Discover the stories of D-Day through the Museum’s collection.
For over two and a half years the Allies planned and gathered their military strength to hurl into the decisive amphibious invasion of northern France and strike a mortal blow against the empire of Nazi Germany. In anticipation, Adolf Hitler stockpiled reserves across French coastlines into the Atlantic Wall defenses, determined to drive the Allied forces back into the sea.
There will be no second chance for the Allies: the fate of their cause hangs upon this decisive day.
After bad weather forces a delay, an expected break in the weather for Tuesday, June 6, is reported to General Dwight D. Eisenhower at rain-lashed Southwick House at 21:30 hours on the night of Sunday, June 4. Eisenhower makes the decision only he can make: Operation OVERLORD is unleashed by the Supreme Commander to begin the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s Third Reich.
As word of his decision spreads to the Allied forces after midnight, men across southern England prepare to enter the climactic battle.
Before dawn on June 5, Eisenhower meets with his staff one last time to hear the latest weather report. With ships sailing into the English Channel, the last opportunity to halt the invasion is upon him. He confirms his previous order, and in less than a minute he is left alone in the room in Southwick House as his subordinates rush to comply. There is no turning back now. The invasion must succeed, for no plan has been made to evacuate the forces in the event of failure.
In the early minutes of June 6, 1944, Allied paratroopers and gliders descend from the night sky to wrest control of key bridges and roadways from the Germans. Behind them in the darkness of early morning an initial force of over 130,000 servicemen from the Allied nations cross a choppy English Channel aboard an armada of over 5,000 ships. Their destination is Normandy, where they will assault the German enemy and make history.
Here are pieces of the story of D-Day, told through the words and eyes of those who were there.
Master Plan for Operation OVERLORD
This map shows the invasion routes and objectives laid out for the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Minutes after midnight, the American 101st Pathfinders jump into Normandy, and establish drop zones for 101st Airborne Paratroopers to follow. Their objective: capture the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, seize the major exits to Utah Beach, and gain control of the Western flank of Normandy.
Lt. Eugene Brierre, an aide in Division HQ to Major General Maxwell Taylor of the 101st Airborne, leaps with Taylor as he makes his qualifying jump that morning. PFC Ed Sabo makes his jump as a member of the Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the same dark skies over Normandy.
Brierre’s American flag armband and Sabo’s helmet are now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
On the Eastern flank of Normandy, eight Horsa gliders carrying members of the 6th British Airborne Division land at the Caen Canal (Benouville) and at the Orne river bridges. Both bridges are secured within 15 minutes due to brilliant nighttime piloting; at Benouville, the lead glider incredibly lands 40 meters from the bridge.
Private Wally Parr, a member of Major John Howard’s company, said later “God Almighty, the trees were doing 90 miles per hour. I just closed my eyes and went up in my guts.” Major Howard’s men capture the bridge over the Orne River and prepare for a German counterattack; they must hold until the arrival of troops from the beach.
The beret Wally Parr wore at Pegasus Bridge is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
82nd Airborne Pathfinders begin to drop into three main landing zones near Sainte-Mère-Église and two zones west of the Merderet River, in advance of the main force of Parachute Infantrymen. The 82nd Airborne’s objectives are to secure the town, control the causeway beyond, and seize the beach exits leading to Utah Beach.
The 82nd Airborne paratroopers arrive over their drop zones in Normandy in 369 C-47 transport planes; their drop zones are near Sainte-Mère-Église, Amfreville and Picauville. But while the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment successfully lands on Sainte-Mère-Église, the 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments are scattered along the Merderet River, which the Germans have intentionally flooded. Many of the heavily laden Paratroopers land in the flooded fields, and some drown before they have a chance to fight.
0200 to 0300 hours
As Allied paratroopers attempt to regroup, fierce fighting with German forces breaks out.
As the Allied paratroopers attempt to regroup, fierce fighting with surprised and confused German forces breaks out all over the Normandy countryside. CG-4 (WACO) gliders land in Normandy with troop reinforcements.
For further information on D-Day paratroopers from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Donald Malarkey
Miles off of the Normandy coastline, thousands of ships drop anchor and prepare landing craft for launch. Troops unloaded from transport ships into LCVPs and LCAs in anticipation of H-Hour.
Lt. Clayton Kelly Gross, 354th Fighter Group, flew a first escort mission for C-47 transport planes in the late evening of June 5 into the morning of June 6. Again at approximately 0530 in the morning of June 6, as H-Hour on the beaches approaches, he again takes off on his second escort mission of D-Day.
Gross's "Live Bait" bomber jacket is in The National WWII Museum collection.
For further information on D-Day from the air, please see the following Focus On from the Museum's site:D-Day Sky Soldiers
The German-held Longues-sur-Mer battery opens fire for the first time, targeting the USS Emmons. It fails to hit the ship. It then fires on USS Arkansas and misses. At that point, the German battery focuses its guns on nearer targets.
Nearly an hour before H-Hour, Companies B and C of the 741st Tank Battalion launch 32 Sherman tanks equipped with Duplex Drive (DD) to enable movement in the water. However, rough seas sink 27 tanks after launch from the LCTs; three are unable to launch at all. These are the first weather related casualties suffered in the assault. As a result, the 743rd and 745th Tank Battalions decide to land their tanks directly on the beach.
Lt. John M. Bruck, a member of Headquarters in the 741st Tank Battalion, received this Top Secret Bigot Neptune Field Order No. 1 booklet. Dated May 21, 1944, it held maps and documented intelligence for the Normandy invasion that day.
Warships open fire on German batteries defending Utah Beach. Shortly after the naval bombardment, B-26 Marauders from the US 9th Air Force drop more than 4,000 bombs on targets from Les Dunes-de-Varreville to Beauguillot.
Among the B-26 pilots bombing Utah Beach was Lt. Asa V. Clark of the 9th Air Force. It was from one of his bombs that the tag and cotter pin pictured below were pulled. The mission on D-Day was the 45th of 70 total missions that Clark would fly during the war; he commemorated the tag, noting “The big show is on.”
B-24s of the 446th Bomb Group drop bombs above Vierville, focusing on the strongpoints along the coast between Port-en-Bessin and the Pointe de la Percée. Due to poor weather and poor visibility, however, their efforts to knock them out are a failure.
Daylight breaks, revealing a continuation of gray, cold and rainy weather. Winds stir up waves beyond two meters tall. Warships open concentrated fire on the coastal batteries to prepare the way for the beach landings.
0630 hours—Omaha Beach
At H-Hour, 0630 in the morning the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions land the first waves of troops under heavy fire resulting in massive casualties. The first waves are relentlessly cut down by German machine gun and mortar fire. Company A of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division sees 19 young men from the National Guard in Bedford, Virginia, killed during the day. Those few men who survive the initial slaughter attempt to seek cover behind beach obstacles and the dead bodies of their comrades. Those who are able crawl towards the sea wall, known as the shingle, under intense enemy fire.
Private Hal Baumgarten, Company B, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division; Corporal Kenneth Kassel, 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, and Navy Corpsman Leo H. Scheer, 7th Naval Beach Battalion, are on Omaha Beach this fateful morning.
Private Baumgarten dashes across the bullet riddled beach towards the seawall as most of his comrades are mowed down around him. He is wounded three times before he reaches the safety of the seawall, and wounded twice more before he is evacuated to a hospital ship. He spends 32 long hours on Omaha Beach. The wristwatch he wore during his long ordeal at Omaha, given to him by his father, is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Corporal Kenneth Kassel, combat engineer, loses his helmet changing landing craft in the assault. A fellow soldier not going ashore gives Kassel his helmet, saying only “You might need this.” Reaching Omaha Beach, a bullet pierces the front of Kassel’s helmet but is deflected. While the helmet saves Kassel’s life, another piece of shrapnel lodges in his head and has to be surgically removed by a doctor. The helmet that saved Kassel’s life is now part of the The National WWII Museum’s collection.
Corpsman Leo Scheer of the 7th Naval Beach Battalion, attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade, almost did not make it to Omaha Beach. His landing craft is sunk by German artillery fire upon approach. Scheer is forced to swim to shore wearing his combat belt equipped with one first aid pouch. As a Navy Corpsman, Scheer’s job is to attempt to save the wounded. His one first aid pouch will not help the hundreds of men he sees lying on the beach before him. Scheer removes the pouches from the dead surrounding him, and attempts to save those he can on bloody Omaha Beach:
“...all the bandages but one, mine, were taken from dead soldiers at Omaha Beach. This was because we lost all our medical supplies when our landing craft...was hit and we had to swim into France and we were forced to take the bandages from the dead to use on the living. The belt is dear to me because the bandages come from GI’s who gave up their lives on Omaha Beach. I remember one soldier that had been riddled from his upper body to his knees with shrapnel, and we used 14 bandages on him before we left him.”
Scheer’s combat belt is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
For further information on D-Day infantry soldiers at Omaha Beach from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Harold Baumgarten
0630 hours—Utah Beach
At H-Hour on Utah Beach, strong currents push soldiers of the 4th Division ashore over a mile from their target beach. Amidst the confusion, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt decides to carry on the invasion from his position rather than adjust to the plan, and the Americans move quickly to control the exits and advance towards Sainte-Mère-Église.
Naval Lt. E. H. Mahlin, commanding LCT(R) 439, comes into Utah Beach. The LCT(R) (Landing Craft, Tank, Rocket) is outfitted with a special deck and racks and holds up to 1,080 rockets for close-in support of landing troops. Mahlin’s craft delivers a barrage of rockets as the first assault wave hits Utah Beach. His ship’s log indicates he began the barrage at 0637.
The flag which flew from Lt. Mahlin’s LCT(R) 439 on D-Day is now part of the collection of The National WWII Museum.
Lt. Sidney J. Montz lands that morning on Utah Beach with Company D, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He later writes in his diary of the day’s atmosphere and experience going ashore that morning on Utah Beach.
His diary is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
For further information on D-Day infantry soldiers at Utah Beach from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Bryan Bell
The bombing over Gold Beach and the west of Juno Beach begins. The 1st Bombardment Division strikes the coastal batteries and strong points between Longues-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer. Simultaneously, B-17s of the 3rd Bombardment Division bomb the eastern part of Juno sector to Sword Beach.
0700 hours—Omaha Beach
On Omaha Beach the second wave of troops lands in the bloody devastation of the first wave and attempts to push forward onto the beaches. The soldiers witness the terrible wrath of war first hand, and now must fight for their own survival.
Motor Machinist Mate Charles Jarreau of the US Coast Guard witnesses the devastation from the second wave and snaps photographs from LCI-94 while offloading GIs onto Omaha Beach. His photographs are now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Technician 3rd Grade Winston L. Morris lands on Omaha that day as a medic in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. He survives the landing, and is pictured a few weeks later in his field “office” still wearing the dog tags and field jacket he wore at Omaha Beach. His field jacket and dog tags are now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Private Kenneth T. Delaney, Company C, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division runs across the beach and feels something hot sting his foot. The pain gradually shoots up his entire leg. Crawling, Delaney makes it to a wall where other wounded men are taking cover from relentless enemy fire. Although wounded himself, Delaney aids the more seriously wounded men first. Several days later doctors remove the bullet from his foot. For his efforts tending the wounded, Delaney received the Bronze Star. The bullet extracted from him is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Lt. Leonard Stoddard, a platoon leader in the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division lands on Easy Red Sector of Omaha Beach. The helmet he wears has seen him through combat in North Africa and Sicily, and now accompanies him across bullet riddled Omaha Beach. His helmet is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
0730 hours—Pointe du Hoc
Rangers under Lt. Col. James Rudder, 2nd Ranger Battalion attack the German artillery battery at Pointe du Hoc, where Allied intelligence believes that 155mm guns on the summit can break the Allied attacks on both Utah and Omaha beaches. Climbing up the eastside face of the cliffs against terrific German fire, the Rangers gain the summit only to discover the guns are not there. Searching inland, they find the weapons over 1,100 meters away and destroy them with explosives.
The Germans launch a violent counterattack over the next 36 hours, and of 190 Rangers in the fight, only 90 survive at the end of the ordeal.
Surviving Germans in the area are taken as prisoners of war. American troops lay out the American flag to halt the fire of friendly tanks coming inland, proof of the ultimate successful performance of their mission.
For further information on Pointe du Hoc from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Len Lomell
0800 hours—Utah Beach
Ever vigilant on this morning, a US Army weapons carrier heads toward Utah Beach with a .50 caliber machine gun pointed skyward for anti-aircraft defense. Signalman 2nd Class Herbert H. Davis, 2nd Naval Beach Battalion, attached to the 4th Infantry Division lands on Utah Beach to direct the traffic of men and supplies onto the beach. Davis relays messages to ships offshore through the use of colored signal flags. Ultimately Davis spends two months on Utah Beach directing supplies inland into Normandy. After Normandy he is transferred to the Pacific, using these flags until the end of the war. These signal flags are now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
At Omaha Beach, troops begin to regroup in small units, searching for exits off the beach. The beach is littered with dead and wounded troops, and the tide brings in dead men.
Private Harry Schiraldi, a medic in Headquarters, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, is killed that morning by enemy machine gun fire. His remains are initially buried in Normandy before his family requests his remains to be returned to the United States, where he is now buried at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.
His last letter home and the telegram his parents received are now part of the collection at The National WII Museum.
The American forces on Omaha Beach continue to push inland, and troops overwhelm key German defensive positions which have raked them with murderous fire for hours. Strong point WN65 is destroyed, the German fortification point protecting Exit E1 off the beach, and past it the Americans can access the Ruquet Valley.
Captain Frank Walk, 6th Engineer Service Battalion, is responsible as an assistant beachmaster for directing vehicles and troops to open exits as they come ashore. He lands on Omaha Beach at 0800, and unable to access the beach exits, is forced to dig in on the beach under heavy enemy fire. By 1030, having moved up to the seawall, he sees two exits opening and directs traffic towards them.
The Colt 1911 pistol Walk carries with him on Omaha Beach is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
A machine gunner at the German defensive fortification WN62, Private Franz Gockel of the German 352nd Infantry Division loses his machine gun during the fighting when it is torn from his hands in an explosion. He grabs a rifle and continues to fight. Gockel initially believes the Germans have prevailed in the battle, but by noon he realizes that the tide has turned against them. He is wounded in the hand that afternoon and evacuated to Colleville. Later, he is captured and becomes a prisoner of war.
The boots he wore on D-Day are now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Although the Americans successfully breach the beaches, the fighting continues on throughout D-Day, June 6, 1944. Lt. Gordon Osland, 397th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, dies on Omaha Beach that afternoon when shrapnel strikes him in the chest, killing him instantly. He leaves behind a young wife, pregnant with their daughter.
His last letter to his wife and the telegram informing her of his death are part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
Corporal Edward P. Gilleran lands on Utah Beach atop a truck loaded down with equipment for the 116th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. His commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Paul Davis, carried a map ashore which he then gave to Gilleran along with the responsibility for keeping all of the unit’s maps as they head inland.
The map which Lt. Colonel Davis gave Corporal Gilleran on Utah Beach is now part of the collection at The National WWII Museum.
0000 hours—June 7, 1944
At the end of the day on June 6, 1944, over 156,000 Allied troops have landed and are fighting the enemy. Reinforcements of Allied troops continue to flow into Normandy through this and the following nights. It is estimated that the Allies suffer approximately 12,000 casualties within the first 24 hours of the Normandy campaign, and that between 4,000-9,000 Germans are killed.
But victory over Nazism was a far distant goal as the day ended on June 6, 1944. Berlin remained nearly 700 miles distant from Normandy. Much hard fighting remained for the Allied forces.
The Americans who successfully landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day were now embarked upon a campaign with their Allies to liberate northern France and drive towards Paris.
In the Normandy campaign, they would face much danger and heroics would be necessary. From the collections at The National WWII Museum:
For further information about the days of fighting in Normandy immediately after D-Day from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Walter Ehlers
They would face a surprising environmental obstacle every bit as tough as the enemy: the hedgerow countryside of Normandy:
They would face a German Army determined to drive back the Allies at all costs, relentlessly fighting at every step of the campaign, such as when members of the 30th Infantry Division were surrounded at Mortain:
But the Americans would ultimately prevail, driving the Germans back and wreaking havoc on them through the Falaise Gap:
For further information about the days of fighting in the Falaise Gap from the Museum’s Digital Oral History collection, please see:Francis Currey
It is on this 70th Anniversary that we honor the men and women who achieved victory over tyranny, and made the greatest sacrifices so that our freedoms might live.