American Studies D-Day Project

By Libby Marx and Sarah Magruder

United States Troop Landings

On D-Day, over 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified coastline on the beaches of Normandy, France. There were 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft that supported the D-Day invasion. Allied vessels carrying 370,000 soldiers lined Normandy coast, and there were thousands of Allied planes for the invasion force. Despite intensive planning, D-day almost failed, because many of the ships and planes missed landing zones due to the thick clouds and German firing. The ocean vessels delivered soldiers to wrong locations and because of the hectic waves, over 1,000 men drowned (1).

The Beaches

Utah Beach was the farthest west. The American troops landed outside their designated drop zones when they first arrived, though they still succeeded in seizing four causeways that served as the beach’s only exit points. This area was less well protected than other beaches, and by the end of the day they had advanced four miles inland, suffering few casualties.
Omaha Beach was surrounded by steep cliffs and was heavily defended. This was the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches, with roughly 2,400 U.S. casualties. Aerial bombardment did little damage to the German positions and only 2 of 29 tanks launched at sea managed to reach the shore. U.S. infantrymen in the initial waves of the attack were gunned down by German machine-gun fire. However, later on assistance came from a group of Army Rangers. By nightfall, the Americans had a hold about 1.5 miles deep.
British troops were those who stormed Gold Beach about an hour after fighting got underway at Utah and Omaha. This beach was also in the middle of the five D-Day beaches. The Germans initially put up resistance, but an earlier aerial bombardment had wiped out their defenses. Afterwards, the British also captured the fishing village of Arromanches.
At Juno Beach, there was a 50% casualty rate when the Canadians first arrived, but eventually they slowed the Germans down. While the Canadians didn't take Carpiquet airport, which was their original goal, they still managed to take over some towns and land.
At Sword Beach around midnight, British airborne troops along with a battalion of Canadians dropped behind enemy lines to secure the invasion’s eastern flank. Within minutes, they had taken hold of Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and nearby Horsa Bridge over the River Orne (3).
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101st Airborne

The pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division led the way on D-Day in the night drop prior to the invasion. The 101st Airborne Division's objectives were to secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach for the 4th Infantry Division from the beach later that morning. They destroyed two bridges along the Carentan highway and a railroad bridge just west of it. They gained control of La Barquette locks, and established a bridgehead over Douve River which was located north-east of Carentan. In the process units also disrupted German communications, established roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, established a defensive line between the beachhead and Valognes, cleared the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges, and linked up with the 82nd Airborne Division (4).


British forces at Juno, Sword, and Gold, as well as US troops at Utah faced very little opposition; Juno had around 961 casualties, Sword had around 630, Gold had 400-800 casualties, and Utah suffered just under two hundred casualties (5). However, US troops at Omaha Beach lost over ninety percent of first wave troops by German defense and underwater mines, mostly in the first ten minutes of the attack (2). The casualties on the beaches of Omaha added up to over two thousand American soldiers (6). Other American, British, and Canadian air forces and paratroopers also suffered thousands of casualties, making D Day’s total Allied casualties to around nine thousand. Four thousand of those are estimated to be deaths, although these numbers are not certain because of contradicting sources (5).

Eyewitness Accounts