June 6, 1944, known as D-day, was the date of Operation Overlord the largest combined land, sea and air military operation ever at that time, and a major turning point in the course of World War II.
1944 had begun with a major Allied landing at Anzio in Italy, 30 miles south of Rome. By June 4 they had "liberated" the Italian capital. Allied troops under the command of General Dwight D Eisenhower had been massing in Britain since April, but in Europe, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in command of the German defence of France.
On June 6, the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches of northern France. There were five separate landing beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, stretching along the coast between Cherbourg and Le Havre. RAF and USAF bombers bombarded German positions during the night before and on D-Day itself. Thousands of ships sailed from British ports, converging on Normandy around 5am. Allied landing craft put troops ashore, with artillery backup from destroyers and battleships offshore. German Panzer tank forces were deployed in error in the Pas de Calais to the north - Rommel had apparently been misled or mistaken as to the invasion force's ultimate destination. Incredibly, Rommel had also returned to Germany on D-Day to celebrate his wife's birthday.
The fiercest opposition to the Allied assault was found at Omaha beach, where machine-gun fire and mortars killed many men, and tanks were lost in heavy seas.
Canadian forces landed at Juno beach near Courseulles, where there was fierce street fighting and 340 died in the battle.
British forces landing at Sword beach had to fight off German Panzers, and were held up by blocked narrow streets in their advance towards the key objective of the town of Caen.
Other British forces landing at Gold beach captured a pillbox and found the Germans had left behind their breakfast of sausages and hot coffee.
Americans landing at Utah beach met little resistance, losing only six men before the Germans surrendered.
The D-Day landings were the start of an Allied push through northern Europe. Paris was liberated in August, 1944, and Brussels followed in September. By April, 1945, the Allies were in Berlin, and the final German surrender came in May.
Other E2 nodes:
Allied Expeditionary Force
Don't run from snipers, you'll just die tired
National D-Day memorial
Saving Private Ryan
The Longest Day
World War II
20th Century Day by Day, Dorling Kindersley, 2000
Chronicle of Britain, Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1992
Various E2 nodes