In commemoration of D-Day, and in support of our upcoming exhibit D-Day +75, we've compiled a list of interesting facts to review in anticipation of the 75th anniversary and our exhibits premier, June 6th.
1. D-Day (Operation Overlord) occurred on June 6th, 1944 but was initially planned for June 5th. The operation was delayed 24 hours due to weather.
2. This was the largest amphibious (land and water) invasion in history, with more than 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships supporting the operation.
3. Normandy was chosen in hope of surprising the Germans. The Germans expected the Allies to focus on Pas de Calais, as it was the closest point to the UK. Normandy was selected as it still was within flying distance and had a port.
4. Operation Bodyguard was the deception campaign to mask the true location and timing of the Normandy landings. This initial campaign deployed decoy convoys, simulated air assaults, and created fictitious army groups set to invade Norway and Pas-de-Calais, France. As the closest point to England, Pas-de-Calais was where the Germans believed the Allies would attack. This false intelligence created enough confusion that even after D-Day Hitler believed the true invasion had not yet occurred.
5. D-Day action centered around five beaches: "Utah," "Omaha," "Gold," "Juno," and "Sword." In all, the D-Day beaches were part of a 50-mile coastline. The Canadian 3rd Division landed on Juno; British forces touched down on Gold and Sword; and the Americans were sent to Utah and Omaha. Omaha saw the most bloodshed - 2400 American casualties and 1200 German casualties.
6. The “D” in D-Day actually only stood for Day and was simply used to preserve secrecy. For every day after D-Day, the name changed to D-Day +1 (June 7), D-Day +2 (June 8) and so on.
7. The success of Operation Overlord was due in large part to the actions of the nearly 20,000 Allied paratroopers and glider infantrymen who dropped behind the German lines early on June 6. The men of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions completed rigorous training for nearly two years prior to D-Day, but less than half had ever made a combat jump.
8. As the men of these airborne divisions flew over the coast of France shortly after midnight on June 6, they attracted heavy anti-aircraft fire, forcing many to jump well off their intended course and resulting in the first American casualties of the day. While figures vary, nearly 2,500 airborne troops would become casualties on D-Day alone, and only about 1 in 6 landing in their intended locations.
9. More than 1,000 Higgins boats made their way to shore on D-Day. Packed inside each boat were upwards of three dozen infantrymen, many of whom became sea-sick in the journey. The Higgins boat was named after its creator Andrew Higgins, who designed the boat based off of designs for operating in swamps and marshes. Higgins may have originally designed the boats for people intending to smuggle illegal liquor into the US during Prohibition or for it to be flat-used to rescue flood victims on the Mississippi river in the US.
10. Adolf Hitler was asleep when word of the invasion arrived. No one dared wake him and it’s said vital time was lost in sending reinforcements.
Learn more about D-Day in our new exhibit, D-Day+75, opening on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th. Visit pritzkermilitary.org for more information.