June 6, 2014 will mark the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the massive landing of 175,000 Allied combat troops along the northern coast of France, which marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
In an age before television and 24/7 cable news, it was radio that provided the American public (and the world) with up-to-the-minute coverage of the events that occurred on that fateful day.
The following is a summary of what was reported over the NBC radio network while D-Day was unfolding in France. Bracketed annotations have been included to provide a better understanding of what was taking place on the invasion beaches as these programs were going out over the air, and to help clarify and expand upon what was being discussed. (Please note: all times will be given in Eastern War Time which was 6 hours behind the time on the invasion beaches.)
12:00 a.m. [Beginning at 6:00 a.m. local time, the invasion beaches are subjected to intensive naval and air bombardments that last 30 minutes.]
12:30 a.m. [The first waves of American troops begin landing at the beaches designated as Utah and Omaha. At Omaha Beach, the first wave of U.S. troops comes under heavy German fire.]
12:37 a.m. [Germany’s International shortwave radio service Trans-Ocean reports that "a grand scale amphibious landing" is taking place along the northern coast of France near the Normandy Peninsula. Monitored in London, this report is picked up by the Associated Press and is sent via teletype to the news rooms of the major radio networks. Although this report is unverified, NBC puts its "D-Day Plan" into effect by recalling its newsroom staff.]
1:00 a.m. [The first and second waves of British and Canadian troops land on their designated beaches Juno, Sword, and Gold. On Omaha Beach, the second wave of American assault troops land.
2:00 a.m. [On Omaha Beach, the further landing of U.S. forces is suspended because of the congestion caused when the first and second waves are unable to advance off of the beach due to heavy German fire. Allied destroyers close on the beach to provide fire support to the besieged troops. On Utah Beach, a traffic jam occurs as American engineering units work to created exits in the beach barriers and seawall. British and Canadian troops as well as French commandoes have already begun moving inland from their designated landing beaches.]
At approximately 2:00 a.m., NBC interrupts its regularly scheduled program with a bulletin saying that German radio is reporting that the D-Day invasion of Europe has begun with Allied troop landings along the northern coast of France. NBC continues to interrupt its programs with additional updates on what German radio is reporting: that the French Port of La Havre is being shelling, that airborne troops have landed near the mouth of Seine River, and that German naval craft are battling Allied landing craft off the northern coast of France. NBC’s bulletins emphasize that these are German reports and that there has been no official confirmation that the invasion has begun. The War Department has stated that it has no information on the reports being broadcast by German radio. From Washington, Richard Harkness comments that the German broadcasts might be (1) attempts to fish for information, (2) reporting one of the feints, dress rehearsals or false rumors that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said would proceed the actual invasion, or (3) reporting the actual invasion. Elmer Davis, the head of the Office of War Information (OWI) has told reporters that, "We have no more information than you do." It has been learned that the BBC had broadcast a warning to the people of Holland to leave the coastal regions and move inland. Morgan Beatty speculates as whether or not this is "the real thing." NBC announces that it will keep its network open throughout the night to continue providing news coverage "of this important but still unconfirmed event." From London comes a bulletin that Londoners were awakened in the early morning hours by the largest flight of aircraft ever to take to the air. From New York, Robert St. John comments that, for weeks, the French underground had been warned to stand by for the invasion. A large armada of Allied ships had been gathering in British ports, and large amounts of equipment had been stockpiled in Southern England. An announcement is made that the NBC Network, which usually closes at 3:00 a.m. EWT, will remain open throughout the night, providing the latest invasion news bulletins to its 146 affiliated stations.
3:00 a.m. [On Omaha Beach, American troops have begun slowly advancing off of the beach and up the bluffs. At Pointe du Hoc, American Rangers have completed the destruction of five heavy guns that had threatened Utah Beach. Canadian and British troops continue to advance inland and have begun to subdue the towns of Courseulles and Bernieres.]
It has been learned that the BBC broadcast a warning to the people of France that "a new phase" in the air offensive has begun, and that people living along the coast should move inland, keeping away from roads, bridges and railroads. Paris radio [which was controlled by the Germans] has been silent about the invasion. German radio has reported heavy fighting on the Normandy peninsula. Robert St. John comments that, "we might be approaching a fateful hour."
3:32 a.m. NBC switches to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in London for the reading of Communiqué #1, a brief statement confirming that, under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France. Robert St. John comments that this is the invasion of Hitler’s Europe -- the European front – and that casualties may reach a dreadful toll. Military leaders have promised victory in Europe in 1944. [The war in Europe would not end until May 9, 1945.] Airpower paved the way. Via shortwave from London, Edward R. Murrow [in what must have been a pool broadcast since Murrow worked for CBS] reads General Eisenhower’s Order of the Day that was read to all Allied troops before the invasion began. [Eisenhower was supreme commander of the European invasion force.] H.V. Kaltenborn comments on Communiqué #1 and on Eisenhower’s order of the day. He is cut short for the reading of a report, written by Herbert Clark onboard one of the Allied flagships prior to the armada getting underway for the invasion coast the night before. Clark comments that he no longer finds "tight security" an inconvenience since it helped to protect the armada before it got underway. Robert St. John reports that British General Montgomery is in command of the Allied army assault group, which is believed to be made up of almost 70% American troops.
3:45 a.m. London via shortwave (with static): Eisenhower addresses the people of Western Europe to inform them of the invasion. It is announced the General Charles de Gaulle has landed in England and will make a radio address to France later in the day. King Haakon VII of Norway gives a radio address in Norwegian to the people of Norway (followed by an English translation.) Communiqué #1 is re-read. Premier Gerbandy of the Netherlands speaks in Dutch (followed by an English translation.) Premier Pierdot of Belgium speaks to the people of Belgium. This is interrupted by a bulletin picked up from German radio announcing that fighting is taking place 10 miles inland from the invasion beaches. [This fighting undoubtedly involved the airborne forces that had parachuted into France in the early morning hours and prior to the start of the amphibious assault.] Wright Bryant (doing a pool report for the Combined Allied Networks) describes riding onboard one of the transport planes that delivered airborne troops to France. This is followed by the playing of the National Anthem.
4:00 a.m. [On Omaha Beach, the order is given to resume landings. This cannot be carried out immediately because of congestion in the sea lanes approaching the beach. British tank forces begin advancing on the French town of Caen, which is a key railroad junction. On Utah Beach, U.S. troops continue to move inland despite congestion at key exit points.]
Station identification: WEAF, New York. H.V. Kaltenborn comments on the German announcement that fighting is going on 10 miles inland, and on Wright Bryant’s report. From London, John Vandercook, [in a pool report that also aired on CBS] gives a stirring account of the facts that are known so far. From the Pentagon, a message from General Pershing [who led American troops in France during World War I] is read. An unidentified commentator describes how news of the invasion was first released to those reporters inside the Pentagon. From NBC Washington, Richard Harkness summarizes the information about the invasion that has just been released by the War Department.
4:45 a.m. (approximately): from London, a reporter who flew onboard a B-26 Marauder aircraft during the pre-invasion bombing provides an eyewitness account of what he saw: hundreds of Allied planes in the air; parachutes in the fields where airborne troops had landed during the night; German tanks moving up roads towards the beach front; and the bombing of the landing beaches. Robert St. John repeats German radio bulletins reporting that heavy fighting is going on 10 miles inland. German radio has also reported that, during the night, dummy parachutists were dropped by the Allies to cause confusion. From Washington, Richard Harkness summarizes the official report just issued by the War Department and which describes how the invasion operation was carried out. By the second day, field kitchens will be in operation and Allied troops in France will have hot meals. Although German radio had the first news of the invasion, the only reliable source for information is Allied headquarters. President Roosevelt, who undoubtedly knew that the invasion was going to take place, retired early last night. [In fact, FDR stayed up all night "behind blackout curtains" in order to the follow the progress of the invasion via bulletins sent to him from Eisenhower’s headquarters in England.] Morgan Beatty: a German counter-attack is expected within 72 hours. The invasion area is ideally suited for naval support. Richard Harkness interviews an official from the French Government in exile [who speaks with a heavy accent that is hard to understand.] He tells of what it was like in France under German occupation in the years leading up to the invasion. The French underground will be helping the Allies. From London, David Anderson who was at a Royal Air Force base prior to the start of the invasion, describes RAF planes taking off for France prior to the paratroopers leaving. [This was undoubtedly one of the airborne deception operations conducted by the RAF as soon as dusk had fallen on June 5th. Lancaster bombers dropped strips of aluminum foil to confuse German radar operators into believing that a convoy was approaching Pas-de-Calais. Other RAF aircraft dropped dummy parachutes to make the Germans believe that airborne landings were taking place well to the south of the actual drop zones.] Allied planes have now been repainted with blue and white stripes so that Allied ships can easily identify them. Midget submarines were used to mark the approaches to the invasion beaches. H.V. Kaltenborn summarizes events of the last three hours. (During this summary, Communiqué #1 is replayed.) The NBC Orchestra plays The Stars and Stripes Forever.
5:30 a.m. WEAF station identification. Robert St. John: observation planes returning from France report that the invasion beaches are alive with Allied troops. There is little movement on the roads and no German aircraft were observed. German radio has reported that several German airfields have been destroyed. From Washington, Richard Harkness describes in some detail the pre-invasion diplomacy that took place between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin as to when the Allies would invade Western Europe to create a "second front" that would draw German troops away from Russia. Stalin had wanted a second front as early as 1942, but Churchill had held out for 1944, until after Africa and Italy had been invaded and an adequate number of troops had been trained and assembled in England, along with the necessary equipment needed for the "largest amphibious assault the world has ever seen." Stalin was told late in 1943 that Eisenhower would lead the invasion. There has been no agreement with Russia on how post-war Germany will be dealt with.
6:00 a.m. [At Omaha Beach, American forces move inland and assault the village of Coleville. At Utah Beach, U.S. Troops move off the beach and link up with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, who had landed during the early morning hours. At Juno Beach, Canadian forces penetrate more than a mile inland, and capture key bridges over the Seulles River.]
NBC News York: Don Goddard summarizes the events that are known so far. This summary includes the playing of Communiqué #1. From London, Ed Harker’s eyewitness account of the amphibious landing has to be terminated "because of poor signal." Don Goddard gives a time line of the events that have occurred so far and quotes from a report sent by Richard C. Hottelet [which must have been a pool report since Hottelet worked for CBS.] Goddard comments that most of the invasion news has come from German radio and has not been official confirmed. He also quotes from General Pershing’s statement released in Washington earlier that morning. From NBC Hollywood, Louie P. Lockner a noted European correspondent describes the German "Atlantic Wall" fortifications along the northern coast of France, which he had visited prior to the U.S. entering the war. He remarks that, throughout history, any military fortification can be taken if the attackers are willing to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers. The timing of the attack apparently caught the Germans by surprise. [When the invasion began, Field-Marshal von Rundstedt was at his headquarters in Paris and Field-Marshal Rommel was in Germany, celebrating his wife’s birthday. In addition, many other key German officers were away in Rhiems, attending a mapping exercise.] The Allies’ formidable air support is contributing to the success of the invasion. From NBC Washington, Morgan Beatty comments that NBC has already provided about 5 hours worth of invasion coverage. He then discusses "the first thousand yards," the most critical part of any amphibious assault. He also describes the various phases of preparing for and then carrying out an amphibious landing. Lessons learned from previous invasions are being put to use today. He is interrupted by a bulletin from London: Prime Minister Churchill has informed the House of Commons of the invasion. From NBC in New York there is a summary of invasion news as well as war news from Italy, Russia, the Pacific, and Washington, D.C. Robert St. John describes how news of the invasion was first received at NBC’s New York newsroom via teletype at 12:37 a.m. Although the initial invasion reports came from German radio and had not been officially confirmed, NBC broadcast its first news bulletin and put its "D-Day Plan" into effect by recalling its news room staff. With the BBC broadcasts to Holland and France, everyone began to suspect that the invasion was actually taking place. It was only after three hours of waiting, that the invasion was officially confirmed by Allied Headquarters in London. NBC reporters covering the war wear the uniform of U.S. troops and share many of their risks. From Chicago, Alex Dryer (the last U.S. reporter to leave Germany in December, 1941 and only hours before the Pearl Harbor attack, briefly summarizes the war in Europe from 1940 to 1941. Now, the fall of Paris seems imminent. [Paris was liberated on August 25th.] In the proceeding months, NBC had perfected its plan for covering D-Day. NBC monitors are listening radio broadcasts from neutral and enemy countries for the latest news. H.V. Kaltenborn (introduced as "the dean of American news analysts") comments on Churchill’s remarks to the House of Commons when he first informed them of the invasion and said that, "Tactical surprise was attained." The invasion came when German morale was at a low point because of the fall of Rome the previous day. An announcer describes the NBC newsroom as "the crossroads of the news." In a live broadcast from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell is heard as it is rung by striking it 6 times. Robert St. John reports that Moscow Radio has informed the Russian people of the invasion. Planning and preparing for the invasion took four years. A brief biography of British General Montgomery is given. Ike has promised "victory in 1944."
07:30 a.m. WEAF station identification. Dr. Norman Vicent Peale reads a prayer for the success of the "forces of freedom." Don Goddard summarizes "the facts as we know them so far." [Since no specific information about where the invasion had taken place had been released by Allied Headquarters, reporters, commentators and news analysts were still relying heavily on the reports that had been broadcast by German radio.] Photo-reconnaissance shows that beachheads have been established and that Allied troops are moving inland. Special church services are being held across the nation. Rabbi Poole reads a prayer for the success of the invasion. From Washington, Morgan Beatty quotes from Churchill’s remarks to the House of Commons. Avoiding the German underwater obstacles while approaching the beaches had not been as difficult as expected. Beatty also tells of a young private in Britain who custom-fabricated a special gun mount for the nose of a Flying Fortress using pieces of scrap metal. This gun mount is now in general use and the private received the Legion of Merit for his contribution. From San Francisco, Larry Smith tells how news of the invasion was received in San Francisco. From New York, Father Shea reads a prayer for the success of the invasion.
8:00 a.m. [At Omaha Beach, German gun positions have gradually been subdued and new waves of landing craft are unloading more men onto the beach. At Juno Beach, Canadian troops are moving south towards the town of Reviers.]
From London, several unsuccessful attempts are made by Edward R. Murrow to reach Stanley Richardson, who was an eyewitness to the invasion fleet approaching the coast of France. From New York, Elmer Peterson reports that German radio has claimed that Allied troops have landed on the channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey. 640 Allied naval guns ranging in size from 4" to 16" in size help to cover the landings. Paris radio has reported that the battle is "gaining depth." In accordance with a pre-arranged plan, blood donors in England are reporting to give blood to help meet the needs of the invasion. There is speculation as to whether or not the Germans will launch some sort of airborne counter-attack on Britain. From New York, Charles McCarthy provides a recap of what is known so far, adding that the beachheads have been secured. In a pool broadcast from the Advanced Allied Command Post, Stanley Richardson gives an eyewitness account of naval activity leading up to the opening phase of the invasion. (The PT torpedo boat in which he was a passenger had to return to England before the bombardment began.) Richardson turns the microphone over to Merrill Muller, who reports that General Eisenhower spent part of the eve of the invasion visiting with airborne troops and briefing reporters. [The Richardson and Muller broadcasts were pool reports that also aired on CBS.]
9:00 a.m. [At Pointe de Hoc, U.S. Rangers have assumed defensive positions and are awaiting reinforcement. The British advance towards Caen is stalled by heavy German resistance. Hitler has finally agreed to release the SS Panzer divisions that he had been holding in reserve.]
From New York, Don Goddard reads the prayer that President Roosevelt will broadcast to the nation at 10:00 p.m. Paris radio has reported that "compact masses" of Allied planes are bombing Calais, and that the invasion beachhead is expanding. Secretary of War Stimpson has told reporters that the invasion "is going very nicely." German radio is not providing the German people with the same detailed invasion news coverage that its foreign news service is reporting. Stalin sent Churchill a message of congratulations on the invasion. From London, David Anderson reports that midget submarines put out the markers that guided the landing craft in to the invasion beaches. Ed Haaker gives a first hand account of flying onboard a B-26 Marauder that bombed the invasion beaches prior to the amphibious landings. In a recorded report from Rome, Ralph Howard tells how news of the invasion was received there. H.V. Kaltenborn summarizes what is known about the invasion so far. Heavy fighting is going on around the city of Caen. From Washington, Richard Harkness describes the attitude inside the nation’s capital as "confident." Army Chief of Staff George Marshall had been a guest at the Russian Embassy the previous evening, but had left early. At their request, NBC contacted a number of prominent figures in Washington to inform them that news of the invasion had been received. In other Washington News, the Army has threatened to seize control of Montgomery-Ward. [The well-known retailer and manufacturer had supplied the Allies with items deemed as important to the war effort: tractors, auto parts, workmen's clothing, etc. However, Montgomery Ward Chairman Sewell Avery refused to comply with the terms of three different collective bargaining agreements with the United Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The seizure occurred on December 27, 1944.] From New York, Robert St. John quotes from the latest German news bulletins picked up in London. Allied observation planes report that landings on the invasion beaches are now being made with no opposition. Paris Radio has reported that the Allies’ primary objective seems to be the capture of the port of Cherbourg. [Cherbourg fell to the Allies on June 29th.]
9:32 a.m. Don Goddard announces that it has been exactly six hours since official confirmation of the invasion was received from Eisenhower’s headquarters. Since that time, NBC has been providing uninterrupted news coverage with no commercial announcements. NBC reporters are covering every possible phase of the operation. The NBC Orchestra provides an interlude of popular music of a martial nature. H.V.Kaltenborn interrupts with an announcement monitored from Radio Berlin that Allied bridgeheads have been established and that tank battles are taking place. The musical interlude is resumed. From New York, Elmer Peterson passes along a German bulletin that admits that the invasion is "a large scale operation" and that paratroopers have been dropped behind German lines on the Cherbourg peninsula. Peterson comments that the French underground is probably helping the paratroopers to disrupt German military communications. Now that beachheads have been secured, support units can start moving across the English Channel. Peterson reminds listeners that most of the invasion news has come from the Germans, since Allied leaders are being cautious about releasing information. Additional news might also come from neutral countries. Several Sousa marches are played by the NBC Orchestra.
10:00 a.m. [At Omaha Beach, German resistance in Coleville is subdued. At Sword Beach, British forces moving inland encounter the German 21st Panzer Division and a pitched battle begins.]
Nancy Osgood reads a message from General Eisenhower’s wife and then interviews the wives of key military figures: Admiral Stark, General Spaatz, Admiral Kirk and General Doolittle. [Some of the wives sound like they are reading from scripts.] Don Goddard reports on how various cities around the world reacted to news of the invasion. H.V. Kaltenborn comments that the Allies have control of the sea and the air and that the invasion, according to Winston Churchill, "is going according to plan, and what a plan." The Germans were obviously surprised that the invasion occurred at the widest point of the English Channel where they least expected it. As a result, the beaches there were not as heavily fortified. Once the Allies get control of the airfields in France, they can use them to launch air attacks against the Germans. Airfields could also be built on the Channel Islands. Midget submarines were among the "secret weapons" used in the invasion. Lessons learned from previous invasions were put to good use. In Washington, President Roosevelt has summoned the U.S. military’s high command [Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King and Commanding General of the Army Air Corps General Henry "Hap" Arnold] to the White House for a conference. There are still many men and supplies being held in reserve in England to use against the Germans.
11:15 a.m. NBC resumes its regularly schedule programming with Tommy Taylor Sings, which is immediately interrupted to inform listeners that programs will be interrupted with the latest bulletins as they are received. Tommy Taylor Sings is rejoined in progress. H.V. Kaltenborn interrupts to announce that a general Russian offensive along the Eastern Front can be expected within 48 hours. The Germans have already launched a preemptive counter-offensive there. Tommy Taylor Sings is rejoined in progress.
11:30 a.m. Elmer Peterson quotes from the U.S. Armed Forces newspaper Stars & Stripesthat the Germans fear additional landings. [The Germans were still not convinced that this was the main invasion.] Prior to the start of amphibious landings, 50,000 tons of bombs were dropped on German fortifications in the invasion area. [It was later learned that most of these bombs failed to hit their intended targets.] Berlin radio has admitted that Allied tanks have already advanced inland several miles. The Russian people were elated when told of the invasion. Now that a second front has been established, a new Russian offensive is expected shortly. [The Russian offensive from the East began on June 22, 1944.] A German counter-attack is not expected for a week. General de Gaulle has arrived in England and will speak to the people of France via radio. General Eisenhower’s radio message to the people of Western Europe is replayed. Don Reed and the NBC Orchestra are heard in a program of popular music. A prayer is read by a Mr. Davidson.
12:00 p.m. From New York, Don Goddard reports that the Allies appear to be expanding their beachhead. Swedish radio has reported that the invasion took place at 12 points. Observation planes flying over the invasion area report that troops are "beyond the initial danger zone." Casualties are reported as relatively light. [It would be years before the American public was told the truth about the number of battle casualties on D-Day. While the exact total will never be known for certain, it is estimated that some 4,414 Allied soldiers were killed that day, with many more wounded.] Some German fighter planes have started to appear. It has been reported that Hitler is rushing to France to take charge of the German counter-offensive. German troops in Italy are "bewildered" by news of the invasion. From London, W.W. Chaplain reports on the first SHAEF press conference, where it was revealed that the invasion had originally been scheduled for June 5th, but had to delayed 24 hours because of the weather. News Behind the News with Cesar Saerchinger: German opposition was less than expected. A time line of important war-related events that have occurred since Peal Harbor is given. A false announcement of the invasion went out last Saturday on the anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation. SHAEF has still not been specific as to where along the French coast the invasion has occurred. The Norwegian underground has been told to wait for orders. There are still questions about the role being played in the invasion by the French underground and by General de Gaulle.
12:30 p.m. From the Senate Gallery in Washington, Morgan Beatty interviews Senators Clark, Barkley, White and Hill, and Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce. SHAEF has reported that the troops that went ashore in France are "over the first five or six hurtles." German Air Marshal Hermann Goering has said that, "This invasion must be fought off, even if it means the death of the Luftwaffe." In New York, Don Goddard reports that Churchill has appeared before the House of Commons a second time and has told them that Allied troops are now several miles inland. German Field Marshal Rommel is believed to be in command of the German forces in Normandy.
1:00 p.m. [At Omaha Beach, engineers are clearing a path for vehicles through the Coleville Draw. At Gold Beach, British troops have advanced to the outskirts of Bayeaux. At Sword Beach, the German 21st Panzer Division is forced to withdraw for lack of reinforcements.]
Reports are heard from Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Hollywood and San Francisco on how news of the invasion was received locally. Don Goddard tells how New York City reacted to news of the invasion. New York racetracks will be closed today. H.V. Kaltenborn quotes from the Stars & Stripes that 50,000 paratroopers were landed in France. The best source for invasion news so far has been the Germans. When leaving the White House after meeting with President Roosevelt, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral King said that, "The invasion is doing all right so far." Military analyst Lt. Col. James Stevenson provides some insightful comments on the situation: the Allies must gain control of French docks and harbors in order to bring in needed supplies. The French terrain will hinder the Germans when they begin to fall back. A quick move towards Paris might be made for its psychological effect. [Paris would be liberated on August 25th.] A transcription of Merrill Muller’s report on how General Eisenhower spent the eve of the invasion is replayed. Communiqué #1 is replayed. Tommy Tailor Sings with Irving Miller & and his orchestra.
1:30 p.m. WEAF Station ID. Don Hollenbeck (who had covered the Italian landings) describes the two important lessons learned from previous amphibious landings: 1) Air Support is needed to protect the troops from enemy planes, and 2) Sea Power (battleships) are needed to bombard enemy artillery positions. After a failed attempt to reach London, Hollenbeck comments on Churchill’s second statement to the House of Commons (which occurred after Churchill and King George had visited Eisenhower at his headquarters.) Hollenbeck reads a report he originally broadcast from London a year ago today, during which he had predicted that the invasion of Europe would be a success because "now we are ready." From London, the speech General Montgomery broadcast to the invasion troops is played. Don Hollenbeck mentions Joan Ellis, the British teletype operator who had sent out a false report the invasion the previous Saturday. From Washington, Morgan Beatty reports that Eisenhower’s headquarters is reflecting "a mood of optimism." Beatty discusses why the invasion caught the Germans by surprise. Although they had been expecting it, they had no way of knowing where the invasion would occur and when it would occur. [The bad weather, which had delayed the invasion by 24-hours, was also a factor, since the Germans didn’t think the Allies would attempt a landing under such conditions.] The German coastal defenses in the area of Normandy were not as strong as at other points along the French coast. [Other important considerations for landing at Normandy included capturing the important Paris-to-Cherbourg rail junction of Caen, and establishing a secure staging area that was in close proximity to Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr basin.] Beatty interviews two Army officers who were in England to observe the training of the U.S. troops that participated in the invasion. Initial training took place in the U.S., followed by highly realistic training in England. The officers also explain how concrete fortifications are destroyed prior to the troops landing. The main German counter-attack will not occur for at least a week and until they are certain of the Allies’ objectives. Because of previous landings in Africa, Sicily and Italy, our troops have the most experience in making amphibious landings. Beatty tells of a British girl who lost both arms in the Blitz and who is now working as a telephone operator. He also says that the Pittsburgh Symphony has hired 16 women musicians to replace men called up for service. He tells of a young boy who raised money to buy model airplane kits to send to wounded soldiers. He also tells of a woman who was killed in an explosion while conducting important experiments for the Bureau of Standards. Those experiments are now contributing to the war effort.
2: 00 p.m. Elmer Peterson recounts major events leading up to the invasion, beginning with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, when France and Britain were unprepared. News of the invasion is bound to affect the German people, who still have memories of losing World War I. They will want Germany to surrender before Allies troops are on German soil and German cities are destroyed. There is still no accord among the Allies on when and how to accept Germany’s surrender. German radio has just announced new Allied landings.
2:15 p.m. Piano fill followed by a replaying of Stanley Richardson’s eyewitness account of the seeing the invasion armada off the coast of Normandy prior to the start of the bombardment. From New York, Don Goddard reads the latest news bulletins. Only 50 German planes have been sighted so far. It is announced that NBC has cleared its regular schedule of programs in order to bring the latest invasion news as it is received.
2:30 p.m. Time check and station identification: WEAF, New York. Archbishop [later Cardinal] Spellman of New York delivers a prayer. Organ music. H.V. Kaltenborn announced that bulldozers are being used to construct airfields right on the invasion beaches. [Kaltenborn might have been confused by reports of engineers using bulldozers to clear a path for vehicles at Omaha Beach.]
2:45 p.m. A time check from London announces that it is 8:45 p.m. An attempt to contact Merrill Mueller is unsuccessful. H.V. Kaltenborn gives some German radio reports that describe one of the Allied beachheads as being "16 ½ miles wide by several miles inland." [The landings took place over an area approximately 60 miles in width.] Control of the Normandy Peninsula seems to be the Allies’ objective. The Germans had not expected an attack at that point. So far, only the first invasion wave has landed. Additional waves will follow. Normandy might only be a minor invasion with additional and larger landings yet to come. As was the case in Italy, harbors destroyed by the retreating Germans will be rebuilt quickly. Several key bridges have been captured before the Germans could destroy them. After another attempt to contact Merrill Mueller in London is unsuccessful, Kaltenborn describes the scene in the NBC newsroom, with the engineers attempting to monitor and then switch to broadcasts from London.
3:00 p.m. [At Omaha Beach, the sight of 100 British gliders arriving at Landing Zone W, west of the Orne River causes panic among the troops of the German 21st Panzer Division. At Juno Beach, Canadian troops moving towards Caen are halted by stiff German resistance.]
Although it had been announced earlier that King George VI’s radio address to the British people would be heard at 3:00 p.m. EWT, NBC does not air it. Don Goddard gives a brief summary of national and international news. This is followed by a medley of marches. Bishop Manning of New York leads a prayer. French radio has reported that the Allied beachhead has widened and that more troops are "pouring in." From London, BBC reporter John McGinn gives an eyewitness account of flying onboard one of the aircraft that towed a glider to the invasion area. BBC reporter Howard Marshall describes riding in to the invasion beach on a "command barge" in rough seas and while under fire. Just as he is telling how the barge was damaged by a mine, his report is cut short. In New York, Don Goddard explains that radio news reports are subject to censorship. It has been learned that the Germans have told French citizens living in the area of the invasion that they are not allowed to leave the area and must stay indoors after dark under penalty of being shot.
At this point, a 30-minute gap, extending from 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., is missing from surviving recordings of NBC’s broadcast day for June 6, 1944
4:00 p.m. [At Omaha Beach, engineers continue clearing a vehicle route through the Coleville draw. At Gold Beach, British troops stop short of Caen and dig in for the night.].
Dr. Barnes reads a prayer prepared by the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is a discussion of NBC’s international short-wave service to Europe, which broadcasts in 8 languages. Eisenhower’s radio address to the people of Western Europe is given in 8 languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Portuguese, Swedish, German, and English. NBC monitors in San Francisco report that Tokyo Radio has left the air suddenly. The clandestine anti-Nazi radio station Radio Atlantic (with a transmitter reportedly inside Germany) has reported that a secret message has been sent to that guards at German slave labor facilities using foreign workers to be on the alert for weapons being dropped to these workers by air. From London, Commander Anthony Kimmons of the Royal Navy, who was an official observer of the landings, describes the embarkation of the invasion fleet from England, the bombardment of the French coast, mine sweepers removing the mines, the blowing up of underwater obstructions, assault craft unloading on the beach, supplies being moved in, etc. From Washington, the Netherlands’ Ambassador to the United States speaks to the American people. Cesar Saerchinger announces that SHAEF will be issuing Communiqué #2 at 5:30 p.m. He also describes the important French cities located in the area where the invasion is taking place.
4:30 p.m. Station identification: WEAS, New York. Don Hollenbeck quotes from a German broadcast that reports Allied troops "pouring ashore." The Germans also say that "war painted American Indians" were among the Allied airborne forces that landed in France. From the White House, Morgan Beatty discusses President Roosevelt’s press conference where he said that the invasion was "up to schedule" and that news from the front is "favorable." The invasion date was determined by the fact that June is the time for "small boat weather" in the English Channel. [This did not prove to be the case in 1944. Originally scheduled for June 5th, the invasion had to be postponed 24 hours because of bad weather. Then, on June 19th, the worst storm in 50 years hit the English Channel, sinking, beaching, or seriously damaging 800 Allied ships. Ironically, June 19th was to have been the "fall back" day for the invasion, had it not occurred on June 6th. Normandy didn’t experience its first "small boat weather" until June 25th!] The President also warned against over confidence. Don Hollenbeck provides a summary of the latest news. Don Goddard reads "at dictation speed" the prayer that President Roosevelt will deliver nationwide at 10:00 p.m. that evening. German radio has announced that "compact masses" of Allied planes bombed Calais and Allied paratroopers have also landed there. [As part of the plan to mislead the Germans into thinking that a second and even larger invasion was coming, bombings occurred up and down the French coast.] German troops in Denmark are reported to be on "invasion alert."
5:00 p.m. [As June 6th draws to a close in France, 175,000 Allied troops have already come ashore and are assuming defensive positions for the night. The Germans are consolidating their forces in the city of Caen.]
A prayer is read by Dr. Horton. A second communiqué from General Eisenhower’s headquarters is due soon. The NBC Orchestra performs two movements from Saint-Saens’ Suite Algerienne. From Washington, Morgan Beatty provides a brief recap what was discussed at President Roosevelt’s press conference. The President stayed up all night behind blackout curtains to follow the progress of the invasion via reports sent to him by Eisenhower’s headquarters. Few people knew of the timing of D-Day, which had been set for May or early June. From Hollywood, Lewis Lockner provides an analysis of reports that Hitler has moved his headquarters to France and that he is taking charge of German efforts to push back the invasion. Lockner interprets this as a sign that the German High Command knows that the war is lost and wants Hitler to appear to be the scapegoat for German defeat. [On July 20th, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made against Hitler’s life in a plot that allegedly involved 50 German Army generals.] NBC New York reports that four U.S. heavy bombers are missing. German Radio was off the air for 48 minutes. A new cabinet is to formed in Italy. Tokyo held an emergency air raid drill today.
5:30 p.m. Listeners are told to stand by for an important bulletin from London. It is announced that a transcription of Stanley Richard’s eyewitness account of the invasion is to be replayed. Instead Eisenhower’s radio address to the people of Western Europe is replayed. Elmer Peterson explains that official communiqués are worded very carefully. Most of the news so far has come from German radio. This invasion might not be the main thrust. It has been reported that Prime Minister Churchill will be giving the House of Commons daily updates on the invasion. The NBC Orchestra provides a musical interlude that includes a medley of Civil War-era songs and Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. Don Hollenbeck reports that the two German commanders in France areField-Marshal von Rundstedt and Field-Marshal Rommel. German radio has reported increased Allied activity at Calais and Dunkirk.
Rommel had predicted that if the Allied invasion wasn’t defeated on the beaches within the first 24 hours, a strategic advantage would be gained that would alter the outcome of the war. In the days following June 6th, tens of thousands of additional Allied soldiers flooded into Normandy along with seemingly unlimited quantities of tanks, trucks, jeeps, aircraft, ammunition, food, medical supplies, communications equipment, gasoline, and other materiel needed to fight a war. Cherbourg fell to American troops on June 27th, providing a deepwater port that increased the Allies’ capacity for landing even more troops and equipment in France. Paris was liberated on August 25th. Less than a year later, on April 30, 1945, with Germany’s major cities in ruins and the Allies closing in on his Berlin bunker, Hitler committed suicide. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7th and all hostilities in Europe officially came to an end on May 9th.
The complete NBC June 6, 1944 broadcast day (available inexpensively in the MP3 format) provides a unique opportunity to relive one of the most profound events of the 20th Century as it was taking place. Some 70 years after they aired, the news reports, commentaries, and eye witness accounts still have the power to convey a sense of the here and now, while providing many fine examples of radio news reporting at its finest. Whether you’re a military buff, a fan of "golden age" radio, or just curious about how a major event was covered back before television and 24/7 cable news, the NBC June 6, 1944 broadcast day will provide a listening experience that is as memorable as anything you are ever likely to encounter on radio.
Those interested in learning more about the history of D-Day should read Stephen E. Ambrose’s D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, which provides one of the best over-all accounts of "the Longest Day."
Eric Beheim is a life-long radio enthusiast. A former commanding officer of a Naval Reserve Combat Camera unit based in San Diego.
Eric Beheim leads a multi-faceted career as a free-lance writer, professional musician, and owner of his own music and sound project studio.
Born in the first wave of "baby boomers" he grew up with radio and remains a life-long radio enthusiast. His particular interests are collecting news and commentary programs from the late 1930s and early 1940s (including World War II news), and programs that feature performances of operettas and musical theater presentations.