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D-Day 80 - remembering the D-Day Landings

D-Day 80 - remembering the D-Day Landings


June 6th 2024 will mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied Forces landing on the beaches of Normandy, during World War II. The historic landings were part of Operation Overlord, but will forever be known as the D-Day Landings.

What were the D-Day Landings?

The D-Day Landings was the name given to the invasion of the northern French beaches by Allied troops in June 1944, in an attempt to liberate occupied France from the Nazis. During Operation Overlord, the official name for the amphibious landings, 156,000 troops landed on the beaches during the course of Tuesday June 6th 1944. However, it must not be forgotten that during the landings, 4,000 troops were killed by the German defences.

Although the D-Day Landings took place on June 6th, they had been scheduled by the commander of Operation Overlord, General Dwight Eisenhower, for the previous day. Poor weather conditions prevented the landings from taking place, but improved conditions the following day enabled them to go ahead.

Where did the Allies land?

5 beaches in total were targeted for the landings, spanning a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline. The beaches were given codenames by the Allies – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The beaches stretched from Sainte-Mere I’Eglise in the west (Juno) to Cabourg in the east (Sword). Troops also landed at Pointe du Hoc, a headland between Utah and Omaha. Omaha beach was the most heavily defended and as a result, saw the most casualties of the landings.

The significance of the D-Day Landings to World War II

Operation Overlord was, at the time, the largest ever invasion by air, sea and land and it resulted in over 325,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and in excess of 100,000 tons of equipment landing on French soil. Just two months later, northern France had been liberated and by the following spring, Germany had been defeated by the Allies. Consequently D-Day is acknowledged by historians as the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

The role of Bomber Command and the RAF in the D-Day Landings

In the months before the landings, Bomber Command led attacks to destroy the German military, industrial and economic infrastructure. Indeed, prior to any troops landing on the beaches, Bomber Command had lost 300 aircraft and 2,000 men while attacking targets.

The part it played in the D-Day Landings was a tactical one – to destroy transport links around the intended battle area, as well as enemy coastal gun emplacements and radar stations in an attempt to reduce the Luftwaffe ability to respond to the invasion, and to carry out photo reconnaissance vital to the planning of D-Day.

Immediately prior to the landings, in addition to attacking transport links, the aircraft of Bomber Command were instrumental in towing gliders into the area, dropping parachutists and reconnoitring the battle as it developed. Additionally, aircrews protected the approaches to Normandy against enemy submarines and shipping, while Air-Sea Rescue teams saved airmen from the sea.

Moreover, it was meteorological flights carried out by Bomber Command that enabled the decision makers to give the go ahead for June 6th.

Historically, the role of Bomber Command has been greatly underplayed in text books but Wing Commander John Bell MBE who passed away in March 2024 aged 100, said in a 2019 interview, “Bomber Command was heavily involved before D-Day and there were a lot of casualties with aircraft being shot down… and (it) was an important part of the operation behind the lines in bombing rail tunnels and other installations which would prevent the supply of reinforcements to the invasion area.”

Churchill, while not publicly acknowledging the role of Bomber Command did say in a telegram to Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris (leader of Bomber Command from February 1942-1945), “Now that Nazi Germany is defeated, I wish to express to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the deep sense of gratitude which is felt by all the Nation for the glorious part which has been played by Bomber Command in forging the Victory[i].”

This week, as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Overlord, and with so few surviving veterans of the landings, Hemswell Antique Centres are proud of the role that the men of RAF Hemswell, part of Bomber Command from 1936, played.

Lest we forget.


[i] Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge

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