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“After months of preparation, an armada of 4,000 ships appeared off of the coast of Normandy, and thousands of troops swarmed ashore under cover of the greatest sea and air bombardment in the history of war.”
From The George M. Elsey Collection

Behind German lines, hidden in the heart of Nazi-occupied France, waited the French Underground, poised to strike.  And they had been busy until D-Day.  

On Sunday, June 4, 1944, the Jura Underground, in the French Alps, received orders to sabotage a railway line.  A few hours later, there were 42 breaks in the shortest railroad line between Germany and France.  Communications linking northern France with Paris were broken.  Electric installations serving German defense systems along the Channel were destroyed.

Now they waited for the arrival of the Allies along the coast of Normandy.

Text from “The Coast Guard At War: Landings in France” 1946

Maps of the moon's phases were used to help plan the invasion.

D-Day Planning Begins

To the left is a top secret document that discusses the assault plan for the beaches of Normandy.

To the right is a small part of a large map outlining where invasion forces would land, fire support areas and locations in France.

US Army troops stream out of a LCI (Landing Craft: Infantry) and "hit the beach" during practice invasion maneuvers along the Atlantic coast.

A letter from President Franklin Roosevelt to members of the United States Army Expeditionary Forces offering encouragement.

Towed by a heavy truck, a giant US Army field kitchen rolls up the open bow of a LST (Landing Ship Tank) during loading operations at an English invasion port.  Seabees watch with professional interest as Army men handle the motorized kitchen.  This photograph was serviced from London by Signal Corps Radio-Telephoto. 
While Navy officers and men look on, US Army troops march aboard a LCI (L) (Landing Craft Infantry, Large) at an invasion port in England.  In the distance, barrage balloons hover against the sky.
An inventory of ships present during inspection on June 3, 1944

We Are Ready!

A telegram dated June 5, 1944 at 16:56 (4:56 pm) from Combat Division 5 and Rear Admiral Carleton Bryant to say they are ready to leave the harbor and make their way to Normandy.

They're Off!  

Files of Coast Guard LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) move across the English Channel for the D-Day invasion of the coast of Normandy in this photograph by Coast Guard Combat photographer S. Scott Wigle, former Detroit newspaperman.  The LCIs carry barrage balloons as protection against low-flying Nazi strafing planes.  It was the first American-made D-Day picture from London.

Allied guns weave a tapestry of flames in the skies off the Cherbourg Peninsula, as the Luftwaffe attacks invasion ships.  In the foreground is the sinking hull of an American ship, the victim of a bomb hit.

Two telegrams from early morning on D-Day.  The first is from HMS Scylla alerting the fleet to 3 enemy destroyers that are 9 miles from their position.  The other, from the USS Chase, announces that the first wave has landed.

The view of the beaches from a German gun.
Nazi shells, fired by shore batteries in Cherbourg, splash near one of the Allied ships bombarding enemy positions shortly before the fall of the French port.  Those throwing off white clouds are phosphorous shells.
USS Nevada blasts at foe from English Channel

To the right is a telegram from the USS Texas who provided fire support for the Army Rangers at Pointe Du Hoc.  

Below is a picture of the boats the Army Rangers used to go ashore.

A Symbol of Courage 

US Army Ranger, William Hickey (Ohio), lies dead at the top of the Cherbourg Cliffs, which he and his brother Rangers scaled in the face of a withering of Nazi fire.  

Of the 200 Rangers who stormed the beach height, only 60 were alive when the top was taken and the Nazis driven back.

Their dangerous assignment completed for a brief period on D-Day, US Army Rangers take time out for chow somewhere on the French coast.  In the background an Army medical corpsman sets up his first aid station.

A German emplacement after US Navy vessels finished shelling this area.  Driven from the beachheads, the Nazi gunners attempted to continue their resistance from the farm buildings in the background but again became the target of Navy gunners.

Left - A telegram delivered at 11:37am from the USS Thomas Jefferson regarding fire support on Easy Green Beach and reports of Germans surrendering to American soldiers.

Right - Sprawled on the deck of the battleship USS Texas, seasick Italian prisoners of war loudly bewail their plight to fellow prisoners, many of whom are Nazis.  The groups were captured on the French beachhead by Allied troops.

Left - Clutching a carton of cigarettes in his sound hand, a wounded US Army paratrooper is helped aboard by a group of hospital corpsmen.  

Right - He is joined in the common bond of suffering by wounded Nazi prisoners of war. They lie side-by-side with Allied casualties.

The LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel)  will take them to a hospital ship, bound for England.

Above - A telegram from the 50th Division of the British Infantry about the current location of their right flank.  

This division stormed Gold Beach and suffered over 400 casualties while securing their beachhead.

A telegram from the 116th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard Unit from Virginia, requesting fire support.   Their objective was to take Omaha Beach but several of the boats were hit and sunk before arriving.  All of the Officers in Company A were killed within 15 minutes of landing.  The rest of the companies suffered 60% casualties.

Below is a telegram regarding Army reports of friendly firing on Allied troops on Dog Green Beach.  

Orders are given to cease immediately.

When The Tide Went Out - Search parties of Americans go over the litter of the assault beach looking for dead.  Much of the debris is from ships that sunk off of the coast after taking enemy fire.
Report of observations 4 days after D-Day.  This first page describes troop movement, discoveries made after the invasion as well as reports about the local populace.
List of casualties from various Naval Combat Demolition Units as of 10 June 1944.

Left - After the initial invasion, ships brought vast amounts of supplies to France.

Above - A French newspaper reports on July 8, 1944 about the progress being made by American troops a month after D-Day.

Left - This booklet, distributed by the Army and written by soldiers in the field, was used by officers to familiarize new troops with their surroundings.  

It includes facts about Normandy, handy French phrases, information about mines and supplies and more.

Right - A year after D-Day, the Office of the Chief of Staff publishes an information bulletin about how Germans fortified the beaches.  It also includes a break down of missions by beaches and a summary of the mission.

Left - Memorandum, dated three months after D-Day, about concerns from Lt. George M. Elsey, USNR, that the Eighth Air Force neglected bombardment of Omaha Beach before the invasion began.  

Lt. Elsey worked in the White House Map Room during World War II.  

This exhibit was created with part of the material in his collection at the George C. Marshall Foundation.

Credits: Exhibit

Curator — Cara Cook Sonnier, Digital Content Librarian

Credits: All media
The exhibit featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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