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80 Years Since the D-Day Landings

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Authored by Beth Potter
Published on 6th June, 2024 4 min read

80 Years Since the D-Day Landings

Today (06/06/2024) marks 80 years since D-Day, the name given to the day on which Allied forces launched an air, naval, and land attack on Nazi-occupied France. Often considered to have brought about the beginning of the end of the Second World War, “Operation Overlord” saw the deployment of around 156,000 troops recruited from over twelve nations. It remains the largest amphibious invasion ever attempted in military history.[1]

In the early hours of the 6 June 1944, Allied paratroopers began dropping into landing zones in various tactical sites behind enemy lines in northern France. A few hours later, on five beaches across Normandy, more than 5,000 ships and landing craft brought over 132,000 ground troops to begin the infantry advance into the region. The aim was to push German forces east and open another front in northwestern Europe so as to relieve the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. 

Though the operation has come to be known as “D-Day” and is commemorated on a single day in early June, the invasion was long in the planning and lasted for twelve weeks. Allied leaders first decided that opening a second front would be vital for victory roughly a year before the Normandy landings—an initial draft for the attack was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943, and General Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the operation that December. 

Key to the operation’s success were a set of decoys to mislead the Nazi command, a military tactic known as a deception mission. Code-named “Operation Bodyguard” by the Allies, these deceptions included the assembly of a large number of troops on the southeastern coast of England which, along with heavy bombing of the Pas-de-Calais and the leaking of fake information through double agents, led the Germans to believe that the Allies would launch their invasion at the narrowest point of the channel and arrive in Calais. Until as late as July 1944, the German command kept troops, including the majority of Hitler’s panzer divisions, available for a feared second attack from the Allied forces around the Calais region.

With these decoys established, the operation was supposed to have launched no later than the 1 May 1944. This was pushed back to 5 June after the plan was expanded to involve more divisions in the initial attack. The prediction of bad weather over the English Channel meant that Eisenhower chose a brief window of clearer weather the following day to commence Operation Overlord. Thus, 6 June became D-Day. By the end of August 1944, the Battle of Normandy had German forces in full retreat. 

The large-scale planning and collaboration that Operation Overlord required means that D-Day still looms large in public celebrations of the Allied victory in the Second World War. As early as the following year, before the war had ended, the BBC produced radio broadcasts of stories of individual and collective bravery during the operation. The Light Programme’s “They Lived to Tell the Tale” series (1945) spotlighted “outstanding stories of wartime adventures, presenting the heroes and heroines of hairbreadth escapes and secret missions”, such as the experiences of a British officer who parachuted into France before D-Day, and of a Frenchman who joined the Royal Navy for the Normandy landings.[2] More recently, D-Day has been the subject of several Hollywood films, such as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Julias Avery’s Overlord (2018), which fuses counterfactual history and horror. Such films have ensured that the D-Day campaign remains a potent symbol of victory in the public imagination.

[1] Statistics from Portsmouth D-Day Museum Trust, “The D-Day Story,” available at; Imperial War Museum, “10 Things you Need to Know about D-Day,” available at

 [2] BBC Radio, “They Lived to Tell the Tale,” 5 and 26 August 1945. An overview of this series can be found at Radio Times no. 1140 (3 August 1945) and no. 1143 (24 August 1945), available at

Authored by Beth Potter

Beth Potter

Beth Potter is a PhD student in English and History at King's College London. Her research focuses on popular performance, especially circus, early television, and film. She also has keen interests in the politics of the archive and British imperialism; her work on circus and empire has been published in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film. Beth is currently on a PhD placement at the British Online Archives funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership/AHRC.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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