American journalist George Hicks made history with his radio broadcast from the deck of the U.S.S. Ancon at the start of the morning “You see the ships lying in all directions, just like black shadows on the grey sky,” he described to his listeners. “Now planes are going overhead… Heavy fire now just behind us… bombs bursting on the shore and along in the convoys.”
It is hard to conceive the epic scope of the decisive battle that foreshadowed the end of Hitler’s dream of Nazi domination. Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. The landing included over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and over 150,000 service men.
Ever since June 6, 1944, people have been asking what the “D” in “D-Day” means. Does it stand for “decision?” The day that 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy was certainly decisive. And with ships, landing craft and planes leaving port by the tens of thousands for a hostile shore, it is no wonder that some would call it “disembarkation” or “departed.”
There is not much agreement on the issue. But the most likely of explanations is the one from the Army’s manuals. The Army began using the codes “H-hour” and “D-day” during WW I to indicate the time or date of an operation’s start. Military planners would write of events planned to occur on “H-hour” or “D-day” — before the actual dates and times of the operations would be known, and to keep plans secret. And so the “D” may simply refer to the “day” of invasion.
Another fascinating detail about that day involved what were called Bigot Maps. The Bigot maps detailed the specific plans for the D-Day attack. They were created in isolated cocoons of secrecy in London. The system occasionally broke down. The strangest breach of security came from the London Daily Telegraph, whose crossword puzzles alarmed BIGOT security officers.
One puzzle, on May 2, included “Utah” in its answers. Two weeks later, “Omaha” appeared as an answer. The puzzle’s author, a schoolmaster, was placed under surveillance. Next came “Mulberry,” code name for artificial harbors that were secretly being built in England for use off invasion beaches. Then came the most alarming answer of all: “Neptune”, the code name for overall operation.
This time the schoolmaster was arrested. Confounded investigators finally decided that the words had been the product of an incredible series of coincidences. Not until 1984 was the mystery solved: One of the schoolmaster’s pupils revealed that he had picked up the words while hanging around nearby camps and eavesdropping on soldiers’ conversations. He then passed the odd words on to his unwitting schoolmaster when he asked his pupils to provide ingredients for his crosswords.