The Longest Day: A Timeline


We have assembled all of our June 6 Facebook posts to create a timeline of events for “The Longest Day.” D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history. 155,000 American, British, and Canadian troops came ashore and faced thousands of well equipped and fanatical German defenders. The fate of the war in Europe hung in the balance.

Paratroopers wait to jump out of their C47 over Normandy

Midnight to 1:00am

The invasion begins! Pathfinders parachute over Normandy. They have 45 minutes to mark the landing zones with beacons and transponders before thousands of paratroopers jump into the night sky. Away from the drop zones, British bombers release 200 fake “paratrooper” mannequins that light flares or play recorded battle sounds when they hit the ground. British glider troops take two bridges only 15 minutes after landing near them. To prevent German reinforcements from arriving, British paratroopers blow up five other bridges.

1:00am to 2:00am

Pegasus Bridge
British troops hold Pegasus bridge. Green circle shows Horsa gliders that delivered the commandos.

Fierce fighting begins as British and American paratroopers land. Over 13,000 Americans parachute into the fields of Normandy. Most do not land anywhere near their intended landing zones. Over 70% of their heavy equipment is lost or destroyed on landing. 8th Air Force bombers begin to take off from airfields in England and will continue to depart until 5:30am. Every airworthy aircraft in the theater of operations will support the landings today. Around 1,200 American bombers will fly across the English Channel, attacking German targets to support the invasion. British bombers are already on their way over.

2:00am to 5:00am

German units across the area of operations sound the alarm. Messages fly to and from the German headquarters attempting to alert all units that some kind of attack is underway. Amazingly, over 5,000 ships anchor off the coast of Normandy without being detected by German coastal defenses. They begin loading troops into landing craft. Meanwhile, hundreds of gliders continue to land behind the beach. The American 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment captures the key town of Saint-Mere-Eglise. British commandos destroy coastal defense batteries at Merville at the cost of 70 men killed. On the German side, Field Marshall von Rundstedt immediately orders Panzers to the invasion area. Chief of Staff Jodl, who wants to wait for Hitler to wake up before authorizing any troop movements, cancels Rundstedt’s order.

5:00am to 6:00am

Royal Air Force bombers drop 6,000 tons of bombs on German defenses. The 741st Tank Battalion launches into the water 6,000 yards from Normandy Beach, but the experimental floating tanks are a failure. 32 tanks are launched, but only two actually make it to the beach. Seeing this, the 743rd Tank Battalion decides to land directly on the beach via assault craft. Flotilla warships are pounding coastal defenses with every large caliber gun they have, while medium and heavy American bombers drop thousands of tons of bombs on the enemy. Dawn breaks at 5:58am, just in time for German defenders to observe rocket launching barges reach their final positions. 20,000 rockets are launched over the beach in the British assault sector, and 18,000 rockets in the American sector.

OMAHA beach
American infantry advance into withering fire at OMAHA beach.

6:00am to 7:00am

At 6:30am all bombardment stops in the American sector and the amphibious landing begins. At UTAH beach, strong currents force the 4th American Division to land 1800 yards south of their intended objective. Luckily, defenses there are actually weaker. OMAHA Beach is a massacre. Intact German defenses successfully defend against incoming waves of American troops. 27 out of 29 amphibious tanks fail to reach OMAHA Beach, leaving infantry caught in the open against powerful concrete fortifications. Every single first-wave officer becomes a casualty in the first ten minutes on OMAHA beach.

7:00am to 8:00am

The British landings at GOLD and JUNO beaches begin. The Canadians land at SWORD beach. All battle through fierce resistance from German artillery and machine guns. In the American landing zone, 255 Rangers climb a cliff to attack a German coastal battery at Pointe Du Hoc, absorbing a vicious German counterattack afterwards. Only 90 Rangers will survive the mission unharmed. On the German side, news of the invasion is slowly spreading to the command level, but no orders are given. German units simply fight whatever allies they encounter while holding their positions.

Medics tend to the wounded on OMAHA beach.

8:00am to 9:00am

At OMAHA beach, destroyers and rocket barges approach the beach and destroy German emplacements in support of the stalled American infantry. Colonel George Taylor famously yells “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here!” Despite taking horrific losses, American fighting men form improvised groups and heroically advance up the beach to close with the German defenders. After two and a half hours and around 2,000 casualties, American troops take their first OMAHA strong point at 9am.

9:00am to 11:00am

Hitler finally wakes up at 9:15 and reads the communications waiting for him. Field Marshall Rommel, on leave and away from France, is finally alerted that his units are under attack. At OMAHA beach another strongpoint is destroyed and the American infantry is starting to make real progress. Behind the beaches, the 82nd Airborne is engaged in heavy combat at Neuville-au-Plain. Despite being outnumbered 5 to 1, the paratroopers successfully hold off German reinforcements for 8 hours.

11:00am to 1:00pm

British commandos follow their bagpiper, Bill Millin, to the bridge at Benouville. There they link up with the glider troops who have been defending it for nearly 12 hours. Millin has been playing the bagpipes since hitting the beach, and now triumphantly plays as the commandos march across the bridge. German snipers open fire, killing 12 of the commandos as they cross and fresh fighting begins at the bridge. UTAH and OMAHA beaches are now firmly under American control. British and Canadian troops have also pushed past their beachheads and are linking up. The Normandy beach defenses are smashed. Rommel’s famous “Atlantic Wall,” which took two years to construct, has been defeated in half a day.

Reinforcments pour onto the beaches.

1:00pm to 4:00pm

Large numbers of German defenders are surrendering to the allies . Only a few German defenders survive to throw their hands up as American, British, and Canadian forces completely overrun their positions. Nearly 17 hours into the invasion, Hitler realizes that the attack is not just a feint to distract from the invasion he thought was sure to come at the port of Calais. He finally agrees to send SS and Panzer troops to counterattack and repel the invaders. Advancing allied units are linking up with each other and the paratroopers. Behind them, supplies pour into the beach from ship after ship. Reinforcements bring jeeps, tanks, ammo and food to the fighting men up front as quickly as possible.

4:00pm to 6:00pm

The 1st Panzer Corps counterattacks! With 36,000 men and 500 tanks, they should steamroll over the lightly armed British and Canadian paratoopers they encounter, but allied air power slows them down. The German advance stalls. Allied Sherman tanks are racing to the front as quickly as possible. If they cannot reach the weakened infantry and paratroop units in time to help knock out those Panzers, our men may be “defeated in detail” one small unit at a time under the crushing weight of German armor.

6:00pm to 7:00pm

The allies throw everything that they have at the counterattacking German Panzers. Sherman tanks, artillery, and anti-tank guns on the ground combine with fighter-bombers dropping bombs and firing rockets. The Germans are stopped short of their objectives. As the sun sets, both sides are exhausted. Maneuvers stop and everyone digs in to prepare defensive positions. On the American and British beachheads, reinforced units finally kill or capture the last German holdouts inhabiting the smoking wreckage of the bunker systems. America has lost about 6,600 of its finest fighting men. The British and Canadians have suffered 4,000 casualties as well. The bodies of 4,000 to 9,000 dead or wounded defenders litter the wrecked German defenses. Operation Overlord has succeeded, but the war in Europe will not end for another year.

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Comments (4)

  1. We owe our fredom to all who fought Thank you!

    Thank you Dad (William C. Pingley) 171st. combat engineers Utah Beach
    and all your brothers in arms!

    You will never be forgoten!!

  2. We owe all those brave men everything we have from that day forward.The suffering and the carnage were incredible.As a first generation American,it’s acts like this that inspired my relatives to immigrate to this country to enjoy the fruits of freedom and liberty.We must stand firm against those that would undermine those sacrifices from within our own country.

  3. Anything said or expressed in response to what those men sacrificed is a pittance. We owe our freedom to speak and disagree freely to those veterans who fought, some never coming home. Otherwise would might be faced with agreeing to some politically correct account of that day all written or spoken in German.

    Thank you, Uncle Pat and all of your Brothers.

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