On 6 June 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy. Codenamed Operation Overlord, it was the largest combined naval, air and land operation in history. The campaign in Normandy lasted until August 1944.

Background

Planning for the Allied invasion of Europe began in 1943. Troops and equipment, naval and air forces gathered in the south of England, while the Royal Navy made meticulous preparations for the seaborne landings. Although the Germans knew that the Allies were poised to attack, they did not know when or where the Allies would land. Allied espionage and misinformation persuaded them to disperse their forces.

D-Day

After a delay due to bad weather, 6 June 1944 was finally designated 'D-Day' when Operation Overlord would begin. After an intense bombardment from sea and air, a combined Allied force of 133,000 American, British and Canadian troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, from the east side of the Cotentin Peninsula to the mouth of the River Orne, near Caen.

In advance of the seaborne landings, 23,000 airborne troops landed by parachute and glider to secure the flanks of the invading force and capture key positions. Commonwealth forces also provided naval and air support alongside American, Free French, Czech, Greek, Dutch, Norwegian and Polish forces.

Despite determined opposition, the landings were successful. By mid-June the Americans had advanced up the Cotentin Peninsula, while British and Canadian forces had pushed inland south of Bayeux and were only six kilometres from Caen. Yet German resistance remained fierce in the hedgerows of the Normandy countryside.

Securing the Bridgehead

On 19 June, a violent storm lasting four days struck the Channel. Convoys at sea were dispersed and unloading of supplies virtually stopped. This setback further slowed the advance and allowed the Germans to reinforce around Caen, the pivot of their defence. British and Canadian troops continued to fight around the city which eventually was secured on 18 July. Meanwhile, American forces cleared the Cotentin Peninsula and pushed south. The bridgehead was now secure and Allied forces began their offensive to breakout on 25 July.

Closing the Gap

A German counter-offensive launched on 7 August temporarily halted the Allies' advance, but ultimately left a substantial German force encircled in a pocket extending eastwards from Mortain to a narrow gap between Falaise and Argentan. The Germans fought desperately to withdraw, but half of the force of 15 divisions was trapped when the gap was closed by Canadian and Polish forces on 20 August. Normandy was secure and the Allies began to plan their advance towards Germany.

Aftermath

The Normandy campaign began with the dramatic D-Day landings, but it took weeks of fighting and tens of thousands of Allied and Commonwealth casualties before the region was secure.

The 18 CWGC war cemeteries in Normandy mark the progress of the fighting. There are more than 22,000 Commonwealth servicemen buried in them, but many more graves lie in churchyards and village cemeteries throughout the region.

Related Cemeteries & Memorials

Bayeux War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of some 4,150 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom nearly 340 remain unidentified. Also commemorated within the cemetery are more than 460 German servicemen. Opposite the cemetery stands the Bayeux Memorial, which bears the names of more than 1,800 servicemen of the Second World War who died during the landings, and subsequent advance to the river Seine, and who have no known grave.

Ranville War Cemetery, contains the graves and memorials of nearly 2,140 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom nearly 100 remain unidentified. Also commemorated within the cemetery are more than 460 German servicemen.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of nearly 2,960 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom nearly 90 remain unidentified. More than 2,870 of those commemorated here served with Canadian forces.