D-Day Dispatches

Timeline: updates from the frontline of D-Day
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American troops on Utah Beach © IWM (EA 25902)
American troops on Utah Beach © IWM (EA 25902)  
11pm – 12am

At the Berghof, during a second conference about the military situation that day, Hitler reiterates his view that the Normandy landings are a mere diversion. Allied deception plans have worked brilliantly.

Beyond the American beaches, Utah and Omaha, airborne units feel isolated, as Jonathan Mayo explains:

“Many US paratroopers who landed in the countryside behind Utah and Omaha beaches in the early hours of D-Day are hunkered down in hedgerows and ditches, farmhouses and orchards, and wondering if the invasion has been a success. Very few have linked up with the infantry from the beaches. Donald Burgett of US 101st Airborne has spent the day fighting with a unit made up of men from his division and the 82nd, and they are hearing rumours that the assault troops have been pushed back onto the beaches, leaving them stranded.”

The paratroopers fight on bravely, in battles such as that at La Fiere bridge.

Although it is now dark, Juno Beach has been lit up by the fires from burning houses. Additionally, an ammunition truck was struck by shellfire and it too blazes, as well as exploding every so often because portions of its ammunition store blow up.

Commando George Saunders has been captured and is now being borne by truck to an army field hospital. He becomes a POW and will survive the war, dying in 2008.

Odette Mousset has been carried to the shore and onto a landing craft where she is to be taken to a hospital ship. After receiving 11 months’ hospital care, she (and her husband Raoul) will also survive the war after all.

Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, Mayo says:

“Meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg’s weather forecast has been vindicated. Tuesday 6th is the only day in June in which D-Day could have been successfully launched. The fortnight that follows will be the stormiest of the whole month.”
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Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, drunk at the Berghof at this point (image: German Federal Archives Bild 183-1989-0821-502 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, drunk at the Berghof at this point (image: German Federal Archives Bild 183-1989-0821-502 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)  
10 – 11pm

At the Berghof, a party is going on and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels is drunk.

Back at Orne (Horsa) Bridge, Piper Bill Millin has been sharing night-watch duties in a trench with his comrade Corporal MacGill. They’ve had to duck from, and watch out for, mortars. When Millin hears nothing from MacGill, he reaches over to check on him but his hand gets covered in blood – MacGill’s been hit by mortar shrapnel and died just over an hour ago.

Out at sea, onboard the USS Bayfield, other Allied dead are put inside the ship’s refrigerator whilst the wounded are seen to by medical teams. In some cases, these men say only their rank and serial numbers because they are confused and think they’ve fallen into German hands.

British soldiers on Sword have failed to capture their objective for the day, the city of Caen, but they have taken the whole beach. By this point, 29,000 are ashore.

(The end of this article features a comprehensive accounting of all the Allied forces that made it ashore by the end of June 6).
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Parachutists over Normandy in a re-enactment of D-Day (image: MoD)
Parachutists over Normandy in a re-enactment of D-Day (image: MoD)  
9 – 10pm

People in England are listening to a speech being broadcast through the BBC from Buckingham Palace by King George VI. He says:

"Once more... A supreme... Test has to be faced. This time, the challenge is not to fight to survive... But to fight the final victory for the good cause..."

Dakota transport planes used to fly in paratroopers, as well as Sterlings and Halifaxes pulling gliders, continue to fly over Sword Beach. Elsewhere on the beach the BBC correspondent Alan Melville records his dispatch:

"This is Alan Melville, dispatched thirteen, 21.00 hours, 6th of June, from the beach west of Ouistreham. The paratroops are landing! They’re landing all around me as I speak – red, white, and blue parachutes fluttering down and they're just about the best thing we've seen for a good many hours... I can still see the signs of a typical panzer battle being raged on the slightly raised ground ahead of me..."

What Melville is referring to are the same 21 Panzer Division tanks seen earlier. They've arrived at the beaches, but lost the battle and are now retreating.

French hotel owner Raoul Mousset is frantically searching for his wife Odette in bomb-damaged Ouistreham. She has been critically wounded and British medics are trying to save her.
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Bayeux War Cemetery (image: Shutterstock)
Bayeux War Cemetery (image: Shutterstock)  
8 – 9pm

When Rommel arrives at his headquarters, the man who had been in charge, general Speidel, is listening to Wagner. 

Rommel's aid captain Lang is angry. The general simply replies:

"My dear Lang, do you honestly believe that my listening to Wagner will make any difference whatsoever to the course of the invasion?"

By this point, the British 50 Division have pushed beyond Gold Beach and towards its first-day objective, Bayeux. 20,000 men and 21,000 vehicles have made it ashore. The Americans from Omaha Beach have also linked up with the Canadians pushing out from Juno Beach.

Back in London, British intelligence and Garbo have figured out a new cover story. Garbo tells the Germans that Churchill wasn't supposed to talk about the real invasion coming later at Calais, but that he felt he owed it to his troops to tell them the truth. Luckily, the Germans believe this explanation. (Garbo is part of a much larger operation called Operation Fortitude to make the Germans believe the D-Day attacks will occur elsewhere).

Volunteer Land Girls assist with casualties at the US base in Dorset.
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7 – 8pm

George Saunders, a soldier in 10 Commando, sees a group of soldiers wearing camouflage. He thinks they're British and he waves at them. One of them shouts back:

"Das ist ein Englander!”

The whole lot start shooting at him and he has to dive into a ditch. But, because he speaks German, Saunders is able to evade his pursuers, for now.

On Gold Beach, men of the Commando Combined Operations unit begin digging bodies from the sand. For the purposes of morale, their instructions are to cover up British soldiers but to leave German ones uncovered.

Allied prisoners in Colditz Castle have rigged up a secret radio and are listening to news bulletins about the invasion. One of them, Flight Lieutenant ‘Checko’ Chaloupka, says he thinks the war will now be finished by Christmas. Furthermore, if it isn't, he says he will strip naked and run around the courtyard, twice, on Christmas Eve.

When Christmas Eve comes, he does, in fact, run around the courtyard naked… while it is minus 7 degrees.

In London, the journalist Molly Panter–Downes, has been gauging the reactions of people to the Normandy invasion:

"There was... A slightly bemused expression on most D-Day faces, because the event wasn't working out quite the way anybody expected. Londoners seemed to imagine that there would be some immediate, miraculous change, that the heavens would open, that something like the last trumpet would sound. What they definitely hadn't expected was that the greatest day of our times would be just the same old London Day with men and women going to the office, queuing up for fish, getting haircuts, and scrambling for lunch."
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Caen, shown here with significant war damage, was bombed by the Allies on D-Day © IWM B 6897
Caen, shown here with significant war damage, was bombed by the Allies on D-Day © IWM B 6897  
6 – 7pm

A pre-recorded speech by General Charles de Gaulle is broadcast by the BBC European service. It says:

"The battle has begun and France will fight it with fury. For the sons of France, wherever and whoever they may be, there is a simple and sacred duty to fight with all the means at their disposal."

Winston Churchill has been listening to the speech and begins crying when de Gaulle says the attack came from “old England”.

At Caen, Bill Herbert, a US radio correspondent, describes the results of the bombing raid:

"The results of this visual bombing attack are really terrific... This is an attack in a big way. The whole target area is a seething mass of smoke. In the growing darkness I can see the first dull red outline of the fire that is apparently raging in Caen. It will be a big bonfire soon..."
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One of Robert Capa’s Omaha Beach pictures (image: National Archives and Records Administration)
One of Robert Capa’s Omaha Beach pictures (image: National Archives and Records Administration)  
5 – 6pm

On Omaha Beach, German POWs are being marched down the beach with their hands up.

Percy Kendrick is a medic with the commandos. He is busy treating an old French lady who is wounded and sitting at the side of the road. According to Mayo, "He tries to tell her in broken French that she should be in bed. Misunderstanding him, she slaps him across the face. Kendrick apologises, gives her some morphine and carries on down the road a little wiser."

Robert Capa, whose pictures of Omaha Beach will become iconic, has just made it back to the USS Samuel Chase.

At this point, both German and Allied forces are beginning to bury their dead.
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4 – 5pm

At this moment, reconnaissance aircraft on the Allied side are taking pictures of the entire operation. 10,000 negatives will be processed later this evening.

Winston Churchill informs the House of Commons that the Benouville bridges (Pegasus and Horsa Bridges) are in British hands.

Right about now, Hitler is ordering the first V1 rocket attacks on London. This isn't entirely unanticipated – Colonel David Bruce is the London Chief of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and he is aboard the USS Tuscaloosa today. He has been expecting V1 rocket attacks in retaliation for the Normandy landings.

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3 – 4pm

69 members of the French resistance were killed on D-Day at Caen Prison. Many of them are being executed at this very moment. 

The prospect of similar things happening to Jewish prisoners is hanging over Auschwitz. A Jewish teenager from Holland named Rita Boas-Koupmann arrives at the camp and is told by another prisoner:

“You’re unlucky, because even though today the English landed in France, you’re going to the crematorium… You are going up the chimney, that’s where you go through…”

In actual fact, Rita won’t die in the war.

French civilians at Caen have also been killed in the bombardment despite an Allied leaflet drop warning them it was coming. According to Mayo:

“Scores of children have died with their parents, as schools were closed this morning.

“Andre Heintz is trying to get to the Red Cross centre where his sister Danielle works. A house explodes behind him and he’s amazed to see two girls tumble out of a cupboard where they’d been hiding, unharmed.”

And there’s something else:

“In July, the body of a man will be found in a cellar. With him is a note:

“’I feel that I am dying. It is terrible to know that I’m going to die because I have been expecting the liberation for so long. But I know that, because of my death, other people will be liberated. Long live France, long live the Allies’.”

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An
RAF Typhoon, used to strafe ground targets like German tanks during D-Day
(image: Airfix is a registered trademark of Hornby Hobbies Ltd, and use of the
illustrations has been kindly permitted by Hornby Hobbies Ltd © 2018)
An RAF Typhoon, used to strafe ground targets like German tanks during D-Day (image: Airfix is a registered trademark of Hornby Hobbies Ltd, and use of the illustrations has been kindly permitted by Hornby Hobbies Ltd © 2018)  

2 – 3pm 

In Jersey, the German military commander Colonel Siegfried Hiene warns residents:

"I expect the population of Jersey to keep its head. At first sight of unrest or trouble I will close the streets to traffic and will secure hostages. Attacks against the German Forces will be punished by death."

Tanks from 22 Panzer Regiment have made it through Caen but some of them have been attacked by RAF Typhoon aircraft.

Elsewhere, according to Jonathan Mayo:

"Rommel is being driven as fast as possible to his headquarters in La-Rouche Guyon. He says to his aid Captain Hellmuth Lang as he punches a gloved fist into his hand, ‘God, I hope there isn't a second landing right now in the Mediterranean. If Montgomery only knew what a mess we’re in, he would have no worries tonight’.”

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Piper Bill Millin was now approaching the Benouville bridges © IWM (B 5103)
Piper Bill Millin was now approaching the Benouville bridges © IWM (B 5103)  

1 – 2pm

Anne Frank listens to the BBC news bulletin describing the invasion.

By the Benouville bridges (later dubbed Pegasus and Horsa Bridges), men of 2 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry hear bagpipes. It is Bill Millin, the piper with 4 Commando, announcing their approach to relieve the airborne troops. When they arrive, many of the airborne troops are so relieved, they shed tears as they hug the commandos.

Tanks from 22 Panzer Regiment (21 Panzer Division) attempt to reinforce the Normandy beaches but their route out from Caen is seriously hampered by refugees and Allied bomb damage. German soldiers are getting drunk – discipline and moral ebbing away.

Shortly thereafter, Allied bombers swoop in and bomb Caen itself. It is targeted to prevent it being a communications centre for the Germans.

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12 – 1pm

At the Berghof, Hitler chairs a military conference where he instructs his commanders to destroy the invasion force by day’s end, believing the weather favours the Germans.

In the US, the Mayor of Philadelphia taps the Liberty Bell 12 times and the New York Daily News simply prints the Lord’s Prayer; in Canada, a church service is conducted inside Ottawa’s House of Commons.

Back in England, people queue up to donate blood, General Montgomery goes over reports that have come in so far and the PM makes a speech in the British House of Commons:

“…during the night and the early hours of this morning, the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place… So far the commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen…”

The ”first of a series of landings” line is a feint, part of the overall scheme to convince the Germans that the Normandy landings are nothing but a diversion for the real thing, to be launched shortly at Calais. But this has created a problem for the spy Garbo, who has already told his German contacts that Churchill would not refer to the ‘real attack’ at Calais publicly and that, rather, this news would be coming from him, Garbo. He and British intelligence must find a solution to this problem later that day…

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And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred. 

Winston Churchill, to the House of Commons, June 6, 1944

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Parachutists recreate the D-Day airborne jumps above poppy fields 
Parachutists recreate the D-Day airborne jumps above poppy fields    credit: Pic: 2014 MoD

11 – 12am

The number of casualties on both sides were rising and the bodies of those now dead littered the beaches. 

On Utah Beach, a Goliath (a small, remote-controlled tank filled with explosives) blows up, killing several American troops. 

Meanwhile, on Omaha, Private Ray Moon looks down at the beach behind him: 

“The view was unforgettable. The beach was a shooting gallery for machine-gunners. The scene below reminded me of the Chicago stockyard cattle pens and its slaughter house…” 

By 11:20, there will be about 3,000 dead or wounded American soldiers on the beach. 

It is a difficult day for the Germans too. A letter found on a dead German soldier later that summer describes the invasion from the other side: 

“On the morning of 6th June, we saw the full might of the English and Americans. At sea close inshore the fleet was drawn up, limitless ships small and great as if for a parade, a grandiose spectacle. 

"No one who did not see it could have believed it. The whistling of the shells and shattering explosions around us created the worst kind of music. 

"Our unit has suffered terribly – you and the children will be glad I survived.” 

(The ‘limitless ships’ was an armada of close to 7,000 vessels, with over 4,000 landing craft).

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They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, radio broadcast, June 6, 1944

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PICTURE: British troops on Sword beach 
PICTURE: British troops on Sword beach    credit: © IWM (MH 2021)

10 - 11am

It was only at this time news of the invasion was being made public, to ensure operational security remained, as D-Day plans relied on the element of surprise ... 

“People of Western Europe, a landing was made this morning on the coast of France by troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force. 

"This landing is part of the concerted United Nations’ plan for the liberation of Europe made in conjunction with our great Russian allies. I have this message for all of you: although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country, the hour of your liberation is approaching…” 

So says General Eisenhower in his pre-recorded BBC broadcast, heard by Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam, giving them the confirmation they’ve been waiting for that this is, in fact, the real thing. 

On Sword Beach, RAF ground crews have been forced to cut their barrage balloons adrift. These are meant to act as obstacles to low-flying attack aircraft, the metal cables anchoring them to the ground capable of inflicting serious damage on any plane flying into them. But they have been used instead by German gunners as range finders to help them shell troops on the shoreline. 

The Gestapo have completed the first round of executions at Caen Prison and buried the dead in flowerbeds. 

On Gold, the British – men of the Royal Hampshires, 1 Dorsets and Green Howards -- have beaten back initial resistance. Private Francis Williams, a Green Howards soldier, spots an ‘Afrika Korps’ armband on one of the German POWs. 

“You Rommel’s man?” Williams asks. 

“Ja”, comes the response, at which point Williams shows the man his Africa Star ribbon and says, “Me 8th Army”, before shaking his former enemy’s hand.


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PICTURE: Bill Millin seen here with his pipes right before hitting Sword Beach 
PICTURE: Bill Millin seen here with his pipes right before hitting Sword Beach    credit: © IWM (B 5103)

9 – 10am

At his residence in the Bavarian Alps, known as ‘the Berghof’, Adolf Hitler is awake and, having heard about the invasion, in a good mood: 

“The news couldn’t be better. As long as they were in Britain we couldn’t get at them. Now we have them where we can get at them!” 

By ‘get at them’, Hitler means finish them off as they try in vain to get past the bulk of his forces massed around Calais, where he expects the real invasion to happen. The Allied ruse ‘Operation Fortitude’, carried out by British intelligence and involving spies like Garbo, has had the desired effect. 

Hitler thinks the Normandy landings aren’t the real thing, but a mere diversion for the real thing. 

Also not sure if the Normandy landings are the real thing or perhaps just a raid, like the 1942 Dieppe attack, are the Frank family in Holland. Their hiding place will of course be discovered and they will tragically be taken to concentration camps before the war is out. 

Omar Bradley watches the bloodbath on Omaha Beach through binoculars on the USS Augusta. He’s thinking about reassigning troops heading to Utah Beach to Omaha Beach, to assist with the breakthrough there. The bodies are certainly piling up on Omaha. 

This is in contrast somewhat to the mood at Sword. There, Piper Bill Millin plays his bagpipes despite the bodies on the shore, and to the initial amusement of those sheltering at the sea wall further up the beach. 

But after ten minutes, he’ll be accosted by a soldier concerned he’s attracting a little too much attention from the Germans. 

“What are you playing at, piper? You mad bastard!” the man will ask him. 

Also on Sword, 18-year-old Jacqueline Noel, a French volunteer with the Red Cross, gets wolf whistles as she tends to injured men. 

On Juno, things are turning tragic. A tank with its turret closed is, unbeknownst to its driver, running over wounded men. 

Captain Daniel Flunder of 48 Commando screams, “They’re my men!” as he bolts down the beach, frantically banging on the metal shell when he reaches it. 

But the driver doesn’t hear him and it keeps crawling forward, inching closer and closer to the commando padre. 

Flunders shoves an anti-tank grenade into one of the wheel sprockets, rips out the pin and gets clear… it blows the track off and halts the tank, moments before it would have crushed the padre. 

Further up, the Royal Artillery’s R S Haig-Brown has deciphered German signs, something that will help prevent more tragedies. 

Writing that slopes left, indicates a dummy minefield, whereas level writing means anti-tank mines and right-sloping writing signals anti-personnel mines. 

(Dummy minefields were actually meant to fool Rommel into thinking that delinquent German officers were keeping up with his demanding schedule for reinforcing the Atlantic Wall).

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This is a very serious business.

Photographer Robert Capa on Omaha Beach.

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You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, wellequipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill inbattle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

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PICTURE: The five beaches of Normandy – two American, Omaha and Utah; two British, Gold and Sword; and one Canadian, Juno.
PICTURE: The five beaches of Normandy – two American, Omaha and Utah; two British, Gold and Sword; and one Canadian, Juno.   credit: (Image: Shutterstock)

8 - 9am

On Guernsey, the schoolgirl Marion Tosteyin looks up at the sky – it is filled with aircraft. 

Gestapo officers show up at Caen prison. With the invasion well underway, they know they must begin executing prisoners. 

Out at sea, in front of Omaha Beach, the troop transporter LCI 91 bursts into flames when a shell hits the flame-thrower on the back of one of the soldiers aboard. Similarly, LCI 92 strikes a mine, and: 

“Suddenly the boat – all 350 feet of her – is lifted out of the water as the bow explodes… Two soldiers are sent flying up through the hatch in the forward hold. Forty-one others are trapped in the flames below… (the) crew have (also) been badly hit – seaman Eugene J Snarski’s hair is on fire; Arthur L Lornson Jr is in the sea yelling for help, but no one can hear him; Lester P Phillips is in the water too, but can’t shout because his mouth is full of oil”. Phillips and Lornson will soon manage to get to safety. 

At the Benouville Bridges, men of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry signal passing Spitfires who acknowledge they’ve understood the bridges are in British procession by doing victory rolls. They also drop several copies of the Daily Mirror and, instead of worrying about the Bridges, Major John Howard’s men are instead engrossed by “the sight of Jane getting her kit off”. 

Although not as bad as Omaha, British troops on Gold Beach are also running into significant resistance. One of them is Sergeant Major H W Bowers, who stumbles upon his wounded CO: 

“’Hello, Bowers, you still living?’” he asks. 

“’Yes, sir, just about!’” Bowers responds. This is in spite of many in his company having been shot down by machine gun fire coming from a nearby pillbox. 

“’Well, go and see what you can do about it… carry on’. 

“’Christ!’ Bowers thinks, ‘he must think that I can take on the whole German Army!’ 

“But Bowers, a veteran of the invasions of Sicily and Italy, heads off to see what he can do”. He will dispatch the occupants by climbing on top while being covered by commandos firing Tommy guns, and then flinging in a grenade. When the men inside come spilling out, they yell “Russkis! Russkis!” 

On Sword Beach, meanwhile, soldiers are brewing tea by 8:30. The wounded across Normandy are also being seen to and treated with penicillin, one of the first antibiotics. 

But the fighting continues after this, with Free French commandos and British commandos attacking a casino and batteries blocking them from getting through to the town of Ouistreham; they’ve been helped by engineers and Hobart ‘Funnies’ tanks like the Crab that have cleared five exits through the mines and other obstacles.

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PICTURE: Re-enactors on Gold Beach (image MoD)
PICTURE: Re-enactors on Gold Beach (image MoD)  
7 - 8am 

Residents of Caen, prompted by gun and shell fire on the nearby beaches, have rushed out to panic buy food, leading to large queues. 

When men of 2 Ranger Battalion reach the top of Pointe du Hoc they discover telephone poles instead of guns. The Germans evidently haven’t been the only ones to have their air reconnaissance fooled by ruses

Down on Omaha Beach, photographer Robert Capa is taking cover from incessant gunfire behind a steel pole, along with another soldier. He will soon snap one of the war’s most iconic images, of an exhausted Private Regan collapsed in the surf. Another man there who will find future fame is a 25-year-old Counter-intelligence officer. His name is J D Salinger, and he is carrying six chapters of his book ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. And yet a third celebrity journalist, Ernest Hemingway, is approaching the beach in a Higgins boat, from which he witnesses one of the tanks that have come ashore explode. 

SOE agents who’ve parachuted into Brittany form a ‘Jedburgh’ team with local Resistance, handing out guns and getting ready to carry out paramilitary activities. This is a form of warfare that will later be replicated by American Green Berets.

7:30 is H-Hour for men of the British 50 Infantry Division and 8 Armoured Brigade landing at Gold Beach. One of them is Private Joe Minogue who drives a ‘Crab’, a modified Sherman tank that has chains on a rotating drum for clearing mines. These will blow mines near sand dunes up the beach and allow troops to pass through. 

H-Hour at Juno was meant to have been at 7:35 but it ends up being 7:49 before the first units get ashore, thanks to bad weather.

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 We'll start the war from right here.

--Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the former president, who landed with his troops in the wrong place on Utah Beach.

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6 - 7am

German sharpshooters begin sniping at men from the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry holding the Benouville bridges. 

The BBC broadcast a message for French civilians given by General Eisenhower: 

“The lives of many of you depend on the speed with which you obey. Leave your towns at once – stay off the roads – go on foot and taking nothing with you that is difficult to carry. Do not gather in groups which may be mistaken for enemy troops.” 

Men of the US 29 Division are racing to shore on their Higgins boats, Omaha Beach right ahead of them. Amongst them is the American writer Ernest Hemingway, serving as a war correspondent. As his Higgins pulls away from the vicinity of the USS Texas, the concussion from its guns, Hemingway finds, is lessened by him opening his mouth. 

It’s also possible Hemingway might have looked down at a copy of ‘Stars and Stripes’, which advised its troops on what to expect: 

“Don’t be surprised if a Frenchman steps up and kisses you. That doesn’t mean he’s queer. It means he’s French and darn glad to see you.” 

Scores of B-17s and B-24s swoop in 14,000 feet over Omaha Beach, dropping 13,000 bombs. Unfortunately, because of cloud cover, and a correction to make sure they miss troops approaching the beaches, every bomb misses its target, falling much too far inland. 

The 341 Marauders tracking the shore line above Utah Beach have more success, in part perhaps because they are flying at only 4,000 feet and doing so very carefully so that they avoid both Task Force U out at sea and the paratroopers inland of Utah. One of their targets is the aforementioned Strongpoint W5, which is hit. 

6:30 is ‘H-Hour’ for Utah and Omaha Beaches, and landing craft hit the sand, the ting of bullets already hitting their hulls as the ramps are cranked open on the 36 Higgins Boats in the first wave hitting Omaha. 

Men charging down the ramps run straight into sea water, gunfire or air thick with “the ‘sip sip’ sound of bullets” and all hell breaks loose. The original 600 Germans thought to be manning these beaches against the 35,000-strong invasion force have been bolstered here at the last minute by members of the battle-hardened 352 Infantry Division. Their machine gunners and snipers quickly locate and target the officers. 

As well as the hapless 2 Ranger Battalion and others from 1 Infantry Division, Omaha is a bloodbath for US Navy demolition units. These eight-man teams have just 30 minutes to tear 50-yard holes in the obstacles preventing tanks and ships getting through – obstacles that consist of long posts with mines stuck on the end. To blow the top ends with the mines off, thus destroying the mine as well as the stump and reducing the chances of a live mine sent flying through the air only to endanger other lives later, these men are standing on each other’s shoulders. This is what makes them such easy targets. Of the 272 of these engineers sent in, 111 were killed.

American engineers clearing obstacles during D-Day (image from ‘D-Day Beach Assault Troops’ by Gordon L Rottman © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)
American engineers clearing obstacles during D-Day (image from ‘D-Day Beach Assault Troops’ by Gordon L Rottman © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)  

With their 88mm guns destroyed or jammed by Allied attacks, strongpoints W2 and W5 hamper American soldiers crossing Utah Beach as best they can with their mortars. But they aren’t able to stop 28 DD tanks that have made it to shore from speeding across the beach along with the infantry. What they are able to hit with one of their coastal guns is the destroyer, USS Corey, out at sea. 

At Pointe du Hoc, the 100-foot cliff face above Omaha Beach, men from three companies of 2 Ranger battalion are scaling the heights while German defenders try to stop them. Because the ropes and hooks the Rangers fire up at the cliffs are heavy with seawater they will eventually use London Fire Brigade ladders. 

Elsewhere on the beach, men of 1 Battalion, 116 Infantry Regiment, part of 29 Infantry Division, have run into murderous fire, fire that has decimated whole families. As Mayo relates: 

“Three sets of brothers in Company A (1 Battalion) come from the small town of Bedford, Virginia. Roy Stevens, who planned to meet his twin brother (Ray) at Vierville-sur-Mer, has been wounded, and Ray has been killed; two brothers named Parker are dead; Bedford Hoback has been killed, his brother Raymond is wounded and, unable to move, drowns when the tide comes in. Raymond’s body will never be found, but his Bible will be”. 

There are no brother’s named ‘Ryan’ that Mayo speaks of, though he does say that: 

“As a result of the tragedies in Company A, the American military will introduce a policy to remove from active service any remaining members of a family when two have been killed in action – the inspiration for the film Saving Private Ryan”. 

Nearby, on Utah Beach, General Roosevelt has come to the realisation that he and his troops haven’t exactly landed in the right place, but he pressed on anyway. 

Over in front of Juno Beach, Colin Wills is a BBC reporter with 3 Canadian Division. He records the following: 

"You cannot imagine anything like this march of ships, like soldiers marching in line. I have never seen anything so expressive of intent. It is a purpose shared among many hundreds of thousands of men, who are going in now to the coast of Europe, to do the biggest job they have ever had to do.” 

Back in England Eisenhower learns that overnight, only 21 out of 850 American planes and eight out of 400 British ones are missing – encouraging news. 

Eisenhower’s British counterpart, meanwhile, General ‘Monty’ Montgomery, is in Cairo. At least, that is what the Germans are meant to believe about the ‘hero of El Alamein’, since a serious invasion of France would surely not take place without him. In fact, the man in Cairo of a double, an actor named Meyrick Clifton-James. It is a rather lucrative gig for an ex-actor, since, as part of the ruse, Clifton-James has been getting a full general’s pay. (Which is, according to Joshua Levine’s account in ‘Operation Fortitude’, £10 a day; £436 in today’s money).

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Well, is it or isn’t it the invasion?

— Adolf Hitler to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel.

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They’re murdering us here. Let’s move inland and get murdered.

— Col. Charles D. Canham, commanding the 116th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach.

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We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, 6th June 1944.

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5 - 6am

Tragedy strikes before the beach landings even commence as 27 of the 32 ‘Donald Duck’ (amphibious) tanks that were meant to float ashore to Omaha Beach have sunk, drowning 100 men. Those ferried by LCTs (Landing Craft Transports) will make it. 

Comedy strikes on one British landing craft, at least for Royal Navy telegraphist Ronald Seaborne. He’s watching seasick troops vomit and, in the process, spray the pride and joy of the craft’s highest-ranking individual: a brigadier general’s jeep. The general orders his men to puke in another direction. 

And for the Germans, surprise strikes commanders overlooking the sea above Omaha Beach. According to Mayo, Major Werner Pluskat: 

“…literally steps back in amazement at what he sees – the horizon is filled with ships. How could this fleet have got here without anyone knowing? Pluskat calls Major Block, an intelligence officer at divisional headquarters. 

“’There must be 10,000 ships out there. It’s unbelievable! Fantastic!’ 

“’Look, Pluskat, are you really sure? The Americans and British together don’t have that many ships’. 

“’For Christ’s sake, come and look for yourself!’” 

According to Jacob F Field in ‘D-Day In Numbers’, Pluskat wasn’t far off – the Allies had a combined fleet of almost 7,000 vessels. 

In front of Juno Beach, HMS Belfast starts the bombardment that is to proceed the Canadian landing. 

For their part, British troops who are to be inserted on Sword Beach are listening to Shakespearean verse. Major C K King, commander of 2 East Yorkshires, quotes from Henry V: 

“From this day to the ending of the world, 

"But we in it shall be remembered - 

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 

"For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 

"Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, 

"This day shall gentle his condition; 

"And gentlemen in England now-a-bed 

"Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, 

"And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 

"That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” 

The German response, Jonathan Mayo tells us, is decidedly less inspired at this point: 

“News of the invasion has reached the Berghof – Adolf Hitler’s headquarters in the Bavarian Alps, but no one wants to wake the Fuhrer to tell him”. 

Back in Normandy, USS Tuscaloosa is bombarding German batteries above Utah Beach and the “landing craft are heading slowly to the shore under a canopy of Allied shells”. 

The Germans are fighting back, and not just from land. Three small German E-boats have emerged amidst the giant Allied armada, and although the flotilla commander has remarked “(t)here can’t be that many ships in the world”, he has bravely decided to attack anyway. One of the torpedoes he fires hits HNoMS (His Norwegain Majesty’s Ship) Svenner. 

British commando Captain Kenneth Wright witnesses the ship folding in on itself from an adjacent transport vessel. Some men who’ve jumped overboard are sucked into the enormous hole blown in her side. Forty-four of the Norwegian crew are killed. (Some Norwegian forces that had escaped to Britain after the occupation by Germany earlier in the war were used during D-Day.) 

The Allies shoot back as 18 warships bombard the Normandy coastline. “Associated Press combat reporter Don Whitehead can see that the troops in his landing craft are shaking as they pass the battleships – not with fear, but as a result of the concussion from the Navy's big guns”. 

In fact, one landing craft 800 yards from the USS Nevada capsizes from the concussion.

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PICTURE: Omaha Beach (image: Shutterstock)
PICTURE: Omaha Beach (image: Shutterstock)  
4 - 5am

2,000 men jostle aboard USS Samuel Chase, awaiting the moment they will scramble into the Higgins Boats (and other landing craft) that will take them to Omaha Beach. Amongst them is war photographer Robert Capa. A decade from now he will be killed by a landmine whilst on assignment in Vietnam, but for now he is about to take some of the most famous images in military history.

Nervous as men aboard the Samuel Chase are, they are better off than some of their comrades, at least at the moment. According to Jonathan Mayo in ‘D-Day: Minute by Minute’: 

“A landing craft full of US troops is being lowered over the side of HMS Empire Windrush, but it’s become stuck directly under the outflow from the ship’s head (the toilet.) Despite the shouts and yells from the GIs, for half an hour they are covered in urine and excrement. 

“One American officer recalled, ‘The bowels of the ship’s company made the most of an opportunity which Englishmen have sought since 1776’.” 

Back at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, US paratroopers make contact with town mayor Alexandre Renaud and ask where the German HQ is. Rather than politely knocking, the Americans kick the door in only to find the Germans have now fled – Sainte-Mere-Eglise becomes the first French town to be liberated. 

For their part, British paratroopers at the Merville Battery in front of Sword Beach launch their attack, coming under machine gun fire before they can drop grenades down air vents and engage in close combat in the trenches and dugouts that surround the four guns. 

But by 4:45am the battle is over, the signal flare released and acknowledged by an RAF plane passing overhead, and the unit’s messenger pigeon is sent on its way for good measure. 

Now the Royal Navy can concentrate its fire on other targets when the preparatory bombardment begins in 30 minutes’ time. 

At least, that’s the plan, though Lt Col Otway evacuates his men just in case the bombardment still goes ahead. Of the original 150 men he took into the assault, fully 50 percent have become casualties… and unfortunately, although the battery is not as formidable as was believed (it is actually composed of First World War guns at half the calibre expected), Otway’s men weren’t able to destroy them properly and they will be retaken and repaired, hampering Allied troops until mid-August. 

German paratroopers, meanwhile, have awoken at their base outside Saint-Come-du-Mont (near Utah Beach) to discover their French drivers are all missing. Pressed into German service after France’s defeat in 1940  it’s now looking like the French Resistance have told them to dessert.

Just across the sea, 24-year-old Captain George Mabry is getting ready to lead his company onto Utah Beach and then into Normandy – which, as far as he’s concerned, is a suicide mission. His divisional commander, the leader of the ‘Fighting 1st’ Infantry Division is Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt… Jr – son of the former, and distant cousin of the current, US president.

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2 – 3am

SOE agent, Yvonne Cormeau has retrieved guns from under a beehive and will soon hand them out to other locals she trusts and they will fan-out to create mayhem in Gascony, blowing up bridges and railways and felling trees to block roadways.

US paratroopers scattered throughout Normandy are gathering together with the help of clickers, cheap toys that they use to find each other in the dark.

Back in Southwick House in Hampshire, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, General Eisenhower is getting a shoulder massage – not because he is relaxing but because the extreme stress he has been under has resulted in shaking hands, bloodshot eyes and very tense shoulder and neck muscles.

At 2:30am, Flying Fortress bomber crews erupt into cheers when it is announced that “…this is D-Day!” and they realise they will not be bombing ball bearing factories as normal, but instead will be sent to help their comrades by bombing enemy infantry and tanks.

Meanwhile, the German 21 Panzer Division have taken a prisoner named ‘Rupert’. As it turns out, Rupert is a dummy, one of several, covered in firecrackers and dropped as part of the grander feint to make the Germans think that the attack on Pas-de-Calais is the main invasion and Normandy, the real invasion, not the other way around.

Back on the Allied side, Task Force U opposite Utah Beach is taking up position, its destroyers getting ready to launch their opening salvos.

Signs of all this have not yet spooked the Germans. 

At his HQ in Paris, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt, the commander of the German army in France, is convinced that the blips on the radar screens over Normandy are part of a feint to draw attention from the real attack in Calais.

Near the Merville Battery behind Sword Beach, British paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Otway has assembled 150 men, a few support weapons and a signal flare and messenger pigeon. These are to be released if he can take the battery within the next two hours and thirty minutes, when the naval bombardment will commence on his target if he has not succeeded.

Meanwhile, Horsa gliders are continuing to crash land around Normandy, bringing in additional supplies for the paratroopers already on the ground.

There were two main armadas on D-Day, the Western Task Force, which covered the American beaches, and an Eastern Task Force East, which covered the British (and Canadian) beaches. Each group was further subdivided into Task Force U, for Utah Beach, Task Force O, for Omaha, and Task Forces J, G and S for Juno, Gold and Sword beaches.

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1 – 2am

While soldiers steel themselves for battle, the foundations for the main invasion have already begun.

‘Operation Glimmer’ is simultaneously occurring over Pas-de-Calais and involves the dropping of aluminium chaff by the ‘Dambusters’ Squadron to confuse German radar stations that have deliberately been spared from bombing. 

If all goes to plan, they will now detect this ‘phantom fleet’ and the Germans will conclude the main invasion is happening in Calais.

Back over Normandy, many paratroopers have missed their drop zones and two captured British Soldiers are brought to the HQ of the German 711 Division. When they meet the commander, Major General Josef Reichert, one of them tells him: 

“Awfully sorry, old man, but we simply landed here by accident”.

They are lucky, many others will miss their targets and land in flooded fields, drowning when heavy equipment tips them over into the water.

At Sainte-Mere-Eglise, two American paratroopers, Privates Ken Russell and John ‘Buck’ Steele become entangled in the church steeple as they fall to earth (see video.) 

Russell manages to cut himself down, but Steele drops his knife and has to play dead while a battle rages below him.

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image from ‘Pegasus Bridge’ by Will Fowler © Osprey Publishing, part of
Bloomsbury Publishing
image from ‘Pegasus Bridge’ by Will Fowler © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing  

12 – 1am*

The first hour of Operation Overlord is upon us.

Among other events, the first key stages of the D-Day are unfolding.

At the headquarters of the SOE (Special Operations Executive, which specialised in training agents for work behind enemy lines) on Baker Street, ‘A’ message is sent out, letting the French Resistance know that D-Day has begun.

Minutes later, men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, an airborne (glider infantry) unit, approach their objectives: two bridges at Benouville across the River Orne and the parallel Caen Canal.

Two minutes later, their six gliders crash-landed and the men of Oxs and Bucks men rushed the bridges, which ten minutes after that were in British hands. “Ham and Jam”, the callsign for mission completion, goes out over the radio.

‘Operation Deadstick’ had been launched to take these two bridges intact so that British forces would be able to break out of Sword beach when they attacked there in several hours’ time.

Also in the air at this time were over 20,000 paratroopers, some getting ready to leap out of Dakotas/Douglas C-47 Skytrains and others in more gliders. 

They are en route to seize key objectives and take out gun batteries that may hamper their comrades on the beaches when daytime comes.

Lancaster bombers have also been active, aiming for the Merville Battery, which they miss.

*All times given in BST (British Standard Time), which at this point was GMT +2, in order to cram as much daylight into the evenings as possible; this puts British time at one hour ahead of the continent at this point

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“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you … “

Dwight D.Eisenhower, in his Order of the Day, delivered June 6th, 1944

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He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, That dares not put it to the touch, To gain or lose it all.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, quotes Scottish nobleman and Civil War soldier James Graham in a message to Allied armies, pre-recorded by the BBC for a D-Day broadcast.

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