June 6, 1944, was the day that changed the direction of World War II in the Allies’ favor. On that day, over 156,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy toward almost certain death in the name of freedom. Although there were at least 10,000 Allied casualties, the mission was still considered a success. Even though much can be attributed to the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers involved, the inventions designed for the invasion are what made the mission possible. Discover what the military devised and unveiled on D-Day that made the largest sea-to-land invasion ever feasible, and ultimately won the war.
Read on to learn about the invention by Andrew Higgins that Dwight Eisenhower credits with winning the war.
The Tide-Prediction Machine Identified The Best Days For The Invasion
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When it came to planning the landing on the beaches of Normandy, the moon and the tides played a critical role. Air operations needed clear skies and a full moon for visibility, the navy required calms waters, and the infantry required a low tide to expose German defenses. Such an invasion needed perfect conditions across the board for all aspects of the military.
So, British mathematician Arthur Thomas Doodson got to work on perfecting old tide-predicting machines. In 1944, he announced the best time for the invasion to be between June 5th and 7th. The attack took place on June 6.
Landing Craft (Higgins Boats) Carried Men, Supplies, Weapons, And More
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With a sea-to-land invasion of such scale, getting troops, supplies, weapons, and vehicles onto the beach quickly was of utmost importance. So, thousands of landing crafts were designed to carry the thousands of soldiers and all necessary equipment across the English Channel and directly onto the beach. These ranged from crafts carrying groups of infantry to entire ships full of tanks and other vehicles.
Developed by inventor Andrew Higgins, the crafts were designed to pull up directly onto the beach which other watercraft would not have been capable of doing. Eisenhower credited these crafts with winning the war. Although these kinds of crafts were being developed and used at the beginning of the war, they had never been used in such force as they were on D-Day.
When harbors weren’t available, the Allies made their own.
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Horsa Gliders were designed in 1942 and played a key role in airborne assaults from D-Day until the end of World War II. The gliders were used to transport heavier equipment that could not be delivered using a parachute drop. The hinged nose and removable tail allowed for easy packing and unloading — a feature that was crucial during the D-Day invasion.
The only issue was that the gliders were not structurally sound. They were constructed mostly of wood and fabric, making them difficult to operate. Many of the gliders broke apart when landing, especially during improvised landing.
Hobart’s Funnies And Other AVREs Changed The Way Tanks Were Used
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Hobart’s Funnies were specialized vehicles that were designed to perform specific tasks. The Allies knew that in order to invade a beach, they were going to need armored vehicles that did more than just shoot bullets and rockets on land. Named after their inventor Major-General Sir Percy Hobart, they were heavily armored vehicles designed to reinforce the infantry on D-Day both in the water and the beach.
They ranged from swimming tanks known as “Crocodiles” with flamethrowers attached to AVRES (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers), which were tanks with specialized devices. One particular AVRE laid matting down on the beaches so other tanks could drive across with ease.
The Allies Created Their Own Harbors
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After D-Day, it was crucial that the Allies had a constant resupply of men and equipment into Normandy to keep the momentum of the invasion. From past military ventures, the Allies also knew the importance of securing harbors and ports to protect ships and equipment from rough seas, as well as easily ferry men and gear in and out.
So, when planning D-Day, the Allies came up with the idea to create their own artificial harbors called Mulberries. This was done by sinking old ships and concrete structures and adding floating roads and piers to emulate what actual harbors do and look like.
The Allies weren’t the only side to use new inventions during the invasion.
A Pipeline Under The Ocean Kept The Allies Fueled Throughout The Invasion
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The Pipeline Under the Ocean (PLUTO) was used to supply petrol from Britain to Europe through a series of underground flexible pipes. The petrol was used to fuel aircraft and other vehicles needed during the invasion, and to make sure that the whole thing didn’t come to a halt on account of running out of fuel. The pipes ran from the Isle of Wight to Port-en-Bessin, one of the connecting points between Omaha and Gold beaches.
After the invasion, another pipeline was added by the Allies during their advance across Europe. The pipeline was only three inches wide and was wound around in spools called conundrums, which were unspooled as the Allies moved forward.
The Germans Were Prepared With Their Own D-Day Defenses
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The Allies weren’t the only ones to invent equipment in preparation for D-Day. On the German side, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was put in charge of the defense of Normandy. He believed that an attack would take place during high tide, when the Allies would be under German fire for the least amount of time.
So, he designed a series of underwater obstacles called “hedgehogs” that would be unseen during high tide. They had the capability of ripping into the bottom of landing crafts, with many of them also fit with explosives. To stop gliders, Rommel implemented a series of large posts that blocked off open areas for landing known as “Rommel’s Asparagus.”
What’s more intimidating than a floating tank?
The D-Day Cricket Helped Paratroopers Communicate
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Although initially made as a childrens toy, the United States Army took the concept and tweaked it. They discovered that it could be a useful tool as a form of communication for the 101st US Airborne after dropping into France on D-Day. Paratroopers would be spread out far distances from one another, so communication was vital.
When you squeeze the two pieces of metal together, it makes a click-clack noise, so the airborne wouldn’t have to talk to communicate or find each other’s positions. Only the 101st Airborne Division was given this piece of equipment, and the crickets were only used after their first jump on June 6, 1944.
The DDs Were Floating Tanks
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Another invention designed for the invasion of Normandy was the DD Swimming tank. Since driving tanks straight off of a landing craft could be risky, the DD tanks helped to minimalize this danger. Designed by Hungarian inventor Nicholas Straussler, they were named DD for their “Duplex Drive” engines which powered tracks on land and propellers while in the water.
However, they were dangerous to ride in because they had a canvas screen which was supported by an air-filled frame of rubber tools which held it afloat while in the ocean. The screen could also be collapsed by soldiers once they reached land in order to expose the rest of the tank.
The Sherman Flail Tank
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The Sherman flail tank or “Crab” was a standard Sherman tank, however, on the front it was had a giant spinning drum. This drum would spin at more than 140 rpm with chains all around that would beat into the ground as it moved. The impact of the chains digging into the ground would detonate any mine under the tank up to nine feet deep.
Infantry and other tanks would follow behind the flail tank so they wouldn’t have to worry about setting off any mines. Not only did the tanks detonate mines but they also cut through barbed wire and other obstacles that got in their way.