At dawn on 6 June 1944, more than 130,000 men landed on Normandy’s beaches to liberate Europe. In fact, Operation Overlord had begun the night before with phase 1, codenamed “Neptune”. This entailed a series of operations including preparatory bombing and parachuting, crossing the Channel and landing on the Norman beaches.

Normandy the intended destination

The Germans were persuaded that the Landings would take place on the Pas-de-Calais coastline, for the Allies had been conducting a deception plan in the weeks beforehand to fool them. This vast deception strategy was codenamed “Fortitude”. And yet it was Normandy that the Allies had in their sights all along. On 6 June 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy on the coastline of the Manche and Calvados départements. Americans, Brits and Canadians mainly made up the troops’ ranks, but 177 Free French marines under Lieutenant Kieffer also took part.

The planning behind the Normandy Landings of June ‘44

To plan D-Day, the Allies organised bombing operations on the night of 5 June 1944. Some 2,000 bombers dropped nearly 8,000 tons of explosives over the German artillery batteries in the assault zone. Then, in the early hours of 6 June ‘44, the Landing operations commenced. Allied soldiers began by parachuting over Normandy to take control of strategic places. In the East, the British were able to take control of the bridges over the River Orne, including Pegasus Bridge, between Caen and the sea. But parachuting to the West proved particularly difficult and many soldiers drowned in the marshes. Survivors in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions nevertheless managed to take control of the village of Sainte-Mère-Église and the roads leading away from Utah Beach. Their aim was to prevent the Germans from reaching the port of Cherbourg, which had been pinpointed for use in transporting foodstuffs, vehicles and men mobilised in Europe’s Liberation.

The barges arrive at Omaha beach
Omaha Beach

The 5 beaches ear-marked for D-Day

The Allies ear-marked five D-Day beaches. The first two were Utah and Omaha, located on either side of the River Vire in the Veys Bay. The other three sectors, christened Gold, Juno and Sword, extended from Arromanches to Ouistreham. This was where the Allied troops disembarked from barges, and continued operations from the artificial harbours – built in record time. The troops managed to hold their ground on Norman soil, despite Germany’s vicious retaliation. The Liberation of the whole of the Manche département was set in motion at a heavy price. Every year, the commemorations recall the human sacrifices made but also celebrate the return of peace in Europe.

End of Operation Neptune and beginning of the Battle of Normandy

The very next day, on 7 June, the Battle of Normandy began. The troops progressed slowly but surely: Battle of the Cotentin, hedge warfare, Operation Cobra…  Cherbourg was liberated on 27 June, Saint-Lô on 18 July and Coutances on 28 July. Mortain was liberated on 4 August only to be captured again by the Germans; it would regain freedom, for good, this time, on 12 August. The Allied troops would need another two days to liberate the whole of the Manche département.

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The Battle of Normandy