Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, was among those who helped execute the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. On the evening prior, he issued his now famous “order of the day,” which was delivered to 175,000 troops and emphasized the importance of having Operation Overlord be a success.
The aim of the Normandy invasion was to hit an area of the French coast that was less defended than others. Once the Allies had gained control of the coast, they would travel inland. To accomplish this, the British Army tricked the Germans into thinking they were planning an invasion of Calais.
While Operation Overlord didn’t occur until 1944, it had been known for a while that the Allies would need to invade mainland Europe to successfully defeat the German Army and relieve the Soviets fighting in the east. Despite this, the decision was made by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to first invade North Africa.
Hundreds of thousands of troops began arriving in southern England at the end of 1943, and by May 1944 there were over 1.5 million US Army personnel training for the operation. The naval part of the invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune, kept being postponed, due to bad weather, timing issues and rough seas, and it wasn’t until June 5, 1944 that Eisenhower made the decision to proceed.
To inform his troops, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force sent out a leaflet, which contained a speech he’d recorded for radio over a week before. It read:
“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. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over 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 blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
On June 6, 1944, over 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops launched five naval assaults on beaches codenamed Juno, Sword, Omaha, Utah and Gold, signaling the start of Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy. Among the US Army divisions involved were the 101st Airborne Division, 4th Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division and 29th Infantry Division.
Over the course of the summer, over two million soldiers were deployed to northern France, of which there were well over 200,000 casualties. Overall, D-Day was a resounding success and allowed for more than 100,000 troops to liberate France, which had been under German occupation since May 1940, and begin moving further into Europe.
Eisenhower was prepared in case the invasion of Normandy failed. The day before, he wrote a note, which read:
“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.”