On June 6, 2019, The International Museum of World War II inaugurates a special exhibition examining the largest coastal invasion in history, D-Day. The exhibition opened to the public on June 7th.
“The 75th Anniversary of D-Day” will bring together more than 100 artifacts from the Museum’s unrivaled collection to reveal how 175,000 men landed on a heavily defended coast with 50,000 vehicles from a flotilla of 5,000 ships and cover from 11,000 airplane sorties in just one day, June 6, 1944. This unprecedented exhibition will feature the most comprehensive collection of D-Day artifacts in the world including plans, photographs, maps, documents, resistance radios, sabotage devices, weapons, and uniforms, showcasing all the planning that went into one of the crucial battles that determined the outcome of World War II.
“Nothing like it had ever happened in history,” said The International Museum of WWII’s Founder and Director Kenneth Rendell. “It was unimaginable to all but a few military leaders. The enormous effort that went into the complex and detailed planning, as seen here in this exhibition, is evidence of how crucial it was that it this invasion be successful. On the 75th anniversary of this remarkable endeavor, we’re proud to showcase our unmatched collection highlighting all aspects of D-Day.”
In addition to containing the most complete set of plans for Operations Overlord and Neptune on exhibit anywhere in the world, “The 75th Anniversary of D-Day” features the following artifacts:
- Planning: It took two years of planning and preparation for D-Day. The timing of the invasion was affected by the necessity of building a sufficient number of landing craft and manufacturing the multitude of equipment needed. The dates for the invasion were determined by the tides and the weather.
- Report to the Allied Forces Command, July 15, 1943: “We may be assured of a reasonable chance of success …only if we concentrate our efforts on an assault across the NORMAN beaches about BAYEUX.”
- Plans for Operation Overlord and the sea transport’s Operation Neptune are the most complete on exhibit anywhere. These include the most crucial planning maps and enormous details for the transport of the invasion forces to Normandy, the landings, and moving off the beaches.
- Wetterkurzschlussel (weather short codes) extremely rare German Enigma codebook: Forecasting the weather was of critical importance to both sides. The Germans understood its critical importance during the Battle of the Atlantic when wolf packs of submarines almost blocked all supplies from reaching England. Surface weather ships and submarines reported the weather reports back to Germany via Enigma coded short wave radio so that forecasters could plan submarine attacks. Only a handful of the specially created Enigma code books for weather reports have survived and the Museum obtained the only known privately owned example at auction last year for $225,000, and it is part of the intelligence gathering part of the D-Day exhibit. (The Museum’s display of Enigma code machines is one of the most comprehensive anywhere.)
The possible dates for the invasion were determined by the moon and tides and were well known to both sides. The weather was the variable, and Eisenhower had his chief meteorologist prepare forecasts every day during May, 1944 so he could evaluate his accuracy. The invasion was delayed a day (with the ships already loaded with men) by a storm in the Channel but his meteorologist forecast a brief break in the weather for June 6th. The German forecast didn’t see the break coming and, based on the storm, Field Marshall Rommel, commander of German defenses, took the opportunity to briefly return to Germany to visit his wife. One of Germany’s ablest commanders wasn’t there on the fateful day when the greatest invasion by sea in history changed the course of the war.
- Sabotage: The French Resistance played a major role in supplying intelligence and inflicting damage to the railroad system.
- A short-wave radio, used just behind Omaha Beach, sent information to London about fortifications and troops.
- Explosives camouflaged as coal exploded once shoveled into the boiler of a locomotive.
- Fake pressure switches placed on the tracks would set off the charge under the locomotive as it passed.
- Crossing the channel: From air and from sea, troops made a harrowing journey to reach the beaches and beyond.
- Paratrooper uniforms and camouflage parachutes from Normandy.
- Uniforms from the British, American, and Canadian forces.
- Rare “crickets,” small metal devices issued to all paratroopers to help them regroup in the dark without speaking aloud.
- “Ruperts” with original parachutes, dummy paratroopers covered with timed explosives to mislead the Germans as to where the attackers would land.
- A firefighter uniform from St. Mere Eglise, a French town strategically located on the national road connecting Cherbourg to Paris that was a prime target for the 82nd Airborne Division. There were several fires raging in the town when the paratroopers landed in the dark.
- Escape vest for a tank crew member as tanks went ashore. Many tanks sank before reaching the beach causing hundreds of crewmen to drown, unable to escape.
- Facing the Atlantic Wall: Once across the Channel, Allied Forces encountered the formidable defenses of the Atlantic Wall.
- A Goliath, the first remote controlled tank invented by the Germans designed to drive up the ramp of a landing craft and explode. In the chaos of battle, it was not as effective as the Germans expected.
- Rocket-propelled grappling hooks with rope ladders used by US Army Rangers to scale an exposed cliff wall to reach a German gun emplacement at Pointe du Hoc. The Rangers succeeded in the critical mission of taking out six large German guns, but lost 60% of their men in the process.
- Special assault vests for Rangers with extra-large pockets for grenades and ammunition.
- Communication: Correspondence and propaganda showcase the significance of the flow of information across all sides.
- Photo of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower motivating paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. Ike was warned they might sustain casualty rates as high as 75%, though the final figure was closer to 10%.
- Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces’ outgoing message from Eisenhower stating: “Under the command of General EISENHOWER, Allied Naval Forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied Armies this morning on the Northern Coast of FRANCE. 6 June 1944.”
- Eisenhower’s letter to his wife Mamie on June 9th expressing cautious optimism, “Anyway, we’ve started. Only time will tell how great our success will be. But all that can be done by human effort, intense devotion to duty, and courageous execution, all by thousands and thousands of individuals, will be done by this force.”
- German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s letter to his wife on June 9th expressing pessimism, “A lot of hardship has been our lot since our parting, and how much more hardship may still come? We are doing what we can, but the enemies’ superiority in nearly all regards is overwhelming.”
- French Resistance leaflets and flyers urging the French people to rise up against the German occupiers.
- An Eisenhower leaflet telling the French people, “The Allied Armies Have Landed!”
- Anti-Churchill and anti-American leaflets warning against cooperating with the invaders by German and Vichy French propagandists.
- Aftermath: Within the tremendous destruction of the French towns, there were also expressions of hope for the future and eventual return to normalcy.
- Photographs of the destruction of Caen, St. Lo, and other French towns.
- Placard placed on non-exploded bombs after the bombardment of Caen that says “Dud—Risk of Death.”
- Large homemade American and British flags by French citizens to greet Allied troops.
- A wedding dress and a young girl’s outfit made from paratroopers’ silk parachutes left in the fields of Normandy.