Seventy years ago, today, an armada of nearly 6,000 ships and boats carrying 176,000 troops1, 822 aircraft carrying 18,000 parachutists, and an additional 13,000 aircraft flying air support, left England for an invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
It was D-Day for Operation Overlord. It would be the largest amphibious military operation ever attempted.
Here is what General Dwight D. Eisenhower —Supreme Allied Commander for the invasion— told the troops on that day, 6 June 1944.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon a 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, well equipped 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, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
- 1 Details on the size of the armada and invasion force were taken from the History Channel's This Day in History.
- 2 The U.S. Army website —at USArmy.mil— includes an audio recording of Eisenhower delivering his message.
- Success was far from a foregone conclusion. Eisenhower had prepared a message in case the invasion would fail:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
- Beginning as soon as a week after D-Day, the British were able to get beer to the troops. Read the story of the beer-casks strapped under the wings of fighter planes, via Martyn Cornell at Zythophile.