June 6, 2020 — “Operation Overlord” began on June 6, 1944, although planning and preparation for what became the most important mission of WWII began years earlier. The planned invasion of France by Allied troops was a closely guarded secret and the long-awaited implementation of a multi-pronged attack to free Europe from Nazi Germany was initiated on that day.
The beaches of France were the primary staging ground for the most intense conflicts of the day, with Allied advances limited and less successful than military leaders had previously hoped.
The associated land and air operations were critical components of the mission to free occupied France and were codenamed “Operation Neptune” — more generally known as the Battle of Normandy — which later came to be known as D-Day.
Operation Neptune comprised the largest seaborne invasion in history. It was also the first step in a journey that culminated in the freeing of Europe from beneath the boot heel of Adolf Hitler.
The battles that occurred on D-Day were numerous and took place at different points on the French coast, at approximately the same time. While the majority of troops involved in the invasion were from America and Britain, troops from many other countries participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, including Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
Americans were at the heart of Operation Neptune’s multi-pronged amphibious assault on the coastline in order to reestablish a military foothold on the continent with the goal of eventually defeating Hitler’s forces and retaking France.
The scale of the firepower employed that day was unprecedented and included sorties flown by 3,000 aircraft of assorted types and nearly 7,000 vessels which participated in naval operations. More than 150,000 Allied troops were directly involved in the fighting.
Overall, the brutal battles on D-Day resulted in more than 10,000 Allied casualties, with almost 5,000 of those soldiers dying. German casualties were estimated to be triple those numbers.
As part of an overall Allied strategy to free Europe from fascism, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Russian President Joseph Stalin and their staffs crafted an elaborate plan to engage Hitler and the German war machine on a number of fronts.
The hope was Hitler would have neither the troops nor the weaponry necessary to defend on multiple fronts and fall to defeat with the invasion of Normandy as the first step in that process.
This turned out to be a winning strategy as Germany eventually surrendered to Allied troops that had surrounded Berlin, after millions of tons of Allied bombs decimated the city.
Millions of Germans had died either as casualties of fighting in the war or as collateral civilian deaths, never achieving the Nazi goal of establishing a 1,000-year Reich.
The deadly battles that occurred on D-Day and over the ensuing months, have become the stuff of legends, immortalized on film by Stephen Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and in “Band of Brothers,” an Emmy-winning television series produced by Tom Hanks.
According to dday-anniversary.com, “Each year, thousands of people descend on the French region of Normandy to pay homage to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in D-Day, Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy. Veterans and their families, political figures, re-enactors, military vehicle enthusiasts and thousands of other men, women and children pay tribute to the those who fought to liberate Europe and remember those who never returned.”
Under COVID-19, many D-Day celebrations have been canceled this year.