On June 6, 1944 the greatest seaborne invasion in history took place on Normandy in Northern France. An invasion that both sides planned for years. As the author commented in the book, never before had history anticipated, witnessed, and defended such an invasion. The D-Day invasion will forever be remembered as the pivot point for World War II.
Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, and the operation had to be delayed 24 hours; a further postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days each month were deemed suitable. Adolf Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.
The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 US, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. Inland near Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialized tanks.
The Allies failed to achieve any of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until 12 June; however, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were documented for at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.
Most of this book consists of recollections of the men involved in the planning and execution of the landings. Quiet, humble, and unassuming men of destiny. “From the paratroopers and glider pilots landed behind enemy lines to the sappers, gunners, tank crews, signal, infantry, chaplains and surgeons – and the vast armada of ships and landing craft that brought them to the congested beaches – each has their own story of excitement, elation, horror and heroism. A unique collection of letters and accounts from all ranks and regiments, this book champions the ordinary men who made it possible.
About the author Phillip Warner (1914–2000), he enlisted in the Royal Corps of Signals after graduating from St Catharine’s, Cambridge in 1939. He fought in Malaya and spent 1,100 days as ‘a guest of the Emperor’ in Changi, on the Railway of Death and in the mines of Japan, an experience he never discussed. A legendary figure to generations of cadets during his thirty years as a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he will also be long remembered for his contribution to more than 2,000 obituaries of prominent army figures to The Daily Telegraph. In addition he wrote fifty-four books on all aspects of military history, ranging from castles and battlefields in Britain, to biographies of prominent military figures (such as Kitchener: The Man Behind The Legend, Field Marshal Earl Haig, Horrocks: The General Who Led From the Front (Pen & Sword, 2018) and Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier (Pen & Sword, 2006) to major histories of the SAS, the Special Boat Services, Phantom and the Royal Corps of Signals.