June 6th, 1944. D-Day. 73 years ago today, the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the largest naval invasion the world has ever seen, in an attempt to grab a foothold in German-occupied France. At great cost, the Allies secured a massive victory.
Interested in how games portrayed this historical conflict? Try some of the best WW2 games on PC.
D-Day’s importance to the war has made it hugely famous. The beach landings are the most recognisable events of the period. Yet, despite being equal parts heroic and horrific in reality, recreations of the events haven't always stuck to the history books. Today’s lesson will lead us through the events of D-Day according to game developers, using the timelines from games that have become iconic for their D-Day reenactments, and point out where they went wrong along the way.
June 5th 1944 - 11.30pm
Game: Call of Duty
Unit: Pathfinder team 1, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
The game: Call of Duty’s first mission sees you drop into France near Sainte-Mère-Église and work your way under cover of darkness to designated set-up points for your Eureka radar beacons. In this age of Michael Bay-influenced Call of Duty games, it’s easy to forget how quiet the original game’s opener was. Things soon heat up, though, as the rest of the 506th drop in and start clearing out houses in a whirlwind of machinegun fire and exploding AA guns. Before dawn, the skies have been freed and the village captured.
The reality: Things kicked off slightly later than Call of Duty would lead you to believe, with Pathfinders hitting the ground almost an hour later at 0020hrs. Eureka radar beacons and marker lights were set up to guide in planes and paratroopers, but due to terrible weather the drop was almost a disaster, with troops landing all over Normandy and far from objectives. While Call of Duty fails to show the problems of the drop, the intense house-to-house fighting was seen by the 506th, who spent six hours battling the German 1058th Grenadier Regiment.
June 6th 1944 - 00.07am
Game: Call of Duty
Unit: 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 6th Airborne Brigade
The game: Call of Duty’s first British mission starts in a Horsa glider dropping the 2nd Ox & Bucks into France near Caen. The objective is to secure Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal, which will prevent German forces approaching the beach where Allied troops will be landing in just a few hours. Led by the apparently immortal Captain Price, your squad takes Pegasus bridge in just a few minutes, eliminating an exceptionally small defence. The Germans send a Panzer tank in, but you destroy it using a conveniently located German Flak88.
The reality: The gliders carrying the 6th Airborne were the very first units in France as part of Operation Overlord, landing at 0014hrs, making Call of Duty’s British campaign pretty accurate. The bridge was guarded by just two pillboxes and a few trenches, which were overcome by 0021hrs. Later on, at 0200hrs, the bridge was counterattacked by the 989th Heavy Artillery Battalion. British troops destroyed the first incoming Panzer tank with their only PIAT rocket launcher (rather than the Flak88 as depicted in CoD), causing the tank’s ammunition to explode. The rest of the 989th quickly retreated.
June 6th 1944 - 01.15am
Game: Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Unit: 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
The game: Brothers in Arms opens with your plane being ripped to shreds by anti-aircraft fire. Falling way off target with your equipment bag lost, the first mission is a quiet, lonely few minutes spent creeping through the fields of France as you attempt to find your squad. With a few men pulled together, confusion is rife as no-one knows exactly where they’ve landed. Your squad soon finds some AA guns in the second mission and destroys them with TNT.
The reality: Pathfinders may have set up Eureka beacons but the signal was so poor that they were almost useless. The heavy cloud cover complicated things, and the vast amount of AA fire filling the skies destroyed planes before the crew could even bail out. Brothers in Arms replicates this exceptionally accurately, and captures the confusion of troops as they had to readjust and regroup.
June 6th 1944 - 01.28am
Game: Company of Heroes
Unit: Fox Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
The game: In Company of Heroes’ second mission you lead Fox Company as they regroup and destroy the AA installations hellbent on chewing up paratroopers. With the skies clear, Fox targets a key road that leads to Omaha Beach. A convoy from the German 91st Infantry Division is delivering munitions to the beachfront, but you ambush and destroy it as it passes through your captured zone.
The reality: The 101st were the force behind Mission Albany, a mission to secure all the main roads that led to Omaha beach. As in Company of Heroes, the German 91st Infantry were located in the drop zone of the 101st, and took heavy losses during the fight to capture the route, including its divisional commander.