Surprising D-Day facts you haven't heard before

Colourised image of Allied troops landing on Normandy beaches
Over 156,000 British, American and Canadian troops stormed numerous Normandy beaches on 6th June 1944 | Image: Shutterstock

On June 6 1944, more than 156,000 British, American, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches at Normandy. 50 miles of the French coastline saw fierce battles as Allied forces fought to punch through Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ and get a foothold in an effort to liberate Europe.

To this day D-Day remains the largest amphibian military invasion ever. The catastrophic losses and sacrifices were the turning point of World War II and marked the beginning of the downfall of Nazi occupation in Europe. Here are some lesser-known facts about that momentous day.

1. The weather changed the dates

Britain is known for its tumultuous weather, but it nearly cost the Allies dearly during the summer of 1944. They were originally planning to launch the attack on 5 June, but intervention from meteorologist James Stagg prevented a major disaster.

The conditions needed for the invasion to succeed were very specific. The weather had to be quiet and the English Channel had to be calm with low tides and moderate wind. The date also had to be as close to a full moon as possible. When James Stagg approached Eisenhower to say that 5 June wasn’t the day to invade, he was met with some resistance.

With none of the tools that today’s meteorologists benefit from, Stagg and his team extrapolated data from weather stations across the UK and the Atlantic to best predict when the invasion should take place. They were even able to use data that the German U-boats were reporting, thanks to the team at Bletchley Park who cracked the Enigma codes.

Stagg suggested that attacking on 6 June would have more chance of success, though they would still be against the elements with strong winds and choppy seas.

2. Operation Overlord

Known colloquially now as D-Day, the assault was formally known as ‘Operation Overlord’. While many have conjectured what the D in D-Day might stand for, it doesn’t actually have any meaning at all. It’s a placeholder term used throughout both World War I and World War II to refer to the date without risking a leak of information. Another term used in a similar manner was ‘H-Hour’.

3. D-Day landings

The scale of logistics involved in pulling off the landing in Normandy was monumental. Everything was carefully considered down to how they would get the troops to the shore while avoiding the shelling and heavy gunfire from the German defences.

The iconic landing boats, which were able to pull right up onto the beach, thus offering their passengers the greatest chance of landing, were a design originally intended for travel in the American swamps of Louisiana. The ramp of the vehicle served as a shield to protect the troops right up until landfall. However, the moment that the ramp was lowered, the men inside were sitting ducks.

Approximately 6,939 ships, boats, and landing vessels, 2,395 aircraft, and 867 gliders were mobilised to manoeuvre the troops.

4. The Battle of Normandy

Thanks to Operation Fortitude, the Nazis had fortified their defences in the wrong place. While the Atlantic Wall stretched across the western edge of Europe from Norway to France, deceptive posturing, inflatable tanks, and manipulative use of logistics fooled Hitler into thinking that the invasion would take place at a position further to the north.

The Nazis diverted troops to the northern French coastline and were confident that they were ready to beat back any invasion attempts that were to follow. They were so confident that when they received word of the invasion on 6 June, they didn’t believe it.

5. Word didn’t reach the German high command

This disbelief wasn’t helped by the intervention of the French Resistance. Learning of the invasion from the recital of a poem over allied radio services, the French Resistance was galvanised into action. Large amounts of sabotage took place all over France, including the destruction of rail systems and the cutting of phone lines.

The Germans, hearing the poem, anticipated that it was a coded message meant for resistance fighters, but assumed that it wasn’t an immediate instruction. They severely underestimated the speed and scale of ground sabotage that was about to take place.

When news of the invasion reached the German high command, at first, it was dismissed. Believing it to be an attempt at misdirection by the Allies before the ‘real’ invasion further north, the inability for news to travel quickly up the coast, thanks to the sabotage efforts, meant that by the time they took the news seriously, it was too late.

6. The news still spread like wildfire

While the news took its time to reach Hitler, it spread across occupied Europe with some speed. Anne Frank documents in her diary the day that they learned of D-Day and spoke of her hope that it wouldn’t be much longer before she and her family would be liberated from the annexe. Sadly Anne and her family were discovered by Nazi forces before the Allies reached them.

Written by:

Jo Rowan