About Operation Overlord

Why D-Day Matters

While the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, usually termed D-Day, did not end the war in Europe—that would take eleven more months—success on that day created a path to victory for the Allies. The stakes were so great, the impact so monumental, that this single day stands out in history.

The Eyes of the World Are Upon You

June 6, 1944

In the early hours of June 6, under the cover of darkness, American and British paratroopers dropped into Normandy from more than 1,200 aircraft. Once daylight appeared, gliders brought in additional paratroopers. American airborne forces of the 82nd and 101st worked valiantly to achieve their inland objectives, including the capture of Sainte-Mere Eglise and securing key approaches to the Allied beachhead.

The largest naval bombardment ever seen began at 5:30 AM, lasting only forty minutes. American battleships supported by cruisers and destroyers and the British Royal Navy with a similar group of ships shelled gun emplacements and defensive positions around their designated beaches.

The sunrise on June 6 brought with it wave after wave of landing vessels, carrying the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian, and French ground troops who stormed some fifty miles of coastline in Northern France, beaches fiercely defended by the Germans.

Strong currents pushed the Americans 2,000 yards south of Utah Beach, forcing them to march that distance back to the intended landing areas to seize German fortifications. They still secured Utah by day’s end.

The Germans were aware of the importance of the sector designated Omaha Beach, which the Allies would need to connect and secure the beachheads together, and made certain it was heavily defended. Fortifications and elevated terrain meant the American landing on Omaha would be the bloodiest that day.

The British secured Gold Beach with the help of artillery, tanks, and air support. Assuming Allied landing craft could not make it past the offshore rocks, the Germans did not defend Juno Beach as heavily. Canadian forces pushed the Germans out and secured Juno’s beachhead by mid-afternoon. Tasked with securing Sword Beach, the British were three miles from their intended objective at Caen by day’s end. Nightfall on D-Day found Allied forces past the German defenses on all five beachheads. Hitler’s vaunted Atlantic Wall lasted less than twenty-four hours.

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Marching Together to Victory

Beyond Overlord

Many Allied soldiers would follow the D-Day forces into France, with the goal of breaking out of Normandy and pushing the Germans east. Allied forces found themselves bogged down in the infamous hedgerows of Normandy, walls of impenetrable vegetation that provided ideal defensive positions for the Germans and limited the Allies’ ability to move as quickly as hoped.

Frustrated with the failure of the British in the Caen sector to achieve a breakout, General Omar Bradley planned an American offensive, Operation Cobra, near Saint-Lô. If successful, the U.S. forces would be out of the dreaded hedgerows and able to maneuver rapidly. Cobra commenced on July 25 with a massive air assault against German positions. It worked, and soon the American mechanized army was on the move.

The success of Cobra is considered the end of the Normandy campaign and signaled the collapse of German defenses throughout most of France. Hastened by American landings on France’s Mediterranean coast beginning August 15 (Operation Dragoon), Allied forces by August 25 had liberated Paris. Soviet offenses from the east placed additional pressure on the Germans. Ultimate victory, the defeat of Nazi Germany, would only come after fierce fighting that lasted until the following May.

Frequently Asked Questions About D-Day

What does the D in D-Day stand for?

D, which merely stands for day, is the designation used to indicate the start date of any American military operation. Military planners used plus and minus signs to designate days occurring before or after; two days before an operation commenced was indicated as D-2, three days after was D+3. An operation began on D Day and at H-Hour. While all American operations had a D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, is the best-known and goes down in history as such.

Why invade at Normandy?

There was enormous thought on both sides as to where the cross-Channel attack would take place. The most obvious location was in the Calais area, where the Channel is narrowest. But it was deemed too obvious. Attacking at Normandy increased the distance to travel and lengthened supply lines, but the element of surprise was considered worth the extra difficulty and risk.

What is the difference between Operation Overlord and Operation Neptune?

Operation Overlord was the code-name for the overall invasion of Normandy. Operation Neptune was the code-name for the seaborne landings and naval aspects. 

How many men were killed on D-Day?

4,426: 2,509 Americans and 1,917 Allies from seven nations.

The Foundation’s necrology database is the most authoritative accounting of D-Day fallen anywhere in the world, but we know there are others. Precise record-keeping was not the priority in the heat of battle and dates were recorded incorrectly or not at all. When evidence suggests an individual was killed on June 6, 1944, our research team determines eligibility for inclusion on the Memorial wall.

Were women involved in the D-Day invasion? What about African Americans and Native Americans?

Women being ineligible for combat in 1944, no women landed on D-Day; although war correspondent Martha Gellhorn reportedly snuck onto a troop transport to cover the invasion. However, within two or three days American nurses were serving in Normandy; and the brave civilian women who acted within the French Resistance deserve recognition too.

African Americans were certainly present on D-Day, despite the racial segregation of the period. Most notable were the men of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, which landed elements on both Utah and Omaha Beach. African Americans also acted with the quartermaster corps, as truck or bulldozer drivers, and as medics. Five African Americans are known to have given their lives on D-Day.

It is difficult to say how many Native Americans served on D-Day, because they were not always identified as such in records. But we know that members of the Comanche Tribe served as code talkers, using their native language as code unbreakable to the enemy. According to the Charles Shay Indian Memorial on Omaha Beach, about 175 American Indians invaded Omaha Beach. “Some were medics, others fought as seamen, scouts, snipers, radio operators, machine gunners, artillery gunners, combat engineers, or forward observers.”

Who were the “Bedford Boys?”

The term popularized by author Alex Kershaw’s 2003 book usually refers to soldiers from the community of Bedford, Virginia, serving in Company A, 116th Regiment who participated in the Normandy Invasion. Nineteen of those soldiers died on Omaha Beach and a twentieth Bedford native from Company F also died that day.

Why is the Memorial in Bedford?

The loss of the “Bedford Boys” is widely thought to be the highest per capita sacrifice made by any American community on D-Day. For that reason, Congress warranted the Memorial’s establishment in Bedford, Virginia, recognizing Bedford as emblematic of American homefront communities. Additionally, it is worth noting that approximately 100 other Bedford residents died during WWII in other battles and other theaters.

Is the Memorial part of the National Park Service? Does it receive government funding?

Though warranted by the United States Congress, the Memorial is not a National Park Service site. The National D-Day Memorial Foundation operates and maintains the site, with the educational mission of preserving the lessons and legacy of D-Day. The Memorial is not state or federally funded and relies on donor support. Visit our Ways to Support Us page to learn how you can support the Memorial.

Who designed and built the Memorial?

Byron Dickson – Architect

Coleman-Adams Construction – General Contractor

Jim Brothers, Matthew Kirby, Richard Pumphrey – Sculptors

Can my relative be recognized at the Memorial?

Only the names of those who died between 12:00 AM and 11:59 PM on June 6, 1944, while participating in the invasion of Normandy, are recorded on the Memorial wall. Families can honor loved ones with Memorial bricks or by purchasing a cherry tree or bench located on-site. Biographical information about Normandy veterans can be submitted to our Participant Program for inclusion in the research archive.

What is a Gold Star Family?

Gold Star Families are those American families who have lost a loved one in military service to our nation. The blue and gold star banner tradition began in World War I. A blue star indicates an active service member. A gold star denotes a service member who gave his or her life for their country.

On the west side of the Memorial grounds is a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a moving tribute to those families. Created by the late Hershel “Woody” Williams, the longest-surviving Medal of Honor recipient from WWII, Williams personally chose the National D-Day Memorial as the site of the first such monument in Virginia.