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Remembering D-Day: When Innovation Meant Survival

75 years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, demonstrating immeasurable courage, selflessness and ingenuity to perform the largest amphibious (land and water) invasion in the history of the world. During World War II, perhaps more than at any other time before or since, innovation was necessary for survival.

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we honor the stories of world-changing innovators like NIHF Inductee Andrew Higgins, inventor of the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) or Higgins Boat, which landed our troops at Normandy. As President Eisenhower later explained, “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

With this blog, which will be continued next week, NIHF invites you to join us in remembering the sacrifices and the advances associated with D-Day.

Operation Overlord

The invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, or Operation Overlord, brought together Allied land, air and sea forces — the largest invasion force in human history. 

On D-Day, the first day of the invasion, five infantry divisions two American, two British and one Canadian — would land on beaches code-named UtahOmahaGoldJuno and Sword.

Years of meticulous planning and training had been devoted to this operation, and the global stakes were made clear in Eisenhower’s message to the Allied Expeditionary Forces ahead of the invasion:

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

The Landings

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion as 160,000 Allied troops landed along 50 miles of heavily fortified coastline.

In phase one of the invasion, paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines. Phase two brought waves of bombers, and in phase three, troops crossed the English Channel to reach the coast of Normandy. Each soldier in this operation understood that the odds were stacked against them.

"Half of us were going to be killed. They told us that. But everybody went anyway," remembered 2nd Lt. Earl Howard Clements. “They didn’t hesitate a minute. And neither did I.”

It is impossible for most of us to comprehend what American, British and Canadian troops experienced on D-Day. At heavily mined Omaha Beach in particular, American soldiers faced the broadest and deepest beach, with more than 100 yards of pebbles, sand dunes, thick undergrowth and barbed wire leading toward imposing bluffs that were fortified by German soldiers.

Army Pvt. Arnald Gabriel, a machine gunner with the 29th Infantry Division, recalled the scene at Omaha Beach: "With the Air Force overhead, the Navy shelling [enemy positions], the enemy firing at you and we're firing at them, it was just total chaos," he said.

According to most estimates, there were more than 10,000 Allied casualties on D-Day, with more than 4,000 Allied soldiers having lost their lives. Through this sacrifice, our forces had moved closer to victory. By June 30, more than 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles and 570,000 tons of supplies had landed on the Normandy shores in the effort to liberate Europe.

The Necessity of Innovation

75 years after D-Day, we reflect on the valor of Allied troops and recognize the role of visionary innovators who helped make victory possible.

Innovation was essential to the survival of our soldiers in the air, on the land and on the sea. From vehicles to weaponry to medical advances, invention fueled the war effort. Without innovations such as the LCVPs that brought our troops ashore on D-Day, the outcome of WWII and society as we know it today could have been vastly different.

We invite you to visit the NIHF Museum, at the United States Patent and Trademark Office headquarters, where an LCVP is currently on display. To learn more about NIHF Inductee Andrew Higgins and his iconic landing craft, look for a continuation of this blog to arrive on the NIHF website next week.

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