D-Day Landings: June 6, 1944
By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches code-named Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.
For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack. Reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. Moreover, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.
In the ensuing weeks, the Allies fought their way across the Normandy countryside in the face of determined German resistance, as well as a dense landscape of marshes and hedgerows. By the end of June, the Allies had seized the vital port of Cherbourg, landed approximately 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy, and were poised to continue their march across France.
Victory in Normandy
By the end of August 1944, the Allies had reached the Seine River, Paris was liberated and the Germans had been removed from northwestern France, effectively concluding the Battle of Normandy. The Allied forces then prepared to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east.
The Normandy invasion began to turn the tide against the Nazis. A significant psychological blow, it also prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern Front against the advancing Soviets. The following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.
What does the D Stand for?You might at first be inclined to think the abbreviation is similar to V-Day (Victory Day). Indeed, one commonly touted explanation given for the meaning of the “D” in D-Day is that it stands for “designated day.” Others claim it stands for “decision day”, “debarkation”, or even “deliverance day.” Even General Dwight Eisenhower, or at the least his assistant, weighed in when Eisenhower received a letter asking for an explanation of the meaning of D-Day. His executive assistant wrote back stating D-Day was a shortened version of “departed day”. However, the evidence at hand doesn’t seem to support Eisenhower’s (or perhaps just his assistant’s) claim.
Hints of the true meaning can be found long before WWII in a U.S. Army Field Order dated September 7, 1918. The order stated that “The First Army will attack at H hour on D day with the object of forcing the evacuation of the St. Mihiel Salient.”
In that context, and with numerous combat operations that followed over the years, D-day referred to the “day” on which a combat attack would occur with H-hour likewise referring to the “hour” when an attack is scheduled to happen. Thus, the “D” is just a placeholder or variable for the actual date, and probably originally was meant to stand for “date” or “day” (if anything), if the associated “H-hour” is any indication.
The use of D-day allows military personnel to easily plan for a combat mission ahead of time without knowing the exact date that it will occur. Given that planning for the most famous of all D-day’s in June of 1944 started way back in 1943, and that, due to factors like optimal tides, only a few days in a given month were suitable for the launch of the invasion, trying to fix a firm date in the planning process was pointless, even close to the time of the attack. By simply assigning the attack to occur on “D-day”, it solved this issue, and had the side benefit of keeping the date of the attack a secret as long as possible, just one of the many methods of deception the military employed to try to confuse the German brass with regards to the pending invasion.
As alluded to, the D-Day that occurred on June 6, 1944 was not the only D-day during World War II and it certainly was not the last, as this method of planning for military operations continues to this day. Of course, because the D-day at the Battle of Normandy was, and continues to be, the most famous of all given that designation, it seems unlikely in the foreseeable future that it will be usurped in people’s minds when someone mentions “D-Day”, despite the military continuing to occasionally use this designation.