The invasion of Nazi-occupied France was codenamed Operation OVERLORD and took place on Tuesday 6 June 1944, having been delayed by 24 hours because of poor weather. Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault in what was the largest seaborne invasion in history. D-Day marked the beginning of the campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.
American, British and Canadian troops landed on five different beaches across the Normandy coastline: the Americans at Utah at the base of the Cotentin Peninsular and at Omaha at the western end of the northern Normandy coast; the British were to land at Gold Beach, east of Omaha; then the Canadians at Juno; and the British again at Sword, the easternmost invasion beach.
But why Normandy? The initial decision to land in Normandy was made by the chief of staff to the supreme allied commander (COSSAC) in 1943, Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan. His team ruled out the Pas-de-Calais region and saw a landing between the Cotentin peninsula and near to Caen as being the most suitable, says military historian Paul Reed.
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At this stage in the war, due to lack of men and equipment, Morgan recommended landing on three beaches along the Normandy coastline, but this was later expanded to five. The work of the French Resistance had indicated that there were fewer defences in Normandy than in the Pas-de-Calais, with many bunkers containing antiquated firepower from the First World War. Indeed, some of the bunker complexes were only partially completed. The mapping had also demonstrated good roads to get landing troops off the beach area and inland, and to take them beyond on the long road to liberation, says Reed.
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To read more about the successes and failures of D-Day, visit our D-Day hub.