A summary of the major events and operations leading up to D-Day and the progress of the Normandy campaign during the summer of 1944
23 Jun: Operation Collar, 1st British Commando raid on occupied France at Boulogne. Attackers failed to achieve any of their objectives.
15 Jul: Operation Ambassador. Commando raid on Channel Island of Guernsey. Failed to achieve objective, with one unit landing on wrong island.
19 Jul: US Congress passes bill for US$4 billion ‘two ocean’ navy. Plan called for construction of autonomous Pacific and Atlantic fleets capable of simultaneous operations against Japan and Germany.
14 Aug: US agrees to provide Britain with 50 ex-US Navy destroyers in return for access to British naval bases in the western hemisphere.
4 Mar: Commando raid destroys fish oil processing plants in Lofoton, northern Norway.
27 Mar: US and Britain agree to cooperate in strategic planning in the event the US enters the war. During the ABC-1 talks, the US agreed in principal that the defeat of Germany would be the first priority in the event of a two-theatre conflict.
22 Jun: Germany attacks the Soviet Union.
9-12 Aug: US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill sign the ‘Atlantic Charter’ in Argentia Bay (Newfoundland). The charter establishes common wartime principals and emphasises the strength of Anglo-American alliance despite US neutrality.
6 Nov: Stalin calls for the creation of ‘second front’ in Europe to relieve pressure on Russian forces battling German army at the gates of Moscow.
7 Dec: Japan attacks the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) without warning.
11 Dec: Germany declares war on the US.
22 Dec-1 Jan 1942: Churchill travels to the US to discuss Anglo-American strategy and priorities with Roosevelt. The Arcadia conference formally endorses the Allies’ ‘Germany First’ policy.
Photo: a group of American soldiers. Picture courtesy: Imperial War Museum.
26 Jan: The first US Army unit to arrive in Britain, elements of the 34th Division, land at Belfast (Northern Ireland).
22 Feb: US Army Air Force (USAAF) European HQ established at Daws Hill, High Wycombe (Bucks).
28 Feb: British paratroops raid a remote German radar site at Bruneval near the French port city of Le Havre (Operation Biting). The raiders obtained the key components of the Wurzburg radar and took a number of prisoners, which helps British scientists develop measures to erode the system’s effectiveness.
28 Mar: A naval and commando raid on St Nazaire (Operation Chariot) succeeds in badly damaging the port’s dry dock and denies its use by German navy capital ships. The casualty rate among the attackers is huge. Of the 611 navy and commando personnel involved in the attack, 369 are either killed or captured.
9-14 Apr: US and British military commanders discuss the build-up of US forces in the UK for an eventual invasion of German-occupied Europe. The build-up phase is codenamed Bolero.
24 Jun: Gen. Eisenhower assumes command of the US Army’s European Theatre of Operations (ETOUSA).
25-27 Jun: Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Washington DC. Agree to attack German forces in North Africa (Operation Torch) before launching invasion of Continental Europe. Torch served to stall Bolero troop build-up in UK.
11-15 Aug: Churchill visits Moscow to discuss ‘second front’ issues with Stalin. The Soviets are suspicious over Allied strategy in Mediterranean, and demand action in NW Europe.
19 Aug: Allied raid on French port of Dieppe (Operation Jubilee). The attack is intended to add pressure on German forces while demonstrating the problems of cross-Channel attacks to the Soviet Union. The raid, largely by Canadian troops, results in more than 4,000 of the 6,000 strong force being either killed, wounded or captured.
18 Oct: Hitler issues a Kommandobefehl (Commando Order) that proscribes any Allied personnel captured in commando raids will be executed. The order is issued after a British raid on the Channel island of Sark, where the bodies of a number of German prisoners are found with their hands tied.
8-29 Nov: Allied forces land in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch).
Photo: DUKWS in North Africa. Picture courtesy: Bovington Tank Museum.
14-24 Jan: Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca, Morocco to discuss next phase of war. Decision is made to attack Sicily and Italy in a bid to divert German military resources and make good the pledge to Stalin for a ‘second front’ in Europe. Attack against Italy would also serve to prevent cross-Channel invasion attempt in 1943.
30 Jan: German forces at Stalingrad surrender, easing Allied fears over Russian collapse and allowing greater latitude in preparing for a cross-Channel invasion of Europe.
1 Apr: Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (designate), or COSSAC, is formally established to provide planning group for cross-Channel invasion.
12-27 May: Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Washington (Trident), where they agree a cross-Channel invasion (Operation Overlord), which will provisionally be launched on 1 May 1944.
10 Jul: Allies land on Sicily (Operation Husky): almost 3,000 landing craft, and supply ships are involved in the landings.
17-24 Aug: Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Quebec, Canada (Quadrant) to further discuss Overlord timetable and planning.
31 Aug: The U-boat threat in the Atlantic is neutralised, reducing the threat on the build-up of the US invasion forces.
8 Sep: The Italian government surrenders.
9 Sep: Allied forces land on the Italian mainland at Salerno: almost 400 landing craft and supply ships are involved in the landings.
3 Nov: Hitler issues Directive No. 51, a plan to deter or prevent an Allied invasion on Germany’s western front.
28 Nov-1 Dec: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet in Teheran, Iran , (Eureka) where they discussed the planned 1944 cross-Channel invasion.
30 Nov: German Field Marshal Rommel begins inspection of ‘Atlantic Wall’ – Germany’s coastal defence system stretching from Norway to the Spanish frontier. Rommel quickly sees that many of the defences are ineffective and begins a huge programme to strengthen the most likely invasion sites, including Normandy.
4-6 Dec: Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Cairo, Egypt, and agree Gen Eisenhower will command Allied forces for the planned invasion of Europe. Eisenhower’s appointment as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, is publicly announced by Roosevelt on 24 Dec.
Photo: Churchill on a secret visit to Kirkham Priory in Yorkshire in the build-up to D-Day. Picture courtesy: English Heritage.
22 Jan: Allied forces land at Anzio, north of Naples, in effort to outflank German positions: around 400 landing craft, supply ships involved.
31 Mar: US D-Day beach landing training exercise (Operation Beaver) at Slapton Sands, Devon, demonstrates a dangerous lack of coordination between units.
15 Apr: Up to 10,000 USAAF and RAF aircraft begin conducting operations to support the Overlord landings. The Transportation Plan involves attacking rail and road targets throughout northern France and Belgium in a bid to prevent German reinforcements reaching the coastal areas once the invasion has begun.
27 Apr: All foreign travel from Britain by civilians is banned as part of pre D-Day security. Restrictions also imposed on foreign diplomats.
28 Apr: 750 US army and navy personnel killed, another 300 wounded when a convoy of landing craft training for the Overlord landings is attacked by German E-boats off Slapton Sands, Devon.
1 May: Original target day for Overlord.
3-9 May: Operation Fabius, the final rehearsal before the Overlord landings, is held along the English Channel coast between Littlehampton in Sussex and Slapton Sands in Devon. Unlike previous exercises, Fabius is judged a success.
5 Jun: D-Day for Overlord postponed 24 hours because of poor weather.
Photo: plans for the Sword beach landing. Picture courtesy: Bovington Tank Museum.
6 Jun: D-Day. By the end of the day some 150,000 Allied troops have landed on five Normandy beaches and three airborne drop zones and up to 9,000 men have been killed, wounded or are missing.
10 Jun: Allies consolidate their position as invasion beaches are linked. More than 325,000 troops and nearly 55,000 vehicles have been landed. German resistance in the country behind the beaches stalls the Allied advance.
13 Jun: 1st German V-1 rockets hit London from launch sites in Pas-de-Calais area. Within two weeks V-1s kill more than 1,600 people and injure a further 4,500 in southern England.
14 Jun: British 2nd Army attempt to take Caen repulsed by strong German defence.
19-20 Jun: The US Mulberry harbour at Omaha beach destroyed in a storm.
27 Jun: US forces take Cherbourg but German defenders have destroyed much of the port.
9 Jul: British and Canadian troops enter Caen (Operation Epsom) after 450 RAF aircraft and navy battleships bomb and shell the city. An estimated 5,000 French civilians are killed in these attacks.
Photo: Caen suffered heavily.
17 Jul: Field Marshal Rommel, commander of German forces confronting the Allied invasion forces, is seriously wounded when his car is attacked by an RAF fighter.
20 Jul: Operation Goodwood, an effort by British and Canadian forces to break through German defences south of Caen, fails. The British lose around 400 tanks and take more than 5,500 casualties in the intense fighting.
20 Jul: Attempt to assassinate Hitler at his ‘Wolf’s Lair’ command centre in East Prussia fails.
25 Jul: US forces launch Operation Cobra, breaking though the German defences at St. Lo and allowing its mechanised units to swing both to the east and west, dividing the badly shaken German forces. By 31 July US forces are in a position to break out from Normandy and swing round to support British and Canadian forces around Caen. Efforts by the Germans to counter-attack fails, consuming much of their reserves.
1 Aug: Gen Patton’s 3rd Army begins is rapid advance in to Brittany before swinging southeast. Patton’s fast moving tank columns are in constant danger of out running their supplies, but their momentum keeps the Germans off-balance in near permanent retreat. By 19 August Patton’s armour are within 40 miles of Paris.
7-10 Aug: British, Canadian, Polish and US forces, supported by a huge number of fighter bombers and other aircraft, close in on the remaining pocket of German forces around Falaise (Operation Totalize). German counter-attack fails.
16 Aug: German units facing destruction between the closing pincers of the British, Canadian and US forces are ordered to withdraw from around Falaise.
20 Aug: Canadian and US forces meet, sealing Falaise ‘Gap’ and trapping thousands of Germans troops and much equipment. This action marks the end of the Normandy campaign.