London, England · January 15, 1944

On this date in 1944 Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed com­mand of the Allied Expe­di­tion­ary Force pre­paring to lib­er­ate France from the strangle­hold of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Ger­many. A month earlier Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt had desig­nated the 53‑year‑old army gen­e­ral Su­preme Allied Com­mand­er for Opera­tion Over­lord, the inva­sion of North­western Europe and Ger­many.

Ever since June 1940, when British and French troops escaped from the beaches of Dun­kirk, France, where they faced almost cer­tain anni­hi­lation, the Ger­mans knew that an in­va­sion of Fes­tung Europa (For­tress Europe) would come—they just didn’t know when or where. Thus the inva­sion planners had to throw the enemy off track by leading them to believe that the inva­sion would take place in the Pas de Calais on the north­ern coast of France, which was a little more than 20 miles across the Chan­nel from Eng­land, the inva­sion staging ground. This ruse, which included fake Allied armies, fake army head­quarters, and dummy radio traffic, was so suc­cess­ful that Hitler and his gen­e­rals con­tin­ued to believe it up until D‑Day.

Further­more, the planners had to shut down a Ger­man counter­attack on the true site of the in­va­sion, the beaches of Nor­man­dy. This required fleets of bombers to attack the trans­por­ta­tion net­works that would facil­i­tate Ger­man rein­force­ments of men, equip­ment, and fuel reaching Nor­man­dy, as well as Allied fighter air­craft to keep enemy air­craft at bay while the troops stormed ashore. Assisting in the effort was a slew of French resis­tance forces engaged in co­vert and sabo­tage oper­a­tions designed to ha­rass and ob­struct Ger­man rein­force­ments.

Finally, the inva­sion plan depended on assembling enough landing craft to shuttle nine divisions inside 24 hours to the assault beaches (Sword, Juno and Gold for the Brit­ish and Cana­dians, and Omaha and Utah for the Amer­i­cans). In fact, the lack of suf­fi­cient landing craft forced the planners to shift the inva­sion from May to June 1944.

The plan came to­gether. The Nor­man­dy landings on June 6, 1944, were costly but suc­cess­ful. They were followed a month later by landings in South­ern France (Opera­tion Dra­goon). Between D‑Day and the end of August 1944, Nazi tyranny was driven from most of France.

For anyone interested in really knowing—I mean really knowing—what bloody Omaha Beach was like for the GIs who assaulted it on D‑Day, then you must read Alex Kershaw’s The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice, his deeply moving account of the hellacious Normandy invasion by the men of Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division. Not surprisingly the dozen survivors of Company A could not bring themselves to talk about the war on their return. A sister of one of the survivors explained, “People say the men who died on the beach were heroes. I think the heroes are the ones who came back and had to live with it for the rest of their lives.” Many men of the “Greatest Generation” waited till their senior years to tell their stories. Or they took them to their grave. Kershaw has rescued the stories of thirty-four young men, their parents, wives, and girlfriends from a small town in Virginia—stories that make you weep knowing of their heroism and extra­ordinary sacrifice.—Norm Haskett

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D-Day, June 6, 1944, Normandy, Northwest France

D-Day convoy, English ChannelLanding craft approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

Left: A large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on June 6, 1944. The majority of troops who landed on the D‑Day beaches were from the Great Britain (112,824), the U.S. (52,889), and Canada (18,000). Close to 5,000 troops from other Allied countries participated in the D-Day landings and the ensuing Battle of Normandy (June 6 to August 30, 1944). They were drawn from Australia, Belgium, Czecho­slo­va­kia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland.

Right: An American LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) approaches Omaha Beach, Nor­mandy, France, June 6. Smoke on the shore emanates from German positions. The assault phase of Operation Overlord was known as Operation Nep­tune. This operation involved landing the troops on the beaches, as well as all other associated supporting operations required to establish a beachhead in France. Operation Neptune began on D‑Day and ended on June 30, 1944.

"Into the Jaws of Death," Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944Omaha Beach survivors

Left: “Into the Jaws of Death” is the description of this photo taken of the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach at 8:30 on the morning of June 6. An earlier wave of B‑26 Martin Marauder twin-engine bombers had not even scratched the Ger­man defenses on the 3.5‑mile stretch of beach—the 13,000 bombs dropped missed their target by 3 miles. The U.S. 1st and 29th Divisions together suffered around 2,000 casu­al­ties (two-thirds of Com­pany E were killed or wounded) as they advanced up Omaha Beach into 4 bat­teries of artillery, 18 anti­tank guns, 6 mortar pits, 35 rocket launcher sites, 8 con­crete bunkers, 35 pill­boxes, and 85 machine-gun nests. A high casu­alty rate of officers left many low-ranking soldiers leaderless and confused on the invasion beach. By day’s end, however, a lodgment had been effected.

Right: Members of an American landing party lend helping hands to others of their unit whose landing craft or DD (duplex drive) amphibious tank was sunk by enemy shore guns, high seas, or mines. Thirty-two landing craft and most DD tanks were lost this way. The survivors in this photo reached Omaha Beach by using a life raft.

British Second Army, Sword Beach, June 6, 1944Royal Canadian Navy commandos, Juno Beach, June 6, 1944

Left: British Second Army infantry wait to move off Queen White section, Sword Beach, while under enemy fire on the morning of June 6. By nightfall the British had 28,850 men ashore and had seized the bridge over the River Orne, a principle objective that day.

Right: Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” land on Mike section, Juno Beach of the Normandy beach­head, June 6. Juno was the most exposed of the five inva­sion beaches, and the oppo­si­tion awaiting the Cana­dians was believed greater than that facing any other Allied force. By the time they had secured Juno Beach, one in six Canadians was dead or wounded.

Seeking safety offered by a chalk cliff, Omaha BeachLanding cargo on invasion beach within days of June 6, 1944

Left: Assault troops of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, having gained the comparative safety offered by the chalk cliff at their backs, take a breather before moving into the interior. Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 8.

Right: American craft of all styles put cargo ashore at low tide during the first stages of the Allied invasion. Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 1944.

Still Scenes, Maps, Music, and Commentary by On-Scene Reporters: A Tribute to the D‑Day Landings, June 6, 1944