Early on the morning of June 6th 1944, Allied forces launched the largest seaborne invasion in history. The target: a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coast. Their mission: to liberate German-occupied Europe.

Map of Normandy with colour-coded annotations showing objectives on Juno, Sword and Gold beaches

This map shows the objectives for the British and Canadian forces landing on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. (The Papers of Selwyn Lloyd, SELO 3/43)

Planning for an invasion of France began in earnest in the spring of 1943 at the Trident Conference at Washington. It was decided that the operation would have to take place the following year because of Allied commitments in the Mediterranean, which had tied up large amounts of resources and landing craft. In November later that year, the “Big Three” – Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, met in Tehran and the invasion date was set for late May 1944. However, due to poor weather and lack of supplies, it was postponed to June 6th 1944.

In the build up to D-Day, the Allies conducted several operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the exact date and location of the landings. Radio transmissions, spies, and double agents fed false information to the German High Command which indicated that attacks could be expected anywhere from Spain to Norway! A fake army was even stationed in Kent under the command of General Patton to deceive the Germans into thinking that the main attack would come at Calais. These deceptions ensured the secrecy and surprise of the Normandy invasion and played a vital role in the Allies’ success.

Handwritten note from Clementine to Winston Churchill, which begins: "My darling, I feel so much for you at this agonising moment."

This intimate letter from Clementine on D-Day -1 gives us a sense of the last few moments before the invasion was launched, and the enormous weight on Churchill’s shoulders as the Allies made their final preparations. (The Papers of Clementine Churchill, CSCT 1/28/2)

The invasion began with massive aerial and naval bombardment designed to shatter German defences and fortifications. The invasion force of around 160,000 troops followed shortly after. The landings took place at five locations; American forces were deployed to the beaches codenamed “Utah” and “Omaha”, while British and Canadian troops landed at “Gold”, “Juno”, and “Sword”. The men came ashore under heavy fire from gun emplacements and fought their way through mines, barbed wire, and anti-tank defences. After days of fierce combat, Allied forces, supported by French Resistance fighters, broke out of the beachhead and pushed into France.

Telegram from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Marshall Stalin, marked personal and top secret.

Telegram from Premier Stalin to Prime Minister, marked Personal and Top Secret.

Churchill and Stalin exchanged telegrams regarding the success of the D-Day invasion. The Churchill Papers, CHAR 20/166/4 , CHAR 20/166/76)

The display, which you can find in the Wolfson Foyer, marks the 75th anniversary of this momentous event and remembers the courage, ingenuity, and sacrifice of all those involved.

— Tom Davies, Archives Assistant

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