The Miracle that was D-Day

Since this week’s article fell on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings I decided to make my article about that miraculous event.  Calling D=Day a miraculous event is not an overstatement. During the first 24 hours of the invasion the entire operation very nearly spiraled out of control into an absolute disaster many times.  There were several key turning points where very timely actions by individuals or groups of individuals prevented absolute disaster,

I found this very detailed timeline of the events of D=Day.  It is a very lengthy timeline and is in reverse chronologic order so for this article I copied a series events that were the most crucial turning points and pasted them here.

00.00 (midnight, Double British Summer Time): Operation Titanic – part of Operation Fortitude – begins, designed to distract German anti-paratrooper units while the real landings take place.

RAF aircraft drop hundreds of dummy paratroopers across Seine-Maritime, Calvados, Manche.

00.16 Six Horsa gliders are dropped above Cabourg. Major John Howard commands 180 men whose objective is to capture two bridges, code-named Ham and Jam – the Bénouville Bridge over the Caen Canal (Ham) and the Ranville Bridge (Jam) over the river Orne. Staff Sgt Jim Wallwork pilots lead glider.

The Pont de Bénouville will later be renamed Pegasus Bridge after the emblem of the British airborne forces, and the Pont de Ranville renamed Horsa Bridge.

They must be captured to secure the eastward route for troops landing at Sword beach and to prevent German tanks coming west from Calais.

00.35 Both bridges are captured in less than 15 minutes, with two men killed and 14 wounded. L/Cpl Edward Tappenden sends the “Ham and Jam” victory radio message.

00.50 RAF aircraft drop paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division over Ranville, Merville, Trouffeville and Troarn. Their aim is to take out the battery of Merville to the south-east of Cabourg, destroy the bridges and occupy the crest of Troarn to prevent the arrival of German reinforcements during the landings.

01.00 To the west, paratroopers of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions are dropped. They too are to protect troops landing on the beaches but they are scattered widely across the Cotentin peninsula and some drown in flooded fields.

02.40 Field Marshal von Rundstedt commands the German army in France. He is hearing reports from Normandy of fighting but still believes an invasion is aimed at Pas-de-Calais. The 21st Panzer Division could be mobilised but Hitler is aleep at Berchtesgaden and cannot be woken to give the order. (

04.00 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (505th PIR) – an infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division – captures Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the first town to be liberated.

04.40 Von Rundstedt orders the 12th SS Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr to move immediately to Calvados. Gen Jodl, at OKW, the Armed Forces High Command, cancels the order at 06.30 and decides to wait for Hitler to wake up.

05.30 Shortly after sunrise, Allied naval forces begin bombardment of the beaches; seven battleships, 23 cruisers and 103 destroyers pound the shoreline. is among those bombarding Juno beach. USS Tuscaloosa bombards the 30 batteries around Utah beach.

06.30 H-Hour on Omaha and Utah beaches. The 1st and 29th American Divisions land over a four-mile front at Omaha. The US 4th Division assaults Utah. 23,250 are to land at Utah.

06.40 Problems are immediately obvious at Omaha, where 34,000 men and 3,300 vehicles are to be landed. Many landing craft miss their targets; 10 are swamped by rough seas; Duplex Drive tanks – modified Shermans with floats attached – are sinking in the swell (27 of the first 29 are lost). And German resistance – from the 352nd Infantry Division – is stronger than anticipated.

07.10 A US Army Ranger Assault Group of 225 men led by Colonel Rudder attacks the eastern face of Pointe du Hoc, a 100-ft high fortified cliff between Utah and Omaha beaches. After fierce fighting the gun emplacements are taken but found to be empty – artillery had already been moved. Fighting continues for 36 hours after which only 90 Rangers emerge unscathed.

07.40 After hours without a decision, and with Hitler still sleeping, Gen Edgar Feuchtinger unilaterally orders his 21st Panzer Division to move on the eastern beaches.

08.25 There are Sherman tanks on Omaha beach giving cover to troops but casualties are severe. Photographer Robert Capa has come ashore in the second wave with the 16th Regiment of the US 1st Infantry Division. He takes 106 pictures but only 11 survive mistakes in the processing lab – those images will become the most enduring of the day.

09.05 Hitler is finally awake at the Berghof, Berchtesgaden. He regards the news from Normandy as excellent, still thinking – thanks to Operation Fortitude’s chain of deceptions – that the morning’s events are a cover for the real invasion at Pas-de-Calais.

09.15 General Omar Bradley, commander of the US First Army and in charge of the assaults on Omaha and Utah, is watching the chaos at Omaha from the cruiser the USS Augusta. He considers evacuation or diverting troops from Utah, the situation appears so perilous.

09.48 There are hundreds of bodies on the beach at Omaha and floating in the water. German machine gunners of the 352nd Infantry Division are finding it too easy to pick off US forces as they attempt to sprint across the sand to the potential shelter of the 10ft-high seawall.

10.18 Destroyers and smaller craft close to shore are desperately trying to provide cover for the landed men at Omaha. There are in theory five exits from the beach – a paved road leading to Vierville-sur-Mer, two dirt roads leading to Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mert, and two dirt paths – but given the level of fire the only practicable way out is to scale the cliffs as the US Rangers had at Pointe du Hoc

11.22 There are perhaps 2,000 dead at Omaha but troops are reaching the cliffs led by US Rangers. Gen Bradley is messaged that “things look better”.

13.35 From Omaha, Gen Bradley aboard USS Augusta receives the message: “Troops previously stopped on Easy Red, Easy Green and Red Fox beaches, progress on hills behind the beaches.

23.59 By the end of D-Day, 159,000 Allied troops, marines, airmen and naval personnel ashore have successfully established four sizeable beachheads. The invasion front remains vulnerable to German counter-attack, and there will be terrible fighting ahead, but a crucial step has been taken towards liberating Europe.