November 9, 2010


THE INVASION OF NORMANDY, or D-Day (also known as Operation Overload) began on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 at 6:30 A.M. The assault was carried out in two phases: by air, landing 24,000 British, American, and Free French troops shortly after midnight, and by amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisons. In all 175,000 troops were engaged in the assault.  Meanwhile the Allies created decoy operations  code-named Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable, meant to distract the Germans from the real landing area.

D-DAY June 6, 1944 (03:15m)

Operation Overland was the largest amphibious invasion of all time with over 160,000 troops, 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel combined in an armada of over 5,000 ships.  Massive numbers of soldiers, and materiel from the UK were transported by troop-laden aircraft, ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel and naval fire-support. The landings took place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: the beaches of UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD.

For the amphibious landings to succeed the allies had to establish a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead in order to permit the build up of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counterattacks.  In an effort to destroy the enemy's ability to reorganize and launch counterattacks, the Allies relied on airborne operations to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, in particular on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings were made some distance behind the beaches and were meant to ease the advance of amphibious forces along the beaches - in addition to neutralizing German coastal defence batteries. Thus the Allies would more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.

Airborne Operations

The British 6th  Airborne Division had the mission to (a) to capture intact the bridges of the Bénouville-Ranville crossing, (b) to defend the crossing against the inevitable armoured counter-attacks, (c) to destroy German artillery at the Merville battery, which threatened Sword Beach, and (d) to destroy five bridges over the Dives River to further restrict movement of ground forces from the east.

The British Airborne troops consisted of paratroopers of the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades, as well as from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. They began landing after midnight, June 6th and immediately encountered elements of the German 716th Infantry Division. At dawn, the Battle Group von Luck of the 21st Panzer Division counterattacked from the south on both sides of the Orne River. By this time the paratroopers had established a defensive perimeter surrounding the bridgehead. Casualties were heavy on both sides, but the airborne troops held. Shortly after noon, they were reinforced by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade. By the end of D-Day, 6th Airborne had accomplished each of its objectives. For several days, both British and German forces took heavy casualties as they battled fiercely for positions around the Orne bridgehead.  On June 10th the German 346th Infantry Division broke through the eastern edge of the defensive line but two days later the British paratroopers were able to overwhelm the entrenched panzergrenadiers in the Battle of Bréville. After that the Germans did not pose a threat to the bridgehead again.

The U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were less fortunate in completing their main objectives. In order to achieve surprise, the Allies had to make massive drops were made approaching Normandy from the west during the night. As a result, 45% of the troops were widely scattered and unable to rally. This tactic was not used again for the rest of the war.

Three regiments of 101st Airborne paratroopers were dropped first, followed by the 82nd Airborne.. Each operation involved approximately 400 C-47 aircraft. Two pre-dawn glider landings brought in anti-tank guns and support troops for each division. On the evening of D-Day two additional glider landings brought in two battalions of artillery and 24 howitzers to the 82nd Airborne. Additional glider operations on 7 June delivered the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment to the 82nd Airborne, and two large supply parachute drops that date were ineffective.

After 24 hours only a third of the force dropped. The dispersal of the American airborne troops, however, had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.  Moreover, the Germans' defensive flooding also helped to protect the Americans' southern flank.

Paratroopers continued to roam and fight behind enemy lines for days. Many consolidated into small groups, rallied with NCOs or junior officers, and usually were a hodgepodge of men from different companies, battalions, regiments, or even divisions. The 82nd occupied the town of Sainte-Mère-Église early in the morning of June 6th, giving it the claim of the first town liberated in the invasion.


The assault on Sword Beach began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the DD tanks of 13th/18th Hussars followed closely by the infantry of 8th Brigade.

The regular British infantry came ashore and suffered light casualties. Although they were able to advance about 8 kilometres (5 mi) by the end of the day, they did not achieve some of the targets established by Montgomery.  Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands by the end of the day and would remain so until mid July.

1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No.4 Commando with the two French Troops first. The 1st Special Service Brigade's landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin.

The British and French of No.4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham: the French, a blockhouse and the Casino, the British, two German batteries which overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.


The Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach faced 2 heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75 mm guns, as well as machine-gun nests, pillboxes, other concrete fortifications, and a seawall twice the height of the one at Omaha Beach. The first wave suffered 50% casualties, the second highest of the five D-Day beachheads. The use of armour was successful at Juno, in some instances actually landing ahead of the infantry as intended and helping clear a path inland.

 Canadian 9th Infantry Brigade deploying in Nan White Sector D Day 1944

Canadian soldiers on Juno Beach D Day 1944

Royal Winnipeg Rifles advance inland D Day 1944

German soldiers captured by Canadian troops D Day 1944

Canadian soldiers capture German prisoners incl officers

 Corporal Victor Deblois of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere guards German prisoners
Juno Beach - D Day 1944

Despite the obstacles, the Canadians were off the beach within hours and beginning their advance inland. A single troop of four tanks managed to reach the final objective phase line, but hastily retreated, having outrun its infantry support. In particular, two fortified positions at the Douvres Radar Station remained in German hands (and would for several days until captured by British commandos), and no link had been established with Sword Beach.

By the end of D-Day, 30,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water's edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) Panzer divisions on June 7th and 8th.


At Gold Beach, the casualties were also quite heavy, partly because the swimming Sherman DD tanks were delayed, and the Germans had strongly fortified a village on the beach. However, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division overcame these difficulties and advanced almost to the outskirts of Bayeux by the end of the day. With the exception of the Canadians at Juno Beach, no division came closer to its objectives than the 50th.

No.47 (RM) Commando was the last British Commando unit to land and came ashore on Gold east of La Hamel. Their task was to proceed inland then turn right (west) and make a 16-kilometre (10 mi) march through enemy territory to attack the coastal harbour of Port en Bessin from the rear. This small port, on the British extreme right, was well sheltered in the chalk cliffs and significant in that it was to be a prime early harbour for supplies to be brought in including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore.


Elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division (US) faced the recently formed German 352nd Infantry Division, a mixed group of Russian "volunteers" and teenagers stiffened with a cadre of east front veterans, unusual in the fact that it was one of the few German divisions remaining with a full complement of three regiments albeit at reduced strength; fifty percent of its officers had no combat experience. However, Allied intelligence was unaware until two weeks before the planned invasion that the 100km stretch of beach originally allocated to be defended by the 716th Infantry Division (static) had been cut into two parts in March, with the 716th moving to the "Caen Zone", and the 352nd taking over the "Bayeux Zone", thus doubling the complement of defenders.

Omaha was also the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery, and the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only 2 survived the landing. The official record stated that "within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue".

American survivors of sunken transport D Day
Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings. The heavily defended draws, the only vehicular routes off the beach, could not be taken and two hours after the first assault the beach was closed for all but infantry landings. Commanders (including General Omar Bradley) considered abandoning the beachhead, but small units of infantry, often forming ad hoc groups, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defenses by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.


Casualties on Utah Beach, the westernmost landing zone, were the lightest of any beach, with 197 out of the roughly 23,000 troops that landed. The 4th Infantry Division troops landing at Utah Beach found themselves in the wrong positions because of a current that pushed their landing craft to the southeast. Instead of landing at Tare Green and Uncle Red sectors, they came ashore at Victor sector, which was lightly defended, and as a result, relatively little German opposition was encountered. The 4th Infantry Division was able to press inland relatively easily over beach exits that had been seized from the inland side by the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. This was partially by accident, because their planned landing was further down the beach (Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the Asst. Commander of 4th Division, upon discovering the landings were off course, was famous for stating "We will start the war from right here.") . By early afternoon, the 4th Infantry Division had succeeded in linking up with elements of the 101st. American casualties were light, and the troops were able to press inward much faster than expected, making it a near-complete success.

The Polish Armed Forces (army, air force and navy), reinforced by compatriots released from the Soviet Union also participated in Operation Overlord. The Polish 1st Armored Division under the command of General Maczek transfered a total of  16 000 men, 380 tanks and 470 guns to France and formed part of the Canadian Corps which won the battles of Falaise and Chambois (August 18 to 22, 1944) and where it closed the “cauldron” thus cutting off the retreating German divisions. They also liberated the cities of Abeville, St. Omar and Cassel in France, as well as Ypres and Gent in Belgium and Breda (October 28 to 30, 1944) in the Netherlands, finally capturing the German seaport of Wilhelmshaven. The Division covered a route of 1800 km, destroyed 260 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, loosing 4600 soldiers, including more than a 1000 of casualties. In September 1944 the 1st Parachute Brigade was airdropped near Arnhem in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden and suffered great losses.

1st Polish Armoured Division

1st Polish Armed Forces Normandy
Many of Polish vessels were involved in the "D - Day": The ORP Dragon, a cruiser and four other destroyers. On 8 June 1944, ORP Błyskawica, a Grom-class destroyer took part in a battle with the German destroyers at Ushant.

Polish Destroyer ORP Blyskawica
The ORP Dragon saw action at the Normandy Landings as part of Operation Neptune, shelling German shore batteries at Colleville-sur-Orne and at Trouville (Sword Beach)from a distance of four kilometres. A near miss by a German 105mm (4 in) shore battery gun wounded three sailors. She withdrew under cover of Ramillies and Roberts, whose fire destroyed the battery. In the evening of D-Day she moved to Juno Beach sector, to support the advancing Allied troops. The following day the ship shelled German positions in and around the town of Caen. However, on June 8th a communication systems failure prevented the ship from launching further bombing. It was not until late at night that she again opened fire against the German 21st Panzer Division near Varaville. The following day she took part in an artillery duel with a shore battery at Houlgate, after which she returned to Portsmouth for refuelling and supplies. Between 12 June and 17 June she again shelled German positions near Caen, Gouneville, Lébisey and Varaville. During that time she also evaded a torpedo attack by an unknown submarine. On 18 June she was bound for Portsmouth escorting Nelson which had struck by a mine.

Polish Cruiser ORP Dragon
(June 6, 1944 to August 25, 1944) comprised of troops from many Allies:


By end of August 1944, over 2 million Allied troops were in Northern France alone.  Victory came at a heavy cost. The Allies suffered 226,386 casualties, 4,101 planes, and 4,000 tanks were lost.  Over 19,000 French civilians perished.

Visit also D Day: The Invasion of Normandy - Sights and Sounds

(13 TV clips & 14 radio clips)


  1. Interesting site, but the photo captioned 'Canadian troops begin to advance inland' actually shows a group of marching German prisoners.

  2. You are right. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I apologize for the oversight and have made the correction; the caption now reads "German soldiers captured by Canadian troops D-Day 1944". I have also added four new photos: Canadian 9th Infantry Brigade, Canadian soldiers on Juno Beach, Winnipeg Rifles advance inland on D-Day, and Corporal Victor Debois guards German prisoners.