Today (June 6) marks 75 years since D-Day when Allied forces landed on Normandy’s beaches and began to push Hitler’s army all the way back to Germany.
• About 3,200 reconnaissance missions were launched in the run-up to the invasion to take photos of vital locations.
• In the summer of 1943 an early copy of the plans blew out of a window in Norfolk House, London. A man who was passing by handed them in, saying his sight was too bad to read them.
• D-Day was originally set for June 5 but had to be postponed for 24 hours because of bad weather.
• The night before the landings nervous Prime Minister Winston Churchill said to his wife: “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”
• On the eve of battle Eisenhower told troops: “You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”
• Many paratroopers that day were dropped in the wrong place including US Private John Steele. His parachute famously became snagged on the church steeple at Sainte-Mère- Eglise. He was trapped for two hours before being taken prisoner.
In the movie "The Longest Day" actor Red Buttons played Pvt. John Steele, the US paratrooper whose chute went wide of the landing area and came down right in the middle of the French village of St. Mere Eglise. The town was occupied by the Germans and most of the troops he jumped with were killed immediately. Steele's parachute got hung up on the belltower of the town church. He hung there for several hours until he was captured.
The real life John Steele
• At 3am 1,900 Allied bombers attacked German lines. A staggering seven million pounds of bombs were dropped that day. A total of 10,521 combat aircraft flew a total of 15,000 sorties on D-Day, with 113 lost.
• The flat-bottomed landing craft were originally designed to rescue flood victims on the Mississippi river in the US.
• US troops went ashore on the landing beaches at 6:31am, followed an hour later by the British and Canadians on their beaches. There were 61,715 British troops, 21,400 Canadian soldiers and 73,000 Americans.
• The first American to make it to Normandy was Captain Frank Lillyman, who parachuted in. He was wounded later in the day, and won the Medal of Valor. He continued to serve in the military until 1968, retiring at the rank of Lt. Colonel. He died three years later.
• Defenses on the beaches included concrete gun emplacements, wooden stakes, mines, anti-tank obstacles, barbed wire and booby traps. Around 50,000 German troops opposed the landing forces.
• Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in charge of defending northern France from the expected Allied invasion. On June 6 he was at home in Germany celebrating his wife’s 50th birthday having been told the sea was too rough for a landing.
• Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was asleep when word of the invasion arrived. No one dared wake him and it’s said vital time was lost in sending reinforcements.
• The heaviest losses were on Omaha beach where US forces suffered 2,000 casualties. Canadian forces met heavy resistance on Juno. In the first hour the chance of becoming a casualty was one in two.
• The newly developed drug penicillin went with troops on D-Day and saved thousands of lives.
• Condoms were issued to soldiers — most were used for covering the end of their rifles to keep them dry.
• Despite setbacks, including the failure to capture the city of Caen, D-Day saw the Allies establish a successful beachhead from which they could continue the invasion of Normandy. By the evening of the first day, along with more than 150,000 men, 20,000 vehicles had been landed.
• High command thought a successful landing would cost 10,000 dead and 30,000 wounded – 30,000 stretchers and 60,000 blankets were issued.
• Total Allied casualties on D-Day were much lighter than feared. The original estimate for Allied casualties was 10,000, of which 2,500 were killed. Research under way by the National D-Day Memorial has confirmed 4,414 deaths, of which 2,499 were American and 1,915 were from other nations.