It’s no mystery why images of unremitting violence spring to mind when one hears the deceptively simple term, “D-Day.” We’ve all seen — in photos, movies, old news reels — what happened on the beaches of Normandy (codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword) as the Allies unleashed an historic assault against German defenses on June 6, 1944.
But in color photos taken before and after the invasion, LIFE magazine’s Frank Scherschel captured countless other, lesser-known scenes from the run-up to the onslaught and the heady weeks after: American troops training in small English towns; the French countryside, implausibly lush after the spectral landscape of the beachheads; the reception GIs enjoyed en route to the capital; the jubilant liberation of Paris itself.
As presented here, in masterfully restored color, Scherschel’s pictures — most of which were never published in LIFE — feel at-once profoundly familiar and somehow utterly, vividly new.
|American combat engineers eat a meal atop boxes of ammunition stockpiled for the impending D-Day invasion, May 1944|
|Troops and civilians pass the time on the River Thames in the spring of 1944|
|An American corporal stacks cans of gasoline in preparation for the upcoming invasion of France, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, May 1944|
|A small town in England in the spring of 1944, shortly before D-Day|
|An American Army chaplain kneels next to a wounded soldier in order to administer the Eucharist and Last Rites, France, 1944|
|An abandoned German machine gun, France, June 1944|
|Magazines scattered among the rubble of the heavily bombed town of Saint-Lô, Normandy, France, summer 1944|
|An American tank crew takes a breather on the way through the town of Avranches, Normandy, summer 1944|
|View of the ruins of the Palais de Justice in the town of St. Lo, France, summer 1944. The red metal frame in the foreground is what's left of an obliterated fire engine|
|Along the coast of France, June 1944|
|From D-Day until Christmas 1944, German prisoners of war were shipped off to American detention facilities at a rate of 30,000 per month. Above: Captured German troops, June 1944|
|Maintenance work on an American P-47 Thunderbolt in a makeshift airfield in the French countryside, summer 1944|
|A French couple shares cognac with an American tank crew, northern France, summer 1944|
|A P-38 fighter plane sits in the background as the pilot arrives in a captured German vehicle, France, 1944|
|Church services in dappled sunlight, France, 1944|
|American Army trucks (note cyclist hitching a ride) parade down the Champs-Elysées the day after the liberation of Paris by French and Allied troops, August 1944|
|Frenchmen transport painted British and American flags for use in a parade, summer 1944|
|Tanks under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during liberation celebrations, August 1944|
|Free French General and military governor of the French capital Pierre Koenig, left, pictured during ceremonies held the day after the liberation of Paris, August 1944|
|Celebrations in Paris after the liberation of the city, August 1944|
|American troops stand beside a World War 1 monument bedecked with French flags after the town (exact location unknown) was liberated from German occupying forces, summer 1944|