On the 75th anniversary of Operation Neptune, a portfolio of selected armaments and artifacts.

 

At 06:30 hours on June 6, 1944—D-Day—Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing in monumental numbers along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. Their mission: to liberate German-occupied France (and, in time, the rest of Europe) from Nazi control and to pave the way for an Allied victory on the Western Front in World War II. Nearly 160,000 men crossed the English Channel that day, and by the end of August more than two million Allied troops would be in France. Eight months later, as the Battle of Berlin raged above his führerbunker, Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and within a week the German Armed Forces High Command had unconditionally surrendered to the Allies.

On D-Day, British prime minister Winston Churchill went before the House of Commons to report that everything was going as planned (though in fact it wasn’t). “This vast operation,” he said, “is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.” In these pages we present some memorable objects from that operation, beginning with the message to troops (left) issued by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Western Europe, and the M1 Garand semiautomatic rifle, which General George S. Patton famously branded “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

 

  • Dead Man's Corner Museum, Normandy
  • Marine Corps Museum
  • This portfolio shows the amazing level of planning—more than 1,000 pages of text, tables, charts, and even foldout maps—that went into the largest seaborne invasion in history. (Heritage Auctions)
  • D-Day planners knew that many men would get seasick and throw up as they crossed the choppy waters of the English Channel. (Imperial War Museums)
  • Members of the 101st Airborne Division used brass “crickets” like this one in the early hours of the invasion to identify themselves to their fellow paratroops without alerting enemy forces. (International Museum of World War II)
  • For the D-Day landings, many Allied troops were issued belts like this one, with two carbon-dioxide canisters designed to be inflated manually, but many men drowned nonetheless. (Imperial War Museums)
  • The MG-42 machine gun was so fearsome that GIs quickly gave the weapon its ominous nickname. The Germans fielded large numbers of MG-42s on D-Day—including this captured specimen, which could spit out more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition a minutePhoto Courtesy Morphy Auctions, www.morphyauctions.com)
  • Ropes on grappling hooks like this one, fired from Allied landing craft on D-Day to the summit of the steep bluffs in front of the German artillery fortress at Pointe du Hoc, enabled U.S. Army Rangers to rapidly scale the cliffsides and take on the enemy. (International Museum of World War II)
  • This tin, which could be opened with a coin, contained beef extract and other products to be consumed “only when no other rations of any kind are procurable.” (Imperial War Musuems)
  • This baseball-size hand grenade, developed by the Office of Strategic Services and manufactured by Eastman Kodak, was issued in limited numbers for use on D-Day. (International Military Antique)
  • To mislead the Germans in the early hours of D-Day, the British dropped hundreds of “Ruperts”—dummy parachutists filled with straw and sand—far from the real Allied drop zones. (Heritage Auctions)
  • The Germans developed this plate-shaped antitank mine (teller is the German word for plate) in the 1930s and made millions of them—with handles attached to their steel cases—during World War II. Allied troops landing on the French coastline in 1944 found them nearly everywhere. (International World War II Museum)
  • Brown paper packets like this one, which the Upjohn Company manufactured for the U.S. military, contained an eight-tablet dose of sulfadiazine, an antibiotic used to prevent infections from wounds (except, as the warning indicates, those in the abdomen). (Philippe Caron, Getty Images)
  • The crew of LCT 157, a Royal Navy landing craft tank, adopted the three words as their motto and flew this homemade cotton-twill flag for good luck during the Normandy invasion. (Imperial War Museums)
  • The British Army developed this weapon (the acronym is for Portable, Infantry, Anti Tank) in 1942 and put it into service the following year. A later analysis of the initial stage of the Normandy campaign found that PIAT-launched projectiles knocked out 7 percent of all German tanks destroyed by British forces—more, even, than rockets fired from aircraft. (International World War II Museum)