The beginning of the end of World War II – the Allied invasion on D-Day
On June 6, 1944, Western Allied troops led by the United States started "Operation Overlord". Tens of thousands of soldiers from the US, Britain, Canada, Poland and France landed on the beaches of Normandy in the north of France and opened up a new front in the West against Nazi Germany.
Nazi Germany's military defeat in World War II was initiated on June 6, 1944, a date that has since become widely known as D-Day. Just after midnight, the Western Allies began their invasion of the beaches of German-occupied Normandy, across the English Channel from Britain. The invasion, which had been under preparation for several months, was the largest military landing operation in history. It saw more than 20,000 paratroopers land behind enemy lines while at the same time almost 7,000 British and American ships, the largest armada of all time, approached the French coastline. Naval guns and bombers pounded German coastal defense fortifications. Almost 12,000 Allied aircraft took part in the operation, while the German air force was only able to muster around 500 warplanes.
In total, more than 130,000 troops from the US, Britain, Canada, Poland, France and other Allies initially landed on five separate sectors of the beach, which were codenamed Utah", "Omaha", "Gold", "Juno" and "Sword".Defending the coastal fortifications in these areas, which were part of the so-called Atlantic Wall, were only approximately 30,000 German soldiers. To this day, no exact record of casualty figures exists. More than 4,400 American, British and Canadian soldiers are assumed to have died within the first 24 hours of the invasion alone. A great number were killed by German machine guns, many others drowned. On the other side, between 4,000 and 9,000 Germans are estimated to have been killed or wounded.
In total, over 40,000 Allied troops died over the course of the 80-day Battle of Normandy. Around 110,000 Allied and German soldiers lie buried in Normandy's major military cemeteries. Up to 20,000 French civilians were also killed during hostilities. After the first week of fighting, the Allies were able to interconnect the five separate landing zones to form a single bridge head.
The "crusade" for the liberation of Europe, as the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower called it, became a decisive turning point in World War II. By the end of June, around 850,000 Allied soldiers and almost 150,000 vehicles had been shipped to northern France. A second front in the West had been firmly established in addition to the existing one in the East, from which Soviet forces had been advancing towards the German heartland for some time. On May 8, 1945, eleven months after D-Day, Germany surrendered. The war in Europe was over.
Today, Germans consider the unconditional surrender not as a defeat, but a liberation. The 75th anniversary is seen as an opportunity to show gratitude for the trust that was invested in Germany after World War II, for the assistance in reconstruction that Germany received from the American people and government and for the friendship Germans and Americans have enjoyed ever since.
The meaning of former Federal President Weizsäcker’s words stays alive. In 1985 he stated clearly: "The 8th of May was a day of liberation. It liberated all of us from the inhumanity and tyranny of the National-Socialist regime." And he continued: "As early as 1946, the American Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes, called in his memorable Stuttgart address for understanding in Europe and for assistance to the German nation on its way to a free and peaceable future. Innumerable Americans assisted us Germans, who had lost the war, with their own private means so as to heal the wounds of war."
Every year, memorial events are held to commemorate the Normandy landings. In preparation for the 75th anniversary in 2019, numerous historic military vehicles from World War II arrived on the beaches where the landings took place.