75 Fascinating Facts About D-Day

History Hit

7 mins

06 Jun 2018

Image credit: Commons.

It has been 75 years since the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. To mark the anniversary, here are 75 facts you may not have known about the historic operation.

1. The “D” is derived from the word “Day”, with “D-Day” meaning the day on which a military operation begins. The term D-Day has been used for many different operations, but it is now generally only used to refer to the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944.

2. The invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe was codenamed “Operation Overlord”.

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3. In October 1941, Winston Churchill told Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten to start thinking about an invasion of Europe: “Unless we can go on land and fight Hitler and beat his forces on land, we shall never win this war.”

4. Britain’s Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Morgan was appointed the chief of staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) and in April 1943 was told to prepare for a “full scale assault against the continent”.

5. On 7 December 1943, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with US General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Tunis and told him he would be commanding the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower was put in charge of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) and started work on coordinating and carrying out the Normandy landings.

7. All information pertaining to the invasion was marked “Bigot”, a classification even more secret than “Top Secret”.

8. D-Day was originally planned for 5 June but had to be delayed by 24 hours due to poor weather.

9. Eisenhower smoked up to four packets of Camel cigarettes a day in the months running up to D-Day.

10. In contrast, Montgomery was completely sober. He did not smoke or drink.

11. During the preparation and execution of D-Day, around 17 million maps were drawn up.

A map of Omaha beach showing the locations of beach obstacles and defensive positions

12. Royal Engineers were dispatched in midget submarines to conduct covert assessments of the beaches including collecting sand samples.

13. The commander in chief of the German army in the west was Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who had 850,000 men at his disposal.

14. The D-Day operation aimed at breaching the Atlantic Wall, a series of coastal defences built by Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944 that ran from Norway to the Franco-Spanish border.

15. With an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe seeming ever more likely, in early 1944 Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was tasked with strengthening the Wall.

16. Over 1.2 million tonnes of steel and 17 million cubic metres of concrete were used in building the Wall’s defences, and this included 92 manned radar sites.

17. By the time of the Allied invasion on 6 June, more than 5 million mines had been laid in northern France.

18. More than 260,000 workers helped to build the Atlantic Wall, and only 10 per cent of these were German.

19. Hitler wanted 15,000 concrete strong points to be manned by 300,000 troops. Ultimately though, this would prove impossible to achieve.

20. Almost 1 million US soldiers arrived in the UK between 1942 and 1944 in preparation for D-Day.

General Eisenhower meets with the 101st airborne division on the 5th June. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men as he always did before a stressful operation. Credit: U.S. Army / Commons.

21. The basic pay for a British infantryman was 3 pounds and 15 shillings a month. Unskilled labourers could earn 6 pounds per month.

22. US soldiers earned in the region of £12 per month. As a result, they were very popular with young British women, and 70,000 British women married American servicemen during the war.

23. Approximately 9,000 children were born out of wedlock to American GI fathers.

24. By D-Day, the Americans had shipped over 7 million tonnes of supplies to the UK.

25. The deception plan to keep the Germans guessing as to when and where the invasion would take place was called “Operation Bodyguard”.

26. A fake army made up of inflatable tanks and trucks was created in Kent to fool the Germans into thinking the invasion would take place in the Pas-de-Calais.

27. The Allied deception campaign was so successful that even after D-Day, Hitler still believed the Normandy landings were a diversion to cover an attack in the Pas-de-Calais.

28. There were around 350,000 Resistance members helping the Allies to prepare for D-Day from inside France, but only 100,000 of these had working weapons.

French Resistance fighters with American paratroopers

29. Britain’s Major General Percy Hobart devised several specialist vehicles for the invasion, including armoured bulldozers and swimming tanks, with around 30,000 practice launches for the swimming tanks undertaken.

30. Choppy waters meant many of the Duplex Drive (DD) “swimming tanks” failed to make it to shore. This was particularly true at Omaha beach.

31. In an effort to aid recognition, all Allied aircraft were required to wear invasion stripes, except for readily identifiable heavy bombers and seaplanes.

32. On the eve of D-Day, the Allies had 15,766 aircraft available, and by June 1944, Luftwaffe aircraft were outnumbered by more than 30:1 in the western theatre of the war.

33. Between January and June 1944, British factories produced 7 million jerry cans in preparation for D-Day.

34. During practice landings on Slapton Sands in Devon, 946 Allied soldiers were killed in an attack by German E-boats.

35. The Allied invasion force sailed to a rendezvous area in the middle of the Channel nicknamed “Piccadilly Circus”. From there they would sail to the invasion zones.

36. Around 7,000 vessels of all shapes and sizes were used by the Allies on D-Day, with over 4,000 landing craft were used to transport the invasion force onto the beaches of Normandy.

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37. The oldest Allied battleship in action on D-Day was the USS Arkansas. She was commissioned in 1912.

38. One of the first shots fired from a ship on D-Day was fired by HMS Belfast, a vessel now permanently docked on the River Thames in London.

39. 73,000 US troops and 83,000 British and Canadian troops crossed the channel on D-Day.

40. All American service personnel had been required to take out a $10,000 life insurance policy beforehand.

41. The crossing took around 17 hours.

A second wave of Canadian troops disembarks from landing craft at Juno beach on the Normandy coast, armed with bicycles, shortly before midday on 6 June 1944. Credit: Canadian Official photographer / Commons.

43. The Landing Ship Tank (LST) could carry 20 tanks, 400 battle ready troops or 2,100 tonnes of supplies.

44. Modified Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) were able to fire rockets. These LCTs fired over 14,000 rockets on D-Day.

45. Shortly after midnight on 6 June, around 24,000 US, British and Canadian airborne troops began landing in France.

46. Just one in six Allied paratroopers landed in the correct place.

47. John Steele, a US paratrooper dropping in to Sainte-Mere Eglise on the night of 5 June, was left hanging from the church when his parachute became stuck. He was taken prisoner by the Germans but later escaped. Today, an effigy of John Steele hangs from his parachute on the church in Sainte-Mere Eglise.

48. The Germans had a number of remote control “Goliath” tanks that carried 224 pounds of explosives.

49. Allied aircraft dropped 7.2 million pounds of bombs on D-Day.

50. The Allies didn’t lose a single plane to the Luftwaffe, although anti-aircraft fire did shoot down 113 planes.

51. The Allies landed on five beaches in Normandy. These had been codenamed “Utah”, “Omaha”, “Gold”, “Juno” and “Sword”.

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52. Lt. Den Brotheridge was the first Allied casualty of D-Day. He was mortally wounded during the glider assault on the Orne bridges.

53. The first building in France to be liberated during Operation Overlord was a cafe next to Pegasus Bridge.

54. As part of the D-Day operation, 2,240 SAS troops were dropped across the French coastline. They were tasked with diverting attention from the real invasion areas.

55. The men who took part in the first assault wave on Utah beach had just a 50/50 chance of survival.

56. The Germans had 110 artillery pieces overlooking Utah beach, with another 18 large batteries situated inland.

57. The landing on Utah beach was ultimately successful with just 300 casualties of the 20,000 men put ashore.

58. On Omaha beach, the US 116th Infantry Regiment’s A Company lost 96 per cent of its effective strength in one hour.

American soldiers recover the dead after D-Day. Source: U.S. Army / Commons.

59. Of the 34,000 men who landed on Omaha on D-Day, 2,400 were killed.

60. When US Army Rangers climbed to the top of Pointe du Hoc – the plan being to knock out heavy duty artillery that was one of the main reasons for the assault on that particular beach – they found that German guns were not there.

61. The British landed 24,970 troops on Gold beach with 400 casualties.

62. On Juno beach, the Canadians suffered 1,200 casualties but also managed to advance up to six miles inland within a few hours.

63. On Sword beach, meanwhile, 28,845 men were set ashore with just 630 casualties.

64. The only Victoria Cross awarded for D-Day went to Company Sergeant-Major Stanley Hollis of the Green Howards.

65. Just twenty one per cent of Allied forces wounded on D-Day were operated on within one hour.

66. Two temporary harbours called “Mulberries” were built to unload supplies.

67. Sections of mulberry harbour can still be seen today at Arromanches

68, The steel beach obstacles known as hedgehogs were later broken up and fixed to the front of tanks to help them grapple sections of hedgerow

The situation at the end of 6 June

69. Within 100 days of D-Day, 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of equipment and rations had been unloaded in France.

70. In order to continue supplying fuel to the invasion armies, the so-called “PipeLine Under The Ocean” (PLUTO) was laid. This delivered Allied fuel directly from England to France. US tanks were consuming an average 8,000 gallons of fuel per week at that time.

71. Only Hitler could order the German Panzers to counter-attack the Allied invasion on D-Day. But he slept until midday on 6 June.

72. By the end of the day, the Allies had established a foothold along the Normandy coast and could begin their advance into France.

73. Although the Allied forces who took part in the D-Day operation were primarily from Britain, the US and Canada, they also had Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air and ground support.

74. D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history.

75. D-Day was only the first chapter of the Normandy Campaign that would see Allied forces push through France to liberate Paris.