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Black and white photograph of troops wading onto the Normandy beaches

D-Day: A detailed timeline of events

Planning for the invasion, known as Operation Overlord, began as early as 1941, but here is how the events actually played out on the day.

Image: US troops wading onto Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion |

On 6th June 1944, Allied forces sought to turn the tide of the war by launching the biggest air, land and naval invasion the world had ever seen. Their targets were five stretches of the coast of Nazi-occupied Normandy, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. We look at how some of the key events unfolded on D-Day.


The aerial invasion of Utah Beach commences with paratroopers being dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy. Their goal is to seize the exits of causeways leading inland from the beach itself, destroy bridges and other vital German infrastructure, and pave the way for the infantry assault from the sea. Many of these paratroopers will be shot dead as they drop from the sky, while others will drown in the flooded lowlands.


The Allies commence aerial and naval bombardment at Sword Beach, in the wake of landings by troops who swoop in by glider to seize local bridges and take out German strongholds.


In the Utah Beach area, Sainte-Mère-Église becomes the first town in France to be liberated during the Normandy invasion. Coming after intense fighting between paratroopers and German occupiers, this major morale-boosting victory will make a military folk hero out of American soldier John Steele, whose parachute is snagged on the steeple of the town church.

Left dangling helplessly from the roof as bullets whizz back and forth around him, Steele plays dead and hangs limply for hours. He’s eventually captured by the Germans but manages to escape and rejoin his division a few hours later. He is later immortalised in the classic war film The Longest Day, and an effigy of Steele still hangs from the steeple to this day.


Allied warships fire on German defences at Utah Beach. During this heavy bombardment, the destroyer USS Corry suffers direct hits from German defenders on shore, and rapidly sinks beneath the waves. Dozens of crew perish. One seaman manages to raise the US flag up the ship’s mast, and it remains aloft and visible after the ship settles on the seabed.

At around the same time, the Allies also mount their naval bombardments of Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Omaha Beach. Although US General Omar Bradley promises his men that the bombardment on Omaha will inflict decisive damage on the Germans – saying they will have ‘ringside seats for the greatest show on Earth’ – others believe the size of this initial attack is inadequate for the task at hand. The Allies will indeed go on to suffer greater losses at Omaha Beach than at any other landing point on D-Day.


Carried by the now-iconic landing crafts known as LCVPs, infantry troops begin their assault on Utah Beach. Leading the first wave is one of the great heroes of D-Day, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. The eldest son of former US President Teddy Roosevelt, he suffered from serious medical ailments, including arthritis and heart trouble, but insisted on serving in the army and was regarded as a popular and brave leader.

On reaching the beach, Roosevelt realises that, due to strong currents sweeping their landing crafts off course, he and his men aren’t at their designated landing spot. Unfazed, he famously declares, ‘We’ll start the war from right here!’ and orders the next troop landings to be re-routed to what has turned out to be a more favourable spot. He will go on to direct trucks and tanks being brought ashore, seemingly undaunted by the shells exploding around him.

At around the same time, the infantry assault on Omaha Beach commences. This is the most effectively defended stretch of coastline, making it a particularly brutal ordeal for the troops, many of whom are cut down by German fire as they attempt to make it across the sands. The deadly onslaught makes it challenging for the Allies to clear the steel obstacles strewn by the Germans to keep invaders at bay, delaying the landing of more troops.

Despite the bloody carnage, troops at Omaha Beach will eventually succeed in making it to the cliffs and overcoming German positions.


The infantry assaults on the other three D-Day beaches commence. Survival often depends on sheer chance – some troops are swept off course, landing in poor strategic positions, sometimes directly in front of German resistance nests and in the line of fire of machine guns and mortars. Others make it to less heavily defended spots and advance across the sands.


As fighting carries on and Allied troops stubbornly press ahead inland, British Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis – part of the Gold Beach invasion force – attempts to take down a German field gun. Although he is unsuccessful, he demonstrates incredible bravery to engage the enemy fighters operating the gun. This, plus earlier heroism during the initial assault phase on Gold Beach, earns him the only Victoria Cross to be awarded for actions undertaken on D-Day.


The Germans launch their one and only D-Day counterattack, between Sword and Juno Beaches. Although some of the German troops are stopped by Allied air and naval attacks, others do manage to make it to the coast, only to withdraw after sighting Allied air forces coming their way.

By the end of the day, the Allies have lost 4,414 men. They also fail to capture several strategic positions. However, they have crucially succeeded in establishing a beachhead in occupied France – a monumental step in the greater battle to liberate Europe and bring down Hitler’s burgeoning empire.