June 6th, 1944, better known in World War Two as D-Day, saw the start of a massive invasion of occupied Western Europe with landings at five Normandy beaches – codenamed Gold, Juno, Omaha, Utah and Sword. The hour-by-hour lead up to the actual landings was as follows:

June 5th
04.00 Dwight Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for the invasion. The plan drawn up expected 132,715 troops to be landed on five beaches with 23,400 paratroopers to be dropped further inland. 6,483 ships were involved.In case the invasion failed, Eisenhower prepared a statement that said:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harve area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. If any blame or fault attaches to this attempt, it is mine alone.”

22.00 Five fleets of assault ships left their English port bases.“We slipped anchor and headed into the Channel to overtake the grey columns of troops transports and landing craft, which now stretched to the horizon and beyond. They filled the scene as far as the eye could see. Overhead, the sky was filled with an aerial armada of bombers.” 

John Gough, radio operator on board a destroyer.

22.56 Six gliders took off from Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, for Pegasus Bridge at the eastern end of the beaches.“No smoking till we were airborne; so to ease the tension we sang para songs to the tune of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’, the end of the chorus going “I’ll always keep my trousers on when jumping through the hole.” I wondered if that might be true that night.

Sgt Edgar Gurney, 5th parachute Brigade

June 6th
00.16 Three gliders landed just 30 meters from Pegasus Bridge. Commandos led by Major John Howard captured the bridge.“We were coming in at 90 mph on touchdown. I suppose that really was the most exhilarating moment of my life. I could see the bridge tower 50 yards from where I was standing. Above all, the tremendous thing there was that there was no firing at all. We had complete surprise, we had caught old Jerry with his pants down.”

Major John Howard

00.30 The Café Gondreé by Pegasus Bridge is the first building to be liberated in France. Allied troops there were given champagne by the owner.“Inside (the café) I saw a small French girl, ashen-faced and scared to hell. I gave her my bar of chocolate but she still did not smile.”

Albert Gregory, medic.

01.00 American paratroopers of 82nd and 101st Airborne make night jumps into the Cherbourg Peninsula at the western end of the beaches. Because of the cloud, a number missed their target and drowned in flooded swamps.
02.45 Men began to climb down from their ships into their landing craft.“The landing craft was rolling in every possible direction; the sea-sickness pills had failed. Lying still only made one feel worse.”

Eric Broadhead, Durham Light Infantry heading for Gold Beach.

04.30 St. Mère-Eglise was the first French town to be liberated. “(American) paratroopers began jumping out by the hundreds. I saw one paratrooper land in the road but a German killed him before he could get untangled from his parachute. Another (paratrooper) was as killed near me. I will never forget the sight.”

Raymond Paris, resident of St. Mère-Eglise

05.30 Naval bombardment of the shore began. By 06.00, aerial bombing of German fortifications at Omaha and Utah started.“As we reached Omaha beach, all 40 aircraft dropped their bombs. More than 100 tons of bombs exploded in a few seconds. This was the only mission over Europe when I felt the concussion of our own bombs.”

Henry Tarzca, on a B-17 of 8th Air Force

06.30 American forces landed at Omaha and met stiff opposition. They suffered heavy casualties. ‘Swimming’ tanks, on which the Americans had placed great faith, sank out at sea due to the unexpected swell and because they were landed too far out.
06.31 American forces landed at Utah. The landing craft landed a mile south as a result of the tide, but the landings were a success.
07.10 US Rangers  (US Army 2nd Ranger Battalion) started an assault on Pointe du Hoc.
07.25 British landings began on Gold Beach. The success of the landing was aided by ‘swimming tanks’ (Duplex Drive Sherman tanks) that did get ashore.British troops landed on Sword Beach. Commandos led by Brigadier Lord Lovatt joined up with the men at Pegasus Bridge.
07.30 Canadians landed on Juno Beach, again aided by DD Sherman tanks. “The German machine gunners in the dunes were stupefied to see a tank emerge from the sea. Some ran away or just stared, mouths wide open.”

Sgt Leo Gariepy

09.15 General Omar Bradley thought about abandoning the landing at Omaha because extra men could not be landed as the beach and sea was crammed with dead bodies.
12.00 The Americans had made successful advances up Omaha Beach aided by gunfire from small naval vessels that sailed as close to the beach as they could.
22.07 A ten-miles deep and sixty miles wide bridgehead had been established