Some Americans on D-Day were experienced veterans of North Africa and Sicily landings, but many were green recruits with no combat experience. Training was intense, and not without its own dangers. In April 1944, around 750 Americans GIs were killed during Exercise Tiger involving mock landings at Slapton Sands on the British south coast. Several German E-Boats penetrated the flotilla, sinking two LSTs and damaged two more.
In remembering Normandy, we are paying tribute and giving thanks to those men and women who fought so we could live in freedom. Many returned home safely, many did not and of those many are still there. It is the veterans we honour, and the legacy of those lost in this and other campaigns of the Second World.
In the first few hours of the landings at Omaha Beach, the situation was so precarious that General Omar Bradley serious considered abandoning the Omaha landings. However, by the end of the day, across the five landing beaches and the airborne drop zones on the eastern and western flanks, around 156,000 Allied soldiers had arrived in occupied France. They had suffered around 9,000 casualties including 3,000 dead. German losses are not known but are estimated at somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000.
Today, there are some 27 war cemeteries in Normandy - some with fewer than 30 graves, and one with over 20,000. Many more bodies were repatriated, and many never found at all. The cemeteries themselves are maintained to the highest standard. The American cemeteries are looked after by the American War Graves Commissions, whilst the Commonwealth War Graves Commissions looks after the British and Canadian. However, the German Commission is entirely voluntary and relies on gifts and collections to further its work. During the summer months one may see international school children tending the graves. Graves can also be found in more than 75 church or communcal cemeteries around Normandy.
We hope the information provided here will give you a sense of the scale of the sacrifice that came with the liberation of this little corner of Europe, and provide some useful information should you wish to make your own journey to these incredibly serene locations.
With the exception of raids and special operations, no British troops set foot on French soil between the Dunkirk evacuation and D-Day. On 6th June over 60,000 British soldiers landed in Normandy numbering almost as many as the American forces. We have listed here the sixteen main Commonwealth War Commission Cemeteries, both there are many other graves located in small civilian churchyards across Normandy.
The success achieved by the Canadian forces on D-Day was remarkable. Around 14,000 Canadian soldiers stormed Juno Beach on 6th June, and by the end of the day they had progressed farther inland than any of the other Allied forces despite suffering 1,074 casualties, of which 359 were killed. They would be involved in a great deal more heavy fighting before the end of the Battle of Normandy.
At the time of the Normandy Campaign the Free French forces number around 400,000 men. French Commandos landed at Sword Beach with the task of capturing the small port town of Ouistreham, suffering 21 men killed and 93 wounded. Armoured elements of the Free French Forces landed at Utah Beach on 1st August and later went on to liberate Paris. Some Free French parachutists also dropped into Normandy alongside the SAS.
Towards the end of the war, Germany had a near 100% conscription rate for men between the ages of 16 and 60. Even an exemption for sole surviving sons was revoked, and a special dietary battalion was created for men with severe stomach ailments. Many old men and young boys were sent to the western front to await the Allied invasion. The total number of German casualties on D-Day is not known, but it is estimated that between 4,000 and 9,000 were killed.
Poland was the only country to fight in the European theatre from the first to the last day of the Second World War. In the Normandy Campaign, General Maczek's 1st Polish Armoured Division, under command of the Canadian Army, first seeing action during Operation Totalize between 8th and 13th August. They also helped seal the gap in the Falaise Pocket cutting off the German escape route. Later they helped to liberate Holland and Belgium.
Caring For War Graves
The management and maintenance of the many military cemeteries in Normandy and across the world is a ceaseless job. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), for example, is responsible for maintaining cemeteries and memorials in 23,000 locations across more than 150 countries. For more information on the organisations with involvement in Normandy's resting places use the links below.