D-Day Did You Know
Five Fascinating Facts You Might Not Know
June 6, 2016 by Jake Butler
On this day 72 years ago, more than 160,000 Allied troops invaded Normandy, the heavily-fortified stretch of French coastline occupied by Nazi Germany. It was a pivotal point in World War II that allowed the Allies to take the fight inland through Europe.
Most people would probably consider themselves familiar with the events surrounding D-Day, whether from history class, first-hand accounts, or the silver screen. But today, for the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy invasion, we’ve gathered five interesting facts you might not know.
It was the largest naval, air, and land operation in history.
The D-Day invasion happened in two key phases – an aerial assault and amphibious landings. It started with roughly 18,000 Allied paratroopers parachuting into the area for tactical and infantry support. Allied aircrafts flew over 14,000 total trips to support the mission. Nearly 7,000 naval vessels took part, including battleships, destroyers, submarines, and more. They were responsible for escorting and delivering more than 132,000 ground troops onto the beaches. All of these units helped storm Normandy by air, sea, and land.
A rehearsal operation went horribly wrong.
On April 28, 1944, Allied forces launched a practice run off the southwest coast of England near Devon. Eight ships full of U.S. service members planned to storm the beach as a rehearsal exercise in preparation for D-Day. Unfortunately, they used the wrong radio frequencies to coordinate and their communications were intercepted by the Germans. With slow-moving landing ships, they were an easy target for German torpedoes. About 800 people were killed because of the mistake. Allied commanders, fearing a drop in morale and potential security risks, ordered a blackout of all information about the botched operation. Some families of the victims never found out how their loved ones died.
Allied forces used dummies to create a diversion.
Code names, blackouts, and other diversion tactics were standard operating procedure during the war. The official deception strategy was named “Operation Fortitude,” which included leaking fake war plans, sending decoy messages across the radio, and setting up fake camps. But you might not know about “Operation Titanic,” where the U.S. military dropped dummies – called “Ruperts” – dressed in full paratrooper uniforms, meant to give the illusion of a large-scale attack happening elsewhere. The goal was to distract the German military while the actual forces landed further west.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower credited a single man for winning the war.
His name might not appear in many history books, but Eisenhower – a general at the time – is quoted as saying, “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.” His role? He designed and built LCVP boats, the amphibious landing crafts used to storm the beach. Without his contribution, Eisenhower claimed, Allied forces could never have landed on an open beach, and the invasion strategy would have been completely different.
Everything hinged on the weather forecast.
D-Day was originally scheduled for June 5, but poor weather forced Eisenhower to delay the invasion, at the recommendation from his chief meteorologist, British Capt. James Stagg. German leadership was expecting an Allied invasion in late May because there was a full moon, high tide, and calm wind conditions. The bad weather at the start of June caused the Germans to let their guard down, and the Normandy invasion went off without a hitch thanks to Stagg’s weather chart and accurate predictions.