69 years ago: D-Day. The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history and was executed by land, sea and air elements with over 160,000 soldiers landing on 6 June 1944. The invasion fleet involved 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel and was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. The landings took place along an 80 km stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
Omaha beach was the most heavily fortified beach, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery; the pre-landing aerial and naval bombardment of the bunkers proved to be ineffective. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landings to drift eastwards, missing their assigned sectors and the initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only two survived the landing. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue“… This is all accurately pictured in Saving Private Ryan – watch it if you haven’t yet.
Today the beaches are still referred-to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. There are several vast cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery – pictured above – in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains rows of identical white crosses (9,238) and Stars of David (149) commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person’s religious symbol and their unit insignia. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the La Cambe German war cemetery, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses.