D-Day: How Many Men Were Involved in the Invasion of Normandy and How Many Casualties Were There? | History Hit

D-Day: How Many Men Were Involved in the Invasion of Normandy and How Many Casualties Were There?

Laura Mackenzie

02 Jun 2019
Image Credit: American soldiers recover the dead after D-Day. (Image Credit: U.S. Army / Public Domain).

As the largest amphibious invasion in history, the figures for D-Day are extraordinary. The operation, codenamed “Overlord”, took several years of careful planning and involved huge numbers of Allied troops, aircraft and vessels.

Given the sheer scale and nature of the invasion, the casualties were always going to be high; the operation involved breaching the Germans’ Atlantic Wall – a series of coastal defences running from Norway to the Franco-Spanish border that included more than 5 million mines in northern France alone. But in the end, the death toll was nowhere near as high as had been feared.

How many men were involved?

Launched on 6 June 1944, the Allied invasion of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France was rolled out in several stages.

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It began with an assault of around 24,000 US, British and Canadian airborne troops, who landed in France shortly after midnight. Seaborne troops then began coming ashore at 6.30am along a 50-mile front. The landings were carried out in waves across five beaches along the Normandy coastline, with the first wave of troops facing the lowest chances of survival.

American forces landed on two beaches codenamed “Utah” and “Omaha”, while British forces landed on “Gold” and “Sword” beaches and Canadian forces on “Juno”.

By midnight, 132,000 Allied forces had landed in France. Two million men in total would eventually be sent across the English Channel.

How many casualties were there?

No one will ever know exactly how many people died on D-Day although it is commonly thought that around 10,500 Allied forces were killed, missing or wounded. The death toll alone has traditionally been estimated to be 2,500 but recent research suggests it may in fact be twice as high.

The figures are even murkier for German casualties, with estimations ranging from 4,000 to 9,000.

The bodies of US troops lie on Omaha beach.

Casualties were a mixed picture across the five beaches. On Utah, the US 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops at a cost of only 197 casualties.

But casualties were far higher on the other US target, Omaha beach. One US unit landing there in the first wave lost 90 per cent of its men. In total, around 4,000 Americans were killed or wounded on Omaha.

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On Gold beach, casualty rates were around 80 per cent lower.

The confusion around the death tolls is not unusual; it is often difficult to get accurate counts for a single day of battle or single military campaign. This is largely the result of fighters dying after the day on which they sustained their injuries, as well as just the general fog and confusion of war. And these issues were magnified for D-Day due to the scale of the operation.

Laura Mackenzie