War may be as old as mankind, but few were so clear-cut in purpose as World War II. A madman bent on domination, enslavement and genocide engaged nearly all of the world’s nations (most of them Allies) and cost at least 55 million lives — more than any other in history.
So yes, D-Day is a big deal. Today is its 75th anniversary.
Why is D-Day a big deal? D-Day, June 6, 1944, launched an Allied operation which ultimately liberated Western Europe from Hitler’s Axis powers — the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of WWII.
What happened on D-Day? Landing craft and ships unloaded 156,000 Allied troops by air and sea on five beaches in occupied Normandy, France — the largest invasion ever assembled — with Nazi troops not far away. (Today, a re-enactment is happening on location, which must be a poignant sight.)
More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion. By day’s end, the Allies finally had their foothold in continental Europe, with thousands of soldiers’ lives lost, some remaining near the coast, and 10,000 slowly marching forward. By June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on that 50-mile stretch of beach.
Gen. Eisenhower called it a great crusade, telling troops, “the eyes of the world are upon you.”
Why the term ‘D-Day’?
When a military operation is planned, its actual date and time isn’t always known. D-Day meant whatever the date the operation would begin. The day before D-Day was D-1, while the day after D-Day was D+1, and so on. That way if the date changed for strategic reasons all other dates in the plan wouldn’t need correction. The military also used “H-Hour” for the start time.
What does the D stand for?
No, it’s not deliverance, doom, or debarkation. According to historians, it doesn’t stand for anything. In a way, it’s repetitive; the D simply derives from the word “day.”
Which nations participated?
While most of the world was officially on the Allied side, fewer actually committed troops. Most who landed at Normandy were British, Canadian, and American, with help from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
What was Operation Overlord?
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. It began June 6, 1944, (D-Day) and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on Aug. 19.
What about Operation Neptune?
Operation Neptune was the assault phase of Overlord — the actual troop landing on the Normandy beaches. It began on D-Day and ended June 30.
And the Battle of Normandy?
The Battle of Normandy described the fighting in Normandy from D-Day until the end of August. The liberation of Paris was Aug. 25, often used as the end point.
How many people were killed?
We may never know. Books often cite 2,500 Allied troops killed on D-Day, but research by the National D-Day Memorial Foundation uncovered more, claiming 4,414 Allied personnel killed on D-Day, including 2,501 Americans, 1,449 British, 391 Canadians and 73 from other Allied countries. Total German losses on D-Day (including dead, wounded, and POWs) are widely estimated between 4,000 and 9,000.
More than 100,000 Allied and German troops were killed during the Battle of Normandy, plus about 20,000 French civilians, many as a result of Allied bombing.
How did they manage such an invasion, when the enemy was well-armed, well trained and expecting them? Now we’re coming full circle to why D-Day is such a big deal, 75 years later. If you can’t visit The D-Day Story museum in Portsmouth, UK (where those ships embarked), Time magazine published five absorbing accounts: Bit.ly/1VHk1td
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who imagined many a sea voyage while staring across the channel from the Portsmouth shores. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.