15 Facts About The D-Day Invasion Most People Don’t Know About

On June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion by Allied forces began in the French region of Normandy. What happened on D-Day, one of the largest military undertakings in world history, remains among the most remarkable stories of WWII. Facts about this endeavor, code named Operation Overlord, continue to amaze the public over 70 years after this momentous event. Here are some remarkable and surprising details about the D-Day invasion, the attack that was the beginning of the end of the Nazi Reich and ground zero for the onset of the struggle for the liberation of Europe. From leading men you had no idea landed on D-Day to sleeping Nazi leadership, the invasion that began the end of WWII is full of surprising, heroic, and heart-wrenching moments.

The Allies Were Greatly Helped By Hitler Sleeping In

By mid-1944, Adolf Hitler’s doctor was treating him with medications that included amphetamines and possibly even cocaine. Consequently, Hitler would remain awake into the wee early morning hours and sleep until the early afternoon. Even the most superior members of the German high command were aware of this behavior and knew that he would become angry if disturbed. Hitler had also forbidden commanders in the field from adjusting troop positions without his specific permission. When several generals in the Normandy area wanted to immediately deploy two German panzer divisions to attack the tenuous Allied toehold as quickly as possible, they had to wait until late morning before disturbing Hitler. By that time, the clouds preventing Allied air attacks had broken, and Nazi reinforcements could only proceed by night, greatly reducing German ability to counterattack and ensuring the success of the landing.

The Weather Forecast Played A Decisive Role In D-Day’s Success

Because D-Day relied so heavily on issues surrounding weather, tides, cloud cover, and moonlight, only certain days could be considered for the invasion. Initially, Allied meteorologists selected June 5, 1944, as the most advantageous day for the attack. However, rough seas, high waves, and extreme cloud cover could be enough on their own to ensure the failure of the operation. On June 4, British military meteorologist James Stagg overruled his staff and recommended a postponement of the invasion until June 6. He believed that a 12-hour window would open that would allow for the invasion to proceed but was certain that June 5 would be a disaster. Other forecasters believed that the invasion should be postponed until a date two weeks later in the hopes that the weather might improve. In 1944, there were none of the weather satellites or technology that exist today, only anecdotal evidence gathered from various vantage points in the British Isles and the Atlantic.

The ultimate decision would be made by General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces. He gambled on the 12-hour window and hoped that Stagg was correct. While June 6 was not perfect, the invasion was able to proceed, and a window of slightly better weather prevented the climate from being a factor in the invasion. Unfortunately for the Germans, their chief Luftwaffe meteorologist did not have access to Stagg’s wealth of information, and his forecast was for persistently bad weather that would prevent an invasion for at least several weeks. The German high command operated under this notion, one of the reasons that they were caught off guard when the invasion began.

Erwin Rommel Was At Home In Germany, Celebrating His Wife’s Birthday

One of the individuals who might have played a major role in successfully repelling the Allied invasion was Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. A brilliant tactician nicknamed “The Desert Fox” for his exploits during the Nazi campaign in North Africa, Rommel was reassigned to supervise the defense of the “Atlantic Wall,” the defense system implemented by Germany to defend against any invasion. Rommel had spent most of the previous five years away from his wife and son and wanted to briefly return home to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday. He even purchased a pair of shoes in Paris for the occasion. When his staff, based on optimistically incorrect weather reports, assured him that the Allies couldn’t possibly attack anywhere on the French coast, he took the opportunity to return to Germany. Other senior officers were ordered to participate in a war game exercise that also took them away from the immediate field of battle. Informed of the attack in the early morning of June 6, Rommel rushed back to the front and managed to arrive that evening. By then, the Allies had secured the beachhead at Normandy, and Rommel was powerless to stop the invasion.

Secret Code Words From The Invasion Mysteriously Appeared In A Crossword Puzzle In Advance

In May of 1944, a member of Britain’s intelligence service, MI5, was observant enough to spot the answer “Utah” in a crossword puzzle in a large circulation London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. Initially dismissed as a coincidence, agents were stunned when, within several weeks and only days before the planned D-Day invasion, the words Omaha, Overlord, Mulberry, and Neptune all appeared as answers in the same Daily Telegraph crossword. All of these names were secret words closely associated with the impending invasion. Security services quickly hauled in the composer of the crossword puzzles, Leonard Dawe, who turned out to be a headmaster at a local private school, The Strand School. Despite an intense interrogation that Dawe refused to describe until decades later, eventually MI5 was satisfied that he was not an enemy agent.

But the mystery of how the words wound up in the puzzles remained. In 1984, one of Dawe’s students at the time, Ronald French, wrote to the paper to explain that the headmaster would have his classes give him random words that he would then include in his puzzles. Because the students routinely socialized and were exposed to servicemen in their neighborhoods, they naturally picked up on some of the words that these soldiers regularly used. French thought it would be clever to include these words in the crossword and gave them to the unwitting headmaster. After his interrogation, Dawe supposedly confronted French, who admitted what he had done. Unfortunately, by the time French contacted the Telegraph, Dawe was long gone, and many are still skeptical of this explanation for the remarkable D-Day crossword puzzle coincidence.

Ted Roosevelt Jr. Was The Only General In The Initial Wave

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Roosevelt, was initially told that, because of a heart condition and arthritis, he would not participate in the actual D-Day invasion. Roosevelt – armed with only a pistol and a cane – insisted and came ashore with the first wave of troops at Utah Beach, the only general to do so. Landing a mile away from his intended location, Roosevelt improvised a route inland after personally reconnoitering the area behind the beach. He would remain on the beach for the rest of the day, directing subsequent waves of troops to their improvised locations. Ignoring bullets and explosions that occurred in his vicinity, Roosevelt remained a calming influence on the apprehensive soldiers who came ashore. Asked later to single out the most heroic act he observed during his career, General Omar Bradley responded: “Ted Roosevelt at Utah Beach.” Ted Roosevelt Jr. died of a heart attack one month after D-Day, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and is buried in the American cemetery near the Normandy beachhead

Two Medics Risked Their Lives To Heroically Provide Care

One of the lesser known stories of D-Day involves two American medics who provided assistance to both Allied and German soldiers who were brought into their tiny church sanctuary. Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore were parachuted behind German lines in the early hours of the D-Day invasion. Landing with other paratroopers near Utah Beach, their unit’s objective was a road junction near the French hamlet of Angoville-Au-Plain. Wright and Moore selected the most logical nearby structure to set up their medic station, the village church. For three days, they tended to many wounded – including French civilians and even Germans – injured in the fierce fighting around the church. German panzer counterattacks eventually pushed American troops away from Angoville-Au-Plain, but the medics decided to stay and continue to care for the many soldiers relying on them. Several times, German SS personnel angrily entered the church, intent on capturing the wounded Americans within but left when confronted with Wright and Moore also tending to seriously injured German soldiers. Eventually, a Red Cross banner was placed in front of the building, indicating to both sides that the makeshift hospital should be left alone. Even so, there were many anxious moments for Wright and Moore, including an unexploded mortar shell that landed in the center of the church and failed to explode. One of the medics quickly picked up the projectile, ran outside, and tossed it into a field, despite the possibility of the shell detonating at any moment.

Midway through the ordeal, two German snipers who were hidden in the steeple, realized that they were drawing fire to the church and surrendered to the astonished Wright and Moore. On June 8, the Germans were safely pushed out of the area, the medics having saved over 80 lives in the interim. Eventually, the destroyed stained glass windows were replaced with memorials to both the 101st Airborne and the medics themselves. The pews of the church remain bloodstained, and the cracked floor square where the mortar shell landed is still visible. Kenneth Moore and Robert Wright were both awarded the Silver Star. When he died, the townspeople of Angoville-Au-Plain honored Wright’s request and buried him in the church graveyard.

Faced With The Impossible, Rangers At Pointe-Du-Hoc Were The First to Complete Their Mission On D-Day

One of the toughest objectives handed out on D-Day was the mission to knock out the German 155mm batteries on the promontory of Pointe-Du-Hoc. American airborne Rangers would be given the task of scaling the cliff-side location almost 100 feet into a nest of heavily fortified bunkers and pillboxes protecting the German artillery, which was a threat to both the men on the beaches and the ships at sea. Only half of the designated Ranger attack force reached the base of the cliffs. Late and disorganized, they were never able to signal the secondary group, which was then diverted to Omaha Beach, possibly saving that effort. Despite the loss of manpower, the Rangers began the process of ascending the seawall, accompanied by artillery shelling from Allied destroyers that provided cover. The Rangers quickly got to the top, subdued or repelled any defenders, and were shocked to find that the gun emplacements contained only telephone poles, placed there to fool Allied reconnaissance.

Fortunately, tire tracks lead to the new German artillery position, and the Rangers quickly disabled the 155mm guns with grenades. By 9 am, they were able to signal that they had reached their objective, the first Allied unit to successfully complete their mission. Unfortunately, the Germans would furiously counterattack for the next two days, the Rangers isolated and unable to be resupplied from the water and trapped against the cliffs by German units. The only reinforcements were three American paratroopers who landed off target and somehow made it through German lines to the Rangers’ position. The Rangers would hold their position until the morning of June 8, when other Ranger units and armored infantry drove the Germans from the vicinity. By then, two thirds of the initial Ranger group that had climbed the cliffs had either been captured, wounded, or killed.

Omaha Beach Could Have Been Worse

Throughout 1944, a philosophical struggle took place between General Rommel and other members of the German general staff. Rommel firmly believed that the Allies should be prevented from landing and establishing a beachhead anywhere on the coast of France. Other officers believed that troops should be held in reserve and quickly rushed in to counterattack and wipe out any invasion. Despite Rommel’s specific orders to the 352nd Infantry Division to move its 5 artillery and 10 infantry battalions of the division to the vicinity of the Omaha beachhead, Rommel’s subordinates ignored these commands and placed all but two infantry and one artillery battalions in reserve, more in line with German high command strategy. While the Omaha Beach landing was the most difficult and costly of the five invasion points, it could have been much worse – and might have even jeopardized the entire invasion – had the entire German capability at Omaha Beach been utilized to prevent a linkup of the Allies in the early days of the invasion.

The Theater Of Battle Was 50 Miles Wide

Subsequent films and dramatizations of D-Day tend to be limited in portraying the scope of the size of the D-Day invasion. Much of the focus of films like Saving Private Ryan is a small stretch of beach and a small number of individuals engaged in their own personal struggle. But D-Day involved an attack that consisted of close to 75,000 infantry, paratroopers, and support personnel that would land on or behind five separate beach locations designated by the Allies. These designated sites were code named “Juno,” “Sword,” “Gold,” “Omaha,” and “Utah.” The beaches comprised an area that stretched for over 50 miles.

A Dress Rehearsal For D-Day Was A Complete Disaster

Five weeks before D-Day, on April 28, 1944, an Allied group of ships and amphibious vehicles were moving slowly in the English Channel to prepare for their participation in “Exercise Tiger,” a dry run of the amphibious effort that would constitute a large part of the planned D-Day invasion. When a massive increase in radio traffic tipped off German naval assets in the vicinity that something major was occurring, Nazi torpedo patrol boats were dispatched to the area with lethal results. They began torpedoing the amphibious LST landing craft that were jammed with American soldiers, forcing survivors of the attack to abandon ship, many with improperly implemented life vests that all but ensured drowning. In all, 749 participants in the fiasco died, the costliest training exercise of the war. The disaster was covered up by the military, to minimize loss of morale and avoid further tipping off the Germans to the imminent invation. Additionally, both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were so concerned by this failure that they had grave doubts about D-Day itself.

Ike Returned To The D-Day Battlefield Only Once

President Eisenhower visited the American cemetery and the D-Day battlefield only once after World War II. This was not the result of indifference; rather, it was Ike’s inability to control his emotions when publicly speaking about the sacrifice and courage of the men he sent to Normandy and the heroes who never returned. Unlike subsequent Presidents, who used D-Day as a photo-op, Eisenhower also did not want to be perceived as aggrandizing himself at the expense of the rank and file soldiers who unselfishly gave their lives during battle. However, after his Presidency, Eisenhower returned to the D-Day battlefield and the American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the invasion.

Atrocities Were Widespread On Both Sides On D-Day

D-Day was the perfect storm to brew the horrors of war and brutal war crimes that were committed by both Allied and Nazi troops. Many of the German units deployed in Normandy were battle-hardened Waffen-SS with experience on the Eastern Front, where POWs and civilians were routinely and methodically executed. Canadian troops were also embittered by their fellow countrymen’s experience at the failed 1942 commando raid at Dieppe, in which Canadian prisoners were subsequently murdered by their German captors.

These attitudes, combined with the chaos of a frantic and confusing military situation, did not bode well for the organized and humane treatment of prisoners. Almost 200 Canadian prisoners were executed in the first two days of the D-Day invasion, their frequently mutilated bodies usually retrieved en masse leaving no doubt as to how they died, a development that only enraged Allied troops and perpetuated the violence. SS troops, notorious for their cruelty, were rarely found to have been taken prisoner, frequently officially shot “while trying to escape.” German snipers especially targeted soldiers wearing a Red Cross armband, understanding that they were providing aid to already wounded and possibly dying soldiers. These were just some of the callous attitudes that contributed to the almost 500,000 soldiers killed on both sides during the D-Day invasion.

D-Day Was Followed By A Two-Month Stalemate

Despite the initial success, the D-Day invasion would not result in a rapid consolidation and an immediately successful sweep across France. Allied troops would bog down in the swampy and deliberately flooded area on the Normandy peninsula. The traditional tall hedgerows that farmers in Normandy used to border their farmlands also proved to be a perfect vantage point for German defenders and an obstacle for Allied tanks. Urban locations also had to be captured and neutralized on a house-by-house basis, a costly and timely process. Many of the units facing the Allies were SS units, the most fanatical in the German military. It would not be until mid-August that Allied forces would begin to overwhelm stubborn resistance and force a German retreat behind the Seine River. Within months, Allied forces recaptured most of France and were poised to enter Germany itself.

Star Trek’s Original “Scotty” Was Wounded on D-Day

On June 6, a Canadian named James Doohan came ashore on Juno Beach as a member of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Doohan was able to survive the initial assault, but, after nightfall, he was accidentally shot six times by another Canadian sentry. Fortunately, one of the bullets hit a cigarette case, which stopped it from going into his chest, but another hit him in the hand, forcing the amputation of a finger. The remaining four went into his leg.

After the war, Doohan used his distinctive voice for acting and radio work and eventually became a frequently cast character actor on Canadian and American television. He would eventually obtain the role of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on the TV show Star Trek, his versatility with accents allowing him to stand out and to bring depth to the role. He always hid his missing finger during taping, most viewers unaware of the heroic background of the man who made the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty,” the watchwords of a generation.