D-Day: How was the biggest ever seaborne invasion launched?
A 20th Century Armada
Planning every last detail
Eye in the sky
In the months before the invasion, Allied reconnaissance aircraft flew thousands of hours over northern France. On these daring and often low-level flights, they were unarmed apart from the cameras capturing enemy positions, defences and industry. Within hours, the images would be in the hands of 1,700 photo interpreters who built an incredibly detailed picture of the Allies’ D-Day destinations.
‘Send us your photos’
As early as 1942 the BBC was asked to issue a public appeal for postcards and photographs of the coast of Europe, from Norway to the Pyrenees. Millions were sent in. Combined with the aerial images, these holiday snaps helped the Allies choose their landing sites, and RAF model-makers used the data to create detailed 3D terrain models.
Small teams in midget submarines conducted covert surveys of the landing beaches to make sure they chose the optimum sites. They analysed water levels, beach gradients and German defensive obstacles and took sand samples to check the beaches could take the weight of Allied vehicles.
When to land
The Allies wanted to land at first light when it was low tide, so hidden obstacles could be seen. British mathematician Arthur Thomas Doodson was enlisted to work out the tidal patterns using mechanised calculators, revealing that 5-7 June would provide the best combination of full moon and ideal tidal conditions.
Rehearsal invasions taught the Allies vital lessons for the real thing. At Slapton Sands in Devon, poor communications meant that men stormed the beach under a hail of live artillery fire, suffering many casualties. Standardised radio frequencies would be essential on D-Day itself.
A meteorological team, led by Captain James Stagg, pored over data from observing stations, reconnaissance flights and weather balloons, to work out what the weather conditions would be like in Normandy. Stagg predicted that 5 June would be too stormy for a landing, but a break in the weather would make the invasion possible the next day.
From Oath Keepers Founder Stewart Rhodes: Today let us remember them, honor them, and pledge to carry on the torch of freedom passed to us by these true heroes. They stood against the darkness in their time. Let us stand against the darkness in ours. May we have half their resolve.
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