What Do You Really Know about the Beach Landings of D-Day?

John Miller

Image: MOD

About This Quiz

After capturing and occupying most of Western Europe, the Third Reich began to solidify its gains. It built the Atlantic Wall, a series of fortresses along the coast at likely Allied invasion points. Everywhere, machine gun nests bristled, waiting for an attack that people around the world knew was coming. Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower finally settled on Normandy, in northern France, as the place where his troops would begin their liberation of Europe. How much do you know about the beach landings of D-Day in this hard-fighting quiz?

For years, the Germans watched and waited for an Allied invasion that never came. In the meantime, the Allied bided their time, built their forces and used a campaign of misinformation to confuse the Germans.

Then, with a fleet of ships so vast it stretched beyond the horizon, the Allies struck. Infantry units waded into the waters off Normandy and found their blood mixing with the salty sea. Americans made up the majority of troops, along with British, French and other nations looking to counter the Third Reich.

At places like Sword and Juno, many Allied troops saw their last sunrise. What do you really know about the valor and horror of World War II’s Normandy beach landings?


What was the date of D-Day?

Few dates of the 20th century matter more. June 6, 1944, found the Allies making their long-awaited charge onto the European continent. If their plan had failed, the history of the Third Reich may have unfolded in a very different manner.

What's the common name for the day that Allied troops landed at Normandy and began their invasion of Europe?

D-Day might be the most famous single day in military history. Everyone knew it was coming, but only the Allies knew when and where they'd strike back against the empire of the Third Reich.

What was special about D-Day?

D-Day featured the biggest amphibious landings in human history. Altogether, about 156,000 Allied troops gathered themselves for a charge onto the European continent.

What was the name of the operation that landed troops at the beaches of Normandy?

Operation Neptune was the code name for the D-Day landings themselves. This landing operation was the culmination of years of Allied planning.

What was the name of the OVERALL operation that landed men at Normandy and then invaded Europe?

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France was part of Operation Overlord, which started that June and lasted until August 1944. Overlord was a linchpin of Allied success in the European Theater.

Which of the following was NOT one of the code named landing beaches during D-Day?

There was no Idaho beach on D-Day. The five iconic code named beaches were Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold.

What did the Allies do just before the beach landings?

In the hours before the beach landings, Allied paratroopers dropped into areas just inland of the beaches. Their goal was to secure areas for invading troops as they moved from beaches to the inland

U.S. troops were told to assault Utah beach. How did their day begin?

Strong currents pushed the ships carrying the U.S. 4th Infantry more than 1 mile from their original destination. But it worked in their favor -- the beach where they landed was lightly guarded, giving them a much easier task than on the other beaches.

Of the five landing beaches, which was the deadliest?

U.S. troops of the 29th and 1st Divisions landed at Omaha Beach. They had the misfortune of wading into the worst of the German defenses that day, and incurred the highest casualties of the five landing areas.

Why was Omaha Beach so deadly for invading troops?

Bombers and navy ships pounded German troops at Omaha Beach … but to no avail. The ineffective bombs meant that heavy-duty German fortifications were still intact and ready to repel invaders.

How did German commanders plan to defeat any Allied invasion attempts?

German commanders planned their defenses around the beachhead. They wanted to destroy all Allied units before they could even begin to move inland.

The Allies used barrage balloons during the beach attacks. What was the purpose of these balloons?

Barrage balloons were sent aloft, and they had long steel cables as tethers. Their purpose? To make it harder for enemy planes to zoom around landing craft and troops below.

Troops landing at Normandy stormed ahead but faced which natural obstacle?

The men who survived the initial assault had to deal with relentless enemy machine guns … and tall cliffs. Those cliffs made it very slow going, and exposed many Allied troops to German bullets.

The Allies used flat-bottomed landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) boats to drop off troops at the beaches. What's the popular name for these iconic boats?

Ten of thousands of Higgins boats were made by Higgins Industries during the war. These boats lowered a bow-mounted ramp, which troops used to run down into the water and onto the beaches.

About how many troops did each Higgins boat carry into battle?

Higgins boats had enough capacity for a platoon, or about 36 troops. Some of the landing craft sank even before reaching the beaches.

The beach landings were originally planned for June 5. Why were they postponed for a day?

High winds and low clouds meant that Allied ships and planes wouldn't be able to attack on June 5. Thus, the landings were pushed back a day, and still, the weather wasn't optimal.

Troops from which nation were in charge of taking Gold Beach?

British troops, along with those from the Netherlands and Poland, were tasked with capturing Gold Beach. They were ordered to secure the beachhead and then rendezvous with U.S. troops who were told to take Omaha Beach.

Where did German engineers place many obstacles on the beaches of Normandy?

German commanders figured Allied troops would attack at high tide to minimize troop exposure on the beaches. So they placed obstacles like barbed wire and booby traps at the high water mark to make it much harder for troops to storm ashore.

Once troops landed on the beach, how far did they have to run to reach the tall cliffs bordering the beach?

Allied troops waded ashore, soaked with seawater and under fire from the Germans. Many of them had to run or stumble 200 yards to reach the relative safety of the tall cliffs near the beach. Many of them didn't make it.

When did the Allies land their troops on the beaches?

The Army wanted a high-tide landing in order minimize the amount of ground infantry had to cover on the beaches. But German defenses were optimized for high tide. Instead, the Allies landed at low tide, when most beach obstacles were visible.

How long did it take troop carriers to cross the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy?

For some troops, it felt like an eternity. The rough waves that day meant that many troops were suffering terrible seasickness after the 17-hour journey from English ports to Normandy. Many of them were so nauseous they were happy to face German troops rather than the ocean.

How many Allied warships took part in D-Day?

About 700 Allied warships assisted the beach landings. Thousands of other small ships and landing craft were critical to Operation Neptune's success.

What was German air power like just prior to the beach landings?

Numerically, the Allies had far greater air power during D-Day, with more than 9,500 warplanes in the vicinity. German forces had only around 800.

The Allies slated 32 tanks to land at Omaha Beach. How many made it?

Between the high waves and enemy guns, the tanks bound for Omaha Beach were doomed. Only five of the 32 tanks reached the shores.

Where were Allied air bombing efforts at Omaha Beach so ineffective?

Allied bombers did their best to soften German defenses at Omaha Beach, but dense low clouds made it impossible to find their targets. Thus, German guns were intact and ready to counter the initial assault.

What happened during Exercise Tiger, one of the landing exercises that the Allies used to practice for D-Day?

In April 1944, less than two months before D-Day, Allied troops practiced their beach landing skills with Operation Tiger. But German U-boats interrupted with an attack. Around 750 Allied troops were killed, and the incident wasn't reported in order to protect the secrecy of D-Day.

How did the failure of Operation Tiger (and its hundreds of casualties) affect D-Day?

The epic failure that was Operation Tiger put Operation Neptune in serious jeopardy. Officials nearly called off D-Day for fear that one of Tiger's missing sailors may have been captured, thus endangering the secrecy of D-Day.

The Germans knew the Allies would try to invade on or around a full moon … so why were they taken by surprise on D-Day?

The weather wasn't great on D-Day, with churning seas and high winds that morning. But the Allies decided to risk it, and in doing so, they caught the Germans off guard.

How many Higgins landing craft were lost at Omaha Beach?

At Omaha Beach alone, 55 Higgins landing craft were destroyed in battle, taking with them many American lives. Altogether around 80 of the specially designed boats were lost at the time of D-Day.

How many Allied troops died during the beach landings?

Around 4,400 men were killed storming the beaches of Normandy. It was one of the bloodiest days of the war for the Allies.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes