Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the landing of Allied forces in western Europe, aka Hitler's Europe.
It's an occasion I feel I can't let pass without putting something out there in my little corner of the worldwide web.
A year of planning went into Operation Overlord and D-Day's manoeuvres, originally set for more than a month earlier than today (-70 years). On that fateful day, June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied forces landed along 50 miles of coastline at Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold and Sword Beaches. Over one million troops, a total of 39 Allied divisions, were committed to the Battle of Normandy, including 22 American divisions. Coastal bombing and minesweeping got underway early on June 6, 1944, and as the over 4,000 landing craft boats approached, Allied troops were under heavy fire, and as the ramps dropped for men to storm ashore, casualties skyrocketed. Soldiers, many not even 20 years old, jumped from the ramps of the boats and then swam and ran 50-100 yards to shore and then crawled on the beaches toward the cliffs, many while carrying 80 pounds of equipment. When troops made it to shore, they faced over 200 yards of exposed beach, where, in addition to gunfire, there were obstacles at the high-tide mark: mines, barbed wire, booby-traps, metal tripods, wooden stakes and anti-tank obstacles. As landing troops will readily tell you, they were in hell. Absolute hell. The experiences of the thousands of scattered paratroopers dropped that morning weren't much better. More than 4,000 Allied forces died in the fighting, and another 6,000 were wounded, but it's nearly certain that had the landing been postponed 2 more weeks, to the next dates with appropriate tides, given the storms that occurred then, the numbers would have been far worse for the Allies, if they'd been able to land at all. But the foothold in Europe gained 70 years ago today when Allied troops overcame the German defenses in Normandy changed the face of history. It was when the scales tipped and the at times long and painful Allied drive into Germany began, inch by inch, sometimes house by house, unending until May 7, 1945.
Eisenhower's message to the troops just before the invasion:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
There aren't many chances these days to talk to someone who was there, but if there is any way you can make that happen, even if you've done it before, this is a wonderful time to do it again. I can guarantee your eyes will not stay dry. Hearing someone talk about seeing their brothers in arms fall next to them, the reality of front-line combat in that time, how the fighting progressed for those who made it off the beaches, what the fighting meant to them and their families at home, irreplaceable information that will touch your heart and stay with you forever.
If you don't have a chance to talk to someone who was there and you can find 5-10 minutes of time, read a bit about it. Here are some online suggestions (if you want books, let me know, I have about a half-dozen very good recommendations!):
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_landings# (of course, wiki)
- http://www.dday-overlord.com/eng/omaha_beach.htm (just the link for Omaha, but lots of navigation options)
If you want to read accounts of the landings by men who were there, some options:
- http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dday/sfeature/sf_voices.html (a chance to read some accounts)
- http://normandy.secondworldwar.nl/omaha.html (that's just the link for Omaha, on the left you can navigate to other accounts)
- https://www.britannica.com/dday/browse?browseId=237157 (actual audio)
If you just want to look at pictures, some good options:
If nothing else, just give a moment of your time to let the sacrifices and horrors endured sink in, and image where we could be without those brave souls. 4,000 of them gone 70 years ago today working to fight evil. FOUR THOUSAND. Wow.