Listening to CBS Radio’s Complete June 6, 1944 Broadcasting Day Offers a Fascinating Perspective on the D-Day Invasion

Digitally restored, vintage black-and-white World War II photo of American troops wading ashore on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The photo is taken from the perspective of the photographer standing in a landing craft behind the soldiers who are leaving the lander and heading through the surf toward the beach.
John Parrot/Stocktrek Images
Digitally restored vintage World War II photo of American troops wading ashore on Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.

It has been 80 years since D-Day: June 6, 1944, when Allied forces began their invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe during World War II. D-Day has been remembered by subsequent generations through books; dramatizations in movies and TV shows like The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers; and in newsreel footage from the time that still exists.

While those media have often been quite effective in drawing viewers and readers vicariously into the horrors of the actual combat on D-Day, listening to radio news broadcasts from June 6, 1944, offers a rare immediacy, for those of us who weren’t alive then and may no longer know anyone who was, of what was going on in people’s minds on the home front as word of the invasion began to come out and there was an anxious desire to hear any information they could get.

World War II photograph shows an aerial view of the various naval vessels around the beaches of Normandy in northernmost France. Shown here landing supplies such as tanks, military vehicles, weapons and troops; the Invasion of Normandy is considered the largest amphibious invasion in history.

An aerial view of the various naval vessels around the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. (John Parrot/Stocktrek Images)

Between the morning and afternoon editions of their local newspaper, people could get some nice reporting of events more after the fact, but radio was the place to get more real-time info when it was available.

One especially great listen in this respect is found at the Internet Archive, where a user has uploaded CBS Radio’s complete broadcast day of June 6, 1944. It is divided into 24 roughly hourlong segments, beginning in the early morning hours (Eastern Time) of June 6, 1944, and going into the early morning of June 7.

It’s amazing to hear these and put your self into the shoes of an everyday American back then who was awakening to hear these breaking reports and probably being riveted to your radio as much as possible throughout the initial day, especially. This invasion was a monumental undertaking, and while we know that it eventually succeeded, at a heavy human cost, its success was in no way guaranteed or assumed by anyone then.

I pulled out three of the segments that I feel offer nice representations of the experience, beginning with the first segment, from when CBS broke in at about 2am Eastern Time with news that the invasion of Europe was possibly underway.

(Please note: Since these audio files are large, after pressing the “Play” arrow, the audio may take a minute or two to fully load and begin playing.)

From Hour One of CBS Radio’s Original D-Day Broadcast (early morning June 6, 1944)

It’s interesting that at the start, besides not knowing how the invasion was going, there was still uncertainty about whether it was even actually happening for sure, given that initial reports of the D-Day invasion were based on various German reports. Anchor Bob Trout says that the first report of an invasion out of Germany reached America at 12:37 ET.

The Associated Press recorded the broadcast and immediately pointed out, as Trout explains, that it “could be one which Allied leaders have warned us to expect from the Germans.” Was the invasion happening, or was it a Nazi ploy/propaganda?

Trout continues explaining that after 1am ET, Berlin radio opened its news program with an “invasion announcement.” Columbia Broadcasting’s short-wave listening station in New York apparently heard this Berlin broadcast and reported that it said: “Here is a special bulletin: Early this morning, the long-awaited British and American invasion began when paratroops landed in the area of the Somme Estuary.” The German announcement also mentioned heavy bombardment of harbors, and that German naval forces were off the coast fighting with enemy landing vessels.

From Hour 11 of CBS Radio’s Original D-Day Broadcast (midday June 6, 1944)

As the “longest day” went on, with knowledge that the invasion was indeed underway, CBS Radio’s coverage continued.

Of course, between the slow flow of any bits of information about the battle that might have trickled in, CBS was faced with a problem familiar to cable news networks of our modern era: filling the airwaves with content in between that information.

At the start of Hour 11, above, is one interesting example of how they handled it, and again, familiar to modern audiences: Have a pundit/analyst weigh in with various opinions on the impact that the invasion may have on various parties, from America to the French Resistance to the Soviet Union to Japan.

The analyst then concludes with a bit of morale-boosting, stating that D-Day is “much more than a military operation — the fate of the whole world is involved. And in that fate, the United States has the decisive role to play. … The United States now stands at the peak of its military, of its economic, of its political and of its moral power in the world. Never in the history of our country has our power counted for so much as it does today.”

A little later, a CBS correspondent in New York reports that the latest news they have of the invasion is still from a bulletin from the AP in London, which had reported that Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that Allied troops had penetrated inland, in some cases several miles, after landing on the French coast on a broad front. While in Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt’s top chiefs had reported to him that the massive cross-Channel Allied assault is “going well up to now.”

There is also a report about how General Dwight D. Eisenhower spent the hours just before troops went ashore in France, and it is a great insight into Ike’s state of mind, nerves, etc. (he reportedly smoked constantly while meeting with reporters, sometimes lighting one cigarette off of another).

It is also a terrific example of how radio correspondents had to use the spoken word, as their newspaper counterparts had to use the written word, to paint striking pictures for listeners/readers.

It is reported that hours before the invasion, Eisenhower “stood on a rooftop … and watched the mighty airborne armada form in the sky and wing its way toward France in the beginning of the final phase in the war of liberation. The supreme commander radiated a calm confidence contagious to those about him. He spent the greater part of the day among the troops, seaborne and airborne, walking from group to group, chatting and laughing with the men.”

Eyewitness dispatches from the fighting also come in during the hour, and surely many listeners were desperate for any information about the combat because of concern for the invasion’s outcome as a whole, as well as for the safety of any loved one they knew who was in it.

From Hour 24 of CBS Radio’s Original D-Day Broadcast (early morning June 7, 1944)

This hour of CBS Radio begins by sending it over to BBC news in London, where it was about 8am local time, and a little over 24 hours since the D-Day invasion began.

A correspondent reports that troops have penetrated several miles inland, and tanks are reported to be moving on a town 10 miles from the coast.

While it sounds good, and like the Allies are making good headway, the BBC reporter says that Gen. Bernard Montgomery‘s headquarters cautions it is too early to give an assessment on the general situation on the French coast. But the reporter does say there was an atmosphere of confidence at Gen. Montgomery’s HQ, which was “fully justified by the news sent back from our troops so far.” While it was not known yet how airborne forces were faring at this point, what was known that at the very least, the landing of the biggest airborne expedition in history was “most successful.”

You can listen to these three hours, and the other 21, of CBS Radio’s full June 6, 1944, D-Day broadcast via the Internet Archive at this link.