Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. It was the largest and most difficult amphibious operation in history. On that day, American, British, Canadian, free French and free Polish troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, a province in northwestern France, near the Cherbourg Peninsula. It proved to be one of the bloodiest days of World War II.
The German army had occupied most of France following its surrender in June 1940. By 1944, The Germans were expecting the allies to attack from the west, but they didn’t know where or when. They had built concrete and steel fortifications, which were then called “The Atlantic Wall.” It stretched from the Arctic Circle in the north all the way to the Spanish border in the south.
The Normandy coast is separated from England by the English Channel, which isn’t all that wide. The narrowest point is the Pas de Calais, where the Germans expected the invasion. The weather that week was terrible. The Germans didn’t expect the invasion at that place nor under such adverse conditions.
The invasion had been in the planning for over two years. Over two million service personnel had been amassed in southern England, along with mountains of supplies and munitions, vehicles and planes. It was a gargantuan task just to plan the attack, much less carry it out.
The Allies needed to gain a foothold at Normandy the first day, or risk being summarily driven back into the sea. The only option was victory. Sheer bravery and determination by the individuals there made the difference in the face of a furious German defense. Many a man met his maker that day. Many didn’t make it off the beach. By the end of the day, there were more than 12,000 Allied killed, wounded or missing. No small price to pay for freedom. But the Allies gained the foothold they needed. A total of 132,000 troops and 23,000 paratroopers had made it ashore the first day. They had been supported by more than 12,000 planes and 6,000 ships. The battleship Texas was there and helped bombard the Normandy coast before the troops went in.
The landing was only the beginning. The Germans weren’t nearly defeated. A counterattack by German Panzer divisions in the area, could very well have ended the invasion almost before it got started; but that didn’t happen.
Following D-Day, the Allied forces then had to fight their way against fierce German defenses, across the hedgerow country of northwestern France, and on to Paris, and then Belgium and Germany, itself, before the surrender in May 1945.
The veterans of D-Day are now at least in their 90s. They won’t be with us too much longer. If you know someone who’s a veteran of World War II, today would be an appropriate day to tell him or her “Thanks” for their war service and their sacrifices for freedom and this great country.