Today on June 6, 1944, the long-anticipated D-Day invasion begins, as Allied soldiers land on the beaches of Normandy.
The Invasion of Normandy, commonly known as D-Day, was a watershed moment of the Second World War. Codenamed Operation Neptune, it became the largest amphibious invasion in history. The massive invasion force consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian soldiers. In total, more than 150,000 troops crossed the English Channel into France. The Allied commanders spent almost a year planning for the operation. Hitler had diverted crucial resources away from the western front towards defending his eastern territory. The German invasion of Russia resulted in disaster, and the Germans were merely spread out too thin. Now was the opportune moment for the allies to launch an attack.
France and the Low Countries had quickly fallen under Nazi control back in 1940. However, Hitler constantly feared an invasion attempt along the coast. Two years later, he ordered the construction of his “Atlantic Wall” and boldly proclaimed to be the greatest fortification builder in history. The German defenses spanned from Spain to Norway. In early 1940, he tapped Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to take command of the German forces in Northern France. Tasked with making final improvements to the coastal fortifications, Rommel prepared for an eventual seaborne attack. He had roughly 50,000 soldiers at his disposal with 170 coastal artillery batteries ready to fire. The challenge for Rommel was deciding where to focus his efforts.
Days before the invasion, more than 24,000 paratroopers were sent behind enemy lines to support the main assault. The 50-mile target coastline was divided into five landing sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The first infantry divisions began landing at 6:30 am and were immediately under heavy fire. The Germans preemptively filled the beaches with dangerous obstacles, including explosive mines, booby traps, barbed wire, wooden stakes, and tripods. While the Allied landings were ultimately successful, the initial progress was slow. Another week passed before the five beachheads were connected. The combined casualty numbers exceeded 15,000 on the first day alone.