By Mike Case
The D-Day landings on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944 remain the largest and most complex amphibious operation of all time.
Over 150,000 men – and one woman, Ernest Hemingway’s wife Martha Gellhorn – landed on the Normandy coast that day in order to liberate occupied France and ultimately defeat Nazi Germany.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we’ve condensed the need-to-know details of the Normandy invasion into a quick, 5-minute refresher read.
The groundwork, planning and training for D-Day began two years prior to June 6, 1944.
In April 1942, the strategic build-up of forces in the UK, known as Operation Bolero, began in England. Additionally, amphibious landings in North Africa (Operation Torch, November 1942) and Sicily (Operation Husky, July 1943) provided the Army with practical experience conducting successful amphibious landings.
In April 1944, official rehearsal exercises for D-Day began. However, the combination of a friendly fire incident and an attack by German torpedo boats resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives during a practice movement off of the English coast.
The Days Before the Invasion
As the summer months rolled closer, the date for the invasion was set for June 5, 1944. However, bad weather delayed the invasion to the next day, June 6, 1944.
Due to the large number of troops needing to be transported across the channel, the Allies began loading onto ships and landing craft as early June 3. Thanks to this logistical difficulty, many troops were aboard the vessels for much, much longer than initially anticipated.
At 9:30 in the evening on June 5, pathfinders from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions took off aboard C-47 aircraft from a southern English airfield, bound for the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy to prepare the landing zones for the airborne component of the invasion.
A Timeline of June 6, 1944
While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of heroic narrative accounts of the events of D-Day, we found it easiest to conceptualize the immense scope of the events of June 6, 1944 in a timeline format. Please note, this is not a comprehensive timeline, but rather a high-level overview of the heroic actions taken by the allied forces that day.
12:10 AM Allied pathfinder paratroopers jumped over Normandy to mark parachute zones for the pilots of the C-47 transport aircraft who would making paratrooper drops over the region later that morning.
12:16 AM: British glider-borne troops landed near Pegasus Bridge, a key objective of the day.
1:30 AM: U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions began to land in Normandy. Many paratroopers missed their intended targets and were scattered over a wide area. The initial confusion ultimately helped the Allies by convincing the Germans that there was a larger paratrooper force than there actually was.
1:55 AM: Bombers of the U.S. 8th Air Force took off from England.
3:00 AM: Aerial bombardment of German positions in Normandy began.
4:00 AM: Combined elements of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions captured the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, making it one the first French towns liberated in the invasion. Around this time, allied glider-borne reinforcements for the U.S. airborne divisions began to land in Normandy.
5:10 AM: Allied naval bombardment began off the coast of Normandy.
5:58 AM: The sun rose at Normandy.
6:30 AM: The American 1st & 29th Infantry Divisions, 743 Tank Battalion and the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions landed at Omaha Beach. Additionally, the 4th & 90th Infantry Divisions, the 4th Cavalry Regiment, and the 70th Tank Battalion landed on Utah Beach.
7:30 AM: After a delayed arrival and difficult fight to the top of the cliffs, Rangers made their way to the top of Pointe Du Hoc, the highest point between Utah and Omaha Beaches which had been fortified by the German Army. 14 Rangers were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions around Pointe Du Hoc.
9:00 AM: Rangers on Pointe Du Hoc destroyed German artillery. The Rangers repelled several German counter-attacks and remained in the area until June 8 when they were relieved by troops from Omaha Beach.
9:30 AM: U.S. troops at Utah Beach began to breakout from the beaches inland. British soldiers on Gold and Sword Beaches began to move beyond the shore as well.
10:00 AM: Troops at Omaha Beach began to breakout beyond the beachfront and U.S. destroyers moved close to the shoreline to support the breakouts.
12:00 PM: The 101st Airborne Division secured an exit from Utah Beach.
1:30 PM: On board the flagship USS Augusta, U.S. Army Gen. Omar Bradley received word of progress by troops on the heights beyond the beaches.
1:41 PM: German resistance ended on Omaha Beach.
2:00-7:00 PM: Additional forces landed on all beach fronts. The Germans attempted sporadic land and air counterattacks, but American and British forces continued to exploit breakthroughs and push inland.
By midday, reports of the invasion began to reach the United States. That evening back stateside, President Roosevelt addressed the nation on radio about the landings in France.
7:00 PM: Americans gained control of Omaha Beach.
8:55 PM: Main airlanding operations began, bringing in additional troops and heavier equipment.
9:00 PM: British forces gained control of the city of Arromanches. Later on in the war, one of two Mulberry artificial harbors would be built just offshore here, with construction beginning on June 7. In 10 months, 2.5 million troops, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tons of supplies would land at the Mulberry Harbor.
10:30 PM: Tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion moved off of Omaha Beach. The Battalion earned 9 Distinguished Service Crosses for its actions on the June 6.
The Aftermath and Legacy of D-Day
The toll at the end of the day was heavy: 10,000+ Allied casualties with over 4,400 Allied killed. Fighting continued in the region for weeks.
On June 10, Allied aircraft began operating from an airfield in Normandy and the first Army Nurses came ashore. The five Normandy beachheads were finally linked up on June 12, when the allies had pushed inland 15 miles.
By the beginning of July, over 875,000 troops, along with huge numbers of equipment and supplies, had arrived in Normandy. Many more would continue to come ashore that summer, including the first Women’s Army Corps (WAC) personnel.
The Allies would break out of the Normandy area on August 12 and Paris would be liberated on August 25, 1944, 80 days after the initial D-Day invasion.
Printed sources used for this story
Harrison, Gordon A. Cross Channel Attack. Appendix I. Center for Military History. United States Army. Washington, DC, 1993
Goralski, Robert. World War II Almanac, 1931-1945: a Political and Military Record. Bonanza Books, 1984.