D-day: why the training was deadlier than the assault

Amid live-ammo mishaps and landing craft sinkings, more troops were lost in training for 6 June than on the day itself, reveals Peter Caddick-Adams

British troops learn to swim in full kit on a training course in May 1944. "A blind man could see something big was about to happen," said one soldier. (Image by Getty Archives)

“Let’s start at the beginning, because by far the most important part was rehearsing for it, getting it right.” This is what D-Day platoon commander Kingston Adams told me when I interviewed him in 1991 about his wartime experiences. He was quite correct. From him and many other interviewees came the dawning realisation that D-Day had a vitally important hinterland. For those associated with that iconic day, 6 June 1944 was simply the culmination of months – sometimes years – of dedicated training. The first day of the landings in Normandy and the subsequent campaign was only half the story. Most accounts plunge straight into the combat, with no more than a cursory nod to what went before. Yet without often dangerous preparation, the airborne troops would not have prevailed and the seaborne warriors – wet, miserable with seasickness, cold and under intense fire – would not have known how to drag themselves through the obstacles and off the shingle.

When compared with their opponents, the Allied servicemen who invaded northern France on 6 June 1944 had experienced an incredible degree of rugged and realistic training that put them at the peak of physical fitness, acclimatised them to battle and equipped them mentally and physically to win. In fact, according to my research, more lives were lost preparing for D-Day than in its first 24 hours. This uncomfortable aspect of Operation Overlord has been entirely air-brushed from history.

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