4 Jun 2014

Planning D-Day: a story in maps


 ‘It won’t work, but you must bloody well make it.’
Lieutenant General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

On 6 June, 1944 Allied forces launched Operation OVERLORD with the aim of landing a vast army of liberation in Nazi-occupied France. The assault phase of this - today known as the D-Day landings - was the largest amphibious assault in history, taking 156,000 men across the English Channel in more than 5,000 ships. Much of the planning for this event, one of the most iconic and defining missions of World War II, was prepared using detailed maps of the coast of France. Whilst many lives were lost during the assault, the precise planning of the operation was key to the eventual success of the mission.

These maps, show how many different types of mapping were used in organising Operation Overlord, helping the different armies to come together in one overwhelming, unified assault.

This summary map shows both the concentration of German forces in the Pas de Calais and the Allied approaches to Normandy.

Credit: US Army

A diagram showing how Mulberry components were gathered from separate fabrication sites and towed across the Channel by tugs for assembly. The Mulberry harbours were two artificial ports each enclosing an area the size of Dover docks, built to land men and machines to supply forces after D-Day. They were constructed from huge caissons, pier heads, block ships and floating roadways, all of which were towed across the Channel by a flotilla of tugs.

Credit: The National Archives

This summary map shows the division of forces between beaches and the location of warships in Operation Neptune. The ten blue shaded lanes are the paths cleared by minesweepers, the first vessels to approach.

Credit: HMSO

A plan of German batteries and artillery within the US sectors of Utah and Omaha. The US Navy laid down an immense barrage on German defences in the path of the landing troops. Here, grid references on the lower left hand table show the status and position of the German shore batteries and their arcs of fire. Red ink paths show the routes for inbound Allied ships.

Credit: US Army/The National Archives

This is the letter sent by General Montgomery to be read to troops, prior to landing on the shores of France.

Credit: The National Archives

These maps and the letter from General Montgomery are taken from D-Day, written by Richard Happer and Dr Peter Chasseaud, and published by Times Books. Published in October, it is available to preorder now.

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