Although the Allied forces eventually liberated the coast from German control, the day was chaotic and bloody, with fierce weather adding to difficulties.
The loss of life among the allies is thought to be around 9,000, with around 4,000 on the German side. Some 200,000 Germans were captured as prisoners of war.
Responses to D-Day at the time veered from patriotic optimism to stark pragmatism, following reports of the long day of battle.
Here, seven powerful quotes from journalists, soldiers and historians help paint a picture of that historic day.
General Dwight Eisenhower, in a message to troops before Normandy:
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely ... I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Martha Gellhorn, war correspondent for Collier’s:
“Everyone was violently busy on that crowded, dangerous shore. The pebbles were the size of apples and feet deep, and we stumbled up a road that a huge road shovel was scooping out. We walked with the utmost care between the narrowly placed white tape lines that marked the mine-cleared path, and headed for a tent marked with a red cross … Everyone agreed that the beach was a stinker, and that it would be a great pleasure to get the hell out of here sometime.”
John H Fenton, No 4 Beach Squadron, Royal Air Force, in a memory of the landings and the weeks that followed:
“On 14 July 1944, the French in our locality were able to celebrate Bastille Day for the first time in four years. In the morning, all attired in their best, they went to church. Any Frenchman with a uniform wore it. An ex-Naval man, holding his little girl by the hand, wore his sailor’s uniform. The village postmen wore theirs. The British organised a fete with army transport bringing in civilians from nearby villages. A Royal Marines Band and a Scottish Regiment provided music. There were races for the children, even refreshments. To mark the occasion, practically every truck, jeep or motorcycle had a spray of red, white and blue flowers tied on the front. In addition, some had ‘Vive La France’ and tricolours chalked on the sides. A festive air prevailed.”
American historian Stephen E Ambrose, in his book ‘Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest’:
“Lieutenant Welsh remembered walking around among the sleeping men, and thinking to himself that ‘they had looked at and smelled death all around them all day but never even dreamed of applying the term to themselves. They hadn’t come here to fear. They hadn’t come to die. They had come to win.’”
David Teacher, No 71 Royal Air Force Beach Unit, on his experience at D-Day:
“Jerry started to shell the beach at about 9am. Suddenly, all hell let loose. The beach was under fire from shells, mortars and machine guns, we dived for cover. The sea was covered in blood and vomit and flies began to arrive by the thousands, which created another nightmare … We continued all night and the following day without a break. Slowly, slowly we overcame all the nightmares .There was no lack of humour. A soldier coming ashore asked, ‘Is this a private beach? I was promised a private beach. If not I am not staying.’ And we heard, ‘My mother told me not to travel by air, she thought it was much safer by sea.’ An army officer came ashore and instead of getting his men off the beach quickly, he stopped to consult his map. I approached him, ‘Sir, off this beach, now!’ ‘And who are you?’ he asked. ‘Sorry, no time for introductions.’”
Ernie Pyle, D-Day column, excerpts from ‘Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches’:
“All that remained on the beach was some sniping and artillery fire, and the occasional startling blast of a mine geysering brown sand into the air … That plus the bodies of soldiers lying in rows covered with blankets, the toes of their shoes sticking up in a line as though on drill. And other bodies, uncollected, still sprawling grotesquely in the sand or half hidden by the high grass beyond the beach. That plus an intense, grim determination of work-weary men to get this chaotic beach organised and get all the vital supplies and the reinforcements moving more rapidly over it from the stacked-up ships standing in droves out to sea. Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.”
George S Patton’s speech to the Third Army, given ahead of the Allied invasion:
“War is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you, and you wipe the dirt off your face and realise that instead of dirt it’s the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you’ll know what to do! I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly, and we are not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living sh*t out of him all of the time.”
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