d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. troops disembark from a landing vehicle on Utah Beach on the coast of Normandy, France in June of 1944. Carcasses of destroyed vehicles litter the beach.

The D-Day Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was an immense undertaking involving nearly 6,939 Allied ships, 11,590 aircraft, and 156,000 troops.

The military term “D-Day” refers to the day when a combat operation is to start, and “H-hour” is the exact time the operation commences. This concept permits military strategists to plan for an operation in advance, even when the exact date and time of the action are still unknown.

D-Day will, however, be associated with the invasion of Normandy, one of the largest and the most famous amphibious operations in the history of war. As the D-Day grows more distant in the mirror of history, the pictures remain with us, almost an uncompromising keepsake to that extraordinary, remarkable event.

Each photograph conveys only a single moment in time, a second of experience, a glimpse into the reality of the instant. These unforgettable photographs show us the uniforms, the weapons, the equipment, the preparations, the setting, the sufferings, the heroism, and the bravery that took place on June 6, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. Soldiers march through a southern English coastal town, en route to board landing ships for the invasion of France, circa late May or early June 1944.

The war in Europe had raged since the German Invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the United States joined the struggle against the Axis powers on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

During the years leading up to the Allies’ cross-Channel invasion of the European continent, millions of lives had been lost, and the Allies would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan. The third Axis nation, Italy, was invaded on July 9, 1943, and subsequently surrendered on September 8, 1943.

After months of preparation, planning, and stockpiling of men, ships, and weapons, the Allies were ready to assault the European continent. From January to May 1944, more than 589,000 men arrived in the United Kingdom in advance of the invasion.

The Germans expected the Allies to come ashore at Calais on the French coast, as this is the narrowest point along the Strait of Dover between England and France, and had heavily reinforced the Atlantic seawall with a vast network of shore batteries, beach obstacles, and minefields.

The Allies instead chose to invade the European continent along the Normandy region coastline in the Bay of the Seine, roughly between Le Havre in the north and Cherbourg on the Cotentin Peninsula in the south.

d-day rare historical photographs

General view of a port in England; in foreground, jeeps are being loaded onto landing craft – in background, larger trucks and ducks are being loaded, June 1944.

After months of training soldiers in how to assault the beaches and sailors in how to handle landing craft and larger amphibious ships, a target date was set for Operation Neptune ─ the amphibious assault phase of Operation Overlord (the invasion of France).

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Managing the naval aspect of the invasion was Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay (Royal Navy), who served as Supreme Naval Commander for the operation.

Tides in the Bay of the Seine where the invasion would take place were very complex. When the tide rises from low to high water, the change in depth can be as much as 5 feet per hour, and the difference in area between high and low tide can cover more than 20 feet.

The command created tide tables that contained estimations of the tidal movement, and ranges for each invasion beach. Photo reconnaissance pilots overflow the beaches recording the position of the tides and times of the movements.

The tide tables also gave planners a good estimate as to when the German anti-invasion obstacles would be covered by the sea and to what depth, or when they would be exposed and easy for the landing craft to avoid.

However, landing on the beach at low tide would expose the invading troops to great fire from the defenders. Whatever path was chosen, men would be put into harm’s way.

d-day rare historical photographs

Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley; Admiral Bertram Ramsay; Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory; Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith.

The invasion troops were boarded on ships at every dock, beach, and pier in Southern England on May 28. US forces were supported by and transported in 931 ships, while the British and Commonwealth Armies sailed in 1,796 ships of all types.

The invasion ships were ready on June 3, but the weather was not cooperating. June 4 was no better, and June 5 was predicted to be miserable too.

Forecasters predicted a break in the weather on June 6, and close to midnight on June 4, General Eisenhower gave the invasion order: D-Day was set for the morning of June 6. The invasion armada sortied from the coast of England on the morning of June 5.

During the early-morning hours of June 6, more than 13,000 American and 8,500 British paratroopers landed behind the beaches. They were to capture vital bridges and secure beach exits to enable soldiers of the seaborne assault to move inland as quickly as possible.

Offshore, at 2:00 a.m., minesweepers moved in, clearing channels for the fire support and amphibious ships that were soon to follow. At 6:00 a.m., as ships of the invasion fleet approached the landing areas, German heavy coastal batteries opened up, firing at the approaching invasion fleet.

d-day rare historical photographs

D-Day planning map, used at Southwick House near Portsmouth.

Facing the soldiers coming ashore were beach obstacles designed to snare landing craft, anti-ship mines, anti-personnel mines along the beaches and down to the tide line, one armored division, two mobile infantry divisions, and three additional divisions of vehicle-less infantry.

Six armored divisions plus the German Fifteenth Army were within the day’s march of reinforcing the army at the beachhead.
Allied troops began reaching the beach at 6:30 a.m. to face withering fire from the German defenders. LCI-93, LCI-553, and LCT-612 were shelled by shore batteries and subsequently sank.

The quit weapon ─ undersea mines ─ took a heavy toll; Destroyer Corry (DD-463), anti-submarine patrol craft PC-1261, eleven tank landing craft, and five infantry landing craft were quickly sent to the bottom.

Casualties from these ships were enormous, and those who survived had a long swim to the beach, if they could shed their full combat gear, or hoped for rescue by surrounding vessels.

In spite of German resistance, both active and passive, more than 21,000 men and more than 1,700 tanks, half-tracks, trucks, and jeeps were ashore Utah Beach by 6:00 p.m.

d-day rare historical photographs

The sight of a low-flying Allied plane sends Nazi soldiers rushing for cover on a beach in France, before D-Day June 1944. The aircraft was taking reconnaissance photos of German coastal barriers in preparation for the June 6th invasion.

German casemated gun emplacements were the target of the day for the Allied fire-support ships. Gunfire support was called for by Army units on the ground, and the fall of the shot was monitored by Navy pilots flying from land bases in Britain.

American troops faced stiffer resistance and increased German fortifications at Omaha Beach. Troops here endured a long trip over open sand, liberally sown with anti-personnel mines, to a concrete seawall topped with barbed wire.

To afford the soldiers tactical surprise, the Normandy beaches did not receive any pre-invasion bombardment, either by air or ship, in the weeks prior to the assault. All the German defenses were intact.

On the morning of D-Day, shore bombardment by the destroyers, cruisers, and battleships of the invasion fleet turned the tide of battle at Omaha beach.

Firing on targets, often within yards of American troops, many of the destroyers closed to within 800 yards of the beach – frequently touching the bottom. As the troops moved away from the beaches, gunfire support ships were hitting targets as far as 10 miles inland.

d-day rare historical photographs

Coast Guard Flotilla 10 tied up along with British landing craft, preparing to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. These landing craft landed U.S. troops on Omaha Beach.

The Allied armies ashore consolidated their position and soon began moving across the French countryside. The Luftwaffe moved aircraft from Italy and Germany to counter the invasion fleet. They used radio-guided bombs, employed with success off the coast of Italy, but Allied air superiority over the French coast limited their effectiveness.

German undersea mines continued to extract a high toll for sailing in French coastal waters, sinking or heavily damaging a number of ships before the area was cleared.

Operation Neptune was concluded on June 25 when US Navy battleships disabled the Fermanville battery (known to the Germans as the Hamburg battery), part of the coastal defense network surrounding the city of Cherbourg.

The Fermanville battery’s four 280mm cannon, with a range of 36 km, harassed Allied shipping until battleships Texas and Arkansas began to slug it out with the German battery. One cannon was put out of action before the Navy declared the duel a draw.

Cherbourg fell on June 26 and, after small pockets of resistance were mopped up, the Cotentin Peninsula came completely under Allied control. The Fermanville battery fell on June 28.

From Normandy, the land battle began working its way across France, with the Germans fighting to hold every yard of ground. Eleven hard-fought months later, the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of the Germans on May 7, 1945.

d-day rare historical photographs

German soldiers observe the coast during the occupation of Normandy by German forces in 1944.

Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June. Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men.

The five beachheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometers (60 mi) long and 24 kilometers (15 mi) deep. Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.

The Allied victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 percent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.

The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obliged to defend a huge stretch of coastline. The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.

Infrastructure for transport in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies. Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success.

d-day rare historical photographs

Czech hedgehogs deployed on the Atlantic Wall near Calais.

d-day rare historical photographs

A-20 bombers make a return visit to the Pointe Du Hoc coastal battery on 22 May 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Allied convoys of ships on the open sea. June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Gliders are delivered to the Cotentin Peninsula by Douglas C-47 Skytrains. 6 June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Allied troop carriers near Omaha beach, one covered with a cloud of thick white smoke, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. soldiers approach Omaha Beach, their weapons wrapped in plastic to keep them dry, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Allied forces push through the breakers toward Omaha Beach.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf as they land at Normandy in the days following the Allies’ June 1944, D-Day invasion of France.

d-day rare historical photographs

An A-20 from the 416th Bomb Group making a bomb run on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Aerial view of part of the Allied force off the coast of France, on D-Day, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

American soldiers wade from Coast Guard landing barge toward the beach at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

An 88mm shell explodes on Utah Beach. In the foreground, American soldiers protect themselves from enemy fire.

d-day rare historical photographs

Heavy smoke spreads from the dunes littered with barbed wire, after an explosion near Cherbourg, France. Two soldiers huddle behind a wall. Photo taken in summer of 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. soldiers rescue shipwreck survivors on Utah Beach, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Aerial view of the Normandy Invasion, on June 6th, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Thirteen liberty ships, deliberately scuttled to form a breakwater for invasion vessels landing on the Normandy beachhead lie in line off the beach, shielding the ships in shore. The artificial harbor engineering installation which was prefabricated and towed across the Channel.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. soldiers land on Utah Beach, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Above Omaha Beach, a German-placed bomb hangs on the side of a cliff, as a defensive measure.

d-day rare historical photographs

Allied soldiers, vehicles and equipment swarm onto the French shore during the Normandy landings, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Photo taken on D+2, after relief forces reached the Rangers at Point du Hoc. The American flag had been spread out to stop fire of friendly tanks coming from inland. Some German prisoners are being moved in after captured by the relieving forces. 8 June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

US Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc.

d-day rare historical photographs

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach.

d-day rare historical photographs

Two U.S. soldiers escort a group of ten German prisoners on Omaha Beach, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

American soldiers on Omaha Beach recover the dead after the D-Day invasion, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Gliders towed by C-47 aircraft fly over Utah Beach bringing reinforcements on June 7th, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Three U.S. soldiers take a rest at the foot of a bunker which the Germans have painted and camouflaged to look like a house.

d-day rare historical photographs

A U.S. soldier scans a French beach with his binoculars, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Allied tanks on the move near Barenton, France.

d-day rare historical photographs

In a farm courtyard, U.S. soldiers discuss an attack plan, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

U.S. soldiers move inland from the beaches of France, June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

American soldiers crawl toward shelter on a street Saint-Lo, France.

d-day rare historical photographs

View of the station and the destroyed town of Saint-Lo, 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

Wreckage Of A Republic P-47, Which Crashed During The D-Day Invasion, Lies On The Battle-Scarred Beach Of Normandy, France. 22 June 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

The liberation of Saint-Lo, Summer 1944, allied jeeps and soldiers among the ruins.

d-day rare historical photographs

Bodies of U.S. soldiers are attended to in the French countryside, Summer 1944.

d-day rare historical photographs

French townspeople lay flowers on the body of an American soldier.

(Photo credit: Regional Council of Basse-Normandie / U.S. National Archives / Library of Congress / US Army Archives / Article based on D-Day The Air and Sea Invasion of Normandy in Photos by Nicholas A. Veronico).