D-Day

On 6th June 1944, thousands of Allied troops descended upon the beaches of Normandy, marking the start of ‘D-Day’ – a major offensive against the Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”. But what happened and what was the impact? Sara Ashbridge investigates.

Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?!

Winston Churchill to his wife the night before the D-Day operation

The Supreme Test

Preceded by air attacks along the coast of France, thousands of paratroops and glider-borne troops were dropped behind enemy lines, penetrating the enemy forces, ready for the main attack. This airborne attack helped to secure bridges and crossroads surrounding the landing zone, capturing key areas such as the town of Sainte- Mère-Eglise.

Over 7,000 ships, 1,300 RAF planes, and 11,000 other military aircraft were employed in the attack, making it the largest assault ever launched across the seas.

King George VI broadcast a radio message, calling for the nation to pray for the Allies facing the most “supreme test” in the battle to liberate Europe.

The D-Day operation was top secret, with a cover plan, Operation Fortitude, set in place to lead the Germans to believe that the point of attack would be the Pas de Calais, further East. Every last detail was planned, allowing for the right weather and tidal conditions to create maximum advantage for the Allied forces.

This cover plan seems to have worked, with the 100 kilometre coast of Normandy remaining largely unguarded when the Allied warships and air forces arrived, relentlessly attacking German defences.

Forward to Victory

By 6:30am, US Soldiers landed at Utah and Omaha beaches, with the British and Canadians soon landing at the Beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword.

In total 75,215 British & Canadian soldiers, and 57,500 US soldiers landed by sea on D-Day. A further 23,400 landed by air, filling the skies with a sea of parachutes. Under the codename of ‘Operation Neptune’, Winston Churchill declared that this largely airborne attack was “on a scale far larger than anything there has been so far in the world”, with a very low number of losses under the command of General Bernard Montgomery.

After five days of unimaginable destruction, the Allies managed to secure the Cotentin Peninsula. The Germans were still putting up a strong resistance, fighting for their lives up until August when the Germany 7th Army was destroyed in the Falaise pocket.

Legacy and Commemoration

Commemoration Flyover

Over 9,000 Germans are estimated to have lost their lives in the battle, with between 2,500- 4,000 allied troops also falling victim to what would become of the key turning points in World War Two. We can only imagine the fear of the Germans as they saw thousands of Allied soldiers falling from the sky, and the long stretch of the Normandy coat, full of landed ships. Or how about the triumph for the Allied forces when they realised their plan to trick the Germans had worked, filled with adrenaline from the long descend from the sky?

In memory of this spectacular event in military history, the Red Arrows performed a display in Southsea, re-enacting the parachute drop with 3000 troops parachuting into Ranville, the first village to be liberated. An awe inspiring Scottish veteran, the 89 year old Jock Hutton joined in with the events, repeating the dive he made 70 years ago by tandem.

What will you be doing to commemorate this historical day (and – we’ll forgive you if it doesn’t involve jumping out of aeroplanes!). Events are planned across England and France all week long – and you can keep track of much of this as it happens on the MoD Facebook and Twitter stream.

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Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

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