Outline stencils of fallen troops. (Photo: Erica Rae) on Gold Beach Sept 2013. Parts of “Port Winston” the British sector Mulberry Harbour can be seen.
Recently the outlines of 9,000 fallen soldiers were stencilled onto the Normandy Invasion beaches. It was in recognition of International Peace Day and was in tribute to the amount of losses incurred on D-Day in 1944. British artists Jamie Wardley and Andy Moss along with 60 volunteers went to the beaches to create the stunning scape, but they were soon joined by hundreds of locals that also helped. The final result was moving and poignant. The results of course were quickly washed away, but the men that fell on that day have never been forgotten and so they should remain that way.
When I take tours to the D-Day beaches one of the questions that I am always asked is “how many people died?” This is always a difficult question and one that cannot be exactly answered. Men’s remains that have never been found, wounded soldiers dying later, miscalculation and propaganda have all played their part in obscuring the facts. One thing that can be sure is that more men died than the official figures that were released by the Allied top brass and politicians. There are also the German losses that people seem to forget about along with civilian losses.
On Utah beach the most westerly landing point, the main body of troops that landed were the US 4th Infantry Division. This unit did receive the highest casualties, but there were also casualties amongst Engineers, Tankers, Artillery, Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force. In relative terms Utah was the beach that had the fewest amount of casualties, but this was still in the region of 500 men. On top of this you have to consider the American Airborne landings that were an integral part of the invasion and particularly with Utah Beach. There were about 2,500 casualties amongst the 82nd and 101st Airborne. If you take into consideration training you also need to include the 2000 from Operation Tiger, which was a training mission that went horribly wrong off of the coast of Slapton Sands in Devon.
Casualties of course are not just those that died, but also include the injured and the missing. I think one can today; now classify those listed missing as dead. Those taken prisoner would also be included.
Heading east the next landing beach was the famous Omaha or bloody Omaha as it became known, but there was another landing point between Utah and Omaha, Pointe de Hoc. Of the 225 Rangers that landed here 135 were either killed, wounded or injured. At Omaha the losses were massive, but until very recently the official figure of killed in action was in the region of 862, with total casualties in the region of 2000. However, with recent research by the US National D-day Memorial Foundation and well publicised TV programmes the figure is more likely to be in the region of 1500 to 3000 deaths.
Carrying on East you come to Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches. British casualties on Gold and Sword beach were about 1000 on each, but there were also the British Airborne casualties that landed to secure the eastern flank of the landings. Amongst them the total was in the region of 1300 including 100 glider pilots.
Juno beach was where the 3rd Canadian Division landed and saw the heaviest fighting second only to Omaha. On this beach there was probably over 1000 casualties.
So taking all of the above into consideration you are probably looking at about 11,000 Allied casualties on the day with another 2000 in training exercises. This would equate to roughly 6000 deaths. There were of course the Germans and their allies as well. These figures are very hard to verify, but they are probably somewhere in the region of 5,000 to 10,000 killed in action. Civilians killed on the day would have been significant, certainly in their hundreds, particularly when much of the Allied bombing was in discriminant and off target. It’s no wonder that there were reports of French men and woman spitting, cursing and even shooting at their liberators.
The whole Normandy campaign though puts these figures in the shade: over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or missing and 15,000 to 20,000 civilians were killed, many of these in the bombing of Caen.
We will probably never know the exact amount of men that died that day and it is foolish for any historian to say that any figures they quote are correct. What we do know is that a lot of men and woman died on all sides in a war that has been called the “last just war”. I doubt if their family or friends thought it was justified at the time.