The famous D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 were a triumph for Allied forces in World War Two and constitute one of the best remembered military operations of the conflict.
The project followed five years of conflict with Adolf Hitler’s Germany and the Axis powers, during which the majority of mainland western Europe had fallen under Nazi occupation.
D-Day signalled the beginning of a changing of the tide on the continent, which eventually ended with the Western Allies’ victory.
But what does D-Day actually mean? Read on to find out, as well as everything else you need to know about the historic landings.
A US landing barge packed with helmeted soldiers makes its way to the shore in Normandy on June 6, 1944
Dozens of ships line the coast off Omaha Beach in Normandy during the D-Day landings in June 1944
D-Day signaled the beginning of a changing of the tide on the continent, which eventually ended with Allied victory
What were the D-Day landings?
The landings, codenamed Operation Overlord, involved British, American, and other Allied forces crossed the English Channel to launch an offensive on the Nazi occupation in Normandy.
The operation involved boats and aircraft of all shapes and sizes, for a variety of purposes, whether it was to sweep the area ahead for mines, or deliver the respective armies to France.
In total the invasion involved 153,110 troops, supported by 10,440 aircraft and 6,330 ships, with paratroopers landing behind enemy lines in advance of the main assault.
The forces were roughly divided across five beaches: Gold and Sword were attacked by British troops, Juno by Canadian, and Omaha and Utah by the US.
After less than a week, all five beaches had been secured, with more troops, vehicles and equipment being delivered to the Allies.
The forces were roughly divided across five beaches: Gold and Sword were attacked by British troops, Juno by Canadian, and Omaha and Utah by the US
When did it happen?
The operation – which bought together the land, air and sea forces of the Allied armies – took place on June 6 1944, but unsurprisingly it was in planning for months.
A key element of the preparation was a serious of deceptions to convince the German military command that the attack would instead be near Calais, the closest point of France to the UK.
In fact, June 5 was the original date selected for D-Day, but bad weather forced a delay by one day, with troops departing the English coast in the night of June 5.
Forces arrived on the morning of June 6, by which time paratroopers had already landed behind enemy lines to begin the attack.
It became known as the largest amphibious invasion in military history.
D-Day timeline: The largest amphibious invasion in military history as it happened
- January 1944: General Dwight Eisenhower appointed commander of Operation Overlord.
- February-May: Series of deception operations carried out to put Germany off the scent.
- June 4: Bad weather causes operation to be delayed from June 5.
- June 5: Better weather makes General Eisenhower give go-ahead for operation to take place the following day.
- 22:00: Operation Neptune, the seaborne forces, leave the English coast to cross the channel.
- June 6 00:05: Coastal barriers in France are bombed.
- 00:20: Airborne troops attack bridges in coastal town of Benouville, taking just 15 minutes.
- 02:30: Allied fleets arrive and anchor at the French coast.
- 04:30: US forces Liberate St Mere Eglise, inland from Utah beach.
- 05:00: British paratroopers destroy weapons at Merville Battery to protect those who will land at Sword beach.
Allied soldiers, tanks and ships take part in the D-Day landings at Gold beach
- 05:30: Warships bombard the coastline, while landing craft head for shore.
- 06:00: German shore defences are bombed.
- 06:30: American forces begin landing on Omaha Beach and face an enemy onslaught which holds them until 1100.
- 06:30: Americans troops begin landing on Utah Beach.
- 07:25: British land at Gold and Sword Beaches.
- 07:35: Canadians land at Juno Beach.
- 09:00: General Eisenhower authorises announcement that the invasion has begun.
- 09:45: Enemy forces cleared from Utah Beach.
Members of an American landing unit help their comrades ashore during the Normandy invasion near St Mere Eglise
- 12:00: Winston Churchill speaks to the House of Commons about the landings, saying: ‘So far the commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan!’
- 13:30: Troops on Omaha Beach begin securing the area. Allied forces begin to bomb the town of Caen.
- 14:30: The Nazi’s 21st Panzer Division unleash a counter-attack towards the coast.
- 18:00: Canada’s North Nova Scotia Highlanders reach 5km inland. Allied tanks cross the Caen-Bayeux railway, 15km inland.
- 19:00: Command post set up on Omaha Beach.
- 21:00: King George VI says on the radio that it is a ‘fight to win the final victory for the good cause’.
- Midnight: All the beaches are secured.
What does D-Day stand for?
Despite being so well documented, there is an element of mystery about what the D in D-Day actually stands for.
Many suspect that the D stands for designated, decision, dooms(day), or even death.
However, the reality is less grand, as the D-Day is just the term used by the military to refer a date which an event is due to take place.
It can be used to refer to operation day before an exact date has been set.
The first use of this kind of reference can be traced back to the First World War, with H referring to a certain hour too.
Many historians describe D-Day it as the beginning of the end of the Second World War
Why is it so important?
Many historians describe D-Day as the ‘beginning of the end’ of the Second World War.
With victory declared in Europe 11 months later, on May 7, 1945, this represented the start of the Allied forces pushing back from what was the furthest Nazi occupation expanded during the war.
The move meant that Germany was at war on three fronts: in France, Italy, and Russia.
This task eventually proved too much for Hitler’s army, with Allied victory on the continent secured on May 8 1945.
How is the D-Day anniversary marked?
The focus of every D-Day anniversary is naturally in Normandy.
Every year, ceremonies are held across the region – and world – to pay tribute to the achievements of those who fought, and the sacrifices of the estimated 4,000-9,000 troops who died during the operation.
Anniversary events will often feature military displays and parades.
Veterans who were part of the successes of June 6, 1944, often appear at the ceremonies to pay their respects in the decisive but deadly assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control.
A plane flies over the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy as veterans prepare to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day
World War II reenactors pay homage to US soldiers on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France