How Much Do You Know About the Normandy Landings?

Torrance Grey

Image: Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard

About This Quiz

It was a military initiative like few others in human history: the opening up of a Western front in Europe during the Second World War. What made it so challenging? The Normandy landings required a massive mobilization of troops and equipment -- yet all done in secrecy, so as not to tip off the Germans about the size and scale of the coming invasion. To that end, there was also a sizable misdirection effort, pointing the Nazis in the wrong direction. This required, in part, the efforts of a cadre of double agents, who risked their lives to pose as German assets and feed the Nazi leadership the wrong information.

All that's not to mention the human cost of the landings: about 10,000 estimated Allied deaths. Not all went off as planned, and soldiers from the United States, England and Canada were cut down as they advanced into German machine-gun fire, or, as paratroopers, were blown off course and drifted down into anti-aircraft fire. It was a bloody chapter in the war that cost more human lives than any other conflict in history ... but it slowly turned the tide of that war, and as a result, changed the course of history overall.

On what day did the Normandy landings take place?

The invasion was planned for May 1944, but pushed back a month because of logistical concerns. The mobilization of such large numbers of men and amounts of material was no small task.

Which of these terms has become shorthand for the Normandy landings?

It's common to refer to the Normandy landings as "D-Day." "Shock and Awe" is a military strategy associated with Operation Desert Storm.

What does "D-Day" actually mean?

This confuses a lot of students, who feel the "D" must stand for something. It's become common to use "D-Day" to mean the Normandy landings, but there have been other D-Days.

The landings were part of an overall operation called _________.

Operation Overlord was the name for the overall invasion of Normandy. The Normandy landings were the first stage.

Where were the seeds for the Normandy invasion planted?

This was called the "Casablance Conference," fittingly enough. Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and French General Henri Giraud were all there, making plans for an invasion.

What was the name of the British-based resistance led by de Gaulle?

This has been described as a "government in exile." De Gaulle, a government minister before the Nazi invasion, rejected the authority of the puppet Vichy government, and rallied resistance within France via a radio address, now known as the Appeal of June 18.

Who initially pushed for a second front to be opened up in Europe?

Russia was the war's Eastern front, and fighting the Germans was costing the Soviets dearly in terms of lives. Stalin wanted his Western allies, Britain and the US, to pick up their share of the war effort.

The landings themselves were codenamed _______.

Neptune made sense given that most of the forces were approaching from offshore. (Maybe "Poseidon" was too hard to spell?)

An attack that starts in water and moves onto land is called _____.

The Normandy landings were amphibious. The name comes from animal biology, in which it describes animals that live both in and out of water.

What key information did RAF Captain James Stagg provide?

Stagg was a meteorologist who told Eisenhower that there would be a break in the stormy weather. Bad weather had already caused a day's delay, but with Stagg's news, the operation was a go.

Which of these was NOT the code name of a landing site?

Though a beach named after the god of war would be appropriate, there was no Mars Beach. The names were Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah.

Which two beaches did the British invade?

The British were responsible for Sword Beach and Gold Beach. D-Day's planners gave all five beaches serious-sounding names, because of the number of casualties expected. Dying on Sword Beach sounds better to grieving families than Baguette Rescue Beach.

Which beach was Canada responsible for?

O, Canada! They did a great job securing a beachhead, despite high casualties. This left Omaha and Utah beaches to the Americans -- easy to remember, because they're both named after places in the U.S.

What was the objective of Operation Bodyguard?

The name "Bodyguard" indirectly alluded to its function -- keeping the mission plans secure, not a particular person. This was chiefly the job of British intelligence.

What was the name of the British intelligence agency that largely spearheaded Bodyguard?

To this day, the MI-5 is the U.K.'s intelligence agency. They're the subject of a good deal of spy fiction in England.

Where did the Nazis believe Allies forces would invade?

Calais was a northern coastal area that was the likely place for an invasion. For this reason, mainly, the Allies did NOT plan to invade there -- but tried to preserve the illusion that they would.

Erwin Rommel was in charge of the German forces in Normandy. What was he more famous for?

Rommel was known as "the Desert Fox" for his Africa campaign. Hitler put him in charge of the likely site of an invasion in part because of those successes, and in part because of their good rapport.

Who was the commander-in-chief, and Rommel's superior, in western Europe?

Gerd von Rundstet was not, according to WWII historians, Rommel's equal in military ability. But it was Hitler's tendency not to put too much power in the hands of one general, no matter how able, and so he set up an inevitable rivalry between these two subordinates.

What was the Atlantic Wall?

Though not an actual wall, there's no denying this was an impressive effort. Including troops, bunkers and artillery installations, it ran from Scandinavia all the way to the Spanish border with France, protecting German-held territory.

Approximately how many troops crossed the Channel on the day of the landings?

It's easy to see how hard it was to keep this operation a secret. That many soldiers amassing at staging areas would have been hard for German spies or assets to miss, and it took a lot of deception to keep them from doing so.

Who commanded the First U.S. Army Group at Kent and Sussex?

This was an honorary role for the general. Why? Because there was no Army Group in Kent and Sussex -- it was an elaborate fake-out, part of Operation Bodyguard, created to convince the Nazis that the Allies were massing for an assault elsewhere.

Where were the Nazis led to believe Patton's group would attack?

Though we don't always think of Norway as a significant part of WWII, it was held by the Nazis. Proximity to northern England made it a plausible site for an invasion.

Why was Rommel back in Germany on June 6?

It's true! Rommel thought it was safe to be away from Normandy because stormy weather made attacks unlikely. The Germans' weather reports weren't as good as that of the British -- an imbalance that might have changed the course of history.

Retaking of which French city was a main objective of the invasion?

Caen (pronounced "Conn") was not far inland from the landing sites. It would eventually be captured from the Nazis, but not as quickly as the Allies had hoped.

Who famously decided to "start the war from right here" after troops were blown off course at Utah Beach?

After early landing craft missed the intended site, Roosevelt decided the new landing spot was actually more favorable. He had subsequent troops directed to the new landing spot, and generally rallied the men to keep up morale and carry on.

At which landing site were casualties the highest?

Not much went right at Omaha Beach, starting with rough seas swamping many landing craft. An exact figure hasn't been reached, but it's estimated that as many as 4,700 men died there on D-Day.

What did troops off Omaha Beach bail water with?

Ten boats were swamped by rough seas on the approach to Omaha Beach. Others made it to shore because troops used their helmets to bail water out of the boats.

What was known as "Rommel's asparagus"?

This medieval-style defense, clusters of sharply spiked poles, worked well against parachutists, who had little control where they landed. The nickname was given to this fortification by German soldiers.

Which of these military leaders was NOT part of the Normandy offensive?

Admiral William Halsey Jr. was a notable figure in the war's Pacific theater. He did not take part in D-Day, though.

Which of these leaders was known as "the Spartan General"?

All military leaders have to have some Spartan in their nature. But Montgomery, the British field marshal and commander of the ground troops at Normandy, was known for a crusty, difficult nature as well as his military genius.

What was a "Mulberry"?

There weren't port facilities at Omaha and Gold beaches, so the Allies had to bring in their own. This was where ships could dock and cargo be offloaded.

Approximately how many civilian casualties were there on D-Day?

World War II is still the deadliest conflict in human history. The civilian toll of D-Day reflects that. (It should be said that due to chaos and confusion at the time, this number necessarily covers about a two-day period).

How long did the overall Normandy invasion last?

Certainly the Allied leaders knew that the invasion would be difficult; even so, many objectives were achieved much later than they had planned. This included the liberation of cities like Bayeux and Caen.

Which of these movies is about the D-Day landings?

"The Longest Day" was from the 1960s; "Saving Private Ryan" the 1990s. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was about Pearl Harbor.

Who was the only woman to be at the Normandy landings?

Martha Gellhorn was a war correspondent who hid in the bathroom of a Red Cross ship to get to the landings. The other women listed are also women with nerves and grit -- but Bly and Barton aren't from the right time period.

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