Tomorrow marks the anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944 —the day the Allied troops invaded the beaches at Normandy, France— was the largest seaborne invasion in history and the first time since 1688 that an invading army successfully crossed the English Channel. The D-Day landings led to the liberation of France from Nazi control and have been called the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
Check out these 7 fascinating facts about the day that changed the momentum of World War II.
- The Normandy Invasion was actually called “Operation Overlord.” The military called the landings at Normandy “Operation Neptune.”
- The “D” in “D-Day” didn’t stand for anything but is merely military talk for the day a military operation is set to start. Similarly, “H-Hour” is the hour a military operation is planned to take place.
- The Germans knew that an invasion was coming, but they did not know where or when. In the months before Normandy, the Allies went to great lengths to make them think the invasion would be at Pas-de-Calais. They created false army camps, vehicles, and even planes in England, across from Pas-de-Calais, and broadcast fraudulent radio transmissions.
- When Allied forces started landing at Normandy, Adolf Hitler was sound asleep and had left word that he was not to be disturbed. His generals were not authorized to order military reinforcements of their own accord. No one dared wake him, and the Nazis lost important hours.
- About 15,000 paratroopers landed in the French village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise after midnight on June 6. One American’s parachute got caught on the church’s spire, and he hung there for two hours before the Germans took him prisoner. The town has hung a dummy paratrooper from the spire ever since. Saint-Mere-Eglise was the first village liberated by the Allies; an American flag went up in front of the town hall at around 4:30 a.m.
- The U.S. Army used 20,000 shallow, flat-bottomed landing craft to land at Normandy. They had been designed by a Louisiana entrepreneur, Andrew Higgins, to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Eisenhower once called Higgins “the man who won the war for us.”
- Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., age 56 and the son of President (and Spanish-American War Rough Rider) Theodore Roosevelt, was the oldest man, and only general, in the first wave to storm Normandy. General Roosevelt’s son, Quentin Roosevelt II, was also in the first wave at Normandy. The general had health problems and injuries sustained in WWI, and charged the beach with a pistol and his cane. Realizing his unit had drifted a mile off course, he successfully modified their plans while under fire. A little more than a month after D-Day, he died of a heart attack and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Normandy. General Omar Bradley said Roosevelt displayed the single most heroic action he’d ever witnessed in combat.
Learn more about your WWII War heroes by learning more history, along with an exhaustive list of Ancestry’s WWII records here, “World War II Veterans: Researching the Greatest Generation.”
– Leslie Lang