Monday, June 6, 2011


The older I get the more it seems like dates in history mean more to me and often times cause me to dig deeper and learn more.  I always liked History in school maybe because it seemed of greater relevance to me than studies like Algebra .......but that's another subject for another time.

I asked my son in Afghanistan today if he knew what the significance of June 6th was.  At first he said no, then after I said, D-Day, he fired back, we were just talking about that today at lunch.   Despite his joking of short term memory loss about their meal conversation, it makes one wonder how much memory loss there is collectively in our country about that famous day June 6, 1944.  Year after year the day comes and goes with hardly any grand attention being given.  Let's revisit the details of D-Day.

American Combat Engineers eat a meal atop boxes of ammunition stockpiled for D-Day

After the German conquest of France in 1940, the opening of a second front in western Europe was a major aim of Allied strategy during World War II.  On June 6, 1944, under the code name Operation "Overlord," U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on the English Channel coast east of Cherbourg and west of Le Havre.  Under overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and, on the ground, of British General Bernard Montgomery, more than 130,000 Allied troops landed on five beaches, code named Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword, and Utah.  On the night before the amphibious landings, 23,000 U.S. and British paratroopers landed in France behind the German defensive lines by parachute and glider.  The invasion force of more than 155,000 troops included 50,000 vehicles (including 1,000 tanks).  Nearly 7,000 naval craft and more than 11,500 aircraft supported the invasion.

Famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, tried to describe the scene just prior to landing:  "The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York City on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many."

Even with a massive armada, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower knew there was no certainty in war. He issued his historic message to the troops prior to their landing: "You are about to embark upon the 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."  That message was delivered, but Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, kept another message in his pocket, one never used, to be read in case the invasion failed.

Under the overall command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the Germans had deployed five infantry divisions, one airborne division and one tank division along the Normandy coast and held the advantage in battle positioning.  However, the Allies had an overwhelming advantage in naval and air power.  On D-Day alone, the Allies flew 14,000 sorties; the German air force managed only 500 sorties.  Moreover, a successful Allied deception plan had led the Germans to believe the point of the attack to be further north and east on the coast near Calais and the Belgian border.  Fooled, the Germans moved only slowly to reinforce the Normandy defenses after the initial landing.

Despite Allied superiority, the Germans contained Allied troops in their slowly expanding beachhead for six weeks. The U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions made the most difficult landing on Omaha Beach.  Stiff German resistance here caused over 3,000 casualties before the Allied troops could establish their positions by the end of the first day.  On D-Day itself, Allied troops suffered more than 10,000 casualties: British and Canadian forces suffered around 3,700 casualties; U.S. forces took about 6,600 casualties. The German defenders lost between 4,000 and 9,000 men. 

On D-Day itself, the Allies landed 11 divisions on the French coast, but failed in reaching their planned objective of linking the beachheads or driving inland to a distance of nine miles. Within five days, on June 11, Allied troops overcame German resistance to unite the invasion beaches into one large beachhead.

Perhaps words will take you closer to that day, but if not, then let's have some good old black and white video show you some more.

June 6, 1944 was an historic day.  A day that needs to stay in your memory banks.  It might not be a Hallmark Card reminder day.....but when you think of what might have happened in World War II had D-Day not taken place, it makes one shudder. 



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