These Photos Show What D-Day was like for Soldiers Landing in Normandy

d-day
These Photos Show What D-Day was like for Soldiers Landing in Normandy Getty Images

June 6 is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the largest amphibious assault in history and perhaps the most pivotal battle of WWII. The Allied invasion of Normandy led to the liberation of France and laid the foundations for victory in Europe.

It was ultimately a victory, but it was by no means an easy one: An airborne assault by more than 1,200 planes matched by an invasion of over 5,000 ocean vessels. Some 24,000 US, British, and Canadian airborne troops landed shortly after midnight on June 6. Infantry divisions followed in the morning, coming ashore starting after 5:30am. Their target? A 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast, divided by military brass into five sectors—Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

It was a precision plan, but the landing crafts were blown off target by strong winds. And the troops that did make it on shore faced heavy fire from German gun emplacements, as well as a beach littered with landmines, wooden stakes and barbed wire. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel into France that day—it's believed at least 4,900 of them died, with thousands more wounded or MIA. None of the assault forces achieved their first-day objectives, but the Allies gradually expanded their tenuous foothold over the following weeks until, finally, Paris was liberated on August 25.

Just before the D-Day campaign began, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a statement to to the troops of the Allied Expeditionary Forces:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

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.

A week later, Eisenhower issued another statement, this one congratualting those who had taken the beachhead.

"Liberty loving people everywhere would today like to join me in say to you: 'I am proud of you.'"

Below, view historical photos taken during the D-Day invasion.

1 D Day
U.S. Coast Guard off Omaha Beach on the morning of D-Day, Normandy, France during the World War II, 1944. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
2 D Day
British soldiers at Juno Beach during World War II, D-Day landings in France, 1944.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
3 D Day
View of a trio of sailors and a large group of civilians as they stand in front of Liggett's Drugs on a Times Square street corner, New York, New York, June 6, 1944. They were watching an electronic sign for news of the D-Day invasion. Fred Palumbo/New York World-Telegram & Sun/PhotoQuest/Getty Images
4 D Day
Photograph of American troops approaching Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
5 D Day
U.S. soldiers building a supply road on a beachhead, a few days after D-Day, June 1944, Normandy, France.Photo12/UIG/Getty Images
6 D Day
A landing craft heads for the beach on the coast of Normandy, France on D-Day. The photograph was taken from the USS Arkansas.CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
7 D Day
General Gerhardt and Commodore Edgar watch the invasion, D-Day, June 6, 1944. CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
8 D Day
A U.S. Navy communications command post, set up at Normandy shortly after the initial landing on D-day, June 1944.CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images