Katharine Alston
Wednesday 6 December 2017
  • Second World War
  • KS3-4

Use these sources to learn more about D-Day.

What were the circumstances that prompted D-Day?

Adolf Hitler standing at the Trocadero, Paris, with the Pont d'Iena and the Eiffel Tower in the background, during his only visit to the French capital, 28 June 1940.
© IWM (HU 3266)

Liberation of Western Europe

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.

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How did the Allied forces prepare for D-Day?

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, Commander in Chief 1st US Army; Admiral Sir Bertram H Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force; Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief,.
© IWM (TR 1629)

D-Day leaders

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.

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Annotated view of Queen Beach, Normandy.
© IWM (MH 1997)

Deciding where to Invade

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.

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COPP Suit Submarine Service.
© IWM (UNI 3914)

Investigating the beaches

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.

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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.
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 4587)

Getting ready on the South coast of England

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.

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How did Germany defend the French coast against Allied invasion?

The British 2nd Army: Royal Navy Commandos at La Riviere preparing to demolish two of the many beach obstacles designed to hinder the advance of an invading army.
© IWM (A 23992)

German sea defences

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.

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

Aircraft Navigation and Guidance: A factory worker producing foil code-named WINDOW which was dropped by allied aircraft to jam enemy radar.
© IWM E (MOS 1451)

Confusing the enemy

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.

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The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant Les Munro from New Zealand. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is on the right and Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Commander of No 5 Group is behind Flight Lieutenant Munro and to the right.
© IWM (TR 999)

A fake invasion

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.

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How was the invasion carried out?

Starboard 4 inch guns of HMS BELFAST open fire on German positions around Ver-sur-Mer on the night of 27 June 1944.
© IWM (A 24325)

Destroying the German defences

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.

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Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade approach Queen Red beach, Sword area, c. 0840 hours, 6 June 1944. Sherman DD tanks of 13th/18th Royal Hussars and the specialised armour of 79th Armoured Division can be seen crowding together on the beach ahead.
© IWM (B 5102)

Amphibious landing craft

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.

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Troops of 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade disembarking with bicycles from LCI(L)s (Landing Craft Infantry Large) onto Nan White beach, Juno area, at Bernieres-sur-Mer, shortly before midday, 6 June 1944.
© IWM (A 23938)

Landing with bicycles

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.

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A crashed Horsa glider, viewed from the side with the tail portion separate and lying on the ground.
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 6288 a)

Invading by air

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.

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How did the Allies bring supplies to Northern France?

a view from the beach, looking out to sea across a Mulberry Harbour with army vehicles driving ashore along the roadway.
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 4607)

Bringing over supplies

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.

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Laying the pipeline: A 'Conundrum'., loaded with pipe, ready to be towed across the Channel.
© IWM (T 54)

Bringing over fuel

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.

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Was D-Day a success?

Cheering crowds greet British troops in Paris, 26 August 1944.
© IWM (BU 21)

The liberation of Paris

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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Downloads

  • Learning Resource D-Day

    Powerpoint