This June will mark 75 years since the historic Normandy Landings, the largest amphibious assault in history. On 6 June 1944, an Allied invasion force of 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. Supporting the invasion were more than 7,000 ships and smaller vessels off the coast and 11,000 aircraft.
In total, British, Commonwealth and Allied casualties (killed, wounded or missing) on D-Day numbered approximately 4,300. The invasion established a crucial second front in the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation, ultimately leading to victory for Allied Forces in 1945.
On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. More than 150,000 American, British, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coast. This marked the start of Operation Overlord – a long costly campaign to liberate northwest Europe from German occupation. This risky invasion of France’s Normandy region later became known as the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe or simply “D-Day”.
- Shortly after midnight on June 6, more than 13,000 Allied paratroopers dropped behind the invasion beaches where they secured bridges and exit ramps from the beaches, providing tactical support for the troops hitting the beaches that morning.
- The amphibious landings began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians captured beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword. U.S. forces captured beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha. The heaviest resistance was encountered at Omaha Beach.
- Allied fighters, bombers and transport aircraft flew over 8,700 sorties in support of the landings.
On D-Day, the U.S. Army Air Forces contribution was unprecedented in its concentration and phenomenal in its size. In total, 8,722 aircraft were dispatched by the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces.
On that single day:
- 1,789 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers (B-17s and B-24s) dropped 3,596 tons of bombs on coastal batteries, shore defenses, and transportation check points.
- Eighth AF fighters (P-51s, P-47s, P-38s) flew 1,880 sorties attacking 17 bridges, 10 marshalling yards, and dozens of other targets. They destroyed 28 German aircraft, 21 locomotives, and hundreds of armored vehicles, rail cars, and supplies.
- 800 medium bombers (A-20s and B-26s) of the Ninth Air Force bombed coastal defenses, railroad junctions, troop concentrations, and bridges.
- 1,400 transport aircraft (C-47s, C-53s) and gliders (CG-4As) delivered two full airborne divisions (more than 13,000 men) behind enemy lines, many at night in advance of the beach landings. 450 of the troop carrier planes returned with damage, and 41 failed to return.
- More than 2,000 Ninth AF fighters (P-38s, P-47s, P-51s) escorted the bombers and transports, and provided close air support to invasion forces on the ground.
United Kingdom events
To signify the importance of Portsmouth’s role in the Normandy Landings as a major embarkation point for the Allied forces, there will be a series of events commencing on the 5 June.
At 11:30am The D-Day 75 National Commemorative Event will take place on Southsea Common. Veterans will join today’s Armed Forces and VIPs for a BBC programme of live music, performance and flypasts. Large screens will be provided on the common for members of the public who wish to watch the event.
At 12:45pm (approx) A Royal Navy frigate will fire a naval gun salute followed by a spectacular flypast of up to 25 historic and modern RAF aircraft including the Red Arrows and the iconic spitfire.
At 4:00pm The Red Arrows will return for a breath-taking display of speed and agility above Southsea Common.
At 6:25pm The Royal British Legion’s specially chartered ship, the MV Boudicca, will set sail from Portsmouth with 300 veterans to Normandy. HMS St Albans, a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate, will escort the MV Boudicca along with four smaller Royal Navy vessels. Royal Navy ships docked in port will pay their respects, before the ship emerges into the Solent to be met by a flotilla of Royal Navy vessels who will sail past her in salute with sailors lining the decks. Members of the public are encouraged to line key vantage points to wave off the veterans as they retrace the journey they made in 1944.
At 7:40pm (approx) The RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will fly over Portsmouth to mark the departure of The Royal British Legion’s ship.
A series of commemorative events and activities organised by Portsmouth City Council will take place from Wednesday 5 to Sunday 9 June in the city, from concerts to film screenings, The Portsmouth Revival Festival and more.
For more details please see the Visit Portsmouth website.
In partnership with The Royal British Legion, the National Memorial Arboretum will hold a service of Remembrance for D-Day in Staffordshire from 10.30 am. Coverage from the events in France will be relayed on a large screen afterwards. For more details, please visit the National Memorial Arboretum website.
In the UK, screens at Southsea Common and Portsmouth Guildhall Square will relay The Royal British Legion’s commemorative events in Bayeux, France.
At 3:00pm (local time) members of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade will drop over Sannerville, Normandy from RAF Hercules aircraft and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s C-47 Dakota. They will jump along with French Army paratroopers to recreate the famous airborne landings. Shortly after, the organisation ‘Daks over Normandy’ will drop veterans and reenactors from over 30 Dakotas. In the evening the British Army will support events taking place at Pegasus Bridge.
At 7.26 am (local time), the British Army will mark the exact moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach with a Lone Piper playing on the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches in Normandy. In Ver-Sur-Mer, The Normandy Memorial Trust’s D-Day statue will be inaugurated in the presence of senior leaders, military musicians and Armed Forces personnel. For more details please visit the Normandy Memorial Trust website.
Later in the morning in Bayeux, the first town liberated by the Allied forces, The Royal British Legion will hold events commencing with a service at Bayeux Cathedral and followed by a service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Bayeux War Cemetery. A tri-service Guard of Honour and military musicians will support the ceremony.
In the afternoon British veterans will begin to parade into the square in Arromanches at 3:15pm (local) for a series of informal events hosted by the local authority. There will be music from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force.
At 4:25pm (local) The remaining Royal British Legion veterans will arrive to enjoy music and parachute displays and flypasts by the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Events in Arromanches will conclude with a firework display at 11:30pm (local).
For more details, please visit The Royal British Legion website and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.