Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the U.S.-led Allied armada crossed the English Channel to launch an offensive that would help lead to the defeat of the Third Reich. World leaders, including President Obama, will journey to France to commemorate the occasion. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers died or were wounded.

While most in the U.S. know of the bloody scenes that immediately follow the beaching of amphibious craft on the shores of Normandy, the brunt of the fighting took place far from the coast. Some 20,000 French civilians would perish in the crossfire, most killed by Allied bombing. Allied and German forces engaged in pitched, chaotic skirmishes throughout the picturesque Norman countryside, marked by hedgerows and old stone-and-steeple towns. Bitter fighting between U.S. forces and crack German paratroop regimes took place by St. Lo, which was reduced to rubble.

Journalists with Henry Luce's Life magazine were among the most enterprising and prolific during World War II. These images here are republished with Life's permission. You can view Life's terrific D-Day galleries here, here, here and here.