This year marks the 80th anniversary since the D Day landings, the largest seaborne invasion in the history of warfare. Taking place on 6th June 1944, D-Day, which is military slang for a day that an operation will begin, went by several code names and there was a campaign of deception and secrecy leading up to the big day.

Here’s the low down of everything that happened over D-Day and how it influenced the outcomes of the war.

Planning for D-Day began as far back as 1941, but it wasn’t until 1943 during the Trident Conference that the invasion was actually confirmed and planned for June of 1944. The invasion, known as Operation Neptune, was part of a wider military campaign, which went under the codename Operation Overlord and planned to take back western Europe from the German army.

Fearing a coastal invasion, Hitler commanded the construction of the Atlantic Wall, a series of coastal defences that stretched from the Arctic Circle down to the border with France and Spain.

Before they could properly commit to the D-Day invasion however, they needed to make sure that the Nazi forces didn’t catch wind of it, so a campaign of deception began and honestly, some of the things the Allies did to keep their plans on the downlow, were nothing short of genius.

 The campaign of deception included: 

The London Controlling Centre, a secret department of the government, began Operation Bodyguard, which aimed to convince the Nazis that an attack was coming much later and at a different location.  Another operation, Operation Fortitude worked at sending out conflicting information, which convinced the Nazis that an invasion would come via Norway and via Calais.

One way this was achieved was by convincing Hitler that a sizable force was building in the South East of Britain with the aim to invade Calais. To help bolster this, fake barracks and camps were created throughout Kent and inflatable tanks were used to throw off any spy planes that might have been doing surveillance in  the area.

Further to this, George Patton, a famed American General took command of a Ghost Army. While sadly this didn’t mean he was in charge of a literal army of ghosts, it did mean that he was promoted as being the head of the First US Army Group, a fake regiment. The various false radio information that went out for this regiment, combined with the fake camps in Kent led to the Nazis re-enforcing the port at Calais, leaving Normandy clear for the Allies.

Another way the campaign of deception worked was with the Double Cross System. MI5 had a number of Nazi agents in Britain that they had managed to turn to their cause. These agents fed back information supporting the information being put out by Operation Fortitude and Operation Bodyguard. Perhaps the most famous of these double agents was Juan Pujol Garcia, a Spanish spy who was loyal to the Allies but was part of the Nazi intelligence. He built a fictitious spy network across Britain with 27 fake agents. This impressed the Germans so much, that they gave him the Iron Cross and held all the information he provided as being plausible.

One of our favourite elements of the campaign was the hiring of actors to throw the Nazis off the scent. There was an Australian actor, M E Clifton James, who had very similar features to General Bernard Montgomery, one of Britain’s highest ranking military officers. The Allies sent the actor on a tour of Gibraltar and North Africa posing as General Montgomery, the plan being that if the Nazis thought Montgomery was elsewhere, that there wouldn’t possibly be an invasion.

The campaign of deception didn’t end with D-Day itself, Garcia continued to feed wrong information to the Nazis, including that the Normandy landing was a red herring and that the First US Army Group under General Patton was planning a bigger strike at Calais. Hitler and his advisors were so convinced of this that they refused to send reinforcements to Normandy for seven weeks, which gave the Allies a much needed window to gain ground.

Operation Tiger

The Allies didn’t leave anything up to chance when it came to D-Day. There were extensive training exercises beginning as early as 1943 to prepare. The most infamous of which was Operation Tiger, which took place in April 1944 on Slapton Sands, Devon, which was chosen because it best resembled the beaches at Normandy. To make the exercise as realistic as possible, actual radio broadcasts were made, which resulted in a surprise attack from German E boats that were in the vicinity. It caused the deaths of over 700 American service men.

D-Day, the timeline

By the end of May 1944, over two million troops, mainly made up of British, American and Canadian soldiers, but with representatives from over 12 countries, gathered in Britain to ready for the invasion.

Initially, D-Day was planned for 5th June, but bad weather forced them to wait 24 hours. In fact, the weather was so bad, that Rommel, who was heading most of the forces in France for the Nazis went home to Germany to celebrate his wife’s birthday because he didn’t believe an invasion could even take place.

6th June 1944

5am – a naval bombardment began along Normandy’s coast to neutralise as many defences as possible.

6.30am – the first American troops landed on the beaches.

The Americans had codenamed the beaches Omaha and Utah. While Utah was secured relatively quickly, the terrain at Omaha favoured the defence and it was so touch and go that D Day was almost called off entirely. However, by the afternoon, the beach had been secured but it resulted in the loss of over 2000 soldiers.

7.30am – the British and Canadian forces launched their attacks on their chosen beaches, codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword.

Dusk – By dusk there were huge casualties among the Allies but the overstretched defences, who weren’t expecting an attack and were a skeleton crew with the majority of the forces monitoring Calais, meant that they were easily overwhelmed.

6pm – Winston Churchill spoke to the House of Commons declaring the day a roaring success.

Though the Allies had significant fatalities and casualties, far more than the Nazi forces, they were aided by poor communication in the first few hours of the invasion. Hitler had personal control over at least 4 divisions, but was so convinced that the real attack was coming to Calais he refused to send any reinforcements to Normandy.

On the initial day of the invasion, 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel, but by the end of June, nearly 1 million troops landed on French soil. Although the D Day landing failed to secure any of their objectives on the first day, with all the targeted towns still under German control, it gave the Allies a much needed foothold. It was the first time since the Dunkirk evacuation that the Allies had a significant presence in Western Europe.

Less than a year later, Hitler would be dead and the Allies would enter Berlin, declaring an end to the war in Europe.




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