The World War II timeline below summarizes key events of late April and early May leading to D-Day, including a D-Day "practice run."
World War II Timeline: April 27-May 4
April 27: In the run-up to D-Day, British authorities ban all travel outside the country in an effort to put a stop to intelligence leaks about the invasion.
April 29: Disaster strikes a D-Day practice run when German naval forces attack an American training exercise, killing more than 600 troops.
Some 120 Japanese planes are destroyed as the Allies return to the key Japanese base of Truk to inflict further damage.
April 30: The first prefabricated, $2,200 home goes on display in London, in advance of Churchill's plan to use hundreds of thousands of these structures to house those left homeless by the war.
May 1944: The Soviet Union prevails in the Battle of the Crimea. The area is emptied of German and Romanian forces, tens of thousands of whom have been killed.
This month, for the first time since 1940, no British civilians will die in Axis air raids.
Japanese shipping is severely curtailed following Allied mining of the waters off Thailand and Burma.
May 2: Schoolteacher and crossword puzzle creator Leonard Dawe attracts the attention of the Allies when one of his puzzles, published in the London Daily Telegraph, contains the word Utah. Subsequent puzzles will include the words Omaha and Overlord, leading Allied security to suspect Dawe is leaking intelligence about the D-Day invasion. He is not doing so.
May 3: Spain's Fascist government under General Francisco Franco agrees to curtail supply shipments to Nazi Germany in exchange for an increase in oil shipments from the Allies.
May 4: The United States suspends the rationing program for most types and cuts of meat.
World War II Headlines
The headlines below summarize D-Day preparations, the D-Day invasion, and other major events of World War II in 1944.
British military argues about area bombing: Along with Arthur "Bomber" Harris, RAF chief of the air staff Sir Charles Portal was a vigorous advocate of area bombing -- destroying civilian populations instead of military targets. But Portal's thinking changed, putting him increasingly at odds with Harris. Over Harris's strong objections, Portal sided with Eisenhower's commitment to the "Transportation Plan" of bombing French railroads instead of German cities in preparation for D-Day. Portal grew increasingly skeptical of area bombing's military effectiveness, but was unable to restrain Harris from bombing city after city late in the war.
U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower greets troops before D-Day: On June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower wrote a short note. "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt," he wrote, "it is mine alone." Success was not guaranteed, and Eisenhower probably composed this message in advance of D-Day for fear that the proper words would not come to him if the invasion failed. "Ike" visited the men of the 101st Airborne as they prepared for their drop. He asked their names and where they were from. Not long after, he watched as the planes carried his airborne troops into the night.
General Omar Bradley's men storm Omaha, Utah beaches in Normandy, France: Due to his success in corps command during campaigns in North Africa and Sicily, General Omar Bradley was chosen by General Eisenhower as the First U.S. Army commander for the invasion of France. Eisenhower decided that Bradley's First Army, with its three corps, would land on the Omaha and Utah beaches in the first wave of the invasion of Normandy. Bradley watched the assaults from the USS Augusta. The landing at Utah met with relatively little opposition. Omaha, however, was heavily defended by German forces. After securing a beachhead on Omaha beach, Bradley's Operation Cobra, begun on July 25, 1944, tore a hole in German defenses.
Aerial reconnaissance assesses enemy defenses: Photography provided essential intelligence to all belligerents. The RAF rapidly developed strategic reconnaissance (with fast, high-altitude, unarmed aircraft) and tactical reconnaissance (with low-flying armed fighters). Their photographs were interpreted with stereoscopic techniques, producing a 3-D image from two overlapping prints. By 1942 Allied aircraft could produce 1:10,000 scale photographs from 30,000 feet. The USAAF initially employed specially equipped bombers (such as the one pictured) for long-range reconnaissance, but it soon switched to adapted fighters. Aerial photography proved invaluable for assessing enemy defenses (notably for Operation Overlord), interfering with the production and use of the V-weapons, and planning strategic bombing.
The five beaches of Normandy are given code names: Sword and Gold were code names for the beaches attacked by the British Second Army. Americans landed on Utah and Omaha. British troops landing at Sword met with very little resistance, sustaining 600 casualties. The Canadians attempting to land on Juno met with greater resistance, suffering about 50 percent casualties in the first hour. But once over the sea wall, they faced less opposition. The British who attacked Gold faced some resistance, which decreased as they moved inland. Americans landing at Utah faced the least resistance, suffering only 200 casualties on D-Day. Omaha proved the toughest, as the terrain was best suited for defense. By the time the Americans advanced off the beach, they had left about 3,000 casualties behind.
Breaking through the Nazi Atlantic Wall proves perilous: To defend against an Allied invasion from Britain, the Germans constructed the Atlantic Wall -- fortifications along the western coast of Europe. Obstructions were placed under water to tear holes in landing craft, and mines were seeded under the sand. Antitank barriers and walls of barbed wire were strategically placed along the beaches. The Omaha beach was raked by machine guns in pillboxes with overlapping fields of fire. Soldiers who made it to the barbed wire used Bangalore torpedoes -- 50-foot-long pipes (pictured) filled with 85 pounds of TNT -- to blow holes through the wire wall.
Allies encounter strong resistance after landing at Utah beach: Allies met with the stiffest resistance on Juno and Omaha beaches. U.S. colonel George Taylor of the First Infantry Division tried to motivate his shell-shocked and fatigued men to advance off Omaha. "Two kinds of people are staying on this beach," he said, "the dead and those who are going to die." Once beyond the obstructions, troops advanced up the slopes to destroy pillboxes, from which machine gun and artillery fire rained down.
In the next section, we'll provide a chronological timeline of World War II events for the first half of May 1944, as well as relevant headlines from the period.
For more timelines and information on World War II events, see: