What was D-Day?

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Use these sources to learn more about D-Day.

What were the circumstances that prompted D-Day?

  • Liberation of Western Europe

    Hitler standing at the Trocadero, Paris
    HU 3266

    By 1944 Germany occupied large parts of Europe. Planning for D-Day began when Stalin called for Great Britain and the USA to open a second front in Western Europe. The Russians had been doing the majority of the fighting against Germany, in the East, and wanted the USA and Great Britain to launch an invasion in the West to ease the pressure on them. Opening a second front would mean that Germany would have to divide their army, making for fewer troops in each place.

How did the Allied forces prepare for D-Day?

  • D-Day leaders

    The Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force
    TR 1629

    These men, from the Army, Navy and Air Force, were in charge of the invasion of German-occupied France. The man seated in the middle is General Dwight D Eisenhower who was in overall charge. Later on he would become President of the United States of America between 1953 and 1961.

  • Deciding where to Invade

    Choosing the landing beaches
    MH 1997

    The first key decision was to choose the location of the invasion beaches. Planners collected postcards and photographs from people who had been to Normandy (in northern France) on holiday for evidence as to what the coast looked like, but this photograph was taken from an aircraft.  It was used to orientate the troops landing on this section of the coast, codenamed Sword Beach.

  • Investigating the beaches

    Diving suit
    UNI 3914

    To make sure the beaches could handle the weight of the tanks, trucks and other vehicles that would take part in the invasion, men were sent ashore from submarines to collect samples of sand. Tanks could not easily travel over pebble beaches. This diving suit was used by Lieutenant Rollo Mangnall to investigate the potential landing beaches.

  • Getting ready on the South coast of England

    Preparations for D-Day by Richard Eurich
    Art.IWM ART LD 4587

    The invasion involved thousands of men, vehicles and tonnes of equipment. The majority of these things would have to go by sea and so the ports and harbours of south and south western Britain became inundated with ships of all shapes and sizes from the Allied navies.

How did Germany defend the French coast against Allied invasion?

  • German sea defences

    The Atlantic Wall
    A 23992

    The Germans had built a large network of fortifications and beach defences along the coast of France to defend them from a possible Allied invasion. Dealing with these obstacles was one of the biggest problems for the planners of D-Day. The defences shown in this photograph were designed to tear the bottom out of landing craft when concealed at high tide.

How did the Allies set out to confuse the German army, hiding plans for D-Day?

  • Confusing the enemy

    Code-named 'Window'
    E(MOS) 1451

    The Allies used various tactics to trick the Germans that the landings would happen at Pas de Calais, the shortest crossing point from England to France. This photo shows a factory worker producing foil, code-named “window”. “Window” was strips of aluminium which were dropped by aircraft in order to confuse German radar. Radar uses sound waves to detect the presence of moving objects, however it cannot tell how large an object is, whether it is an aircraft, ship or in fact a strip of foil.

  • A fake invasion

    Flight Lieutenant Les Munro
    TR 999

    Flight Lieutenant Les Munro, from New Zealand, dropped “Window” from his aircraft on D-Day to make it appear that there was an invasion fleet off Calais. In 1943 he had taken part in the Dambusters raid. This photograph shows him talking to King George VI.

How was the invasion carried out?

  • Destroying the German defences

    Naval bombardment of the German defences
    A 24325

    This photograph shows the ship, HMS Belfast, firing her 4 inch guns at night.  Using her guns, HMS Belfast’s role on D-Day was to destroy enemy defences and to stop German reinforcements making for the beaches.

  • Amphibious landing craft

    British troops going ashore at Sword Beach
    B 5102

    Amphibious landing craft were used to transport troops and vehicles from ships to the beaches. Specially designed tanks had been made that could travel over land and sea. Tidal conditions and heavy defences on Sword Beach meant there was not much room to land.  This caused the congestion of armoured vehicles that can be seen on the beach in this photograph.

  • Landing with bicycles

    Canadians landing at Juno Beach
    A 23938

    Canadian troops landing in the Juno Beach area shortly before midday, 6 June 1944. The men are carrying bicycles to help them move inland quickly, without having to wait for heavier transport.

  • Invading by air

    A Crashed Horsa Glider by Albert Richards
    Art.IWM ART LD 6288 a

    Troops were also landed by air, as well as sea. Those transported by air would either land by parachute or by glider. The gliders were designed to be used once and, as they were made of wood and canvas, were easily damaged on landing. Gliders carried men and equipment, including lightweight tanks. Gliders had the advantage of being very quiet aircraft.

How did the Allies bring supplies to Northern France?

  • Bringing over supplies

    Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches by Stephen Bone
    Art.IWM ART LD 4607

    Some equipment could be brought in across the beaches, but this would not be enough to sustain the huge numbers of men landing in France after D-Day. Until such a time as a port could be captured, the Allies needed a method with which to land large quantities of supplies and equipment. Two prefabricated harbours were designed and built in Britain and then towed across to Normandy where they provided shelter and moorings for supply ships.

  • Bringing over fuel

    PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean)
    T 54

    To provide enough fuel for the thousands of vehicles in France a plan was devised to lay a pipe under the sea and pump the petrol across from Britain. This was less risky than transporting fuel in ships which were vulnerable to German attack. This photo shows petrol pipes wound around the large drum of pipe called a ‘Conundrum’ ready to be laid on the sea floor. Pluto was a success, guaranteeing a fuel supply for Allied vehicles.

Was D-Day a success?

  • The liberation of Paris

    Cheering crowds in Paris 25th August 1944
    BU 21

    It could not be assured that D-Day would be a success and if the landings had failed, General Eisenhower had written a statement accepting full responsibility. This message was never sent as the landings succeeded and the subsequent breakout was the beginning of the campaign in the west to defeat Germany. The fighting in Normandy continued until August 1944 and on the 25th August Paris was liberated. Despite the success of D-Day there were over 10,000 casualties; killed, wounded and missing that day. The Second World War ended on the 8th May 1945 which is  known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day).

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