In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Americans received word that three years of concerted war efforts had finally culminated in D-day—military jargon for the undisclosed time of a planned British, American, and Canadian action. During the night, over 5,300 ships and 11,000 planes had crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy. The goal of every soldier and civilian involved in that effort was to drive the German military back to Berlin by opening a western front in Europe.
General Dwight David Eisenhower was in command of the invasion, which was code-named Operation Overlord. Just months prior, the 1915 West Point graduate had led the invasion of French North Africa.
The U.S. entered World War II without the infrastructure and logistical support necessary to win. To overcome this deficit, Americans worked around the clock. Donald Nelson, chairman of the War Production Board from 1942-44, said, “The American war-production job was probably the greatest collective achievement of all time.”1
Sixty million Americans mobilized to win the war. They held concerts and sold war bonds to raise money; rationed foodstuffs and gasoline; and salvaged scrap metal to transform it into machinery. Civilians produced everything from guns to socks for the men in the field — 25 billion rounds of 30-caliber ammunition, over 88,000 tanks, and 460,000,000 pounds of cabbage. Every twenty-four hours, factory workers rolled five new B-26 bombers off of the assembly line. At the Higgins plant in New Orleans, the first fully-integrated work force in the U.S. produced 20,094 newly-conceived landing craft, 1,500 of which put troops ashore on D-Day.
At about 3:00 a.m. on D-Day, on the four-meter swells of the English Channel, Allied troops transferred to those landing craft, some twelve miles off the French coast. British troops headed left toward Caen, the Americans right toward Utah and Omaha beaches nearer Cherbourg, and the Canadians to Juno Beach.
For the Americans, Omaha was a near-suicide mission. First, a powerful undertow swept away lives and weapons; ten landing craft with twenty-six artillery guns and twenty-two of twenty-nine tanks were swamped. Then, they faced a maelstrom of bullets. Within ten minutes of landing every officer and sergeant of the 116th Regiment was dead or wounded. Yet, by 10:00 a.m., as Americans received the first news of D-Day, 300 men had struggled through mortar fire, across the body and equipment strewn beach, and up a bluff to attack the German defenses. By nightfall, the Allies had a toehold on the continent, yet, on “Bloody Omaha” alone, 3,000 Americans lay dead.
- Hugh Sidey, “D-Day: The Home Front,” Time Magazine 143, no. 24 (1994): 48.
- Search on the term World War in both the color and black-and-white photos from the FSA/OWI Photographs Collections to see more images of wartime America.
- Search on Franklin Roosevelt in the collection Chronological List of Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents of the United States–Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress to see images of the man who led the nation through the Depression and World War II. Results of this search include a photograph of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill on the portico of Russian Embassy during the Teheran Conference (November 28 – December 1, 1943), during which plans for the opening of the western front were discussed.
- Explore A Guide to World War II Materials to identify resources from across the Library as well as select external web sites related to this topic.
- See Today in History for information on a variety of individuals and events which shaped the development of World War II, including the USO, the Lend-Lease Act, Pearl Harbor, the Office of War Information, Joseph Stalin, Casablanca, development of the Atomic Bomb, presidential assistant James Byrnes, and the Marshall Plan.
- See the online exhibition Women Come to the Front to learn more about eight women who sent news home from the war’s front lines.
- World War II Military Situation Maps contains maps showing troop positions beginning on June 6, 1944 to July 26, 1945.
- Search on war bonds in the Photos, Prints & Drawings collections for photographs, cartoons, and posters relating to the war effort.
- To locate veterans’ stories from the Veterans History Project, search the term D-Day with Notes selected in the “Contained In” menu. A selection of veterans’ stories have been compiled to commemorate the 75th anniversary.