This massive invasion force, opposed by German troops with clear fields of fire on heavily defended and mined beaches – was supported in no small measure by 3,300 Australians in the air, and on the sea at a time when the small nation was fighting for its existence against the Japanese half a world away.
The main Australian contribution was to the British Royal Air Force in the skies over the beaches. Australian aircrew also served in transport and glider-towing squadrons which delivered airborne troops on D-Day.
US Troops landing at Normandy.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons
This comprised of 2,800 members of the Royal Australian Air Force (many serving with the RAF). There were also 500 members of the Royal Australian Navy (serving on attachment to the Royal Navy) and about 13 officers of the Australian Imperial Force - who fought alongside their British brothers in arms.
A total of 14 Australians were killed on June 6th - two members of the Royal Australian Navy and 12 from Royal Australian Air Force.
But those casualties consider only those who specifically took part in the initial June 6th landings.
The total number of Australians involved in the wider Normandy campaign, which lasted until the end of August, is much higher. Our airmen served in well over 200 separate RAF squadrons.
By July 1, 1944, there were 14,000 Australian airmen in Britain; and as casualties mounted throughout the Normandy campaign, more and more of these men replaced the grotesquely heavy losses sustained in operational squadrons.
For example, of the 23 pilots with one Australian Spitfire squadron at the beginning of the invasion, 20 were no longer combat effective by the end of September. In fact, during this period a total of 57 pilots had passed through the squadron, replacing pilots killed, missing, wounded, captured or “operationally tired”.
The RAF’s Bomber Command faced an even uglier casualty rate – 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, a 44.4 per cent death rate. A further 8,403 men were wounded in action, and 9,838 became prisoners of war.
Losses for the Australians over Europe in both the RAF and RAAF were proportionally high, with almost 5,500 Australian airmen killed in the air war over Europe, around 20 per cent of whom were killed during the Normandy campaign in that bloody summer of 1944.
The period from June 1944, and the months encompassing the Normandy operations, represent the peak in RAAF losses for the entire war.
During the period of the Normandy campaign 1,117 Australians were killed and buried in cemeteries or listed on memorials across western Europe and Britain.
Lead Image: RAF Spitfire with D-Day Invasion Stripes.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons