Royal Marine Commandos 47 RM Commando during Normandy D-Day landings
D-Day

10 Things You Need To Know About D-Day

Everything you need to know ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Royal Marine Commandos 47 RM Commando during Normandy D-Day landings

Royal Marines land at Normandy in June 1944 (Picture: PA).

1. D-Day was supposed to happen a day earlier

The original date for D-Day was set to be 5 June 1944.

The landings had been planned with very specific weather and tides conditions in mind, but as the day approached, the weather got worse and unpredictable. High winds and torrential rain meant the operation had to be delayed.

Even if on 6 June 1944 the weather was far from perfect, it was still good enough for the troops to invade the shores of Normandy.

A further postponement would have meant waiting at least two more weeks as the phase of the moon and tides would have changed.

Royal Marine Commandos going ashore during D-Day
Royal Marine Commandos going ashore on D-Day in Normandy, where the weather was far from ideal (Picture: PA).

2. 'H-Hour' is when the operation was set to begin

'H-Hour' was the term used to indicate the time on 6 June when the military operation was set to begin. 

For D-Day, it was set to 6:30 in the morning - the time when the attacks on the beaches began.

At that time, US troops landed at Utah and Omaha, the British arrived at Gold and Sword beaches and the Canadians landed at Juno.

D-Day 74 ceremony with A-10 Thunderbolt and C-130 Hercules over Normandy beach
An A-10 and a C-130 Hercules fly over a Normandy beach during D-Day 74 commemorations last year (Picture: US Air Force).

3. Normandy was seen as an unlikely point for an attack

An attack from the sea was not foreseen by the Germans.

In order to succeed in a military invasion of Normandy, the attacking forces needed to not only make it successfully onto the beaches with their military equipment, but they would need to either carry their military and food supplies with them or have them shipped over.

This is why Calais was the location Germans believed an attack could take place: the distance from England was shorter than that between the UK and Normandy, and there was a large, active port.

Advanced Landing Ground 4 near Deux-Jumeaux in Normandy France 1944
Advanced Landing Ground 4, also known as Airfield 4, near Deux-Jumeaux in Normandy (Picture: US Air National Guard).

4. Germans expected an attack on Norway

A game of deception code-named 'Bodyguard' was put into action by the Allies.

Operation Fortitude built up to the 1944 Normandy landings. Divided into the North and South sub-plans of deception, it aimed at misleading the German high commands as to where an invasion would take place.

Phantom field armies, made up of inflatable vehicles and submarines, were placed in strategic locations to simulate threats on Norway (Fortitude North) and Pas de Calais (Fortitude South).

Thanks to Operation Fortitude, German reinforcements were delayed to reach Normandy when the attack finally took place.

RAF medical post in Normandy
An RAF medical post in Normandy weeks after D-Day (Picture: Crown Copyright).

5. D-Day was the largest single-day amphibious invasion in history

Planning for Operation Neptunetook months and it began in 1943. 

It involved 6,939 vessels and 4,126 landing crafts which assembled on 5 June 1944 off the Isle of Wight.

The landings on the shores of Normandy were preceded by an airborne assault to the German troops stationed in France and naval bombardments. 

The 80 km stretch of coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

6. Spies helped with the success of D-Day operations

Despite the German occupation of France, resistance groups were still active and spies and saboteurs of the Nazi regime kept close contacts with the Allies. 

The Special Operations Executive was set up in 1940 to help resistance movements in Germany-occupied territories thrive despite the occupation.

Informants in France provided the Allies with intelligence on German defences and carried out acts of sabotage to disrupt the German war effort.

Many of the resistance activities revolved around the rail network in France ahead of D-Day. Saboteurs took care of deliberately damaging railways around Normandy and slowing down transport services as well as industrial military factory production.

Those acts were non-violent but helped greatly.

British troop landing on Normandy on D-Day
British troops land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day (Picture: Crown Copyright).

7. Brits could not travel to Ireland in the lead up to D-Day

All travel to Ireland was barred from 12 March 1944. Ireland was one of the neutral countries during the Second World War.

Even though Ireland never blocked Allied forces aircraft from using the Donegal Corridor, and even though Irish and Allied intelligence tacitly cooperated during the war, it was decided to stop all travel to Ireland ahead of D-Day.

This decision was taken to prevent information concerning the date of D-Day to be leaked.

Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach France
The Normandy American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy (Picture: US Department of Defense).

8. The Luftwaffe was greatly outnumbered

The German Air Force, known as the Luftwaffe, was outnumbered 30:1 on D-Day.

Because of the highly strategic nature of the D-Day operations, the German Navy and the German Air Force had little means to resist the invasion.

The Luftwaffe had withdrawn nearly all its fighters to counter American daylight bombing operations over Germany so there were very few aircraft left in France.

9. D-Day came at a price

While D-Day marked the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during the Second World War, it came at an enormous price in terms of lives lost in the battle.

There are currently 27 war cemeteries in Normandy and they contain the remains of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives on and after D-Day.

From the records of the war cemeteries in Normandy, it is estimated that in a very short span of time over 110,000 people lost their lives. They are:

  • 77,866 German
  • 17,769 British
  • 9,386 American
  • 5,002 Canadian
  • 650 Poles
US Army soldiers disembark from landing craft during D-Day landings in Normandy
US Army personnel disembark from their landing craft during the Normandy landings (Picture: PA).

10. Anne Frank learnt about D-Day from the BBC

Anne Frank's diary is probably one of the most compelling, heartbreaking personal records of Jewish people who were hiding during the Second World War and hoping for the conflict to end.

She kept a diary from 12 June 1942 until the day she and her family were captured on 1 August 1944.

An entry dated 6 June 1944 reveals that Anne recorded hearing the news of D-Day from the BBC at 12pm.

"Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation?" she wrote in her diary.

"We don’t know yet. But where there’s hope, there’s life.

"It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again."

For more on D-Day 75, click here.