Normandy Invasion, 1944
From the Moving Images Relating to Coast Guard Activities series.

See our past D-Day posts, including Eisenhower’s Order of the Day, and his hastily drafted “in case of failure” note, and a detailed sketch of a typical Platoon Leader in full battle dress.


Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, two American servicemen—preparing for the D-Day landing—attached a miniature life vest to a puppy. This Kodachrome footage was, I believe, captured by Hollywood director George Stevens or by a member of his U.S. Army Signal Corps film unit. [x]


D-Day, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the liberation of France from Nazi control, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.


June 6, 1944: The Allied invasion of Normandy begins.

In June of 1940, Nazi Germany successfully completed its invasion of France with the signing of an armistice at Compiègne, which divided France into two zones - one which was to be henceforth occupied by German troops, and a “free zone”, to be administered by a French government at Vichy. In late 1942 German-Italian forces carried out a complete military occupation of the free zone. By 1944 much of Europe was either occupied by Axis forces or controlled by direct allies; between the neutral Iberian Peninsula to the Eastern Front, France, Greece, the Baltics, the Netherlands, and  Denmark were among the states occupied by German or Axis forces. Along the western coast of Europe, Germany established a system of fortifications collectively known as the “Atlantic Wall”, whose construction began in 1942 to thwart any Allied invasion launched across the English Channel from Great Britain. 

The landing of Allied forces at Normandy on June 6, 1944 (commonly known as D-Day) marked the beginning of Operation Overlord and the beginning of the liberation of mainland Europe from its occupation by Nazi Germany. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower  was charged with planning and carrying out the beach landing assault, an enormous and momentous task - in the end, approximately 160,000 troops participated in the assault on an 80 km long stretch of Normandy coast, which was divided into five sectors: Gold, Utah, Sword, Juno, and Omaha, the link between the U.S. and British sectors, the most easily defensible beach, and the area where fighting was bloodiest. The troops were supported by a fleet of nearly 7,000 vessels, directed mostly by the Royal Navy; airborne operations were also a key element of the landings, with at least 13,000 paratroopers taking part. To mislead and confound Axis military leaders regarding the true date and location of the impending assault, the Allies implemented Operation Bodyguard.

The enormously successful operation was a decisive victory for the Allied powers and a major blow to Germany’s psyche and morale. Operation Overlord came to an end with the destruction of German forces at the Falaise Pocket in August of 1944 and the liberation of Paris days later.


D-Day: Frontpage News

Above are a selection of front pages from newspapers from across Britain, Canada and the United States.  Once the invasion had begun at 05:00 on the morning of the 6th June the news was announced publicly hours later, with many Newspapers going to print with preliminary reports.

The New York Times, and many other newspapers across the world, ran extra editions as soon as they received the news of the Invasion, above are two editions of The New York Times published on 6th June.

Many of the Canadian papers ran with the news that the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was in the vanguard landing on Juno Beach.  Some of the paper’s focus on the number of bombing sorties or men and ships that are involved while others report that resistance is lighter than expected. One thing that is common to almost all of the front pages is the use of a map diagram to show the general area of the landings.

The press office of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force had pre-prepared statements and press releases and carefully disseminated details of the invasion’s progress from battlefield reports.

The newspapers featured above are as follows:

The Vancouver Sun, (source)
The Baltimore Evening Sun, (source)
The Daily Telegraph, London, (source)
The Evening News, London, (source)
The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, (source)
The New York Times - 6AM Extra, (source)
The Daily Mirror, London, (source)
The Globe & Mail, Toronto, (source)
The Duluth News-Tribune, (source)
The New York Times, (source)



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. 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.

D-day statement to soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6/44, Collection DDE-EPRE: Eisenhower, Dwight D: Papers, Pre-Presidential, 1916-1952; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

Four U.S. Army soldiers watch the Allied aerial bombardment of German positions in Saint-Lô during the Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord). Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed during the fighting, approximately 95% of the town was in ruins by the time the Allies had liberated it. Saint-Lô, Manche, Lower Normandy, France. June 1944.  


Because it is the anniversary of D-Day, let me tell you a teensy bit about three of my favorite people to participate in Operation Overlord.

1) Father (Major General) Francis L. Sampson:

A paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, he kinda sorta almost died in the initial jump when he landed in a deep stream and was dragged underwater for a bit before he could cut his pack and parachute away. He then was like, “nah brahs, I’m good” and went to administer to some wounded soldiers in a farmhouse.

That farmhouse was later taken by the Germans (he had stayed on when others pulled out because of the damn Nazis), and he was taken outside to be executed when a German soldier decided to find out who the hell he was, and told his homies to chill.

So he aided the wounded and dying, even after the house was shelled that night. He cared for everyone—Allies and Germans both at the farmhouse and then the division hospital when the Allies took the area.

He was also the guy who was behind the story of “Saving Private Ryan.” Now, the movie is hella exaggerated, but he found out that Fritz Nyland, an American soldier, had lost several brothers (two KIA and one MIA if I recall correctly, and the MIA was later found alive), and he forcefully made arrangements for Nyland to be sent home.

Then there was this thing where he became a POW in December of ‘44, after the Germans shot the shit out of some American troops and left them to die. He went to help them, and the Germans, being legitimate dicks, took him prisoner, and sent him and about fifteen hundred others to Stalag II-A, a camp in northern Germany. He aided and tended to everyone as the only Catholic chaplain in the camp until they were liberated by Super Stalin’s troops in ‘45.

2) Lieutenant Colonel Jack Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill (“Mad Jack” for short)

This motherfucker stormed Sword Beach with a goddamn sword and his grandfather’s hunting rifle. ON D-DAY. He was almost certifiably insane and he loved every minute of it.

He had his personal piper (Bill Millin, who’s the next guy on my list) playing while the troops leapt off the boats and into battle.

Honestly, I cannot tell you just how crazy and awesome this man was without plagiarizing the shit out of like, twenty million articles on him, so let me just link a few. It’s totally worth the read, trust me. Anyone who screams “COMMANDO!” as they charge the enemy—day or night, just walk out of two concentration camps like no one’s business, and single-handedly capture forty-some German prisoners with only his sword is definitely a character you want to read about.




3) “D-Day Bagpiper” Bill Millin

To start out with, the only reason Millin wasn’t taken out by a German sniper on that goddamn beach was because they thought he had gone batshit crazy. So that’s a thing.

But no, seriously. He went all around Sword Beach while the battle raged, playing his bagpipes like it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, he took requests!

As the personal piper of Mad Jack Churchill, you’d think he might have a screw loose, but apparently, he was as insane as his boss. Bless him.


D-Day By The Numbers

It is almost impossible to convey the sheer gargantuan scale of the Allied Invasion of Europe.  The photographs above show some of the scope of the operation but even they are limited to showing just one snapshot of a massive operation.  The first photograph shows Omaha Beach, just one of the five beaches that were landed on.  The photograph frames a beach packed with hundreds of ships and vehicles while the sky is filled with barrage balloons.  The bottom image shows just a portion of one of the Allied invasion fleets destined for Normandy. 

Operation Overlord was the single largest combined air-sea-land amphibious invasion ever attempted in military history.  One of the best ways to demonstrate the scale of the operation is to examine the numbers.

The Figures:

  • Over 2 million Allied troops had been gathered in Britain for the invasion.

  • 156,000 Allied troops landed on D-Day, made up of:
    73,000 Americans
    61,715 British 
    21,400 Canadians
    3,000+ Other Allied troops

  • 380,000 German troops were deployed in the region
    - ~50,000 troops in Normandy
    - 2,200 tanks Northern France
    - 570 Luftwaffe planes stationed in France & Holland

  • The German Atlantic Wall:
    - 1,670 miles long
    - Comprised 17 million cubic metres of concrete and 1.2 million tonnes of steel
    - Cost 3.7 billion Deutschmarks to build

  • 6,939 vessels made up the Invasion Armada
    - 1,213 combat vessels
    - 4,126 landing ships & craft
    - 846 merchant vessels
    - 736 ancillary craft

  • 11,590 Allied aircraft at the Invasion’s disposal
    - 9,500 combat aircraft (fighters/bombers)
    - 14,674 sorties flown
    - 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders landing 23,400 British and American paratroops
    - 127 Allied Aircraft lost

  • Men & Equipment landed by D-Day+5 (11th June):
    - 326,547 troops
    - 54,186 vehicles
    - 104,428 tons of supplies 

Casualties suffered during Operation Neptune (the landings):

  • Allied:  ~12,000 casualties with 4,413 confirmed dead during landings
    - American: 6,603 killed & wounded
    - British: 2,700 killed & wounded
    - Canadian: 946 killed & wounded

  • French Civilian Casualties: Estimates vary between 25,000 - 39,000  (killed in the preliminary bombing and during the subsequent invasion and Battle of Normandy)

  • German:
    - Estimated between 4,000 - 9,000 killed and wounded
    - Estimated 200,00 killed and wounded during entire Operation Overlord


Image One Source - Omaha Beach

Image Two Source - Glider Landing Zone

Image Three Source - View out to see from Omaha Beach

Image Four Source - Paratroops drop into Normandy

Image Five Source - A blurry Aerial Photograph Showing a Small Part of the Invasion Fleet

Statistical Sources:

‘Facts and figures of D-Day’ (Source)

’D-Day figures’ (Source)

’D-Day and the Battle of Normandy’ (Source)


#DDAY70 D-Day -1:

“Back in Britain, paratroopers marched out to their planes and embarked for the trip to Normandy.”

Excerpted from: “D-Day to D plus 3.”  From the series: Moving Images Relating to Military Activities, compiled 1947 - 1964. Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 - 1985