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D-Day + 73 years

Waking up this morning, June 6th, something made myself ask the question: how many are still alive who landed in Normandy on D-Day?

Unfortunately, no records are kept in a format that will help us to answer that question. But this Quora post uses demographics to arrive at around 5,000 American veterans; British and Canadian (and a few other allies) made up about half of the landing force, implying around 10,000 in total, which seems reasonable. But given their ages - mostly mid-nineties - we must unfortunately expect that this number will decrease greatly in the next few years. Every five years, veterans and world dignitaries meet in Normandy for a reunion. The 75th is likely to be the last with a significant veteran population.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I have no time to lose in putting up a quick post about D-Day. I'm not trying to give a real history here - for that I recommend you read Anthony Beevor's excellent book. Just a few pictures and thoughts...

The famous photo of Eisenhower speaking to the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment just before they loaded up on June 5th. Not to compare Eisenhower's trial against those who dropped behind enemy lines or landed at Omaha beach, but the responsibility facing him - 2,000,000 lives, the liberation of Europe - is something I can't fathom. He knew what faced the Overlord landings and was prepared to take responsibility if they were not successful:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The iconic B-17. Allies Air Forces flew 14,000 sorties in preparation for D-Day. The lost 2,000 planes and 12,000 air crew on these missions.

Three allied divisions, representing over 20,000 parachute infantrymen, landed on the Cotentin peninsula are a prelude to the invasion. Due to dispersion during the jump, they were usually not able to form into large units. While this prevented them from meeting stated objectives, they were effective in slowing German counter-attack, especially against the isolated Utah Beach. But the drops remain controversial to this day; these elite troops suffered enormous casualties.

A map of the invasion plan, code-named Overlord. Three American divisions would land on Utah and Omaha beaches; two British and one Canadian on Gold, Juno and Sword. The move inland was far slower than expected. Note Caen (lower-right) was within the objectives for the day of landings; in fact it was not taken until 45 days after D-Day.

The armada - a portion of it - approaches the landing beaches. Over 6,000 ships participated in the Normandy landings. As a comparison, today's US Navy has a total of 430 ships. Oh, and this was far from the Navy's only activity at the time; the critical central Pacific Battle of Saipan would begin just after D-Day.

The final approach to Omaha Beach for an early wave. In the American sector, Omaha proved the day's most difficult objective (think: Saving Private Ryan, opening scene). In this photograph, you can barely see the bluffs, filled with defenders guarding the exits from the beach.

Omaha Beach, more secure now (I think this is D-Day + 1?). On the first day, 150,000 Allied troops landed; this number would grow quickly. Everything they needed would have to be brought in over the beaches. The logistical requirements are almost unfathomable.

With the beaches secure, Allies begin to move inland, to the next phase of the battle. The supply problem would only grow more difficult, with the front lines moving farther from the beaches and no ports in Allied control.

The monument and reflecting pool at the American Cemetery in Normandy. There are 9,387 soldiers buried, along with 1,557 Americans whose remains were never found.

All of the graves face West, towards the Atlantic, and the United States beyond.

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