The discussion in the living room was more of an adult one; one about relief and anticipation and fear. Complex issues that a ten year old almost eleven didn’t fully comprehend. The radio talked about big things like overthrow and overwhelm and overcome. All my father understood, is whatever the radio was talking about had his parent’s full attention. My dad’s parents didn’t seem scared, so he wasn’t either.
They were early risers so to be up when it was barely light was not unusual in farm life. Even at this early hour, the news was several hours old. Many stores and racetracks closed early in the states due to lack of patrons. People were glued to the radio and reading EXTRA additions of newspapers.
In London, people went to work as usual. Some were likely relived to have those over paid and over sexed American GIs finally, “over there”. Although with that relief came fear for them as many American GIs were housed with English families due to lack of GI housing. And over half of those involved in D-day, were British, their sons. The Yanks and the Brits, and Canadians and many more nations troops, were invading Fortress Europe.
Within Fortress Europe, the French also knew of the invasion since ironically the German Trans-Ocean Agency was the first to announce the invasion. The French marked the event differently than Americans and Brits. The French not on the channel coast hugged and kissed and chanted, “Vive la France, Vive les Allies!” Those on the coast were mixed. Some hid in cellars. Some left the area. Some cheered. Some grabbed their equipment and rose to their roles in the French underground.
The Russians were the most animated. For over three years the Russians had been fighting the Nazis alone to the cost of millions of lives. Stalin had been asking for and demanding a second front. They needed the second front to take some of the load off the Russians as they bled and starved to feed the war machine to expel the Germans from Russia. Russian tanks were being built in factories with no roofs. In the battle of Moscow tanks had been driven off the production line by tank crews, unpainted but fully armed.
6,939 ships headed to Normandy flying flags of eight different nations. For those of us in the US we tend to think of the landing as being an American, British and Canadian thing. In reality the landing also included forces from Australia, New Zealand, Free French, Free Polish, Free Belgium, Free Czechoslovakia, Greece, Netherlands and Norway.
Think of what it must have been like to live in exile form your home, your nation, only hoping for the chance to return, to liberate it. To have no home to return to, unless you kill those who took it from you. I cannot imagine it.
Overhead from long before the men were landing on the beaches, 2,395 transports and 866 gliders passed overhead. They were British, Canadian and American. 11,590 planes flew 14,674 missions among them were Free Polish pilots. These were the ones the Germans feared the most. They seemed to fly without fear of death, but they delivered it regularly.
The landings were divided into five separate beaches. Two American. Utah and Omaha, and three combined British and Canadian, Gold, Sword and Juno. The most recent numbers for dead among the allies is around 4,413. This number is evolving due to continued research. In total, the allies landed from sea and air, around 156,000 men.
As I love to do, I will also focus in on one small group, one of my favorites. When the landings on Omaha beach were not going well and they were considering withdrawing, the destroyer captains could see the naval fire was not accurate enough to save the landing. So they defied orders and went in closer. They went into the range of the shore guns. They did what destroyer captains do, they headed into the teeth of battle to meet it head on. They saved the landings on Omaha beach.
The German response when a commander radioed back to his central command was that the allies did not have that many ships or troops in the world, much less at Normandy that morning. Central Command was wrong.
This is not about those numbers. This is not about those amazing numbers: The largest landing in history. This is more about what it meant. For years, the allies and especially Russia were hanging on by their nails. The allies had expelled Germany from North Africa. We had landed in Sicily and Italy. But these were merely steps in preparation.
The Battle of Britain had ended approximately 3.5 years before with about 92,000 allied casualties. The Battle of Stalingrad ended a year and a half before with 1.1 million casualties for Russia. The 2.5 year long siege of Leningrad ended earlier that year after 3.5 million casualties. The Battle of Moscow had ended about 2.5 years before with about 1 million casualties for Russia. The strategic bombing of Germany by the RAF and US 8th Air Force totaled approximately 160,000 casualties for the allies.
That is over 5.8 million casualties before the invasion. When the invasion that everyone knew was coming the only question was where and when came, oddly, most were relieved. The collective breath holding could be released.
On June 6th, 1944 the largest amphibious landing in history took place. It was the largest military operation enacted on one day until operation Desert Storm in 1992. Interestingly, that offensive in 1992 was also led by The US, Canada and The British.
D-Day, (the D stands for Day) to me marks one of the greatest days in political and social history. Great Britain had been a warehouse for years in preparation of this one day when the soldiers of 12 nations, 156,000 strong backed by the work of millions and millions of workers, resistance workers, intelligence workers and civilians came to one stretch of beach in Southern France.
The majesty of this day in history is beyond the losses of life. It lies in the purpose of the dedication. Modern history had seen mass war before; but not to this scale. The perfection of such things as the machine gun and the development of the tank along with the true advent of planes as weapons of war made this war like no other. The estimates are over 48,000,000 causalities took place world wide in WWII. For the war in Europe, D-Day was a relief.
I tend to not think of the causalities on this day, for as you can see, in the grand scheme of things they were low. China lost millions in that war. We never think of them. But this is again, not about those numbers. I prefer to think of this day in a different context.
“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 … The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage and devotion”
General Eisenhower ‘Supreme Allied Commander – Europe’
I tend to think of this day as a day that marks allied effort, coming together of nations in a common cause; the marking of humanity standing together against tyranny. Something we need more of, not less, and more often not in the context of war.On this day in 1944, the work of hundreds of millions of people came together to end tyranny in Europe.
On this day, mankind said it will lay down its own life, to end evil men. I celebrate the sacrifices all made, from the soldier who died on the beach, to the resistance worker, to those who died in horrific battles in Russia, to those who simply abided by the fuel rationing to save rubber for the war effort. Good did not sit idly by.
At the end of the Battle of Britain, PM Churchill said, “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end. But it might be the end of the beginning.” D-Day, was the beginning of the end.
Less than a year later, Germany surrendered unconditionally.
Millions of good men and women triumphed.