50 facts and figures about D-Day
Using sources like the D-Day Center, the Department of Defense, and the White House, as well as media reports, historical accounts, and information from memorial sites and museums, Stacker compiled a list of 50 facts and figures that defined the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.
By the late spring of 1944, Nazi Germany was being squeezed from two sides. Allied forces in Western Europe had slowed Adolph Hitler’s ruthless and relentless campaign of conquest and murder across the continent. In the East, the Russians were putting enormous pressure on German forces who were locked in a brutal war of attrition. Nazi Germany, however, was still firmly lodged in the continental fortress it had created, and scores of conquered nations were suffering under the brutality of their occupation.
Then came D-Day.
On that day, Allied planes, ships, vehicles, supplies, and men from the U.K., U.S., France, and Canada stormed the coast of occupied France’s Normandy region in numbers so staggering that they’re hard to comprehend. The most massive undertaking in the history of warfare, the Normandy landings—or D-Day—were years in the making. Supported by meticulous planning and cunning deception, D-Day was a gargantuan effort to dislodge from Europe one of the most effective and destructive war machines ever assembled.
For the individual human beings who stormed the beaches, however, it was a day of chaos, terror, and death. Normandy became the final resting place for thousands.
The initial punch of the D-Day landings was the start of a grueling, monthslong battle that culminated with the liberation of Nazi-occupied Paris. The German defenders, however, did everything they could to prevent that from happening. The Nazis used the wealth they plundered from the countries they conquered—not to mention armies of slave laborers they captured—to construct defensive fortifications that remain among the largest and most robust military entrenchments ever built. Those fortifications were manned by well-armed and battle-hardened German troops who fought savagely to defend the real estate they were charged with holding.
The result was one of the most epic battles in human history. Keep reading to learn 50 fascinating facts and figures behind one of history’s most consequential days at the beach.
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It was the largest amphibious assault in history
Although it’s based in mythology, the Greek siege of ancient Troy is probably the most famous and romanticized amphibious assault in history. The Normandy invasion, however, was very real, and it was the largest water-borne attack ever to take place on any shoreline anywhere at any time.
[Pictured: Robert Sargent’s iconic D-Day photograph “Into the Jaws of Death.”]
The ‘D’ in D-Day is redundant
The “D” in D-Day stands for “Day,” the traditional military protocol used to indicate the day of a major operation. The day before D-Day, June 5, was D-1. The day after, June 7, was D+1.
[Pictured: Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, "Full victory, nothing else," to paratroopers in England prior to the Normandy invasion.]
Secrecy and deception were key
In what the Saturday Evening Post calls “the century’s best-kept secret,” the Allies bluffed the enemy with a yearslong series of elaborate ruses known collectively as Operation Fortitude, which was designed to trick the Germans as to Allied intentions. They spread misinformation through false news reports, planted intelligence, and false radio broadcasts that were designed to be intercepted by the enemy. They also created fake armored columns of make-believe tanks comprised of wood and rubber, fake troop encampments, and launched fleets of inflatable dummy warships.
[Pictured: Nazi leader Adolf Hitler stands with Heinrich Himmler and staff while looking across the English Channel from Calais in August 1940.]
The practice run turned deadly
Called Exercise Tiger, a D-Day dress rehearsal proved as fatal as Omaha Beach to around 700 Allied sailors and soldiers who died in a training exercise at a friendly British beach. Speedy German attack vessels called E-boats became aware of the maneuver and attacked the Allied flotilla, sinking several ships with torpedoes. Some survivors who went on to storm the beaches of Normandy later recalled that the Exercise Tiger fiasco was more terrifying than D-Day itself.
[Pictured: American troops on Slapton Sands in England during a training exercise.]
German defenses were the war’s biggest construction project
The Germans had been anticipating an Allied invasion by sea since at least 1942. To prepare, they began construction that year of what’s known as the Atlantic Wall, an enormous defensive fortification stretching from the west coast of Norway, down through Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France to the border of Spain. Bristling with weapons, bunkers, and early warning systems, the Atlantic Wall—completed in 1944—is remembered as one of the greatest feats of military engineering in history.
[Pictured: Construction on a portion of the Atlantic Wall in France in 1942.]
Forces landed on five code-named beaches
The landing zones were code-named as part of the massive effort to maintain secrecy. The Americans landed at Omaha and Utah beaches, the British at Gold and Sword, and the Canadians and British at Juno Beach.
[Pictured: Map details the Allied Invasion of Normandy.]
Omaha Beach was the hardest fought
The movie “Saving Private Ryan” depicts events that took place at Omaha Beach, the deadliest of all five landing zones and one where the German defenses remained almost entirely intact. The first infantry wave at Omaha experienced the worst carnage of the D-Day campaign, with large sections of entire companies killed or drowned before ever reaching the shore or firing a shot. In the end, U.S. forces suffered 2,400 casualties on Omaha Beach.
[Pictured: American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, who stormed Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.]
A massive bombardment preceded the invasion
The mighty German Atlantic Wall and its sprawling coastal fortifications were the targets of a crushing Allied aerial bombardment that preceded the infantry invasion. On June 6 shortly after midnight, 2,200 Allied bombers attacked German positions to soften the landing zones for amphibious troops. One of the reasons that Omaha Beach was so bloody is that thick cloud coverage in that area rendered the bombing campaign at Omaha ineffective, leaving enemy infrastructure—and guns—in perfect working order.
[Pictured: Soldiers load 2,000-pound bombs on aircraft in England prior to D-Day.]
Thousands of paratroopers landed first
After the aerial bombardment but before the beach landings, 24,000 American, Canadian, and British paratroopers parachuted in behind enemy lines to secure the beaches’ exits. The same heavy cloud coverage that hindered the Omaha Beach bombardment also foiled the paratroopers. Many units ended up far away from their intended landing zones amid the chaos.
[Pictured: A U.S. infantry paratroop regiment are shown inside a C-47 transport in England in the early hours of June 6, 1944.]
Canadian forces captured the most ground
The Canadians attacking Juno Beach suffered carnage similar to what the Americans experienced at Omaha, particularly the first wave of troops, many of whom died before reaching the shore thanks to rough seas and relentless Nazi artillery. In the end, however, it was the Canadians who captured more towns, more strategic positions, and more ground than any other battalions.
[Pictured: Canadian soldiers land on the beach in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.]2018 All rights reserved.