A warning: this article contains graphic images.

For the D-Day anniversary, writer Simon Forty has selected 10 significant photographs from his book about the Normandy campaign and explained what is going on in them. 

WWII

Remembering D-Day: The 10 Images That Defined The Battle Of Normandy

On the anniversary of D-Day, the author of 'The Liberation of Europe' explains the story behind some incredible images from the time...

A warning: this article contains graphic images.

For the D-Day anniversary, writer Simon Forty has selected 10 significant photographs from his book about the Normandy campaign and explained what is going on in them. 

An sSSPzAbt 101 Tiger inspected by men of the DLI after it had been KO’d on 28 June at Rauray.

1) Tiger!

Reading Allied accounts of the battle of Normandy it seems that there were Tigers around every corner.

The myth of its invulnerability to Allied tank shot, the strength of its armour and the ease with which its main gun could slice through Allied vehicles were highlighted by the press on both sides, particularly after Villers-Bocage.

In fact, there were fewer than 150 Tiger Is and IIs in Normandy with three schwere Panzer Abteilungen (heavy tank battalions) 503, 101 SS, and 102 SS.

They destroyed around 510 Allied tanks, but other than a few Tigers shipped back to Germany, every one of the Tigers was lost, five of them at Villers-Bocage.

Here, an sSSPzAbt 101 Tiger inspected by men of the DLI after it had been KO’d on 28 June at Rauray.

Caen
In France, 20 out of the 27 largest cities were officially declared war-damaged.

2) Caen

Bombing claimed as many as 60,000 French civilians during the Second World War.

Le Havre was the worst hit, with around 5,000 dead.

Postwar 1,838 French municipalities, including 20 out of France’s 27 largest cities, were officially declared war-damaged, or sinistrées, meaning at least 30 per cent of buildings had been damaged.

Caen, pivotal in the Normandy campaign, suffered in particular.

Historian Antony Beevor states that there were “more than 2,000 casualties there on the first two days and in a way it was miraculous that more people weren’t killed”.

Virgil
Sergeant Virgil Clifton, 2nd Battalion, 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division, on 29 July near Coutances.

3) Virgil

Sgt Clifton was portrayed carrying an M3 Grease Gun and a six-magazine case.

It was people like him who fought their way through the claustrophobic bocage and set up the breakthrough Operation Cobra.

There’s an unhealthy fascination about the German soldier, particularly the Waffen-SS. It’s something about their uniforms, apparently.

Too many authors have made too much of the German Army and belittled the Allied soldier.

In recent years, there has been a reassessment of the performance of Allied forces, their tactical nous and how they proved adaptable to the requirements of terrain and the enemy.

Loco
The spectacular result of an aerial railroad interdiction operation shows how effective Allied airpower could be.

4) Loco

There’s absolutely no mending that! 

The Transportation Plan directed the efforts of the strategic bombers against railroad targets such as repair facilities and marshalling yards, with the objective of slowing or preventing the movement of German reinforcements in response to the landings.

It proved remarkably effective.

Take Kampfgruppe Heintz, the roughly 4,000 men of 275th Infantry Division who were ordered from the south coast of Brittany toward the invasion.

The 120-mile journey took five days and they walked the last 30 miles.

Lingevres
Three German tanks were KO'd near Lingevres.

5) Lingevres

The attack on Lingèvres began at 10.15 on 14 July.

With artillery support, 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry and tanks of A Sqn 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards took the German positions.

Shortly after, Sergeant Wilfred Harris saw two Panthers approaching. He knocked out the first with his Firefly’s 17pdr, before disabling the second, which was finished off by a PIAT team.

Three more Panthers were seen moving towards the village.

Sgt Harris got them all, the lead vehicle outside the village and the other two inside. In all, nine German tanks were KO’d: three of them can be seen in this photo from the western end of the village.

PzGr
A young soldier from the 25th SS-PzGr-Regt of 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was killed on 9 July.

6) PzGr

People forget what war is about.

This graphic photograph shows how young some of the troops were.

This youth from the 25th SS-PzGr-Regt of 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was killed on 9 July.

The division sustained crippling losses during the fighting in Normandy, losing 80 per cent of its troops, over 80 per cent of its tanks, 70 per cent of its armoured vehicles, 60 per cent of its artillery and 50 per cent of its motor vehicles.

It also massacred civilians and executed Canadian prisoners of war leading to postwar War Crimes trials and convictions.

Slit Trench
British infantry occupy slit trenches near Hill 112 in the Odon Valley, 16 July.

7) Slit Trench

With so many artillery shells and mortar bombs flying around, the safest place to be was in a trench.

Rommel said:

“The side that controls Hill 112 will be the side that controls Lower Normandy.”

Unsurprisingly, the fighting to take it was intense during Operations Epsom and Jupiter. In the latter, the 43rd Wessex Division suffered 7,000 casualties - over 40 per cent of the division.

The divisional memorial on Hill 112 in France is replicated on Castle Hill above Mere in Wiltshire and Winyards Gap, Dorset.

Argentan
The Third Army was able to enter Argentan just southeast of Falaise by 20 August.

8) Argentan

With the bulk of the German armour opposite the British and Canadian troops around Caen, First Army’s Operation Cobra blasted a gap in the German defences west of Saint-Lô.

The gap that opened allowed Patton’s Third Army through to exploit the crumbling German defences.

By 20 August, XV Corps had taken Argentan, creating the southern edge of the Falaise Pocket.

The advancing Canadians and Poles created the northern arm.

St-Lambert-sur-Dive
David Currie (left-centre in a helmet) was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at St-Lambert-sur-Dive.

9) St-Lambert-sur-Dive

Canadian David Currie was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at St-Lambert-sur-Dive on 18-19 August, during the final actions to close the Falaise Gap.

He’s at left-centre in a helmet, carrying a revolver.

Postwar, there has been criticism of the Allies for the number of German troops that escaped the trap.

The professionalism of the German retreat, however, cannot hide the hard facts: within three months of D-Day, the Allies had exploded the myth of the Atlantic Wall, had destroyed the German armies in place in Normandy and those sent to support them, and were knocking on the door of the Reich itself.

Maczek
Stanisław Maczek was a Polish tank commander during the Second World War.

10) Maczek

To his men, he was “Baca” - a traditional Polish name for a shepherd - esteemed as a leader and as a man.

After Poland fell, his brigade escaped and ended up in Britain, where Polish 1st Armoured Division was formed.

Their first taste of combat was in Operation Totalize and they acquitted themselves, as they always did, with courage and elan, as they did for the rest of hostilities - in particular around Mont Ormel as they fought to keep the Falaise Gap closed.

Maczek’s courage makes the British postwar treatment of him even more disgraceful: he was refused a pension and ended up working as a bartender.

For more information and pictures that span from the beaches of D-Day to the end of the Battle of Normandy, read 'The Normandy Battlefields' by Simon Forty, Leo Marriott and George Forty.