Today marks the anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history when Operation Neptune, the codename for the Normandy landings, saw Allied forces begin the invasion of Europe in France, during the Second World War.
Thousands of troops sailed across the English Channel to land at five sites along the northern coast of France, as more than 1,300 RAF plans and 1,000 American bombers flew overhead to bombard German defensive positions, and deliver thousands of glider-borne troops and paratroopers behind enemy lines.
A map of the landing positions, provided by ROSL member Barry Whittaker
More than 4,000 ships were involved in delivering 24,000 US, British, and Canadian troops across the channel, with landings taking place at beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
While the Germans had fortified much of the coast, otherwise known as the 'Atlantic Wall', a misinformation campaign codenamed Operation Mincemeat meant that German High Command expected the invasion force to land further north around Calais, leaving the Normandy coast relatively poorly defended. This, coupled with Russian advances on the Eastern Front meant the German 7th Army were under-strength when the Allies arrived.
The landings took German forces completely by surprise, with the Luftwaffe conducting no reconnaissance missions in the area. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied naval commander, said "There was a slight loss in ships but so slight that it did not affect putting armies ashore. We have got all the first wave of men through the defended beach zone and set for the land battle."
Successfully holding each beach by the end of the first day meant more could follow ashore to continue the push inland. Still, Allied casualties on the first day were said to have been at least 10,000, with German casualties of between 4,000 and 9,000 soldiers.
A picture from the July 1944 copy of Overseas, showing the coastal defences of Normandy
It took until 12 June for all five beachheads to be linked and until 21 June for Caen to be retaken from German hands. Innovations such as the Mulberry harbours, giant concrete structures which were floated across the channel and sunk by each beach, created piers from which the Allies could offload more troops and equipment quickly in the days that followed.
Below shows an article from the July 1944 edition of Overseas, which gives a contemporary account of the landings.
Whether it’s photos, letters, official documents or a retelling of what happened, we want to hear about the part your loved ones played in these monumental pieces of history. To submit something to the War Time Memories collection either emailor post them to Jessica-Harris Edwards, ROSL Marketing, Over-Seas House, St James’s, London, SW1A 1LR. Please only send scanned or copies documents and photos.