D-Day, 80 Years On

D-Day Landings


Hindsight, they say, is twenty-twenty. When we look back on the D-Day landings of June 6th 1944, we tend to think that Allied success was inevitable.

In fact, there was no guarantee that the force of more than 150,000 American, British and Canadian troops that stormed the beaches of Normandy would not be thrown back into the sea by the defending Germans. In success, the Allies suffered more than 10,000 casualties. In failure, the number of dead and injured would have been far higher.

So, what was the key factor that enabled the Allies to secure a foothold on mainland Europe after years of Nazi dominance? Apart from the obvious courage of the troops who took part in the landings, the answer lies with the cloak of secrecy and deception that surrounded the entire operation.

The Germans knew an invasion was coming, but they did not know where. As early as 1942, Hitler was convinced that any force invading across the Channel would target the port of Calais. British Intelligence did everything in its power to encourage this belief. They even created a dummy army, with the name First US Army Group (FUSAG), complete with inflatable tanks and landing craft and other decoys. To the German reconnaissance aircraft, FUSAG looked like the real thing. Meanwhile phony Allied radio traffic talking about a Calais invasion was deliberately allowed to be intercepted by German intelligence.

The deception worked. The Wehrmacht (the German military) established defences all along the Channel and Atlantic coasts, but they put their strongest effort into the area around Calais, where three massive gun batteries were installed, with 406mm cannons.

It seems astonishing now that the true target of the D-Day landings was able to be kept from the Germans despite the enormous amount of planning and logistics that were involved. Most regular troops had little idea of when or where the invasion would happen, but enough senior officers and members of the Government were in the know to pose a risk of information slipping out. It was quite the achievement that nothing leaked.

From a British perspective in particular, D-Day was the moment when it became clear that the Allies finally had the upper hand. Confidence was high that they would go on to topple the Nazi regime and win the war.

Another combatant in the conflict who was delighted with the invasion was Joseph Stalin, even though he thought it was long overdue. The Soviet leader had been demanding that the Allies open a western front for over two years.  From his perspective, the real war was being fought on the eastern front, where the Soviets were taking unimaginably high casualties.

The debate as to who can claim most credit for defeating Nazism and winning the Second World War has been hotly contested in the eight decades since the conflict ended.

Was it the Americans, with their seemingly bottomless resources of men and materiel? Was it the Soviets, who fought far larger German armies than were ever faced by the Allies on the western front? Was it Great Britain, which stood alone when most of mainland Europe had fallen and neither the United States nor the USSR were yet participants?

If this debate interests you then you’re in for a treat at the BRLSI on June 19th, when the journalist, historian and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby will be talking about his latest book, Endgame 1944: How Stalin Won the War.

 Jonathan will be interviewed by Bath-based historian Francis Pike for what is sure to be a wide-ranging and stimulating discussion. Tickets available here: https://www.brlsi.org/whatson/jonathan-dimbleby-who-won-world-war-two/

 If you are interested in military history and would like to be kept informed about new talks and events organised by the BRLSI Military History Group, please send your details to joe.houlihan@brlsi.org and you’ll be added to the group’s email list and receive a brief message once a month.

 Joe Houlihan








BRLSI News, General News
, , ,