D-DAY: JUNE 6, 1944

Normandy Beach, June 1944. Public domain

The first day of the Invasion of Normandy.  Though many people, when they think of D-Day, think of the invasion of Normandy as being just an amphibious assault, it was preceded by an extensive aerial and naval bombardment - as well as an airborne assault that landed 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight.

Codenamed “Operation Overlord”, it was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944.

The landing included over 5,000 watercraft, 11,000 airplanes, and over 150,000 service men.

Over a dozen individuals were awarded the Medal of Honor.

When asked of what the name of the beach was for the amphibious assault, many would answer “Omaha Beach”.   In fact, the invasion covered approximately a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast, divided into 5 major sectors –

Omaha Beach:  located on the coast of Normandy, France, facing the English Channel, about 5 miles long, from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer on the right bank of the Douve River estuary.  Taking Omaha was to be the responsibility of United States Army troops, with sea transport and naval artillery support provided by the U.S. Navy and elements of the British Royal Navy.  Sadly, very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha, with the defenses being unexpectedly strong, and navigations issues causing the bulk of the landing craft to miss their targets through the day.

  By the end of the day, though 2,400 tons of supplies were to have been landed, only about 100 tons actually landed.   Umaha Beach was the site of the heaviest casualties - of the 43,250 infantry, casualties were estimated at 3,000 killed, wounded and missing, with the heaviest casualties taken by the infantry, tanks and engineers in the first landings.

Gold Beach:  the middle of the invasion between Juno and Omaha Beaches, with the main beachheads being between Le Hamel and Ver sur Mer, and Le Hamel/Asnelles.   The 50th (Northumbrian) Division, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade and No. 47 Commando, was assigned to the Gold Beach sector.  By the end of the day, the 50th Division had landed 25,000 men with approximately 400 casualties.

Juno Beach:   spanned from Courseulles-sur-Mer, a village just east of the British beach Gold, to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, just west of the British beach Sword.  Taking Juno was the responsibility of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and commandos of the Royal Marines, all under the command of British I Corps, with support from Naval Force J, the Juno contingent of the invasion fleet, including the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).  By the end of the day, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division suffered the following casualties: 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.

Sword Beach:  Stretching 8 km from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, Sword beach was the eastern most landing site of the invasion.  The main forces involved in Sword Beach were the United Kingdom and Free France, and though initially the forces incurred low casualties, away from the beach areas were more heavily defended.

  Sword Beach was the only sector in which the only real German counter-attack (by the 21st Panzer Division) on 6 June took place.    28,845 men (and over 200 tanks) came ashore, with 683 troops lost.

Utah Beach:  the westernmost of the five landing beaches, about 3 miles long located between the villages of Pouppeville and La Madeleine.    The forces for the allies were the United States and United Kingdom.   The US 4th Infantry Division landed with relatively little resistance, in stark contrast to Omaha Beach, where the fighting was fierce.  By the end of D-Day, some 23,250 troops had safely landed on Utah beach (along with 1,700 vehicles), with about 200 casualties recorded during the landings.

  However, for five hours prior to the first Utah landings, 13,000 paratroopers (and glider forces) had been fighting their way toward the beach, with substantial (roughly 20%) losses.

Allied casualties on D-Day were at least 12,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.   German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men.

Another aspect to the cost of the D-Day invasion occurred earlier - Exercise Tiger, one in a series of large-scale rehearsals for the D-Day invasion, incurred 1000 casualties  - most due to an attack by E-boats of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) on the Allied convoy positioning itself for the landing.

The beaches of the Normandy Invasion site (and inland) now hold museums, memorials, and war cemeteries, hosting many visitors each year.   Still to this date, in some areas there are remains of the equipment (landing craft, tanks, etc) used by the landing forces on the beaches, as well as the remains of the German defenses.

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