17 Things You Didn't Know About D-Day

By Spencer Hart on at

Success meant the beginning of the end for the Third Reich; failure would have given Hitler the opportunity to launch his new V-weapons at British cities. "We cannot afford to fail." It's been 70 years since thousands of brave men and women united to fight on the beaches of Normandy. To remember the mammoth operation, here are 17 things you didn't know about D-Day.


1.) It was the largest single military operation in history

The preparation for the Normandy landings began in August 1943, when the Allies drew up an initial plan for the invasion. The first draft of the plan saw three divisions landing in Normandy with two divisions in support; far less than the 39 Allied divisions which were eventually committed.

On 6th June 1944, 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy. By the end of D +5 (11th June), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tonnes of supplies had been delivered to the beaches at Normandy, making it the largest single military operation in history. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


2.) The actual military operation was called 'Operation Overlord'

Many people refer to 6th June as D-Day, linking it to the Normandy landings, but the term is simply military nomenclature for the day an operation begins. The term allows for the date to change without planners having to change the dates on their paperwork. The day before D-Day was 'D -1' and the day after was 'D +1'. Using a similar naming system, the hour in which the operation takes place is called the 'H-Hour'.

The overall military operation was called 'Operation Overlord' and the actual landings at Normandy were called 'Operation Neptune'. [Image Credit: The Village Shop]


3.) An American paratrooper got caught on the Sainte-Mère-Église church spire, hanging there for two hours

After midnight on 6th June, around 15,000 paratroopers landed in the French village of Sainte-Mère-Église. During the drop an American paratrooper named John Steele got his parachute caught on the church spire. Steele hanged from the spire for two hours feigning death, before he was taken prisoner by the Germans. A dummy paratrooper has hanged from the spire ever since. Sainte-Mère-Église was the first village to be liberated by the Allies, with an American flag raised in front of the town hall at 4.30am. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


4.) The first report of D-Day came from an RAF homing pigeon named Gustav

Gustav the homing pigeon brought the first news report from D-Day. The message that was strapped to Gustav's leg read: "We are just twenty miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach...Steaming steadily in formation. Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen." Four pigeons (including Gustav) and a dog named Brian received the PDSA Dickin Medal for their service on D-Day. [Image Credit: It's Interesting]


5.) A fake army was constructed in Kent and Essex to deceive the Germans

Everyone knew an invasion was coming, including the Germans, but what they didn't know was where the Allies would strike. In an attempt to deceive the Germans into thinking the invasion would be at Calais, a phantom army of camps, vehicles and planes was constructed in Kent and Essex. This was reinforced by double agent, Garbo, providing the Germans with misinformation about the invasion. [Image Credit: Redbull Music Academy]


6.) The vibrations from a ship's gunfire was so powerful that it cracked the toilets on-board

HMS Belfast, which is now permanently moored in the Thames, is one of three remaining bombardment vessels which took part in the Normandy landing. The vibrations from the ship's gunfire was so powerful that it cracked the toilets on-board.

Bonus Fact: The forward guns on HMS Belfast are currently pointed at Gateway Service Station on the M1, 12.5 miles away. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


7.) An early copy of the plans were almost leaked

In a series of events that sounds exactly like a plot from Dad's Army, a draft plan of the Normandy landings was almost leaked to the public. In the summer of 1943, a copy of the plan blew out of a window at Norfolk House. Luckily, a man who was passing by handed them in, saying that his eyesight was too bad to read them. Don't panic, don't panic. [Image Credit: News]


8.) Richard Dimbleby became BBC's first war reporter

Richard Dimbleby led a team of BBC war correspondents to report on D-Day and the subsequent liberation of France. The BBC war correspondents used Midget Disk Recorders (pictured above with CD Adamson). The disk recorders were 'portable' devices which recorded onto 10-inch vinyl disks. [Image Credit: Mirror and BBC]


9.) Several James Bond-style gadgets were designed for the landing

The 'Welbike', a collapsible motorbike, was designed to be small and light, providing a quick getaway for a soldier in need. A number of tanks were developed to cope with the extreme conditions of the Normandy landing. Nicknamed 'Hobart's Funnies', these tanks were unusually modified to rapidly sweep the beach and destroy concrete defences. The 'Churchill Crocodile' was also developed as a flame-throwing tank, capable of throwing flames 110 metres. [Image Credit: History by Zim]


10.) Group Captain James Stagg had the most difficult job of all: predicting the weather

Group Captain James Stagg was appointed chief meteorological adviser to US General Eisenhower. He headed a committee who forecast the weather in the English Channel during the run up to D-Day. Due to bad weather, Stagg persuaded Eisenhower to delay the invasion; a decision which saved thousands of lives. But for once the Great British weather benefitted us: it left the Germans unprepared, thinking no attack was coming. [Image Credit: BBC]


11.) Secrecy was tested among the troops by sending women into local pubs

Terence Otway's unit was tasked with taking the vital Merville battery. To test security and secrecy among his troops, he sent 30 members of the WAAF into local pubs to see if any of his men had big mouths; none divulged their top secret mission. [Image Credit: World War Era]


12.) Winston Churchill was a nervous wreck

On the night before the Normandy landings, a nervous Winston Churchill said to his wife, "Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?"

The actual figures were few fewer than predicted, with around 8,000 injuries and 4,414 confirmed dead. The total German casualties on D-Day are unknown, but the number is estimated between 4,000 and 9,000 men. [Image Credit: BBC]


13.) 'The dice is on the carpet'

Radio Londres was a radio station broadcast by the BBC in London to Nazi occupied France. The station was used to send the French Resistance coded messages such as, "the dice is on the carpet," which was an order to destroy trains and train lines. Shortly before D-Day, Radio Londres broadcast the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's poem, Chanson d'automne which was a direct call to action. [Image Credit: Mark's Autographs]


14.) A total of 7,000,000 pounds of bombs was dropped

At 3 a.m, 1,900 Allied bombers began attacking German lines, dropping a staggering 7,000,000 lbs (3,175 tonnes) of bombs. The success of the beach landings depended on the success of the air-raid. [Image Credit: Nicholas Six Uncensored]


15.) The flat-bottomed landing craft were originally designed to rescue flood victims

In the 1920s, a Louisiana entrepreneur named Andrew Jackson Higgins designed a shallow, flat-bottomed boat to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Higgins tried for years to sell his craft to the US Military but was rejected repeatedly. During World War II the US Marine Corps finally decided to order 20,000 vessels for Operation Neptune.

[Image Credit: Blog for the Immortal American Series]


16.) Adolf Hitler was asleep when the invasion arrived

Luckily for the Allied forces, vital time was lost in sending Nazi reinforcements because no one dared wake Hitler from his beauty sleep. [Image Credit: Things the go bump in the nyt]


17.) Thousands of condoms were issued to soldiers

Most were used to cover the end of their rifles, keeping them dry. [Image Credit: Science Museum]

[Featured Image Credit: Wikipedia]