by Julian Thornton

“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you”.
These were the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, on the eve of D-Day.
Since 1933 Adolf Hitler had been in power in Germany. During the last years of the 1930s he expanded the German Reich by invading Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland. In 1940 Hitler invaded Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg and France. 
He didn’t stop there; many other European countries came under his control and finally he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
Along with Italy’s Mussolini and other fascists, the Nazis governed Europe with an iron fist. Millions of innocent people had been sent to concentration camps, millions were dead, and life had become unbearable for many. However, some did not give up hope that one day the Allies would liberate Europe from the grip of the Nazis. 
In late 1943 it had been decided that American General Dwight D. Eisenhower would lead a massive expeditionary force that would take back Europe in 1944.
The task facing Eisenhower was huge. Never before had one man led such an enormous amount of men to war. The first day would be crucial, the British and American Navy would have to transport tens of thousands of men across the English Channel and get them safely onto the beaches of Northern France. 
Once those men began to embark from landing craft onto the beaches they would almost certainly face hell on earth.
In order for landings to even be made, British and American airborne forces would need to land in France hours before in order to secure bridges and try to destroy German defences. Eisenhower had to assemble a group of leading Admirals, Air Marshalls and Generals to plan this gigantic operation. 
The famous Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery (then a General) would lead all ground forces.
Landing sites were chosen on the beaches of Normandy. Five Beaches in total would be stormed by British, American and Canadian forces, it would become known as Operation Neptune and was part of the larger operation called Overlord, the successful invasion of Northern France. 
These decisions had to be kept secret for months and only a very small number at the top knew the exact details of what would take place. The risk of the Germans finding out about the operation was very real and extremely dangerous. 
Utmost secrecy would need to be kept at all times. An entirely fictitious army was actually put together in the South West of England to fool the Germans into thinking that an invasion of France would take place at Pas de Calais. Amazing inventions including dummy landing craft, dummy tanks and aircraft were designed. 
There were also controlled leaks of false information and inaccurate wireless traffic, all off this to make the Germans think the landings would take place in a different location.
Meanwhile preparations for the real invasion were being put into place. The Allies planned the invasion to take place on 1st May 1944 but a series of setbacks led it back several weeks into June. Troops were eager to go, however the weather was not desirable, with low clouds and high winds, including heavy rainfall the “go ahead” was cancelled several times. The RAF met with Eisenhower on June 5 and informed him that a change in the weather may allow for the invasion to take place on June 6, however it was still high risk. 
After much discussion with other senior commanders, under massive pressure with time running out, Eisenhower had to make possibly the greatest decision in military history. Should he call it off again? Or should they go? He sat quietly for a moment in deep thought, with his head down. All of a sudden he raised his head and said “Gentlemen, we go”.
D-Day was officially underway.
On the night of June 5, the men were informed they would leaving for France in the next few hours. “If you hadn’t written your Will and a letter for home, you’d best get it done now”, said one Colonel.
Eisenhower had actually written a letter that he set aside in case of failure. It stated that “the landings had failed and I have withdrawn the troops. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” 
Thankfully Eisenhower would never need to send out the letter.
That evening June 5, Eisenhower went to see off the American 101st Airborne Division before they boarded planes to take them to Normandy, where they would be dropped behind enemy lines. Eisenhower knew the losses for these paratroopers could be as high as seven out of 10.
“It’s very hard to look a soldier in the eye when you fear that you may be sending him to his death.” Eisenhower later said.
That night paratroopers began to land in Normandy, in darkness and under heavy fire in some areas, with many men missing their drop zones. 
That said, casualties were not as high as expected.
Even at this stage the Germans were not convinced the invasion had started, they assumed the weather was too unfavourable, however they couldn’t have been more wrong. Coming full steam ahead across the English Channel was the largest naval invasion in history. Over 155,000 men prepared to embark onto landing craft and reach the beaches at Normandy.
At 6.30am the invasion begins. 
Men start landing at all the beaches within the hour. The five beaches are codenamed Utah, Omaha for the US Armies and Gold, Juno and Sword for the British and Canadians.
Landings at all beaches are reasonably successful with casualties lower than expected, except for Omaha where the Americans are pinned down on the beach under heavy fire. A very good example of this can be seen in the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan.
At 10am the BBC Home service broadcast a message from General Eisenhower:
“People of Western Europe: a landing was made this morning on the coast of France by troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force. This landing is part of the concerted United Nations plan for the liberation of Europe. I have this message for all of you, although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country, the hour of your liberation is approaching.”
By day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.
D-Day was mostly successful. 
With that said, according to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
The Normandy Invasion (Operation Overlord) turned the tide against the Nazi war machine, it also prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern Front against Russia. The following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.
Today we celebrate 75 years since that great and noble undertaking. 
To some known as the Longest Day, it is forever known as D-Day, June 6, 1944.