5 June
1944

Presented byJonathan DimblebyBroadcaster

Day of reckoning

In June 1944, British, US and Canadian forces invaded Nazi-occupied France. The invasion marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler's domination of Europe. Less than a year later, World War Two was over; the Allies had won.

My father, Richard Dimbleby, was one of a handful of BBC correspondents embedded with Allied troops on D-Day. Now, using archive of those reports, and first hand accounts from some of those who took part, this is how D-Day unfolded.

04:17, 5 June

"Let's go"

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, delivers his Order of the Day.

Transcript (PDF 107k)

Early in the morning, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, gives the final go-ahead for the invasion.

At a meeting of the Allied commanders, General Eisenhower confirms the decision he made the previous evening: D-Day will be tomorrow. He's been told the storm that has been battering his HQ and churning up the English Channel, forcing one delay already, will soon ease. He issues an Order of the Day telling the troops: "The eyes of the world are upon you".

Find out more about Dwight D. Eisenhower

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

Gen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order of the Day

17:00, 5 June

Piccadilly Circus

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BBC correspondent Robin Duff on board one of the ships leaving for Normandy.

Transcript (PDF 164k)

Ships making up the biggest armada the world has ever seen are leaving ports along the south coast of England.

The main part of the fleet assembles just south of the Isle of Wight, in an area referred to as 'Piccadilly Circus'. Each vessel is packed with troops, supplies and ammunition. The soldiers are pleased to be on the move after being stuck on board a day longer than expected. Soon the 2,700 ships will make a 90-degree turn out of the area and head for France.

D-Day's 70th anniversary on the BBC

22:00, 5 June

In the air

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BBC correspondent Richard Dimbleby watches paratroopers bound for Normandy take off.

Transcript (PDF 106k)

Airborne troops are checking their equipment before boarding the planes that will take them to their drop zone.

The parachutists are carrying two chutes, life jacket and various weapons and equipment. They are so heavy they have to be helped on to the planes. Others climb aboard gliders. Surprise will be a vital element of their success. Eisenhower had just visited the American 101st Airborne division. He tells them "the trick is to keep moving."

Into the Night: The 6th Airborne Division in Normandy

00:16, 6 June

The beginning...

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Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork landed the first glider on French soil to capture what became known as Pegasus Bridge.

Transcript (PDF 184k)

The first gliders head through the darkness to land near Bénouville in France

Despite the moonlight, the pilots must rely heavily on their instruments. The gliders crash land and the soldiers rush out to take their two target bridges. Some of the conscripted foreign soldiers guarding them run away leaving just the Germans to return fire. But 10 minutes later the Allies hold the bridges. They send out the coded success signal: 'Ham and jam.'

Watch more interviews with D-Day veteransFind out more about the capture of Pegasus Bridge

01:11, 6 June

Is it the invasion?

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US paratroopers jumping from a Douglas C-47 Skytrain.

German General Erich Marcks receives an alarming phone call at Corps headquarters in St Lo

The commander of the Germans' 716th Division in Caen has received reports that paratroopers have landed in the area. Could this be the invasion? General Marcks, who had enjoyed a surprise birthday party earlier that evening, decides they should wait and see.

01:55, 6 June

Liberation

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Sainte Mere Eglise is the first French town to be liberated by Allied forces.

American paratroopers are dropping in and around the strategically important town of Sainte Mere-Eglise on the main road to Cherbourg.

Around 1,000 regroup close to the town with the intention of capturing it from its Nazi Occupiers. After a few hours of fighting it becomes the first town in France to be liberated. But some of the paratroopers never make it this far. They are dropped in the wrong place and drown in the deliberately flooded countryside before they can offload their heavy kit.

05:23, 6 June

Bombardment

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Captain John C Raaen Jr, 5th Ranger Battalion, reflects on his approach to the Normandy coastline in a landing craft

Transcript (PDF 163k)

Allied warships open fire on the German defences along the Normandy coast.

Their targets include huge German batteries which could threaten the invasion force. British RAF bombers have been targeting the same defences since just after midnight. At 06.00 they are joined by bombers of the American USAAF. Troops assigned to Omaha and Utah beaches start to clamber into landing craft. The sea is choppy and many are sea-sick.

06:30, 6 June

H-Hour

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Jonathan Dimbleby describes the Allies' assault on the Normandy beaches.

Transcript (PDF 161k)

The first of the seaborne troops land on the Normandy beaches. They are U.S soldiers at the codenamed landing zones Utah and Omaha.

This is followed an hour later by British and Canadian assaults on the beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, in charge of the German defences in northern Europe, is at home in south-west Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday on his way to meet with Hitler later in the day. He starts his journey back to his headquarters at La Roche-Guyon after his chief of staff calls to tell him the invasion has begun. 'Tempo!' he urges his chauffeur.

08:20, 6 June

'Bloody Omaha'

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Private First Class Robert L. Sales was among the second wave of troops arriving on Omaha beach.

Transcript (PDF 165k)

On Omaha, American soldiers are facing waves of machine gun fire from German gunners. Not for nothing will be it be called 'Bloody Omaha'.

Many troops are now leaderless and terrified. Survivors who have made it to the top of the beach are huddling together, watching dead and dying comrades. But some tanks have made it ashore and are shooting at German positions, providing cover for troops. Allied soldiers on the other beaches are faring better although defensive obstacles such as mines placed in the water in front of the beaches are taking their toll.

Watch Dan Snow on the battle for Omaha beach

09:32, 6 June

Communiqué No. 1

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BBC broadcaster, John Snagge, delivers the news of the Allied invasion.

Transcript (PDF 163k)

In London, the BBC broadcasts a special news bulletin on its Home, Overseas and European Services

Newsreader John Snagge tells listeners that Allied forces have landed in France under the command of General Eisenhower. German radio has already been broadcasting news of the invasion for two hours.

Read Communiqué No. 1

Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces... began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France

Communiqué No 1

11:30, 6 June

'Things look better'

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BBC correspondent Howard Marshall describes the scene on the beach.

Transcript (PDF 164k)

The situation on Omaha has improved. Ships have come in close and are blasting the German positions at point blank range.

Now troops have reached the cliffs, overlooking the hundreds of casualties strewn on the beach. General Bradley, who had considered abandoning the assault on Omaha, receives a message that ‘things look better’. Along the coast the Allies are pouring ashore and heading inland. But they’re facing fierce resistance from German strongpoints.

12:00, 6 June

"...and what a plan!"

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Jonathan Dimbleby reflects on the situation at midday on D-Day and Churchill's address to the Commons.

Transcript (PDF 165k)

At midday, Prime Minister Winston Churchill is in Westminster, addressing the House of Commons.

He begins with a lengthy update from the Italian campaign. Then he says: "I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place." He adds that so far all is going according to plan. A clutch of BBC correspondents is embedded with the invasion force, recording eye-witness accounts to keep the British public updated.

Biography of Winston ChurchillWar report: Covering the D-Day landingsListen to John Snagge deliver the midday BBC News update

So far the commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan!

Winston Churchill

12:00, 6 June

Hitler's folly

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Nazi leader Adolf Hitler is sure that the Allied invasion will be repelled.

Hitler is holding his daily military conference at his headquarters in the Bavarian Alps.

He’s in a cheerful mood and thinks the weather is on the Germans' side. He is convinced the Allies will be driven back into the sea on the following day. Operation Fortitude, the Allies’ deception plan to convince the Germans the real invasion would come around Calais, appears to be working. Many German commanders still believe that the landings are a diversionary tactic.

Watch BBC archive about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler

The news couldn't be better. As long as they were in Britain we couldn't get at them. Now we have them where we can destroy them.

Adolf Hitler

14:00, 6 June

On the beaches

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Jonathan Dimbleby describes the situation on the beaches.

Transcript (PDF 163k)

Following the initial landings, the beaches are now becoming crowded with activity.

More and more soldiers are coming ashore, the wounded are receiving treatment and the wreckage of the morning's fierce fighting lies all around. Beachmasters are trying to bring order, while bulldozers are clearing pathways and engineers are removing German obstacles and mines.

Photo reconstructions of the D-Day landings

14:30, 6 June

Failure at Caen

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Allied bombers en route to German targets.

Allied planes are concentrating their firepower on German reinforcements around Caen.

Despite this, enemy tanks and infantry are moving up to threaten the Allied beach-head. The Allied forces have so far failed to capture Caen itself, which is a key strategic objective. Few civilians have left the city despite receiving Allied leaflets warning them of a massive aerial bombardment. In Caen prison the Gestapo are executing members of the French Resistance.

15:00, 6 June

Mulberry Harbours

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Mulberry harbours facilitate the landing of troops, ammunition and supplies.

The first sections of two artificial harbours code-named Mulberry are now heading across the Channel.

These vast constructions of concrete and steel have been designed to help the Allies to resupply the invasion force, particularly in bad weather. Meanwhile in Caen, hundreds of civilians have been wounded or killed in the Allied bombardment and parts of the city are ablaze. It is still in the hands of the Germans.

How do you build a Mulberry harbour?

18:00, 6 June

German counter-attack

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Elsewhere, Private John Perozzi's unit is ordered to aid under-fire US troops at Neuville au Plain.

Transcript (PDF 162k)

A German armoured ‘Panzer’ division has been attacking British forces between the Juno and Sword landing zones.

By late afternoon they are in pitched battle. A few Germans managed to battle their way through to the coast by 20.00, but many of their tanks are destroyed. Meanwhile, the BBC broadcasts a speech from French General Charles De Gaulle in which he calls on Frenchmen to "fight with all the means at their disposal".

Behind the heavy cloud of our blood and our tears, the sun of our greatness is shining again.

Gen. Charles De Gaulle

20:00, 6 June

Bayeux in sight

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British soldiers marching through Bayeux.

British patrols approach Bayeux, another major first day objective.

But the town won’t be liberated until tomorrow. The British 50th Division, which landed at Gold beach, is tasked with taking Bayeux but is roughly three miles short. However, they have successfully joined up with their Canadian allies, who landed at Juno.

Canadian troops' crucial role in D-Day

21:00, 6 June

Reinforcements arrive

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BBC correspondent Alan Melville reports on the arrival of reinforcements as a tank battle rages.

Transcript (PDF 163k)

As night approaches, fighting continues and more troops are arriving by glider to join the battle.

The Allies have landed along a 55 mile front and in some places have advanced several miles inland. More than 140,000 troops are ashore. But some German troops have successfully moved north and a few German units are still defending the beaches. King George VI broadcasts to his people and asks them to pray.

Voices of D-Day: Listen to first-hand accountsActor Toby Jones reads the original D-Day 9pm news

At this moment not one of us is too busy to play a role in a worldwide vigil of prayer.

King George VI

00:00, 7 June

'The longest day'

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Jonathan Dimbleby on the extraordinary success of Allied troops on D-Day

Transcript (PDF 167k)

By midnight, the Allies can take stock of what has been an extraordinarily successful day.

Although they have failed to take Caen and suffered thousands of casualties, substantial gains have been made. A foothold in France has been established from which the liberation of Western Europe will spring. Inside a year the Allies will have won the war and Hitler will be dead.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch reads the D-Day midnight newsOn to Berlin: What happened after D-Day?
7 June
1944