78 years since D-Day: Remembering the largest seaborne invasion in history

78 years ago marked the start of a battle that would ultimately hasten Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

78 years ago marked the start of a battle that would ultimately hasten Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

When D-Day veterans set foot on the Normandy beaches and other World War II sites on this anniversary of D-Day, they express a mix of joy and sadness. Joy at seeing the gratitude and friendliness of the French toward those who landed on June 6, 1944. Sadness as they think of their fallen comrades and of another battle now being waged in Europe: the war in Ukraine.

On June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion of Normandy began. It was the largest invasion ever assembled.

Related: Crowds honor WWII veterans at Normandy D-Day celebrations

In the midst of World War II, more than 156,000 allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, confronting Nazi forces. The D-Day, codenamed Operation Neptune, began the assault phase of the wider Allied invasion led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Early on June 6, Allied airborne forces parachuted into drop zones across northern France. Ground troops landed across five assault beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, the Allies had established a foothold along the coast and could begin their advance into France.

D-Day was an international effort requiring unprecedented cooperation between international armed forces. On the day of the invasion the Allied forces consisted mainly of American, British and Canadian troops, but also included Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek < New Zealand, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air and ground support.

It was the largest naval air and land operation in history. Germany tried to defend the northern coast of France with a series of fortifications known as the “Atlantic Wall.” But German defenses were often incomplete and insufficiently manned.

That single day exacted a great human toll. It cost the lives of 4,414 Allied troops, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were injured. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

The importance of D-Day overshadows the overall significance of the Normandy campaign. Establishing a bridgehead was critical, but it was just the first step. That said, the bloody and protracted Battle of Normandy was a decisive victory for the Allies and paved the way for the liberation of much of Northwest Europe.

It lead to an unconditional German surrender ending World War II nearly a year later on May 7, 1945.

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.