Personnel and equipment arriving at Normandy by air and sea following the D-Day invasion in 1944.
(Photo from the US National Archives and Records Administration)

Seventy-seven years ago, Allied forces launched the largest combined naval, air and land operation in the history of warfare, now known as D-Day. Hundreds of ships, ground troops and aircraft assaulted beaches in Normandy in what became the start of the Allies’ campaign to liberate occupied Europe. At Duxford, home of the American Air Museum, on June 6, 1944, every available fighter aircraft was sent to France to prevent German defenses from launching a counterattack.

But what did the “D” stand for? Simply, the “D” means “day.” The term “D-Day” was used to describe the first day of any large military operation. Similarly, military planners employed the term “H-Hour” to refer to the hour when action would commence.

The D-Day and H-Hour shorthands were useful during planning, when the start date for an attack was still undecided. Forces could effectively coordinate plans even when they didn’t have a set start time or date. This provided flexibility if the operation shifted, as was the case on June 5, 1944, when Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower moved D-Day to June 6 due to bad weather. The terms also ensured secrecy, as they disguised the true dates and times an attack would take place.

Since World War II, the term D-Day has become most associated with the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. More than 18,000 British and American airborne forces landed behind enemy lines, while more than 150,000 Allied troops, including American, British, Canadian and Commonwealth forces, stormed the northern beaches of Normandy.

US troops landed on the westernmost beaches, code-named Utah and Omaha, at 6:30 AM. By the end of the day, the Allied forces had secured a foothold in France, landing on all five of the assault beaches.

Map of Normandy Beach Landings on June 6, 1944

Despite the success of D-Day, the Allies reported over 10,000 casualties — killed, wounded and missing — on June 6, 1944. Those brave people who paid the ultimate price for freedom are the heart of the American Air Museum’s educational and memorial mission. Seventy-seven years later, we work to never forget their sacrifice. On D-Day and every day, we work to honor their memory and all those who’ve helped make the freedoms we enjoy today possible.

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