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The Normandy Landings, 75 Years On: A Visual Anthology

1 MIN READJun 6, 2019 | 11:13 GMT
A digitally colorized image of a photograph by Robert F. Sargent titled
(ROBERT SARGENT/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A digitally colorized image of a photograph by Robert F. Sargent titled "Into the Jaws of Death." Sargent captured troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division disembarking from an LCVP (landing craft) onto Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord during World War II. June 6, 1944, was D-Day for the amphibious invasion of Western Europe by the Allied powers.

The Big Picture

June 6, 2019, marks a historic anniversary. On this day, 75 years ago, Allied forces from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada launched the largest seaborne invasion in history, landing nearly 160,000 personnel on the beaches of Normandy in a single day. This opened the long-awaited second front in the war against Nazi Germany and started the chain of events that ended in the fall of Berlin in May 1945. D-Day was the longest day in that assault and a pivotal moment not only in World War II but the history of human warfare. In the intervening period, amphibious assaults have been exceedingly rare. Were one to be carried out today, revolutionary shifts in technology and strategy would make a contemporary amphibious operation radically different. In this visual anthology, we remember the fallen and consider the scale of the undertaking. 

U.S. troops ready to board landing ships at Weymouth, England for the D-Day Normandy Invasion 1944.

U.S. troops march to board landing craft harbored at Weymouth, England, June 4, 1944. The Allied preparation for the invasion spanned years and necessitated the movement of tens of thousands of personnel to the United Kingdom as well as the manufacture, transportation and stockpiling of critical materiel. For the sake of operational security, everything had to be blanketed under a shroud of secrecy. In fact, so good was the Allied deception plan, the German forces in France failed to reinforce their defensive positions in Normandy, keeping the bulk of their troops, armor and reserves elsewhere. 

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
U.S. Army Rangers of E Company, 5th Ranger Battalion, wait aboard a landing craft in Weymouth harbor, Dorset, June 4, 1944.

U.S. Army Rangers of E Company, 5th Ranger Battalion, wait aboard a landing craft in Weymouth harbor, Dorset, June 4, 1944. The invasion had originally been planned to take place on June 5, but poor weather made the crossing untenable. Their equipment is indicative of what assault troops carried ashore: steel helmets, canvas webbing, M1 Garand rifles, a squad-level recoilless rocket launcher (the classic bazooka), a 60 mm mortar -- and the ubiquitous pack of Lucky Strikes. 

(Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
Allied aircrews work around C-47 transport planes at an unidentified English base in this photo taken shortly before the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.

More than 20,000 American, British and Canadian paratroopers (primarily from the 82nd, 101st and 1st Airborne divisions) participated in Operation Overlord. These airborne forces, deploying by parachute and glider, proved critical to the success of the operation, but casualties were extensive. More than 40 C-47 transport planes were lost in the operation in the American sectors alone. 

(AFP/Getty Images)
A photo of B-24 Liberators flying over the English Channel ahead of the Normandy Invasion.

With more than 18,000 aircraft built, the B-24 is the most produced American military aircraft in history and also the most produced heavy bomber of all time. Seeking to add their heavy loads to the operation, B-24 and B-17 heavy bombers participated in the initial bombings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, in an effort to weaken and demoralize the German defenders. Fearing the potential of friendly fire however, much of the initial ordnance missed its target, failing to soften up the beach defenses as much as the Allies hoped.

(Keystone/Getty Images)
A photo of Allied landing craft underway to the beaches of Normandy, June 1944.

Huge numbers of specialized LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) were required to move troops and equipment across the English Channel to the French coast. The LCVP was almost universally known as the Higgins boat after its designer, Andrew Higgins. Based on the boats used for operating in swamps and marshes, the Higgins boat was extensively used in amphibious landings in both Europe and the Pacific. More than 23,000 Higgins boats were built, and saw service beyond WWII in the Korean War where they figured prominently in the Inchon landings in September 1950.

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The guns of the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) in action on the morning of June 6, 1944.

The guns of the USS Nevada (BB-36) engage the German Azeville artillery battery north of Utah Beach. Unable to rely on fixed artillery to attrit the German defensive positions, the invasion relied heavily on aerial bombing and ship-to-shore gunfire to support the invasion. Participating in D-Day were seven battleships, 23 cruisers and 93 destroyers, in addition to hundreds of other support vessels. Given the distances involved and weather conditions, most of the time naval gunners couldn't actually see what they were shooting at, relying on forward observers or 'spotters.' 

(Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
A Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) approaches Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. To the right is another LCVP.

A Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) approaches Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. Omaha Beach proved the most difficult of the five landing zones to overcome for the Allies, with the 1st and 29th divisions taking particularly heavy casualties as they fought all day to force their way off the beach. The German defenses were eventually ground away, however, and the Americans pushed their way through -- at no small cost.

(Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
A map showing the D-Day Invasion Beaches.

A map showing the primary assault beaches along the Normandy coast: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. 

A picture of assault troops on a beach, trying to find cover behind a hedgehog -- three crossed steel beams designed to rip the underside of landing craft as they come onto the beach at high tide.

Assault troops try to find cover behind a hedgehog -- three cross-welded steel beams designed to rip through the underside of landing craft as they come onto the beach at high tide. The Germans had years to prepare defenses, and one of their first priorities was to make it extremely difficult for any assaulting force to get onto the beach. Extensive networks of obstacles were constructed, primarily to prevent landing craft from dispersing large numbers of troops onto the defender's doorstep. Some of the first personnel ashore were combat engineers, tasked to blow gaps in the German defensive line. 

(BETTMANN/Corbis/Getty Images)
Taken from a circling aircraft, a picture shows hundreds of American paratroopers dropping into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Two initial waves of combat parachutists dropped into Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944, followed by two pre-dawn glider waves. A variety of factors resulted in a highly dispersed drop overall, and while this delayed or prevented the airborne forces from achieving many of their initial objectives, the ensuing chaos played hell with the Germans' ability to get an accurate battlefield picture for some time. 

(Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Lt. Col. James E. Rudder consolidates his forces and processes prisoners of war after the assault up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc by the 2nd Ranger Battalion (D, E and F Company).

Lt. Col. James E. Rudder consolidates his forces and processes prisoners of war after the assault up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc by the 2nd Ranger Battalion. The brutal ascent to capture the steep promontory overlooking Omaha Beach resulted in 77 Rangers killed and 152 wounded.

(Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
A picture shows wounded soldiers on a Normandy Beach, June 6, 1944.

The estimated casualties for the first day of the invasion were around 2,500 U.S. personnel killed in action, 1,500 British deaths, 400 Canadians lost and more 5,000 Allied personnel listed as missing or wounded. On the German side, the estimate varies from 4,000 to 9,000 dead, wounded and missing.

(Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
U.S. soldiers dry their clothes in a captured German bunker after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had originally been appointed by Hitler in 1943 to take command of Germany's defensive positions in the Western Front, including the 'Atlantic Wall,' a fearsome coastal defense network. Despite his preference, however, his beloved armored formulations were ordered closer to Paris to defend the city rather than moved to the coast to help bolster any defense from the sea. 

(AFP)
Photograph of D-Day landing craft, boats and seagoing vessels used to convey a landing force (infantry and vehicles) from the sea to the shore during an amphibious assault. Build-up of Allied forces landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France during the World War two D-Day landings 1944.

The scale of the Allied landing was enormous, encompassing thousands of landing craft, warships, aircraft and other support vessels and vehicles. The logistics of organizing the cross-channel invasion was among the most complex tasks of the entire war. Initial planning for the invasion began more than two years before the actual operation, in early 1942, and was a subject of fierce debate among Allied political leaders and generals. 

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
A U.S. Navy communications command post, set up at Normandy shortly after the initial landing on D-Day, June 1944.

Having established a beachhead and prevented a German counteroffensive, the next matter was to reconstitute and begin the fight inland. The Germans had ample time to prepare for an invasion so had left the area heavily mined with both anti-personnel and anti-tank devices, another challenge for allied combat engineers, infantry and armor to fight through. 

(CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Photograph of an M4 medium tank in Normandy.

After the amphibious landing, the Battle of Normandy continued inland, punching east, stretching through July into August. The American M4 Sherman was the main tank of the Allied forces in Normandy and was also used in large numbers by the United Kingdom and others. Following the invasion, the Allies proceeded to greatly enhance close coordination between their armor and infantry and artillery which greatly improved the M4's overall effectiveness in the ensuing fighting in Normandy.

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
German soldiers pictured being marched through the streets of Cherbourg, France, after the city was liberated by the Americans.

Many of the German prisoners of war (POWs) captured during D-Day were from the 716th Static Infantry Division, which had a very high proportion of troops from German-occupied territories, particularly Ukraine. Conscripted personnel were not particularly keen on the idea of fighting to the death.

(Three Lions/Getty Images)
A makeshift monument to a dead American soldier at Normandy, after the D-Day assault on the French coast, June 6, 1944.

Of the assaulting troops, U.S. casualties were heaviest on Omaha Beach, with the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions suffering around 2,000 casualties. In the build-up to D-Day and during the initial hours, Allied air forces lost almost 12,000 men in over 2,000 aircraft. Hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping, both naval and merchant, were lost during the invasion and beyond. Overall, during the entire Battle of Normandy, it is estimated that more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or listed as missing. 

(FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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