D-Day: Operation Overlord

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 D. Eisenhower Gives the Order of the Day, “Full victory–nothing else” to paratroopers… U.S. Army photograph, June 6, 1944. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

[Bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day]. U.S. Maritime Commission, 1944. New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

Ford turns to mass production of bombers. April 1942. Prints & Photographs Division
Production. Subchasers… Howard R. Hollem, photographer, May 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington D.C. Construction of Temporary War Emergency Buildings on the Mall… John Ferrell, photographer, March 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

U.S. Army [Congressional] Medal of Honor with Neckband. [between 1941 and 1945]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
  1. Hugh Sidey, “D-Day: The Home Front,” Time Magazine 143, no. 24 (1994): 48.

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John Trumbull

American soldier, diplomat, author, and painter John Trumbull was born on June 6, 1756, in Lebanon, Connecticut. Trumbull is best known for his historical paintings depicting the Revolutionary War that adorn the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. His portraits of presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson are also renowned.

Declaration of Independenceexternal. John Trumbull, oil on canvas, 1818; placed 1826. USCapitol Flickr Photostreamexternal. Architect of the Capitol

Trumbull, son of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, served as an aide to General George Washington during the Revolution and rose to the rank of colonel. After the war, he studied painting in London with Benjamin West. In about 1784, with encouragement from West and Thomas Jefferson, he began the series of historical paintings and engravings he worked on intermittently for the rest of his life.

In Trumbull’s day, artists created engravings of their paintings that could be reproduced for sale. In 1791, Washington wrote to Lafayette encouraging him to purchase Trumbull’s work, which he praised:

His pieces, as far as they are executed, meet the warm applause of all who have seen them. The greatness of the design, and the masterly execution of the Work equally interest the man of a capacious mind and the approving eye of the Connoisseur. He has spared no pains in obtaining from the life the likenesses of those characters, French as well as American, who bore a conspicuous part in our Revolution; and the success with which his efforts have been crowned will form no small part of the value of his pieces.

Letter from George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, November 21, 1791. Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 18, Sept. 9, 1791-March 30, 1794. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division

James Madison to John Trumbull, January 10, 1818. Draft letter concerning a print of Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. Series 1, General Correspondence, 1723-1859. James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859. Manuscript Division

In 1817, Congress commissioned Trumbull to paint a series of four paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol: Washington Resigning His Commission, The Surrender of Cornwallis, The Surrender of Burgoyne, and, best known of all, The Declaration of Independence. These paintings, completed in 1824, were larger-scale versions of scenes Trumbull had painted in the 1780s and 1790s.

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