This Day in History: Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy

On this day in 1944, Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy, France. The D-Day invasion was underway! By day’s end, more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft had taken part in the effort—and more than 160,000 Allied soldiers had disembarked on French shores.

It was the largest amphibious invasion in history. It was also the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

Dicey weather nearly put a stop to everything, but General Dwight D. Eisenhower plowed ahead. The landings had already been delayed once, and he didn’t want to delay again. The tides were changing soon after June 6. It would be weeks before favorable tides would return.

In other words, further delays were not an option.

Planning for the operation had been conducted with the utmost secrecy. Obviously, the Germans could not discover the plan! In fact, details of the landings were kept secret even from the soldiers who were expected to participate in them.

“We knew we was preparing for a landing,” one American soldier later described. “We didn’t know where, or the exact date, or anything until we was getting ready to load up, you know. I don’t know even whether our officers knew exactly everything.”

Nevertheless, Allied planners had a few scares. For one thing, they discovered that some of their code names were being used in the Daily Telegraph’s crossword puzzle! Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword were code names for beaches in France, but they were also answers to the crossword puzzle during May 1944. Oddly, other code names such as “Mulberry” and “Overlord” popped up in the puzzle, too. Was the creator of the puzzle trying to send messages to Germany?

He was investigated, but cleared. The issue seems to have arisen because he was getting inspiration for his puzzles from boys attending school near a military base.

D-Day finally arrived. Allied forces undertook an extensive aerial and naval bombardment, and they inserted airborne troops into the area just after midnight. Finally, infantry and armored divisions began their beach landings at dawn.

The day was hard. Allied forces didn’t accomplish any of their short-term objectives: They’d meant to seize several beaches and link them. They’d also intended to seize control of several specified cities. None of that happened—at least not on the first day. Worse, thousands of soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in action.

On the other hand, Allied forces had accomplished something important: They’d seized a foothold on European shores. “The eyes of the world are upon you,” Eisenhower had written his men just before the landings began. “The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. . . . I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!”

And, eventually, that’s exactly what they got. “Victory in Europe” Day was less than one year away.