IWM Staff
Thursday 4 January 2018
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1. D-Day was the start of Operation 'Overlord' - the Allied invasion of Occupied Europe

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1. D-Day was the start of Operation 'Overlord' - the Allied invasion of Occupied Europe

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. Codenamed Operation 'Overlord', the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches marked the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation. Early on 6 June, Allied airborne forces parachuted into drop zones across northern France. Ground troops then landed across five assault beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, the Allies had established a foothold along the coast and could begin their advance into France.

Troops of the US 7th Corps wading ashore on Utah Beach. Note the identifying bands worn on the left sleeve.
© IWM (EA 51048)
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2. 'Overlord' opened the long-awaited second front against Germany

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2. 'Overlord' opened the long-awaited second front against Germany

The defeat of Germany was acknowledged as the western Allies’ principal war aim as early as December 1941. Opening a second front would relieve pressure on the Soviet Union in the east and the liberation of France would weaken Germany’s overall position in western Europe. The invasion, if successful, would drain German resources and block access to key military sites. Securing a bridgehead in Normandy would allow the Allies to establish a viable presence in northern Europe for the first time since 1940.

a map of France, set against a blue, white and red background of the French Tricolore. The Cross of Lorraine, symbol of the Free French, is placed in the lower right. text: HONNEUR ET PATRIE LA FRANCE VOUS PARLE... LIBERATION LIBERATION LIBERATION LIBERATION A l [?] des F.F.C. VISA DE CENSURE : No.13.
French poster. Translation reads: 'Honour and Country, France Speaks to You'. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 3104)
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3. D-Day required detailed planning

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3. D-Day required detailed planning

Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan and his team of British, American and Canadian officers submitted plans for the invasion in July 1943. Although limited planning for an invasion of Europe began soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, detailed preparations for Operation 'Overlord' did not begin until after the Tehran Conference in late 1943. A command team led by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower was formed in December 1943 to plan the naval, air and land operations. Deception campaigns were developed to draw German attention - and strength - away from Normandy. To build up resources for the invasion, British factories increased production and in the first half of 1944 approximately 9 million tonnes of supplies and equipment crossed the Atlantic from North America to Britain. A substantial Canadian force had been building up in Britain since December 1939 and over 1.4 million American servicemen arrived during 1943 and 1944 to take part in the landings.

A coastal scene looking out to sea with an island on the left horizon. In the central foreground tanks line up for loading on board ship, through gaping red metal doors opening into a dark hold. On the right there are seven bell-tents, more tanks and a small group operating a smoke-screen generator. Beyond a central bank of trees the sea is covered with receding lines of ships in camouflage colours with a line of barrage balloons in the sky on the left.
Preparations for D-Day 1944, by Richard Eurich.
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4. D-Day was an international effort

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4. D-Day was an international effort

D-Day required unprecedented cooperation between international armed forces. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was an international coalition and although the Allies were united against Germany, the military leadership responsible for 'Overlord' had to overcome political, cultural and personal tensions. By 1944, over 2 million troops from over 12 countries were in Britain in preparation for the invasion. On D-Day, Allied forces consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian troops but also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air or ground support.

 a depiction of a tank driving over barbed wire fencing. The tank's wheels are covered with the flags of various Allied nations. text: TOUS ENSEMBLE, POUR UNE SEULE VICTOIRE L'UNION FAIT LA FORCE L'AGRESSION DES PUISSANCES DE L'AXE Deux tiers des nations du monde travaillent et combattent aux côtes des Nations Unies pour la victoire.
French poster. Translation reads: 'All Together, for a Single Victory'. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 15707)
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5. D-Day was the largest naval, air and land operation in history

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5. D-Day was the largest naval, air and land operation in history

The invasion was conducted in two main phases - an airborne assault and amphibious landings. Shortly after midnight on 6 June, over 18,000 Allied paratroopers were dropped into the invasion area to provide tactical support for infantry divisions on the beaches. Allied air forces flew over 14,000 sorties in support of the landings and, having secured air supremacy prior to the invasion, many of these flights were unchallenged by the Luftwaffe. Nearly 7,000 naval vessels, including battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, escorts and assault craft took part in Operation 'Neptune', the naval component of 'Overlord'. Naval forces were responsible for escorting and landing over 132,000 ground troops on the beaches. They also carried out bombardments on German coastal defences before and during the landings and provided artillery support for the invading troops.

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6. German defences in Normandy varied in effectiveness

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6. German defences in Normandy varied in effectiveness

Germany tried to defend the northern coast of France with a series of fortifications known as the 'Atlantic Wall'. However, German defenceswere often incomplete and insufficiently manned. Members of the French Resistance and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) provided intelligence and helped weaken defences through sabotage. The Allied deception campaigns succeeded in convincing the Germans as late as July 1944 that the main invasion force would still land elsewhere. The threat of this larger, second invasion kept German reinforcements tied down away from Normandy. Defence also suffered from the complex and often confused command structure of the German Army as well as the constant interference of Adolf Hitler in military matters. However, the Allies faced a number of setbacks both on 6 June and in the months that followed. On D-Day, the Americans came close to defeat on Omaha partially because the preliminary air and naval bombardment failed to knock out strong defence points, but also because they faced highly effective German troops who had gained hard-earned experience on the Eastern Front. Throughout the Battle of Normandy, the technical superiority of their tanks and anti-tank weapons, as well as the tactical skill of their commanders, gave German forces an advantage over the Allies. However, the Germans were never able to fully exploit their successes or the weaknesses of the Allies in a decisive way.

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7. D-Day was possible because of allied efforts elsewhere

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7. D-Day was possible because of allied efforts elsewhere

D-Day was made possible because of Allied efforts across all fronts, both before and after June 1944. In planning D-Day, Allied commanders drew important lessons from previous failures at Dieppe in France and Anzio in Italy. The Allied strategic bombing campaign, which began in 1942, weakened German industry and forced Germany to commit manpower and resources away from Normandy to home defence. Securing air superiority allowed the Allies to carry out aerial reconnaissance, giving them vital intelligence on German coastal defences. D-Day also depended on Allied control of the Atlantic, which was finally achieved in 1943 through victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. The campaign in Italy directed German troops away from the Western and Eastern Fronts. The Soviet Belorussian offensive, Operation 'Bagration', was launched just after 'Overlord' and destroyed the entire German Army Group Centre. It also kept German forces tied down in the east. Ten weeks after D-Day, the Allies launched a second invasion on the southern coast of France and began a simultaneous advance towards Germany.

In the foreground a female tank worker holds a bouquet of flowers and rests her hand on the gun barrel of a completed Soviet T-34 tank. In the background workers construct two other T-34 tanks. text: [cyrillic Russian].
Russian poster. Translation reads: 'The Victory is close at hand! More help to the front!'
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8. There is more to Normandy than D-Day

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8. There is more to Normandy than D-Day

The importance of D-Day often overshadows the overall significance of the entire Normandy campaign. Establishing a bridgehead was critical, but it was just the first step. In the three months after D-Day, the Allies launched a series of additional offensives to try and advance further inland. These operations varied in success and the Allies faced strong and determined German resistance. The bocage - a peculiarity of the Normandy landscape characterised by sunken lanes bordered by high, thick hedgerows - was difficult to penetrate and placed the advantage with the German defenders. Yet the bloody and protracted Battle of Normandy was a decisive victory for the Allies and paved the way for the liberation of much of north-west Europe.

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9. North-west Europe was the most significant campaign fought by the Western Allies

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9. North-west Europe was the most significant campaign fought by the Western Allies

'Overlord' did not bring an end to the war in Europe, but it did begin the process through which victory was eventually achieved. By the end of August 1944, the German Army was in full retreat from France, but by September Allied momentum had slowed. The Germans were able to regroup and launched a failed but determined counter-offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944. This defeat sapped German manpower and resources and allowed the Allies to resume their advance towards Germany. In March 1945, British and American troops crossed the Rhine, eventually linking up with Soviet forces in Germany - as shown in this photograph. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.

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10. There were many 'D-Days' throughout the war

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10. There were many 'D-Days' throughout the war

In this cartoon, one man says to the other: 'When they call us D-Day Dodgers, which D-Day do they mean, old man?' 'D-Day' is a general term for the start date of any military operation - the 'D' stands for 'day'. It is often used when the exact date is either secret or not yet known. Some people thought soldiers serving in Italy were avoiding 'real combat' in France and called them 'D-Day Dodgers'. But troops in Italy had faced their own D-Days at Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio and were engaged in a dangerous and difficult advance up the Italian peninsula.

Cartoon by 'Jon' - When they call us D-Day Dodgers, 1944.
Cartoon by 'Jon' - When they call us D-Day Dodgers, 1944. © IWM (Art.IWM.ART.15548.5).

You can find out all about D-Day by visiting HMS Belfast, a famous Second World War survivor and today an iconic London landmark. Hear hundreds of stories from those who worked on board a warship that actually took part in the D-Day landings themselves. Learn more and plan your visit.

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