On June 6, 1944, after nearly five years of a global war, the invasion of Europe began behind the largest landing force the world had ever seen.
The invasion, which became known as D-Day, began as Operation Neptune, part of Operation Overlord which was the code name for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe during World War II.
U.S. Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, along with military leaders in Britain, planned and directed the invasion.
It would be Eisenhower who would tell the troops that he had “full confidence” in the men’s “courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.”
So what happened on that day? Here’s what unfolded just after midnight on June 6, 1944.
The operation began at 12:15 a.m. on June 6, 1944, when more than 13,000 Americans from the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions began to parachute behind German lines.
About three hours later, Allied bombers began to hit the German lines near the 50-mile strip along the Normandy coast of France.
The bombing was relentless at times. According to historians, 7 million pounds of bombs would be dropped by the end of the day.
Two hours later, at 5 a.m., seven battleships, 18 cruisers, and 43 destroyers began a naval bombardment of the coast. The attack lasted nearly 90 minutes, leading up to the troop landings which began at 6:31 a.m.
Allied troops — made up of American, Canadian and British forces — headed ashore on 50 miles of coastline that had been divided into five landing zones – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
U.S. troops took Utah and Omaha, Canadians landed at Juno and British troops took Gold and Sword.
How many people took part in the D-Day invasion?
There were 160,000 Allied troops – of that number, 73,000 were Americans.
What was the toll?
It’s estimated that 4,500 Allied forces died in the invasion. More than 2,000 Americans were killed at Omaha Beach, alone.
• 1,600 aircraft flew cover as troops landed on the beaches.
• 14,674 sorties were flown on June 6, 1944.
• 127 Allied planes were shot down or crashed.
• 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels took part in the invasion.
• 50,000 German troops were spread out along the landing area.
• 172.5 acres in the Normandy American Cemetery is one of 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil.
• 10,000 Allied troops were expected to be killed on that day; less than half of that number were killed in the invasion.
Remembering the sacrifice
On the 40th anniversary of the invasion, President Ronald Reagan delivered one of the most moving speeches ever given at a D-Day memorial ceremony, remembering the “boys of Pointe du Hoc,” a group of Army Rangers who took a high point along Omaha Beach. Here is that speech:
Sources: D-Day Museum; Encyclopedia Britannica; The Associated Press; The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library; History.com
D-Day: The battle of Normandy, June 6, 1944
U.S. Army graphic by Daniel Torok
Lt. Col. Roy A. Webb Jr., second from right, commander of the 374th Fighter Squadron, receives a flight briefing prior to flying a mission on June 6, 1944 – the day of the D-Day invasion. Pictured at Bottisham air field in England are 374th pilots Lt. Wallace B. Frank, Lt. Col. Wallace E. Hopkins, Major George R. Rew, Capt. George Lichter, Lt. Col. Roy Webb, Lt. Edward Murdy. Briefing Room, Bottisham. (Photo from the collection of the American Air Museum in England)
British Royal Navy Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay, left, talks with U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John L. Hall Jr. aboard the command ship USS Ancon (AGC 4) May 25, 1944, at an unknown location. On May 28, 1944, Ramsay issued the order to carry out Operation Neptune, the amphibious portion of the invasion of Normandy. The morning of June 6, 1944, Allied forces conducted a massive airborne assault and amphibious landing in the Normandy region of France. The invasion marked the beginning of the final phase of World War II in Europe, which ended with the surrender of Germany the following May. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration photo/Released)
U.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft under heavy fire off the coast of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. (Photo Credit: National Archives U.S. Coast Guard Collection)
The beachhead is secure, but the price was high. A U.S. Coast Guard photographer came upon this monument to a dead American soldier somewhere on the shell-blasted shore of Normandy shortly after D-Day. Coast Guard photo
U.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. By the end of the day, some 150,000 Allied troops had landed on five Normandy beaches and three airborne drop zones. The invasion marked the beginning of the final phase of World War II in Europe, which ended with the surrender of Germany the following May. (DOD photo courtesy of the National Infantry Museum/Released)
FILE – In this June 8, 1944, file photo, under heavy German machine gun fire, American infantrymen wade ashore off the ramp of a Coast Guard landing craft during the invasion of the French coast of Normandy in World War II.(U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File)
FILE – In this June 6, 1944, file photo, provided by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, General Dwight Eisenhower gives the order of the day, "Full Victory – Nothing Else" to paratroopers in England just before they board their planes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the assault that began the liberation of France and Europe from German occupation, leading to the end World War II. (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo via AP)
FILE – In this June 1944, file photo, U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf as they land at Normandy in the days following the Allies’, D-Day invasion of occupied France.(U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File)
FILE – In this June 5, 1944, file photo, U.S. serviceman attend a Protestant service aboard a landing craft before the D-Day invasion on the coast of France. (AP Photo/Pete J. Carroll, File)
U.S. Soldiers, including Jake McNiece, right, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division apply war paint to each other’s face in England June 5, 1944, in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, France, the next day. The morning of June 6, 1944, Allied forces conducted a massive airborne assault and amphibious landing in the Normandy region of France. The invasion marked the beginning of the final phase of World War II in Europe, which ended with the surrender of Germany the following May. McNiece led a demolition group called the Filthy 13, whose exploits were credited with the inspiration of the film "The Dirty Dozen." (U.S. Army photo/Released)
A bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons and Allied troops landing in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. U.S. Maritime Commission photo
FILE – In this Aug. 25, 1944 file photo, French civilians with hastily made American and French flags greet U.S. and Free French troops entering Paris, France, after Allied liberation of the French capital from Nazi occupation in World War II. For Allied troops in western Europe, D-Day was just the beginning of a long and bloody push toward victory over the Nazis. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, file)
Resolute faces of U.S. Army paratroopers just before they took off for the initial assault of D-Day. The paratrooper in the foreground had just read Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message of good luck and clasped his bazooka in determination. Note Eisenhower’s D-Day order in the hands of the paratrooper in the foreground. DOD photo
FILE – In this February 1944, file photo, Don Whitehead, Associated Press correspondent, writes his story of the landing at Anzio Beach in Italy, from a fox hole. Whitehead, known by his colleagues as “Beachhead Don,” returned to Normandy for the tenth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, June 5, 1954, which he covered when he followed the 1st Infantry Division onto Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Bill Allen, File)
This undated photo shows Associated Press reporter Roger Greene a few days after the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing in France. Greene was the first seaborned war correspondent to land on the beach of Normandy in the D-Day invasion. He accompanied British forces across the Channel. (AP Photo)
This wire copy by Associated Press reporter Roger Greene reached New York on June 8, 1944, two days after Greene made the D-Day landing alongside British forces. Greenes escorting officer was wounded and he saw three men killed as he landed. In New York Executive Editor Alan J. Gould marked the copy in red, First from our beachhead team. (AP Photo/AP Corporate Archives)
This undated image shows the Howell Dodd graphic that appeared in the June-July 1944 issue of The AP Inter-Office, a printed and illustrated magazine that was offered to AP staff and member newspapers. The graphic shows depictions of the AP correspondents on D-Day. In 1945 the magazine changed its name to AP World. (AP Photo/AP Corporate Archives, Howell Dodd)