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The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]
‘The eyes of the world are upon you’ — Read Gen. Eisenhower’s letter to troops before D-Day
On this day 77 years ago, more than 150,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers were taking part in the largest amphibious operation in history. It was called Operation Overlord.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on June 6, 2020.)
It was June 6, 1944 — D-Day — when the liberation of France from its Nazi occupiers began. Less than a year later, the allies would celebrate the victory of Europe, and the end of the regime of Adolf Hitler.
But before all of that, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force that would carry out the invasion, wrote two letters. One, which was never sent, was written in case the effort failed. The other was sent to all his troops, wishing them luck before they embarked upon the “great crusade” against the Nazis they had trained and awaited for many months.
First drafted in February 1944, Eisenhower had it distributed on the eve of the invasion. It was only one page.
You can view a copy of the letter below:
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months,” Eisenhower wrote.
“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
“But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
“Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Paul Szoldrais the Editor in Chief of Task & Purpose and a Marine Corps veteran. Reach out via email or find him on Twitter at @paulszoldra. Contact the author here.
8 iconic photos from the invasion of Normandy
Here are eight historic photos from the days leading up to, during, and after one of the most brutal battles in contemporary history.
June 6 marks the anniversary of Operation Overlord, commonly referred to as D-Day — it was the single largest seaborne invasion in history and marked a turning point in the fight against Axis powers in Europe.
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was originally published on June 5, 2015.]
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, gave this speech just prior to giving the order to begin the operation.
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Today, Eisenhower’s words still ring true for the men who fought and died on the beaches, fields, and among the hedgerows of Normandy: “The eyes of the world are upon you.”
Below are eight historic photos from the days leading up to, during, and after one of the most brutal battles in contemporary history.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks with paratroopers who jumped behind enemy lines, June 5, 1944.
U.S. soldiers assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, apply war paint to each other’s face in England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, France, June 5, 1944.
American assault troops in a landing craft huddle behind the protective front of the craft as it nears a beachhead on the northern coast of France, June 6, 1944.
American troops disembark a landing craft and make their way to the beach. Carrying 80-pound packs, assorted gear and equipment, the landing troops had to maneuver across 200 yards of exposed beach before reaching cover.
Some of the first assault troops to hit the Normandy, France beachhead take cover behind enemy obstacles to fire on German forces as others follow the first tanks plunging through the water towards the German-held shore.
Members of an American landing party help fellow soldiers to shore after their landing craft was sunk by enemy fire. The survivors reached Omaha beach using a life raft.
American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, who stormed Omaha Beach. Although wounded, they gain the comparative safety offered by the chalk cliff at their backs, June 6, 1944.
Ships put cargo ashore on one of the invasion beaches at low tide during the first days of the Invasion of Normandy.
James Clarkis the Deputy Editor of Task & Purpose and a Marine veteran. He oversees daily editorial operations, edits articles, and supports reporters so they can continue to write the impactful stories that matter to our audience. In terms of writing, James provides a mix of pop culture commentary and in-depth analysis of issues facing the military and veterans community. Contact the author here.
D-Day in Photos: ‘The Free Men of the World Are Marching Together to Victory’
40,585 US ARMY PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images
On Tuesday, June 6, 1944, over 160,000 brave men crossed the choppy waters of the English Channel to land in enemy-occupied France for the long-awaited Allied liberation of “Fortress Europe.”
Codenamed “Operation Overlord,” the Battle of Normandy was the largest amphibious invasion in human history. The mission: to liberate a continent suffering for four years under the murderous dictatorship of a racist totalitarian regime bent on world domination.
On the eve of the battle, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower told the Allied troops in a broadcast message: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
“The tide has turned,” he told them. “The free men of the world are marching together to victory. Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
An armada of 5,000 ships and 15,000 aircraft supported the battle, as troops stormed five beaches along a 50-mile wide stretch of coast. Airborne divisions dropped behind enemy lines the night before to secure the eastern and western flanks. U.S. Army Rangers boldly scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc under relentless enemy fire to take out the Nazi guns.
By that afternoon, General Eisenhower broadcast a message to the occupied countries telling them that “the liberation of Europe” had begun.
“Although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country,” he told them, “the hour of your liberation is approaching.”
By the time the battle ended, there were over 10,000 Allied casualties.
Within 11 months, Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally. The men of D-Day had saved the world.
The following photo essay is offered in their honor and in honor of the men and women of our Greatest Generation.
In March 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, center, as Commander of the invasion of Europe. At center right is British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder and left is British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. (AP Photo, File)
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, left, reviews American troops at a base in England on the eve of D-Day, June 1944, during World War II. The initials AAAO on the steel helmets with a line across the As stands for “Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow, Bar Nothing.” The identification shoulder patches of the G.I.s are blotted out by the censor. (AP Photo)
6th June 1944: Members of an American armoured unit seen here being lined up for a briefing from their commanding officer prior to receiving their D-Day assignments. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
With a U.S. tank unit in England getting ready for D-Day in 1944, left to right are: Captain Leonard Brusky, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sergeant Wilfred F. Thomas, Wisconsin, Sergeant Frank L. Niner, Louisville, Kentucky, Pfc Harry H. Smith, Louisville, Kentucky, and Private Louis W. Louisville Kentucky. (AP Photo)
Lieutenant Harrie W. James, USNR, of New York, N.Y., briefs officers and men who participated in landing operations during the invasion of Southern France June 5, 1944 on the day before D-Day. (AP Photo)
Lt. William V. Patten, centre of group, wearing overseas cap, briefs his crew at a port in England before the invasion of France began June 6, 1944. Patten and his ship are veterans of Tunisia, Salerno, Anzio and Licata. (AP Photo)
6th June 1944: Allied commander in chief General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) talks to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division about to take off for the D-Day landings in France. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) smiles while speaking with the men of the US 101st Airborne Division, ‘The Screaming Eagles’, as they prepare for the D-Day invasion, England, World War II. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
These members of the first groups of assault troops to take part in the Allied invasion of Northern France receive benediction from an Army chaplain before leaving England on June 6, 1944, for the European continent. Their assault craft are in the background. (AP Photo)
The following is the audio of General Eisenhower’s broadcast to the Allied troops on the eve of the battle:
2nd Lt. Ray A. Karcy, of 31 Haddon Ave., Atlantic City, N.J., Army chaplain, conducts a Catholic service aboard a landing craft in an English port before the Americans set off for the invasion of Northern France. (AP Photo)
Allied aircrews work around C-47 transport planes at an unidentified English base in this photo taken shortly before the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. The C-47’s dropped parachutists from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions behind Utah Beach near Saint-Mere-Eglise 06 June 1944, during the first hours of Operation Overlord. (AFP/Getty Images)
American paratroopers, heavily armed, sit inside a military plane as they soar over the English Channel en route to the Normandy French coast for the Allied D-Day invasion of the German stronghold during World War II, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, U.S. paratroopers fix their static lines before a jump before dawn over Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944, in France. The decision to launch the airborne attack in darkness instead of waiting for first light was probably one of the few Allied missteps on June 6, and there was much to criticize both in the training and equipment given to paratroopers and glider-borne troops of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions. Improvements were called for after the invasion the hard-won knowledge would be used to advantage later. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Picture released on June 5, 1944 of the British troops embarking at Southsea, Portsmouth in England, before a landing craft on June 6, 1944 while Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: US Army troops seen marching through the streets of an embarkation port on the coast of England on their way over to Normandy, France. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British soldiers of the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) during the Normandy Landings, June 1944. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Armored vehicles arriving at a British Port for transportation to France on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
As the Allied invasion of the Normandy gets underway, American troops are shown as they embark in landing crafts at a British port, on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo/Peter Carroll)
6th June 1944: US soldiers in full battle-dress boarding an LCVP or Landing Craft Vehicle-Personnel, ready for the Invasion of Europe. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: US Army troops crowd into a navy landing craft infantry ship during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France, World War II. (Photo by US Navy/Getty Images)
Fully equipped, and each carrying large amounts of ammunition, American troops climb aboard a landing craft somewhere in England on June 6, 1944 for the cross-channel invasion of France. Other landing craft are seeing in background. (AP Photo)
Bouncing about on the rough waters of the Channel, these landing craft loaded with assault troops head for the shore of the French coast early in the dawn of D-Day, June 6, 1944. In the surprise invasion attack, the allies suffered a minimum loss and have succeeded in cutting a 29-mile wedge in the Cherbourg Penninsula. (AP Photo)
A U.S. Coast Guard LCI, heavily listing to port, moves alongside a transport ship to evacuate her troops, during the initial Normandy landing operations in France, on June 6, 1944. Moments later the craft will capsize and sink. Note that helmeted infantrymen, with full packs, are all standing to starboard side of the ship. (AP Photo)
Men and assault vehicles storm the beach as Allied landing craft reach their destination during the initial Normandy landing operations in France, on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
June 1944: Members of the 9th Air Force watch a long line of landing craft carrying barrage balloons, on their way over to Normandy. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
A convoy of Allied landing craft, protected by barrage balloons, crosses the English Channel on its way to France during the Normandy Landings, World War II, 6th June 1944. The craft are carrying ground support personnel and equipment of the US 9th Air Force. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1944: A B-24 Liberator flying over the invasion Armada, heading towards the French coast. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Destroyers and small naval craft patrol the Channel and protect ships carrying reinforcements in men and materials against the enemy in Normandy in June 1944. (AP Photo)
The 15-inch guns shelling German batteries on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
Landing craft loaded with American troops pass other landing craft lining the dock side while in foreground, other craft take on equipment on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
6th June 1944: In the distance American Infantrymen are wading towards the beach on the Northern Coast of France during the D-Day Landings. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
American assault troops in a landing craft near a beachhead in northern France. The landing is supported by naval gunfire. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
A view from inside one of the landing craft after US troops hit the water during the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. The US troops on the shore are lying flat under German machine gun resistance. (Photo by Robert F Sargent/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: American assault troops land at Omaha Beach in Normandy supported by Naval gunfire. (Photo by Wall/MPI/Getty Images)
Barrage balloons and shipping at Omaha Beach during the Allied amphibious assault, before the installation of Mulberry Harbour. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
Canadian soldiers land on Courseulles beach in Normandy, 06 June 1944 as Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors of a sunken LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel, also known as a Higgins boat) arrive safely ashore in a rubber life raft at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 during the Normandy landing, France. (AFP/Getty Images)
American troops landed on Normandy beaches (north-west of France), to come as reinforcements during the historic D-Day, 06 June 1944, during WW2. American troops supporting those already on the coast of Northern France, plunge into the surf and wade shoreward carrying equipment, on Utah Beach, Les Dunes de Madeleine, France. Bulldozers and other engineer equipment prepare the beach for the landing parties. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: Injured members of an American landing party whose landing craft was sunk off the coast of France reach Utah Beach near Cherbourg on a life-raft. (Photo by Weintraub/MPI/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: Allied soldiers, tanks and ships take part in the D-Day landings at Arromanches beach in Normandy, Northern France. (Photo by Steck/MPI/Getty Images)
Soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Flotilla are seen as they establish a beachhead code-named Juno Beach, near Bernieres-sur-mer, on the northern coast of France, on June 6, 1944, during the Allied invasion of the Normandy. (AP Photo)
In this photo provided by the British Navy, wounded British troops from the South Lancashire and Middlesex regiments are being helped ashore at Sword Beach, June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion of German occupied France during World War II. (AP Photo/British Navy)
A first wave beach battalion Ducks lays low under the fire of Nazi guns on the beach of southern France on D-Day, June 6, 1944 during World War II. One invader operates a walkie talkie radio directing other landing craft to the safest spots for unloading their parties of fighting men. (AP Photo)
After landing at the shore, these British troops wait for the signal to move forward, during the initial Allied landing operations in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
Sitting in the cover of their foxholes, American soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force secure a beachhead during initial landing operations at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. In the background amphibious tanks and other equipment crowd the beach, while landing craft bring more troops and material ashore. (AP Photo/Weston Haynes)
6th June 1944: American medics administer first aid to wounded soldiers on Utah beach in Normandy, France, whilst in the background other troops “dig-in” in the soft sand. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
US troops landing in northern France on D-Day, 6th June 1944. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion surround German prisoners 06 June 1944 on the Pointe du Hoc located on a cliff which overlooks Omaha Beach after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. Elements of the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the 100 foot cliff and seized the German artillery pieces that could have fired on the Allied forces landing at Omaha Beach. (AFP/Getty Images)
American troops advance over the crest of a concrete sea wall after the successful landings on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The first tanks entering the Sword Beach, near Ouistreham during the Normandy landing on 06 June 1944. (AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers surround a burning German tank in a Normandy village in June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: American paratroopers having made successful landings at Utah Beach, advance cautiously through a French cemetery at St Marcouf. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
7th June 1944: Soldiers try to flush out a German sniper located in a church in the centre of Sainte Mere Eglise, after the Normandy town’s liberation. (Photo by Bob Landry/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Corps arrive on a beach on June 6, 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers gather around trucks disembarking from crafts shortly after D-Day 06 June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches. (AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (L) shows the strain of his command as he and Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (R), his deputy commander, confer on the invasion plans of Normandy in an unknown location in June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
June 1944: German soldiers are seen here being marched through the streets of Cherbourg, France, after the city was liberated by the Americans. (Three Lions/Getty Images)
Joseph Vaghi (C), a US Navy ensign, chats with residents of Colleville-Sur-Mer in June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. (AFP/Getty Images)
June 1944: A happy crowd of American soldiers receive a warm welcome from the inhabitants of Cherbourg, after its liberation. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
7th June 1944: Bomber crews of the US Ninth Airforce leave their B26 Marauder aircraft after returning from a mission to support the D-Day landings in Normandy by disrupting German lines of communication and supply. (Photo by Fred Ramage/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
6th June 1944: People in the City of London rush to buy the first newspapers giving news of the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy. (Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In Piccadilly Circus crowds of Londoners read the first news of the invasion in the editions of the evening papers, June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wears an expression of confidence and determination as he receives visitors in his White House office on this long-awaited D-Day of the start of the western European invasion in Washington on June 6, 1944. (AP Photo)
On the evening of June 6, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a radio address informing the American people that the liberation of Europe was under way.
The president then asked his fellow Americans to join him in prayer as he beseeched Almighty God’s protection for “our sons, the pride of our nation” who were engaged that day “upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
The following is the audio of President Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer broadcast to the nation that night:
Observing D-Day in a big fashion, Lord & Taylor department store displays a 27 by 40 foot American flag down the front of its building in New York, June 7, 1944. The store closed its doors from 11 a.m. on. (AP Photo/RM)
6th June 1944: Wounded US soldiers of the 3rd Battery, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st US Infantry Division, lean against chalk cliffs while eating and smoking after storming Omaha Beach in Normandy, Colleville-Sur-Mer, France during World War II. Some of the men wear head bandages. (Photo by Taylor/US Army/Getty Images)
June 1944: The bodies of American soldiers lie on the ground in Normandy, France, awaiting burial, following the D-Day Allied invasion. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
June 1944: Medical orderlieswith the dead ready for burial in one of the first invasion graveyards in France. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
As old glory is held in final salute a memorial service to the men who fell in the allied invasion of France is held at the first American cemetery to be laid out in Normandy on June 15, 1944. (AP Photo)
17th June 1944: A wooden cross, a soldier’s helmet, and flowers mark the grave of an American soldier who was killed in battle during the invasion of Normandy, Carentan, France. A sign posted by French civilians reads ‘Mort pour la France’, or ‘Died for France.’ (Photo by Himes/US Army/Getty Images)
Row after row of white crosses mark the U.S. Military Cemetery No. 2 at Ste. Mere Eglise in Normandy, France on May 15, 1946. In the background is the town, which was taken by American troops driving to cut off the Cotentin peninsula during the early days of the invasion. (AP Photo/Max Nash)
The American War cemetery of Colleville sur Mer is pictured Tuesday, April 8, 2014, Normandy, France. The cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach, one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion, and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. (AP Photo/David Vincent)
Flowers on a grave at the US cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE: Soldiers of the U.S. Army pose for a photo with U.S. D-Day veteran Leonard Jindra, 98, following a small ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery on June 02, 2019 near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Jindra served in the U.S. 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division and landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 in the Allied D-Day invasion. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
COLLEVILLE-MONTGOMERY, FRANCE – JUNE 08: Normandy veterans Joe Cattini, 95, who was in the Hertfordshire Yeomanry (L) and landed on Gold Beach on D-Day and Roy Maxwell, 96, (R) who was in 4 Commando and landed Sword Beach on D-Day, salute as they attend at a memorial ceremony at the Bill Millin memorial near Sword Beach at Colleville-Montgomery, on June 8, 2018 near Caen, France. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The statue of Bill Millin, best known as “Piper Bill,” in Ouistreham, northern France. Bill Millin was Scotland Lord Lovat’s personal piper and played bagpipes during D-Day on June 6, 1944 on Sword beach. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
World War II veteran Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot Native American, who took part in the Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944, poses on May 4, 2019 in Omaha Beach, western France. (LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
US veterans Jack Gutman (C), Georges Ciampa (2R) and James Forlking (R), who all landed on “Omaha Beach” on June 6, 1944, salute as they listen to the US national anthem during a ceremony at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, north-western France, on June 5, 2019, in memory of fallen American soldiers who took part in the World War II Allied landings in Normandy. (GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
REVIERS, FRANCE – JUNE 05: Lise Belanger, 18, wipes an eye as she kneels at the gravestone of her great-uncle, Roger “Sonny” Firman, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy on June 05, 2019 near Reviers, France. Sonny, a 21-year-old serving in the Canadian Royal Winnipeg Rifles, landed on June 6, 1944, at Juno Beach in the Allied D-Day invasion during World War II. He was captured by the Germans and on June 8, together with other Canadian prisoners of war, was executed by a unit of the Waffen SS. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A little girl looks at grave crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on September 24, 2018, in Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. (DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
D-Day Logistics: Preparing for Landfall
A saying in military circles holds, ‘‘Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.’’ In any military operation, logistical needs must be met before tactics can be applied, because logistics provide ‘‘the sinews of war.’’ The greatest of such feats manifested itself in the planning for D-Day logistics.
In a large sense, World War II turned upon the successful logistics of the European Theater of Operations. In turn, providing the ETO with the matériel necessary for prosecuting the war against Germany depended upon the Battle of the Atlantic, the five-year struggle against Germany’s U-boats. Each phase of the war was interdependent.
Upon America’s formal entry into the war in December 1941, its logistical support of Britain and Russia became more overt, because the prewar neutrality debate was obviated. Soviet premier Joseph Stalin pressed the Anglo-Americans for a Western front to alleviate intense German pressure on his badly battered armed forces, but neither the United States nor Great Britain was capable of launching such an offensive at the time. The Pearl Harbor attack caught American production far short of its own needs, let alone those of its Allies.
During 1942 events stabilized in the Middle East as Germany’s drive toward Suez was halted. Late that year Nazi forces suffered a catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad, and the Western Allies landed in French Morocco. A token effort at opening a European offensive occurred with the ill-fated Dieppe landing in August, when Canadian forces sustained heavy losses at little benefit. Even had a sufficient ground force been assembled in Britain to launch Overlord in 1942, there were far too few landing craft for the effort.
Subsequently, however, immense strides were made in supplying the increasing production of America’s ‘‘arsenal of democracy,’’ even when its products went to the Soviet Union. An overland route through Persia, the northern convoys to Murmansk, and the air bridge from Alaska all contributed to Soviet military logistics. Throughout the war, the United States provided some $11.3 billion of military aid to Russia Britain sent supplies worth $1.3 billion.
Meanwhile, the buildup to D-Day was undertaken by Operation Bolero, a logistical effort of unprecedented magnitude. Sailing on now-secure sea routes, the U.S. Navy and merchant marine took 1,200,000 troops to Britain, where hundreds of camps and bases were established and supplied with everything from chewing gum to bombers. Britain’s existing infrastructure was inadequate to support the massive effort, so a thousand locomotives and twenty thousand freight cars were shipped from the United States, plus material for hundreds of miles of additional rail lines. Transatlantic shipments increased to the point that some 1,900,000 tons of supplies reached Britain in May 1944 alone, showing the scale of D-Day logistics.
In command of the U.S. Army’s Service of Supply was Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee, an engineer officer of long experience. In the two years between 1942 and 1944, Eisenhower said that Lee turned the United Kingdom into ‘‘one gigantic air base, workshop, storage depot, and mobilization camp.’’
The manpower required to meet the needs for D-Day logistics was enormous. Less than one-fourth of the Allied troops in France were in combat units, and only about 20 percent served as infantrymen. A four- or five-to-one ‘‘tail to tooth’’ ratio was not unusual in other theaters of war, either. In mechanized warfare, fuel and oil were essential to success, and Allied logisticians solved the problem of adequate petroleum supply. They designed and built the Pipeline under the Ocean (PLUTO) to pump the lifeblood of tanks, trucks, and all other motor vehicles directly to Normandy. Other innovative projects involved prefabricated piers called Mulberries and block ships. The latter were twenty-eight merchant vessels intentionally sunk to provide breakwaters for artificial piers. Most were old, worn-out vessels dating from as early as 1919, though a few were 1943 Liberty ships. In all, 326 cargo ships were involved in D-Day, including two hundred American vessels.
Meeting the needs of D-Day logistics involved eighteen Army Transport Service ships as well as ATS tugs.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.
D-Day Training: Preparing for the Normandy Invasion
Allied D-Day training and preparing was a vast endeavor, stretching from North America to southern England. Firing ranges were at a premium, as space was needed for practice-firing weapons from rifles to naval gunnery and antiaircraft guns. However, the emphasis was upon amphibious operations and landing, and some facilities had been in use long before June 1944.
Perhaps the most notable facility used by the British armed forces was the Combined Operations Training Center at Inverary, on the west coast of Scotland. It was established in 1940, originally to prepare for commando operations, but expanded when British amphibious doctrine shifted from large-scale raids to actual invasion. Later bases in southern England included Culbin Sands and Burghead Bay, in the area where the invasion fleet would assemble.
Here is how Eric Broadhead describes a typical training day in mid-April 1944, when Durham Light Infantry moved to a tented camp about file miles from Southampton:
Life on the whole was pleasant. It was summertime at its best. Our evenings found us in Southampton, where the servicemen outnumbered the civilians by seven to one. The walk from Southampton back to camp was a pleasant one, and often I and my mates would stroll back talking of home, parents, wives and sweethearts and of the day that must surely dawn soon, the day when we sailed for a destination that only a few men knew. We discussed our ideas of where it would be, but the question was when? Sometimes the question got on our nerves. We all had our own theories as to when it would be. Around May 10th, a drastic move took place. The camps were sealed, our training was over. The days that followed were strange to be sure. Barbed wire skirted the camp area, armed guards too. We received no mail, but were still allowed to write home, subject to strict censorship.
The U.S. Army set up at least eight training centers prior to D-Day, most notably at Woolacombe Beach, Devonshire (See Assault Training Center). Because of its topographical similarity to Normandy, the Slapton Sands region of the south coast was selected for amphibious rehearsals, leading to the disastrous Operation Tiger in April.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.
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The First Airborne Drop
During the years between the World Wars, armies around the world began organizing their own specially designated paratroop units. In the 1930s, Russia invested itself heavily in the concept.
By 1933, the Soviets undertook the first large-scale airborne infantry operation in history — the peacetime trial involved 62 paratroopers. Three years later, the Red Army staged a much larger exercise with more than 1,000 men. Moscow even experimented with dropping armoured units from transport planes (sometimes without parachutes).
Other countries watched the proceedings with curiosity. During the 1930s, Japan, Germany and Italy followed Russia’s lead and pioneered their own airborne forces. The U.S., France and Great Britain followed suit. As the danger of war grew, one thing became certain: If a conflict did break out between the major powers, paratroopers would be in the thick of the action.
England’s 'biggest little port in the world,' then and now
Modern-day photo of a D-Day embarkation point at the Portland harbor in Dorset, England on May 12, 2019, blended with an image of jeeps being driven into the open doors of a tank landing craft at the same location in preparation for D-Day in June 1944. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, known as The Big Red One, dubbed Portland the biggest little port in the world. BUY
WEYMOUTH, England &mdash Soft sandy beaches, fish-and-chips shops and tourist boat tours now occupy the Dorset seaside that played a key role in moving almost half a million Allied troops to France 75 years ago on D-Day.
American troops arrived in Dorset in the summer of 1943 from Africa and Sicily and basically took over the county. They spent almost a year training for the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II.
&ldquoThe local community had sort of been starving and putting up with rationing for years and years and then there&rsquos all these Americans with their K-rations and all this wealth,&rdquo said Steve George, co-founder and curator of the Castletown D-Day Centre. &ldquoWe&rsquove interviewed lots of people and what they all say is how generous the Americans were when they were here.&rdquo
Huge camps were created overnight, roads were paved and straightened, embarkation docks were built all over the harbor and parking lots went up along the roads. Some of that infrastructure is still used today.
On April 18, 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower met at Fort Henry, an observation bunker in Dorset overlooking Studland Bay, to watch the combined power of the Allied Forces preparing for D-Day. The concrete bunker had 90-foot-long walls and a 3-foot-thick ceiling and remains intact to this day as part of Studland Beach Second World War walk.
Operation Overlord then saw 144,093 vehicles and 415,585 troops embark from harbors in Dorset to beaches in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, known as The Big Red One, went to Omaha Beach as one of the first assault groups to leave from Weymouth and Portland. They called Portland &ldquothe biggest little port in the world.&rdquo
British and American troops, personnel from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland all took part in the Normandy landings.
The American Stone of Remembrance was unveiled in Dorset in August 1945, overlooking the Portland harbor from a nearby hillside and marking the route troops used to their points of embarkation.
&ldquoIt doesn&rsquot matter what time of year it is, flowers appear on the American Stone just because of the impact the Americans had during the war,&rdquo George said. &ldquoThe bonds that were made, friendships were forged which are still never forgotten to this day.&rdquo
D-Day Quotes: From Eisenhower to Hitler
—British Broadcasting Corporation message for French Resistance fighters, informing them that the invasion was on.
I am prepared to lose the whole group.
—Col. Donald Blakeslee, commanding the Fourth Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, briefing his P-51 Mustang pilots on 5 June.
They’re murdering us here. Let’s move inland and get murdered.
—Col. Charles D. Canham, commanding the 116th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach.
This is a very serious business.
—Photographer Robert Capa on Omaha Beach.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
—Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, 6 June 1944.
Four years ago our nation and empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall. . . . Now once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. . . .
At this historic moment surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nation-wide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.
—King George VI, radio address, 6 June 1944.
You get your ass on the beach. I’ll be there waiting for you and I’ll tell you what to do. There ain’t anything in this plan that is going to go right.
—Col. Paul R. Goode, addressing the 175th Infantry Regiment, Twentyninth Infantry Division, before D-Day.
Well, is it or isn’t it the invasion?
— Adolf Hitler to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel on the afternoon of 6 June.
We shall see who fights better and who dies more easily, the German soldier faced with the destruction of his homeland or the Americans and British, who don’t even know what they are fighting for in Europe.
—Gen. Alfred Jodl, operations chief of the German high command, early 1944.
I took chances on D-Day that I never would have taken later in the war.
—First Sgt. C. Carwood Lipton, 506th Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
I’m sorry we’re a few minutes late.
— Lord Lovat, arriving with his commandos to relieve the British airborne troops holding the Orne River bridges, 6 June.
I am firmly convinced that our supporting naval fire got us in that without the gunfire we positively could not have crossed the beaches. —Col. Stanhope B. Mason, chief of staff, First Infantry Division.
Nobody dashed ashore. We staggered. With one hand I carried my gun, finger on the trigger with the other I held onto the rope-rail down the ramp, and with the third hand I carried my bicycle.
—Cpl. Peter Masters, 10 Commando, Sword Beach.
We have a sufficiency of troops we have all the necessary tackle we have an excellent plan. This is a perfectly normal operation which is certain of success.
If anyone has any doubts in his mind, let him stay behind.
—Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery, commanding Twenty-first Army Group.
It was something which you just can’t imagine if you have not seen it. It was boats, boats, boats and more boats, boats everywhere.
—Jacqueline Noel, recalling the British beaches. She met her future husband on D+4.
The Anglo-Saxons have set foot on our soil. France is becoming a battlefield. Frenchmen, do not attempt to commit any action which might bring terrible reprisals. Obey the orders of the government.
—Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, 6 June.
This is the end for Germany.
—Maj. Werner Pluskat, 352d Infantry Division at dawn on 6 June.
We’re going in alone and I don’t think we’re coming back.
—Lt. Col. Josef ‘‘Pips’’ Priller, Kommodore of JG-26, to his wingman before their strafing attack on Sword and Juno beaches.
The first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive. . . . [T]he fate of Germany depends on the outcome. For the Allies as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.
—Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 22 April 1944.
We’ll start the war from right here.
—Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, upon finding that his force had been landed in the wrong place on Utah Beach.
Two kinds of people are staying on this beach—the dead and those who are going to die.
—Col. George A. Taylor, commanding the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach. (In The Longest Day, this statement is delivered by Robert Mitchum as Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division.)
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.
D-Day Planning: Preparing for Operation Overlord
D-Day planning involved massive staging operations of thousands of troops. During the first week of May 1944, massive troop movements occurred throughout Great Britain. From England itself as well as Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, and Northern Ireland, regiments, divisions, and corps were assembled in pre-invasion staging areas for D-Day.
The logistics of D-Day planning for moving hundreds of thousands of men and almost half a million vehicles were enormous. Each division went to a designated staging area along England’s south coast. The areas were labeled ‘‘sausages,’’ for their elongated shape each was surrounded by a wire fence patrolled by military police. Security was tight no one could get in or out without written permission. Yet if the troops felt confined and resented the order against warming fires, conditions were tolerable. They ate better than almost anyone in the United Kingdom steaks, eggs, pies, even ice cream were abundant. The task of feeding so many men was a major chore, and the U.S. Army produced some four thousand newly trained cooks to meet the need.
By one reckoning nearly 175,000 soldiers were housed, largely under canvas and camouflage netting. The staging areas were crammed with supplies and equipment, and there was plenty to do. New weapons were issued to assault troops vehicles and equipment were waterproofed final organization and tactics were confirmed.
From the staging areas (except for airborne units), troops from five nations walked or rode to their embarkation ports. Ordinary traffic in England came almost to a stop during early June, as routes toward the coast often became one-way. Transport ships and landing craft were boarded in numerous harbors including Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Torquay, and Weymouth. Next stop: France.
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