies were shoved, sometimes haltingly and always bloodily, back toward their homeland. The Second World War had entered its climactic phase.http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-eur/normandy/normandy.htm

Omaha Beach
OMAHA BEACH linked the U.S. and British beaches. It was a critical link between the Contentin peninsula and the flat plain in front of Caen. Omaha was also the most restricted and heavily defended beach, and for this reason at least one veteran U.S. Division (lst) was tasked to land there. The terrain was difficult. Omaha beach was unlike any of the other assault beaches in Normandy. Its crescent curve and unusual assortment of bluffs, cliffs and draws were immediately recognizable from the sea. It was the most defensible beach chosen for D-Day; in fact, many planners did not believe it a likely place for a major landing. The high ground commanded all approaches to the beach from the sea and tidal flats. Moreover, any advance made by U.S. troops from the beach would be limited to narrow passages between the bluffs. Advances directly up the steep bluffs were difficult in the extreme. German strong points were arranged to command all the approaches and pillboxes were sited in the draws to fire east and west, thereby enfilading troops while remaining concealed from bombarding warships. These pillboxes had to be taken out by direct assault. Compounding this problem was the allied intelligence failure to identify a nearly full-strength infantry division, the 352nd, directly behind the beach. It was believed to be no further forward than St. Lo and Caumont, 20 miles inland.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Coast Guard manned USS LST-21 unloads British Army tanks and trucks onto a “Rhino” barge during the early hours of the invasion, 6 June 1944. Note the nickname “Virgin” on the “Sherman” tank at left.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Landing ships putting cargo ashore on one of the invasion beaches, at low tide during the first days of the operation, June 1944. Among identifiable ships present are USS LST-532 (in the center of the view); USS LST-262 (3rd LST from right); USS LST-310 (2nd LST from right); USS LST-533 (partially visible at far right); and USS LST-524.Note barrage balloons overhead and Army “half-track” convoy forming up on the beach.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: LCVP landing craft put troops ashore on “Omaha” Beach on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. The LCVP at far left is from USS Samuel Chase (APA-26).

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Army troops wade ashore on “Omaha” Beach during the “D-Day” landings, 6 June 1944. They were brought to the beach by a Coast Guard manned LCVP.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944, D-Day scene on “Omaha” Beach, 6 June 1944. USS LCI(L)-553, lost at this time, is partially visible in the left background. LCVP landing craft at left is from USS Samuel Chase (APA-26). Note vehicles and men on the beach, and “Caution .. No Signal .. Left Drive” sign on the vehicle in lower right.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944, Scene on “Omaha” Beach on the afternoon of “D-Day”, 6 June 1944, showing casualties on the beach, a bogged-down “Sherman” tank, several wrecked trucks and German anti-landing obstructions. A LST is beached in the left distance and invasion shipping is off shore.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the U.S. National Archives

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Troops of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division assemble on a narrow strip of “Omaha” beach before moving inland near Collville-sur-Mer on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. USS LCI(L)-83 is in the background, landing more men.

Photographed by Taylor.
For a closeup view of casualties in this location, see Photo # SC 189924. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Members of an American landing party lend helping hands to other members of their organization whose landing craft was sunk be enemy action of the coast of France. These survivors reached Omaha Beach, by using a life raft.

Photographer: Weintraub, 6 June 1944. SC190366
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Dead Soldiers on “Omaha” beach on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. They were members of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

Photographed by Taylor.
Note inflatable life belts draped over some of the bodies, and a box over another. For a broader area view taken from this location, see Photo # SC 189935.
Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: An American Soldier lies dead alongside an anti-landing craft obstruction on “Omaha” Beach, 6 June 1944. He is wearing an inflatable life belt. Note rifles by his feet, an M1 semiautomatic rifle on the sand, with a M1903 bolt-action rifle laid across it.

Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Wounded men of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, receive cigarettes and food after they had stormed “Omaha” beach on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

A medic of the 3d Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., 1st U.S. Inf. Div., moves along a narrow strip of Omaha Beach administering first aid to men wounded in the landing. The men, having gained the comparative safety offered by the chalk cliff at their backs, take a breather before moving into the interior of the continent. Collville, Sur-Mer, Normandy, France.

Photographer: Taylor, 6 June 1944. SC 189925-S
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: Senior U.S. officers watching operations from the bridge of USS Augusta(CA-31), off Normandy, 8 June 1944. They are (from left to right): Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, USN, Commander Western Naval Task Force; Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, U.S. Army, Commanding General, U.S. First Army; Rear Admiral Arthur D. Struble, USN, (with binoculars) Chief of Staff for RAdm. Kirk; and Major General Hugh Keen, U.S. Army.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

“The Tough Beach” Watercolor by Navy Combat Artist Dwight Shepler, 1944, showing German artillery fire hitting U.S. forces on “Omaha” Beach, on “D-Day” of the Normandy invasion, 6 June 1944. In the foreground is USS LCI(L)-93, aground and holed. She was lost on this occasion. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.
The build-up of Omaha Beach. Reinforcements of men and equipment moving inland. SC193082
U.S. Army Archives
Members of the 1st Bn, 355th Engineers, cleaning through wrecked streets of St Lo so that traffic could move by road from Omaha beach.
Photographer: Unknown, date – 1944. SC 572358
Normandy Invasion, June 1944: “D-Day” beach traffic, photographed from a Ninth Air Force bomber on 6 June 1944. Note vehicle lanes leading away from the landing areas, and landing craft left aground by the tide.

Official U.S. Air Force Photograph.
Lines of men and material stream ashore, 8 June 1944.
Photograph, Lines of men and material stream ashore, 8 June 1944.

U.S. National Archives

The Normandy invasion took place in the Bay of the Seine, on the south side of the English Channel between the Cotentin Peninsula and the port of Le Havre. Some fifty-five miles broad and twenty deep, its waters were shallow, had a considerable tidal range, and, when the wind blew from the northward, could be very choppy. The planned landing beaches covered about forty-five miles of the Bay’s shoreline. Westernmost was “Utah” Area, stretching eight miles southward along the low-lying southeastern coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. Directly to the east was “Omaha” Area, covering twelve miles of generally hilly terrain. United States forces were assigned to take both of those areas, with important assistance from the navies of Great Britain and other Allies. British and Canadian troops would assault the areas code-named “Gold”, “Juno”, and “Sword”, which ran twenty miles eastward from “Omaha”. This sector ended at the mouth of the Orne River, some fifteen miles west of Le Havre, where the German Navy based a group of potentially very dangerous torpedo boats.

The actual landing beaches occupied a fraction of the width of each area, but were intended to provide sufficient initial footholds to allow rapid reinforcement and expansion inland, with the attacking soldiers joining their flanks to create a continuous beachhead perimeter before the enemy could mount a major counterattack. Each area would be assaulted by approximately one army division, with initial landings being made by much smaller units at 6:30AM in the American areas and about an hour later in the British. Their arrival on the shore was to follow a bombardment by ships’ guns and aircraft ordnance, kept relatively brief to maintain as much as possible of the element of surprise. As a result, German shore defenses frequently remained intact, and would prove troublesome to both the landing forces and ships offshore.

To protect the invasion zone’s western extremity, and to facilitate the “Utah” landing force’s movement into the Cotentin Peninsula, the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions descended by parachute and glider in the small hours of “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Though badly scattered and lacking much of their equipment, these brave paratroopers kept the Germans occupied and helped ensure that the “Utah” Beach assault went relatively easily. The British and Canadian attacks, assisted by an air-dropped division on their eastern flank and a longer naval bombardment, generally also went well.

Not so in the “Omaha” area, where deep beaches backed by steep hills meant that the U.S. troops landing there were exposed to withering fire from enemy small arms, machine guns and artillery. Casualties were very heavy and the assult only succeeded after a day of brutal fighting, with warships coming in close to provide direct gunfire in support of the hard-pressed soldiers.

By nightfall on the sixth of June, the situation was favorable, even on Omaha. Entered the popular culture as THE “D-Day”, a name it has retained ever since.

Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of “Omaha” Beach landings on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Photograph was released for publication on 12 June 1944.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives
U.S. Army Rangers resting in the vicinity of Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of “Omaha” Beach landings on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Photograph was released for publication on 12 June 1944.
Note Ranger in right center, apparently using his middle finger to push cartridges into a M-1 carbine magazine. The carbine and a backpack frame are nearby.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives

U.S. Army Rangers rest atop the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they stormed in support of “Omaha” Beach landings on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Photograph was released for publication on 12 June 1944.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives

Lieutenant Commander Knapper and Chief Yeoman Cook, of USS Texas(BB-35), examine a damaged German pillbox at Pointe du Hoc on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. Earlier in the day Texas had bombarded the point in support of the “Omaha” Beach landings. The body of a dead U.S. Army Ranger, killed during the assault on Pointe du Hoc, lies covered up at right.

USS LST-325 (left) and USS LST-388 unloading while stranded at low tide during resupply operations, 12 June 1944.  Note: propellers, rudders and other underwater details of these LSTs; 40mm single guns; barrage balloon; “Danforth” style kedge anchor atLST-325’s stern.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

D-Day Landings on “Utah” Beach

UTAH BEACH was added to the initial invasion plan almost as an afterthought. The allies needed a major port as soon as possible, and UTAH BEACH would put VII (U.S.) Corps within 60 kilometers of Cherbourg at the outset. The major obstacles in this sector were not so much the beach defenses, but the flooded and rough terrain that blocked the way north.

U.S. Soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move out over the seawall on “Utah” Beach, after coming ashore. Other troops are resting behind the concrete wall. Photo dated 9 June 1944, but probably taken on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
A U.S. Army weapons carrier moves through the surf toward “Utah” Beach, after being launched from its landing craft on 6 June 1944. Note .50 caliber machine gun on the vehicle, pointed skyward for anti-aircraft defense.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
German prisoners of war in a barbed-wire enclosure on “Utah” Beach, 6 June 1944. Note the group of African-American Soldiers in the near center distance, “Sherman” tank (with name “Delphia” on its side) beyond them, and USSLCT-855 stranded on the beach behind the tank.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

German shell explodes on the Saint Marcouf Islands, off “Utah” Beach, on the morning of “D-Day”, 6 June 1944. These islands had been occupied by U.S. Army troops earlier that morning.
Photographed from USS Quincy (CA-71).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives

German shell hits beside an LST off “Utah” Beach, during the early stages of the landings on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944.This LST appears to be very down at the stern. Photographed by Collier.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
USS LST-499 and other landing ships and craft off “Utah” Beach on 6 June 1944, with barrage balloons overhead. The British monitor Erebus is in the right distance, painted in pattern camouflage.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives
USS Bayfield (APA-33), flagship for the “Utah” Beach landings, lowers LCVPs for the assault, 6 June 1944.USS LST-346 is partially visible beyond Bayfield’s stern, and USS Nevadais in the far right distance.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Collection in the National Archives

4th Division troops shelter behind a concrete wall while others advance off the beach. Photograph, 4th Division troops shelter behind a concrete wall while others advance off the beach.
National Archives

Invasion. Carrying a full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach on the norther coast of France. Landing craft, in the background, jams the harbor. 6 June 1944.
Photographer: Wall. SC189902
Photo taken on D+2, after relief forces reached the Rangers at Point Du Hoe. The American flag had been spread out to stop fire of friendly tanks coming from inland. Some German prisoners are being moved in after capture by the relieving forces. SC190240
This graphic tells the story of how the France beachhead was supplied on “D-Day”. 6 June 1944
Photo by Steck. SC190631
A group of paratroopers in a French village at St. Marcouf, Utah Beach, France. From here they will move on into the continent, accomplishing their assigned objectives. 8 June 1944.
Photo by Werner. SC 189921-S
Gold Beach

GOLD BEACH was the objective of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division of the British 2nd Army. Its primary task was to seize Arrolnanches (future site of a Mulberry) and drive inland to seize the road junction at Bayeux, as well as contact U.S. forces on their right and Canadians on their left. The initial opposition was fierce, but the British invasion forces broke through with relatively light casualties and were able to reach their objectives in this sector. A major factor in their success was that the British assault forces were lavishly equipped with armour and “Funnies” of the 79th Armoured Division. The “Funnies” were the specialist vehicles, armed with 290 mm mortars, designed for tasks such as clearing obstacles or minefields and destruction of large fixed fortifications. Perhaps the most famous is the “Flail” tank, which was a Sherman equipped with a large roller to which was attached lengths of chain. These tanks were designed to clear terrain to their front, and detonate mine fields and other booby traps without danger to the tanks or infantry following.

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France
Sword Beach

SWORD BEACH was the objective of 3rd (British) Infantry Division. They were to advance inland as far as Caen, and line up with British Airborne forces east of the Orne River/Caen Canal. The Orne River bridges had been seized in late at night on the 5th of June by a glider-borne reinforced company commanded by Maj. John Howard. As at the other beaches, British forces penetrated quite a ways inland after breaking the opposition at water’s edge.

Unfortunately, the objective of Caen was probably asking too much of a single infantry division, especially given the traffic jams and resistance encountered further inland. 1st Special Service (Commando) brigade commanded by Lord Lovat, linked up in the morning with Howard’s force at Pegasus bridge on the British left. Fierce opposition from the 2lst Panzer and later the 12th SS Panzer division prevented the British from reaching Caen on the 6th. Indeed, Caen was not taken until late June.
Credit: British Ministry of Defense
Credit: British Ministry of Defense

Gold Beach

GOLD BEACH was the objective of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division of the British 2nd Army. Its primary task was to seize Arrolnanches (future site of a Mulberry) and drive inland to seize the road junction at Bayeux, as well as contact U.S. forces on their right and Canadians on their left. The initial opposition was fierce, but the British invasion forces broke through with relatively light casualties and were able to reach their objectives in this sector. A major factor in their success was that the British assault forces were lavishly equipped with armour and “Funnies” of the 79th Armoured Division. The “Funnies” were the specialist vehicles, armed with 290 mm mortars, designed for tasks such as clearing obstacles or minefields and destruction of large fixed fortifications. Perhaps the most famous is the “Flail” tank, which was a Sherman equipped with a large roller to which was attached lengths of chain. These tanks were designed to clear terrain to their front, and detonate mine fields and other booby traps without danger to the tanks or infantry following.

Credit: British Ministry of Defense
Juno Beach

JUNO BEACH was the landing area for 3rd Canadian Division. The Canadians were very concerned about their role in the invasion (as were most of the planning staff) as the memory of 2nd Canadian Division’s destruction at Dieppe was still fresh. But many lessons had been learned, and the 3rd Canadian Division, in spite of heavy opposition at Courselles-sur-Mer, broke through and advanced nearly to their objective, the airfield at Carpiquet, west of Caen. The Canadians made the deepest penetration of any land forces on June 6th, again with moderate casualties.

Credit: British Ministry of Defense
Ariel Photos of D-Day
The AIRBORNE ASSAULT into Normandy as part of the D-Day Allied invasion of Europe was the largest use of airborne troops up to that time. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82d and 101st Airborne divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and other attached Allied units took part in the assault. Numbering more than 13,000 men, the paratroopers were flown from bases in southern England to the Cotentin Peninsula in approximately 925 C-47 airplanes. An additional 4,000 men, consisting of glider infantry with supporting weapons and medical and signal units, were to arrive in 500 gliders later on D-Day to reinforce the paratroopers. The parachute troops were assigned what was probably the most difficult task of the initial operation — a night jump behind enemy lines five hours before the coastal landings.

To protect the invasion zone’s western extremity and to facilitate the “Utah” landing force’s movement into the Cotentin Peninsula, the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions descended on the peninsula by parachute and glider in the early hours of D-Day. The paratroopers were badly scattered. Many were injured and killed during the attack, and much of their equipment was lost. But the brave paratroopers fought fiercely, causing confusion among the German commanders and keeping the Germans troops occupied. Their efforts, hampered by harsh weather, darkness and disorganization, and initiative of resourceful soldiers and leaders, ensured that the UTAH BEACH assault objectives were eventually accomplished. The British and Canadian attacks also accomplished their primary goal of securing the left flank of the invasion force.

Army and Air Forces Poster
Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Royalty Free Picture of D-Day, Invasion of Nomandy France

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in France in late June 1944.

(Eisenhower Library)

Oral History — World War II Invasion of Normandy (1944)
Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, German Army

Interrogation of Generaloberst (General) Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, the Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces) concerning German plans for counter attacks against the Allies during the Normandy Invasion. Jodl was the deputy of Generalfeldmarschall (Army Field Marshal) Wilhelm Keitel, the Chief of the OKW.

Invasion and Normandy Campaign

1. Question: What was Hitler’s personal influence on the construction and installation of the coastal defenses in the West? How far did he determine the method of defense and the strong point locations?

Answer: The Fuehrer exercised the strongest influence on the draft and on the method of construction of the concrete installations. The Inspectorate of the Engineers (Oberst Klaus) prepared the first plans and calculations, had models produced, which were then examined by the Fuehrer who formed an opinion whether the expenditure of time and materiel was justified by the tactical value and by which he decided which of the various constructions proposed should be undertaken. He only indicated the chief positions in a general way, i.e. first the ports, the heavy coastal batteries, (and these first in the 15th Army sector, then in that of the 7th and only at the very last in that of the 1st). All important ports came highest in priority. The tactical selection of terrain was left by the Fuehrer to the local staffs in the West, but he himself decided on the allocation of the available cement among the individual branches of service and construction projects. He had a map drawn up by the Inspectorate of Engineers and Fortresses in which all fortifications were reproduced distinctly for Army, Navy and Air Force, distinguishing between permanent, reinforced field, and field installations, and separated into completed, under construction and projected, and the plan was brought up to date every four weeks.

2. Question: In previous statements mention was made of the intention to relieve the armored divisions in Normandy by infantry, in order to launch a counterattack. Why was the execution of this plan not more quickly attained?

Answer: The relief of the armored divisions from the front line, in order to ready them for a counterattack to Bayeux, was delayed becausea. the infantry divisions which came from the 19th, 1st and 15th Armies and from Brittany had to detrain at scattered points in some cases more than 120 kilometers from their ready areas, and not in a connected convoy order. Time calculations were impossible. Every day more stretches of railroad and bridges were destroyed and more detours had to be made.

b. the continued strong partial attacks of the British forced us to throw the armored divisions or elements of them into combat as the infantry divisions were not capable of holding up too many of these attacks.

3. Question: It appears from other statements that a plan existed to withdraw all available paratroopers for a counterattack. Why was this plan never carried out?

Answer: The idea of committing strong paratroop forces, especially in the planned counterattack against Bayeux, originated with the Marshal (Goering). I spoke against it and the Fuehrer agreed with me.

a. We did not have trained paratroopers. We should have had to pull out several regiments of the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Paratroop Divisions and train them in jumping at short notice. And these divisions were being used in ground combat and could not be spared at a moment when every last man was needed to impede the bursting of the beachhead.

b. I doubted that the necessary transport planes could be brought up, and, even if they were, they would certainly fail in their mission of flying over the enemy front where even our fighter planes dared not venture. A night descent would require a week’s training, and we didn’t have the time.

4. Question: What plans were discussed in the months of June and July for counterattacks. What was the main direction of the attack formerly mentioned?

Answer: Three plans for a counterattack were discussed in the months of June and July, the two of which I described in the submission of 23 July, and which are reproduced in sketches 1 and 2 enclosed [not located]. The third plan originated with Geyer, General of the Army Corps, and was taken up by Field Marshal Rommel and proposed to the Fuehrer, but rejected on my objections.

The basic idea of this proposal was the following:

The enemy intended to smash the dangerous German armored divisions first, so as to have freedom of movement for far-reaching operations.

For this reason we had to do everything we could to prevent him carrying out this intention. We could not allow the armored divisions to be beaten in defense, especially on terrain unfavorable for their employment. We should therefore voluntarily pull back our front south of Caen, and open in the middle, with our east wing drawn back behind the Dives brook around the Falaise-Mezidon-Dives estuary area, and the west wing around the La Lane brook, so as then to strike the enemy spreading out in pursuit, with the assembled armored divisions, in the flank, in an open field battle (our armor coming in from the south between the two brooks).

My opinion was this:
The enemy will explode his beachhead so as to get out into operations in the open. That is the very thing we have to prevent since in the open country the enemy could exploit his aerial superiority and his superior mobility, using motorized forces against our infantry divisions. Once we lost a connected front we could not hold France any longer. It would be a fatal step to surrender this connection voluntarily in favor of a problematical operation of movement, for which we lacked the most important pre-requisites.
Thereupon the Fuehrer rejected Rommel’s proposal.

5. Question: The Americans carried out minor attacks throughout July all along the front, e.g. on both sides of Carentan. What importance did you attach to these attacks?

Answer: The partial attacks of the Americans in July we considered as an attempt to pin down our forces for good and hence prevent regrouping, to gain favorable terrain for a later major attack, and to prove the front for soft places.

6. Question: Did you believe that you could under some conditions actually contain the bridgehead?

Answer: After the failure of the attempt to reduce the enemy beachhead we concentrated on the next most important job, at least to contain the beachhead. At first we hoped to succeed, but as the enemy reinforcements flowed in much more quickly than our own, I had less hope from week to week that we would eventually succeed.

7. Question: What was the reason for your assumption that the British would begin the main attack around Caen? Was it the suitability of the terrain for armored operations?

Answer: At the beginning we considered the British as stronger more battle-wise and hence more dangerous than the Americans. Also Caen was the nearest way to Paris, and the terrain was better south of Caen than further west.

8. Question: How far did the preparations and the first minor British attacks affect your defense against the American forces?

Answer: The British partial attacks were a continual hindrance to a quick relief of the armored divisions by infantry divisions, and continually crossed our plan to supply more forces for the west wing. These attacks did then contribute substantially to making the American breakthrough easier.

9. Question: What did you personally think were the grounds for the poor execution of the Avranches counterattack?

Answer: The forces provided for the attack arrived very slowly. The local commanders were faced with the decision either attacking prematurely with weak forces, or waiting until both their own and the enemy forces had become stronger. The first alternative was taken, and the attack was stopped short. On the day after next we repeated the attack, with stronger forces, but in my opinion the main effort was too far north, whereas on the previous day a reconnaissance battalion of the 2nd Panzer or 2nd SS Panzer further south had gained ground towards the West without meeting resistance worthy of the name. But it is difficult to judge tactical operations from a distance, and must beware of criticizing without knowing the details.

10. Question: Did you order that additional infantry be thrown in to keep open the Falaise-Argentan gap? German resistance against the closing of the pincers was very strong.

Answer: Such an order was not given by the Armed Forces staff; such a measure is an obvious maneuver of Army or Army Group and needed no orders from us.

11. Question: How many divisions were pulled out of Brittany in June-July?

Answer: The following were committed on the beachhead after being pulled out of Brittany in June and July: The 77th, 353rd Infantry Divisions, and the 3rd and 5th Paratroop Divisions. Also one regiment each, so far as I can remember, of the 265th and 275th Infantry Division. In all, that is, 4 2/3 divisions.

12. Question: How many divisions coming from Brittany did you throw against the Avranches breakthrough?

Answer: As far as I can remember, no forces were brought over from the West to combat the American breakthrough at Avranches, as we were too weak in Brittany by then.

13. Question: There were big reservoirs near Ducey on the Sélune river. Why were these not blown up?
Were the subordinate commanders so far surprised by the breakthrough? Apparently the German Air Force later had orders to destroy these dams. Who would be able to tell more on this subject?

Answer: I did not know about the reservoirs at Ducey and hence I do not know the reasons why these were not blown up.

14. Question: Why were no paratroops from the divisions in Italy brought up for the prospective air landing?

Answer: The paratroop divisions in Italy had no training in jumping either. It would have taken 14 days to 3 weeks to bring them up. We didn’t have enough time.

15. Question: When did you believe that you would no longer be able to contain the bridgehead? (Date, or number of divisions disembarked)

Answer: Since 25 July when the heavy attacks were begun by the Americans on the west wing also, I harbored serious doubts whether we could contain the bridgehead at all.

16. Question: Did you observe the concentration of American forces in the area west of St.-Lô before the Avranches breakthrough?

Answer: I cannot remember an exact report of the readying of especially strong American forces west of St.-Lô being received.

17. Question: Did you believe that the Americans, after the breakthrough at Avranches, would turn into Brittany? What operation did you expect?

Answer: We believed that after the breakthrough at Avranches Brittany would be sealed off by a small force while the bulk of the Third American Army would surround the defense line around the bridgehead and roll it up.

Bad Mondorf. 2/8/45
(signed) JODL, Generaloberst.


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