Commemorating D-Day: 70 years later

“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.”

― General Dwight D Eisenhower

A lazy Friday night was spent in front of the TV watching the D-Day commemoration in Normandy, France. Anyone who knows me from way back knows that I love history – although I don’t claim to be even close to knowledgeable on the subject. I thought to make a tiny little tribute to that day 70 years ago that allowed us all to be free today.

The British 2nd Army: Royal Marine Commandos of Headquarters, 4th Special Service Brigade, making their way from LCI(S)s (Landing Craft Infantry Small) onto ‘Nan Red’ Beach, JUNO Area, at St Aubin-sur-Mer at about 9 am on, 6 June 1944.

QuoteI was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That’s how lucky you had to be. 
– Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Today I checked my e-mail and received a press release from Warwick University. It said:

On June 6 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy. Their number rose to 1.5m over the next six weeks. With them came millions of tons of equipment, ranging from munitions, vehicles, food, and fuel to prefabricated floating harbours.

The British 2nd Army: Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade landing from an LCI(S) (Landing Craft Infantry Small) on ‘Queen Red’ Beach, SWORD Area, at la Breche, at approximately 8.40 am, 6 June 1944.

The achievement of the Normandy landings was, first of all, military. The military conditions included co-operation (between the British, Americans, and Free French), deception and surprise (the Germans knew an invasion was coming but were led to expect it elsewhere), and the initiative and bravery of officers and men landing on the beaches, sometimes under heavy fire. More than 4,000 men died on the first day.

American craft of all styles pictured at Omaha Beach, Normandy, during the first stages of the Allied invasion.

D-Day was made possible by its global context. Germany was already being defeated by the Soviet Army on the eastern front. There, 90% of German ground forces were tied down in a protracted losing struggle (after D-Day this figure fell to two-thirds). The scale of fighting, killing, and dying on the eastern front was a multiple of that in the West. For the Red Army (Russia) in World War II, 4,000 dead was a quieter-than-average day.

While D-Day was inevitable, its success was not predetermined by economics or anything else. The landings were preceded by years of building up men and combat stocks in the south of England, and by months of detailed logistical planning. But most of the plans were thrown to the wind on the first day as the chaos of seasick men struggling through the surf and enemy fire onto the Normandy sands unfolded. This greatest amphibious assault in history was a huge gamble that could easily have ended in disaster.

Had the D-Day landings failed, our history would have been very different:

  • The war would have dragged on beyond 1945 in both Europe and the Pacific.
  • Germany would still have been undefeated when the first atomic bombs were produced; their first victims would have been German, not Japanese.
  • Germany and Berlin would never have been divided, because the Red Army (Russia) would have occupied the whole country.
  • The Cold War would have begun with the Western democracies greatly disadvantaged. We have good reason to be grateful to those who averted this alternative history.

by Professor Mark Harrison of the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics

18.00 6 June 1944: Charles de Gaulle’s address is broadcast to France.

The battle has begun and France will fight it with fury. For the sons of France, whoever they may be, wherever they may be, the simple and sacred duty is to fight the enemy with every means in their power.” He gives thanks to the British for their effort in the liberation of France. On hearing him, tears well up in Churchill’s eyes. Noticing an uncomfortable look on the face of General Ismay, his chief of staff, he says: “You great tub of lard! Have you no sentiment?

Charles de Gaulle speaking on BBC radio in 1940 (GETTY)

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

 

Oh, and I love this: D-Day veteran missing from nursing home had snuck away to Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary

Movies on my watch list tonight:

 

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