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‘The Eyes of the World Are Upon You.’

They stormed the beaches and saved the world.

The roughly 160,000 Allied troops who landed in Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944, not only successfully executed the largest air, land and sea invasion in history, they did so amid daunting obstacles, terrible bloodshed and stakes that couldn’t have been higher.

“We will accept nothing less than full Victory!” their commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, told them. And victory, in this battle, was far from certain in the first hours of that first day.

D-day Map timeline at midnight D-day invasion area D-day parachutes D-Day naval forces move in D-Day beach assault H-Hour for Omaha and Utah beaches Army Ranges scale cliffs at Pointe de Hoc H-Hour for Gold beach The planned H-hour for Juno Beach D-day minesweepers Final D-Day timeline Map

June 6, 1944 The Early Hours


After years of planning and months of training, the Allies launch their invasion of northwest Europe, Operation Overlord. Royal Air Force bombers begin a strategic bombardment of the invasion area, a roughly 50-mile stretch of beaches in Normandy, France.

1:30-2:30 a.m.

The British 6th Airborne Division and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division begin the airborne assault behind enemy lines to secure objectives on the east and west flanks of the invasion area. Thick cloud cover hindered the air insertion, and some of the airborne troops were badly scattered.

More than 23,000 Allied airborne troops total landed in Normandy on D-Day, by parachute or glider.

5 a.m.

Naval forces start a prelanding bombardment of the beaches where U.S. infantry units are to land, codenamed Utah and Omaha, and inland targets. U.S. heavy, medium and fighter bombers also attack beach and inland targets over the next half-hour.

About 11,600 Allied aircraft total supported the D-Day landings.

5:30 a.m.

Naval forces start a prelanding bombardment of the beaches where British and Canadian infantry units are to land, codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword.

In total, the invasion armada comprised about 7,000 vessels, about 80% of which were British. More than 16% were from the U.S.; the rest were from France, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.

6:30 a.m.

H-hour for Omaha and Utah Beaches: U.S. soldiers assigned to the 4th Infantry Division began storming Utah Beach while U.S. regiments of the 1st and 29th infantry divisions and Army Rangers assaulted Omaha Beach.

The first wave at Utah landed about 2,000 yards south of the planned beach, which ended up being fortuitous because the intended beach was more heavily defended. In contrast, troops at Omaha, the most heavily defended and restricted of the beaches, with cliffs and steep bluffs, faced an even more difficult situation than initially expected.

About 73,000 U.S. troops total landed in Normandy on D-Day, including those at both beaches and airborne troops.

7:10 a.m.

U.S. Army Rangers begin scaling the 100-foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, with the objective of seizing German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at Omaha and Utah beaches.

7:25 a.m.

H-hour for Gold Beach, where the British 50th Infantry Division landed, and Sword Beach, where the British 3rd Infantry Division led the assault.

About 61,700 British troops landed in Normandy on D-Day, including airborne troops and those at both beaches.

7:35-7:45 a.m.

H-hour for Juno Beach, though the actual landing occurred closer to 8 a.m. Canada’s 3rd Division led the assault here, with British troops also participating.

About 21,400 Canadian troops landed at Juno Beach on D-Day.

By day’s end, the Allies had not achieved all their objectives, and they had suffered an estimated 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action: 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British and 946 Canadians. Nevertheless, Allied power had prevailed across the Normandy beachhead, and their tenuous foothold grew stronger in the following days and weeks, paving the way for victory in Europe.

Victory in Europe Day

Principal sources:

What They Wore

Soldiers storming the beaches on D-Day had to be prepared for an attack that started on sea and ended on land. The gear they carried could easily exceed 70 pounds. Lt. Jack Shea, a combat historian attached to the 29th Infantry Division, included an illustration within a combat narrative that showed the clothing and gear a platoon leader wore, detailing many of the features that helped equip soldiers for the largest amphibious invasion in history.

Voices of the War

Decades later, the memories of D-Day remain fresh in veterans’ minds. Watch and listen as a few of them share their stories.

“When you went out the door and your feet was in the air and you had bullets going. … Well they were going through your chute and you’re lucky if you weren’t hit.”

~ Former Army Pfc. John Agnew, 101st Airborne Division paratrooper

“There was a lot of sadness involved. And we recognized it when we came back home and I’d run into parents of fellas who’d been lost there.”

~ Retired Army Air Corps Col. Richard Heyman, 364th Fighter Group P-38 fighter pilot

“Seeing so many dead, it was very difficult. And I had to clear my mind from everything, what I was seeing, and do the work that I was trained to do.”

~ Retired Army Master Sgt. Charles Shay, 1st Infantry Division medic

5 Things You Didn't Know About D-Day

1. There’s Been Debate About the ‘D’

What the “D” in “D-Day” stands for has been a subject of disagreement among military historians and etymologists, according to the National World War II Museum. “Departed,” “disembarkation” and “decision” have all been raised as possibilities.

Probably the most widely accepted explanation is that the “D” simply stands for “day” — specifically, the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be launched. “D-day” and “H-hour” designate the initial day and hour of an operation when those elements have not yet been determined, or where secrecy is essential, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. June 6, 1944, therefore, is not the only D-day, but it’s the one that’s come to be known popularly as D-Day.

2. It Was Initially Set for 1 Day Earlier

Success on D-Day would require multiple weather-related conditions, including long days for maximum air power usage, a near-full moon to help guide ships and airborne troops, and tides strong enough to expose beach obstacles at low tide and float supply-filled landing vehicles far onto the beach during high tide. The tides needed to be rising at H-Hour and there had to be an hour of daylight beforehand for bombardment accuracy. Only nine days in May and June seemed to fit the requirements. Commanders settled on June 5, but unfavorable forecasts spurred Eisenhower to decide last-minute to switch D-Day to the early hours of June 6.

3. Not Everything Went According to Plan

Despite careful planning, Allied forces still had to improvise and adapt to overcome unexpected difficulties. Many of the airborne troops were widely scattered as they landed. Cloud cover interfered with the preliminary aerial bombardment. Rough seas meant that amphibious tanks intended to support the infantry were delayed or never made it to shore. However, chance sometimes favored the Allies. For example, U.S. soldiers landed at the wrong location on Utah Beach – in what proved to be a more lightly defended area than their original objective.

4. Eisenhower Wrote a Press Release in Case of Failure

In the afternoon on June 5, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower scribbled a message on a pad of paper, intended for release in case the assault failed. The message (mistakenly dated July 5) said, in full: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

5. Decoding ‘Enigma’ Helped the Allies Win

The Allies and the Axis powers both needed machines to turn military orders into secret codes. The Germans had a code machine known as Enigma, which was thought to be unbreakable — but a team of Polish and British experts successfully cracked the Enigma code.

Officials said the German codes intercepted before D-Day precisely pinpointed nearly all of the German fighting units in the Normandy area. On D-Day itself, the device also helped Allied commanders get word of their troops' progress quicker than through their own communication channels.

D-Day Medal of Honor Recipients

Of the hundreds of thousands of troops who fought courageously to liberate Normandy, four U.S. soldiers received the nation’s highest award for valor for their heroic actions on D-Day.

barrett portrait

Carlton W.

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montieth portrait

1st Lt.
Jimmie W.
Monteith Jr.

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pinder portrait

Tech. 5th Grade John J.
Pinder Jr.

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roosevelt portrait

Brig. Gen.
Roosevelt Jr.

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Through the Years

Though the number of World War II veterans diminishes every year, reminders of the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in D-Day are everywhere in Normandy, and millions of people — service members and civilians, of all generations — visit the region each year to honor them.

A Resting Place Befitting Their Sacrifice

On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is home to the gravesites of more than 9,300 American service members, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day and the ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, more than 1,500 names are inscribed, with rosettes marking those who have since been recovered and identified. Forty-five sets of brothers are commemorated or buried at the cemetery, including 33 side by side. A father and son rest alongside each other as well. Explore these sacred grounds, granted by France to the United States in perpetuity, honoring American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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