• Handout photo of U.S. Army reinforcements marching up a hill past a German bunker after the D-Day landings near Colleville sur MerReuters
  • Handout photo of U.S. reinforcements landing on Omaha beach during the Normandy D-Day landings near Vierville sur MerReuters
  • Handout photo of U.S. Army troops making a battle plan near the D-Day landing zone of Utah Beach in Les Dunes de VarrevilleReuters
  • Handout photo of a crashed U.S. fighter plane on the waterfront on a Juno Beach D-Day landing zone in Saint-Aubin-sur-MerReuters
  • Canadian troops come ashore at a Juno Beach landing area on D-Day at Bernieres-sur Mer, France on June 6, 1944Reuters/Ken Bell/National Archives
  • Handout photo of U.S. Army paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division driving a captured German Kubelwagen on D-Day in CarentanReuters
  • Handout photo of a Cromwell tank leading a British Army column inland from Gold Beach after landing on D-Day in Ver-sur-MerReuters

The Imperial War Museum is releasing documents that detail the plans of British wartime military leader Gen Bernard Montgomery  to mark the 72nd anniversary of the operation to liberate occupied Europe. This is the first time that the documents are being released.

According to an article that appeared on the Telegraph, a handwritten note believed to have been drafted a month or two before the D-Day landings, shows Gen Bernard Montgomery's battle plan.

The plan labelled as "Most Secret" breaks down the armed forces into separate sections, lists the special armoured vehicles to be used by the first units ashore and notes "the key note of everything to be SIMPLICITY."

The museum has also released a handwritten first draft of Gen Montgomery's speech to the troops, which was read out by officers to their men just before the invasion.

His message, which he altered as he was writing it, ends: "Good luck to each one of you. And good hunting on the mainland of Europe."

Groundhog D-Day

Seventy two years have passed since the D-Day, the greatest military operation in history that forever altered the course of time.

There are several reasons for it to be dubbed the greatest operation of all time. The sheer enormity of death and destruction that followed the unprecedented mobilisation of military might is chief amongst them.

Although there is no official D-Day body count of soldiers who perished, an article that appeared in the Metro pegs the number to be higher than 425,000. 

Among the allies it is believed 209,000 died – nearly 37,000 of them ground troops and 16,714 air forces.

German losses can only be estimated but are believed to be around 200,000 killed and wounded. Another 200,000 (not included in the total casualty estimation of 425,000) were captured as prisoners of war.

Tip of the hat and wag of the finger

Q: The fighting on the Eastern Front was notorious for civilian casualties. Did this also happen during the battle for Normandy? A: There was not deliberate killing of civilians on the Western Front, unlike the east, but civilian casualties were still appalling. One has to face up to the fact that more French were killed in the war by Allied bombing and shelling than British civilians killed by the Luftwaffe and V-bombs. In the bombing beforehand over 15,000 civilians were killed and during the fighting in Normandy there were at least 20,000 French deaths, which is a huge number.

Antony Beevor talks to Rob Attar about the successes and failures of one of the greatest ever military operations.

But as the world renowned historian Antony Beevor poignantly and critically points out in his book D-Day, the civilian casualties experienced by France at the hand of their liberators is often easily overlooked.

In the first 24 hours of Operation Overlord alone, more than 3,000 French civilians were killed – more than double the number of American GIs who died on Omaha Beach.

Beevor does not mince words in an interview published on historyextra.com, while describing the successes and failures of the allied forces in their planning and execution of the liberation of France.

The book also contains brilliant quotes and anecdotes. There's the British officer telling his men on the eve of D-Day: "Don't worry if you do not survive the assault, as we have plenty of back-up troops who will just go in over you."

Or the paratrooper who heard his comrades, dropped too low for their parachutes to open, hitting the ground like "watermelons falling off the back of a truck."

Beevor also has fresh insights to offer when discussing the difference between American and German troops.

The German resolve stood strong despite fighting a losing battle, against overwhelming odds. German soldiers suffered far fewer cases of "psychoneurosis" than the Allies. Perhaps due to their totalitarian conditioning, they were more fanatical and self sacrificing in battle.

An article that appeared in the Wall Street journal sums it up nicely; American troops who admitted that they'd lost their nerve might get slapped around by "Old Blood and Guts" Patton, as one soldier infamously did in his hospital bed in 1943. "Yellow" soldiers under Hitler knew that they would be shot.

His book certainly transports you to the theatre of war. What must it have been like to parachute into occupied Normandy in the early hours before dawn on June 6, 1944?

 "The first Skytrains appeared, recalled one observer, silhouetted like groups of scudding bats. With flak hitting the planes 'like large hailstones on a tin roof', the paratroopers waded across floors made slippery by vomit and lined up to fling themselves down thousands of feet, sometimes through cloud and fog, carrying up to 100 pounds of weaponry, ammunition and supplies. Below was the certainty of murderous opposition – those whose chutes got caught in trees were often burned alive by flame-throwers – on a battlefield lit only by the moon and tracer-fire. What men they were."

Excerpt from the book D-Day written by Antony Beevor.

Q: Could the Allies have reasonably reduced the high number of civilian deaths? A: Yes I'm afraid I think they could. The British bombing of Caen [beginning on D-Day] in particular was stupid, counterproductive and above all very close to a war crime. There was an assumption I think that Caen must have been evacuated beforehand. Well that was wishful thinking on the part of the British. There were over 2,000 casualties there on the first two days and in a way it was miraculous that more people weren't killed in Caen when you think of the bombing, and the shelling which carried on for days afterwards. Here again there was a lack of thinking things through. If you are intending to capture Caen on the first day then you need to be able to penetrate its streets with your troops. Why then smash them to pieces? In fact, exactly as happened at Stalingrad, the bombing created terrain for the defender as well as being morally wrong. There have also been heavy accusations against the Americans in Normandy for their indiscriminate use of artillery. The Americans have always believed that you save lives by using massive artillery bombardments beforehand, and I'm certainly not saying they should have done the whole thing without artillery because Allied casualties would have been horrific. Yet there were occasions, as for example at Mortain [on 12 August], where the Americans destroyed the town in a fit of pique even as the Germans were retreating, simply because they had had such a bloody time there. That I think was deeply shocking.

- Antony Beevor talks to Rob Attar about the successes and failures of one of the greatest ever military operations.