By Clyde Davis
Convergent dates bring the advent of Memorial Day, celebrated last weekend, together with the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, popularly tagged as D-Day, which occurs on June 6.
Needless to say, that is always June 6, but anniversaries celebrating decades seem to have more impact. 2014 is also the 100th year marking of World War I, though the United States didn’t enter until 1917.
Plans to write a column about why you should adopt a rescue pet, which is certainly important, are thus delayed a little while so we can talk about the Normandy Invasion. While serving at Fort Hamilton, I had the honor of having a volunteer civilian Catholic deacon who had been a young lieutenant at the Normandy landing.
Information used in this column is taken from the Combined Operations website, and from the History of Army Military Documents website.
Prior to June 1944, Hitler held much of western Europe, with courageous guerilla warfare being carried out by resistance forces in France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and other occupied countries.
Hitler had placed Von Rommel, arguably his best general, in charge of western European operations. At the same time, however, the Nazi structure was beginning to crumble from within.
Two years of planning went into the operation, and needless to say it was no secret to the German high command that such an invasion would occur. The hope for surprise lay in when and where.
A suitable invasion would require the following:
• To be within range of fighter aircraft based in southern England.
• To have at least one major port within easy reach.
• To have landing beaches suitable for prolonged support operations, with adequate exits and backed by a good road network.
• To have beach defenses capable of being suppressed by naval bombardment or bombing (quote from Combined Ops Website).
The Normandy beaches were pounded by bombers for days before the actual landing, disrupting and destroying rail service and other communications methods. (One of the strange things to realize is that nowadays, this could very nearly be done without a bomb being dropped, simply by turning loose a good crew of computer hackers…)
Prior to the invasion proper, Airborne and Commando troops from the Allied nations had jumped into the French countryside and begun the next stage of preparation, which was clearing the way for the literally hundreds of thousands of Allied combatants who would land.
“Twelve Allied nations provided fighting units that participated in the invasion, including Australia, Canada, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States,” (US History —the website)
There were two successful attempts to build artificial and movable harbors. Unfortunately, building did not guarantee that they would last, as bad weather in the few days before destroyed one and seriously damaged the other.
Von Rommel expected the attack to occur in mid-May, 1944, and when that didn’t occur, he adjusted his timeline to mid-June. Fatal mistake.
Tactically, the invasion provided a model for military actions which, using modern technology (though the 1944 version), still is used. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply well to situations like Afghanistan.
The Normandy invasion was the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime. Logistically, it was an incredible feat of inter-Ally and inter-branch (of services) cooperation. Historically, it is not to be forgotten because of the huge number of men — and women, since Army nurse corps soldiers also landed — who risked their lives to begin breaking the back of world tyranny.
Lest we forget …