5 Fast Facts About D-Day June 6


June 6 marks the 74th anniversary of one of the momentous days in the history of the world: D-Day. It was on that fateful morning in 1944 that more than a hundred thousand Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and began the long slog that would eventually liberate all of Europe from Nazi control.

If you don’t know the exact details of the Normandy landings — or the extent of the sacrifice that was made that day — here are five facts about the operation that you need to know.

Fact 1: More than 160,000 troops participated in what would be the largest amphibian invasion in history.

Over half of the Allied troops that crossed the channel that day were American, but there were plenty of soldiers from other countries. Almost 5,000 landing and assault craft and 289 escort vessels crossed the English Channel, and 277 minesweepers made certain that they didn’t hit any explosive devices in the channel.

That’s a lot of troops — and it was necessary, given how heavily the beaches of Normandy were guarded by German forces. There were more than 10,000 Allied casualties on D-Day, and more than 4,400 were killed. German casualties numbered around 1,000.

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In addition to the amphibious landing, there was also a major aerial assault that provided cover for the soldiers who were hitting the beaches. Roughly 13,100 paratroopers made night landings on D-Day, and during the daytime 3,937 glider troops were flown in. While many of the men didn’t hit the target thanks to cloud cover on June 6 and were dispersed rather widely, this had the additional effect of confusing the German response to the air drops.

Despite the higher casualty rate for the Allies, D-Day was a success. It allowed the allies to gain a beachhead in France, and from that point the battle was quickly won.

Fact 2: D-Day almost didn’t happen on June 6.

It wasn’t just cloud cover that was obstructing the landings. In fact, the weather was so poor that the landings were almost called off. The original date of the landing was supposed to be June 5. However, high winds and heavy seas would have made the precision of the amphibious landing — which depended largely on where the tides were at early morning, when the assault was to take place — practically impossible.

The Royal Air Force meteorological team told Allied Gen. Dwight Eisenhower that conditions would improve enough by June 6 for a landing. If they didn’t, the troops prepared for the Normandy assault would have had to have been recalled; given the precise tides needed, the next window would have been June 18-20. This also would have meant there was more of a chance that the troops’ movements would be detected by the Germans.

Eisenhower decided to go ahead with the June 6 invasion, which was fortuitous. For one thing, a bigger storm hit the Normandy coast during the next window, so they likely would have needed to postpone again. For another, the Germans didn’t have the same meteorological data that the Allies did thanks to Allied air superiority over the English Channel. The poor weather prompted many Wehrmacht commanders to take leave at the time, confident that an invasion wouldn’t happen then. Gen. Erwin Rommel, who led the German effort to protect the European coast, had even been given leave to celebrate his wife’s birthday.

Fact 3: The fact that D-Day was successful was due in large part to deception.

D-Day — or Operation Neptune, as it was called — was part of a larger strategy called Operation Overlord in which the Allies were to attempt to establish the beachhead on Normandy. But Operation Overlord was made possible in part because of Operation Bodyguard, which was meant to fake out the Germans.

By 1944, Germany was already stretched very thin, between fighting a battle on the Eastern Front with the USSR and protecting its territorial gains from the Allies. Normandy was one of the most ideal places for a landing — but if the Germans believed it could happen somewhere else, the Allies would have a significant advantage. That was the point of Operation Bodyguard.

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Operation Bodyguard aimed to make the Germans believe that the main invasion was to take place at Pas de Calais and keep troops and resources there for at least 14 days after Normandy under the illusion that the main invasion would take place at Pas de Calais.

To do this, the Allies created the fictive British Fourth Army, which they made seem real via faked radio communications, false intelligence and other deceptions. Meanwhile, the equally fictitious 1st U.S. Army Group, putatively led by Gen. George Patton, was also created. Both were supposedly going to be invading at Pas de Calais.

Hitler planned to build 15,000 strongpoints along the Atlantic Coast manned by 300,000 Germans, but shortages of troops and concrete made this impossible. The Germans focused their resources on where they were most vulnerable, particularly Pas de Calais. This meant the strongpoints along the coast weren’t entirely finished; certain points were only 18 percent complete just before D-Day, according to Rommel. While Rommel had believed that the invasion was possibly going to take place at Normandy, the diversions of Operation Bodyguard meant the Germans were defending a huge swath of the Atlantic coastline — making it a lot easier for the Allies to succeed.

Fact 4: Within weeks, the Allies were in Paris — and well on their way to winning the war.

While Germany initially had been able to inflict heavy casualties upon the Allies, it couldn’t hold the beachhead and the Allies quickly entrenched themselves there. They moved to take the nearby cities of Cherbourg and Caen; Cherbourg fell on June 26 while Caen was captured on July 20.

It didn’t take long for the Allies to break out of the beachhead area, either. By July 25, Operation Cobra began heading south, taking advantage of the battle at Caen as a diversion and managing to take Avranches by Aug. 1. That, coincidentally, was when Patton’s Third Army was activated, making rapid gains in France. By Aug. 8, Le Mans — the former seat of Germany’s Seventh Army — had fallen to the Allies. By Aug. 25, the French capital of Paris was liberated by Allied forces.

All in all, 425,000 soldiers were wounded, killed or missing in action during the Battle of Normandy. That included 209,000 Allied troops and roughly 200,000 Germans. However, it was the battle that would eventually win the war for the Allies.

Fact 5: The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial has become the symbol of the D-Day invasion in America.

If there’s one sight that’s become associated with the D-Day landings, it’s the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, where rows of crosses mark the graves of those killed in action during the Normandy invasion.

While the most famous evocation of the cemetery may be at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan,” it certainly wasn’t the only time that the cemetery has played an important part in commemorating the horrors and the triumph of that day 74 years ago.

In 1984, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the landings, President Ronald Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches there, saying that democracy was “the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man” and that the landings showed the “profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.”

The cemetery was the first American cemetery in Europe and receives over a million visitors a year.

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the invasion, and very few of the men who made it possible are still alive. If you can honor one on June 6, by all means, do so. They need to know our country’s love for them continues all these years after they risked their lives for freedom.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture