N is for… the Normandy campaign

Everyone, even those who know very little about the Second World War, will know of D-Day. On 6 June 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare began.[1] Codenamed OPERATION Overlord, the Allies used over 5,000 ships and landing craft to move more than 150,000 troops onto five beaches in Normandy.[2] These landings marked the start of the long campaign in north-west Europe which ultimately led to the defeat of the German army.

The plans for D-Day had been submitted as early as July 1943 under Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan and his team of British, American and Canadian officers.[3] Full and detailed preparations began soon after the Tehran Conference later in the year.[4] A command team under General Dwight D. Eisenhower was formed to plan the naval, air and land operations, along with deception campaigns which were developed to draw German attention away from the Normandy landing zones.[5] To build up resources for the invasion, British factories increased their production considerable. Furthermore, in the first half of 1944 approximately 9 million tonnes of supplies and equipment were transported across the Atlantic from North America to Britain.[6] The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was also set up as an international coalition, and by 1944 over 2 million troops from over 12 countries were in Britain for the final preparations before the invasion.[7]

Early on 6 June, Allied airborne forces were parachuted into drop zones across northern France, allowing for the start of the combined naval, air, and land assault that was to follow.[8] Ground troops then landed across the five assault beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.[9] Allied air forces were able to fly over 14,000 sorties in support of the landings as air supremacy had already been secured prior to the invasion’s launch.[10] By the end of the first day, the Allies had established a foothold along the coast and began their advance into France.

The scene on Omaha assault area after the initial landings on 6 June 1944, showing naval vessels massed offshore. In the foreground, LSTs (Landing Ship Tank), which have grounded on the beach, are unloading directly onto the shore.

However, the importance of D-Day often overshadows the overall significance of the entire Normandy campaign.[11] While establishing a foothold was critical, it was just the beginning in a long campaign for victory. In the three months following D-Day, the Allies launched a number of additional offensives to try and advance further inland, with vary success.[12] The landscape of Normandy made it hard for the Allies to advance, and casualties were heavy. British troops faced heavy German resistance on the eastern flanks of the front, but this enabled US forces to stage a breakout further in the west.[13] However, one of the most important decisions that helped the Allies, made during the Normandy campaign, was Hitler’s refusal to let his commanders make tactical withdrawals when required. This meant that the bulk of the German forces were eventually trapped and destroyed when the Allies broke out and caused a full retreat of German troops out of France.[14]

General Sir Bernard Montgomery addressing the men of 50th Division before decorating them for gallantry during the Normandy landings

Unfortunately, despite the rapid advance of the Allies in the wake of the German retreat, the overall push could not be sustained, allowing for the Germans to regroup, and the Allied campaign eventually ground to a halt as winter approached.[15] After a failed counter-offensive by German troops in December, the Allies resumed their advance and crossed the Rhine, the last remaining obstacle into Germany, in March 1945.[16] The Second World War finally ended on 7 May 1945, with German surrender.

Normandy was one of the most intense campaigns ever fought by the British Army, with casualty rates reaching those of Passchendaele, a campaign of the First World War.[17] Between D-Day and the end of August 1944, some 83,000 British, Canadian and polish troops became casualties, of whom almost 16,000 were killed.[18] Across the entire campaign, the total losses were monumental; the Germans losses were around 400,000, the British and Canadians suffered 84,000 casualties, and the Americans 125,000.[19]


[1] Imperial War Museum (IWM), ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[2] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[3] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[4] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[5] The National Army Museum (NAM), ‘Battle of Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/normandy-campaign

[6] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[7] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[8] NAM, ‘Battle of Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/normandy-campaign

[9] NAM, ‘Battle of Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/normandy-campaign

[10] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[11] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[12] IWM, ‘The 10 things you need to know about D-Day,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

[13] IWM,  ‘What happened after D-Day?,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-happened-after-d-day

[14] NAM, ‘Battle of Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/normandy-campaign

[15] IWM,  ‘What happened after D-Day?,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-happened-after-d-day

[16] IWM,  ‘What happened after D-Day?,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-happened-after-d-day

[17] IWM,’ ‘Tactics and the cost of victory in Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/tactics-and-the-cost-of-victory-in-normandy

[18] IWM,’ ‘Tactics and the cost of victory in Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/tactics-and-the-cost-of-victory-in-normandy

[19] NAM, ‘Battle of Normandy,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/normandy-campaign

[Image 1] IWM,’ ‘D-Day – Allied Forces during the invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944,’ EA 26941, last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193063

[Image 2] IWM,’ ‘General Montgomery decorates men of the 50th Division in Normandy, 17 July 1944,’ TR 2012, last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188961


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