“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.” –General Eisenhower
This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
I wanted the Battle of Normandy and all its planning and casualties to be reported to you as accurately as possible and who better to convey these things than the wonderful staff of the History channel with their extensive research. So here, in their words, are the incredible circumstances and losses that ultimately lead to the successful invasion and liberation of Europe.
During WWII, the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June to August of 1944, resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. Codenamed “Operation Overlord,” the battle began on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, when some 156,000 American, British, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region. The invasion was the largest amphibious military assaults in history and required extensive planning. Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the Germans about the intended invasion target. By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the following spring, the Allies had defeated the Germans. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy. In the ensuing weeks, Allies fought their way across the Normandy countryside in the face of determined German resistance, as well as a dense landscape of marshes and hedgerows. By the end of June, the Allies had seized the vital port of Cherbourg, landed approximately 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy, and were poised to continue their march across France.
By the end of August 1944, the Allies had reached the Seine River, Paris was liberated and the Germans had been removed from northwestern France, effectively concluding the Battle of Normandy. The Allied forces then prepared to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east. The Normandy invasion began to turn the tide against the Nazis. A significant psychological blow, it also prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern Front against the advancing Soviets. The following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, on April 30.(Staff, 2009)
At the National Museum of WWII Aviation in Colorado Springs, we have a very special plane that links us to these incredible events: A P-47 Thunderbolt. The markings on this plane tell a unique story, or at least unique amongst flying WWII aircraft that remain today. On the nose is painted a black and white checkerboard and under the wings are black and white invasion stripes. This Thunderbolt flew in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. This plane carried a single pilot in an invasion of hundreds of thousands to close in on the Nazi occupation of Europe and, less than a year later, claim victory in Europe. To be close to this piece of history and fully grasp what it means is a surreal feeling. Come join us at the museum and embrace the chance of standing in the shadows of such brave men and women and the machines that won victory for the Allies.
Sacrifice and Remembrance
Lastly, I wanted to share a section from one of the WWII books I use for research. It’s the forward written by Hugh Ambrose. I found it incredibly moving and relevant:
“They still remember. People around the world still honor those young Americans who helped secure their liberty by ending the tyranny of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini. Schoolchildren on Guam sing songs of tribute to the Marines who stormed their beaches in 1944 and freed that island from Japanese occupiers. The youngsters of Normandy wave American flags on June 6 to commemorate D-Day. The good people of Melbourne have not forgotten the U.S. troops who defended Australia by fighting and dying on land, at sea, and in the air in the struggle for Guadalcanal. In my travels to those battlefields, I have seen the locals offer both solemn memorials and spontaneous expressions of gratitude to the visiting veterans, honors received with tears and heartfelt thanks by the elderly soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, merchant mariners, and airmen.
“People around the world also remember the evils against which the Allies fought. Visiting Manila in 2000, I had the honor of accompanying a group of elderly American veterans known as the Battling Bastards of Bataan, whose determined and courageous but ultimately futile struggle to hold off Japanese invaders ended in a death march to nightmarish prison camps. A Filipino guide accompanying our tour bus had the driver stop at a low statute cut from dark rock, a memorial easily missed on the busy city street. The guide told us this was a monument to all those civilians in his country who died in the war—hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, many of them killed, he said, by Japanese troops. It was a stark reminder of what those American veterans and their allies had been fighting against. Their struggle was a “good war,” not because the combat they engaged in was any less brutal than others, nor because their generation was better than others, but because it was a war that had to be fought, against aggressors who had to be defeated. After vanquishing Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, America helped right those countries and transform them into democratic allies, thereby winning not just the war but the peace.
“That peace remains a great gift, paid for by soldiers whose sacrifices must never be forgotten… It relates America to the world and reminds us of the vital role Americans played on the world stage when they joined with their allies on distant shores to uphold freedom and democracy.”Sacrifice and Remembrance-Hugh Ambrose, author of The Pacific excerpt from National Geographic’s “Eyewitness to World War II” (Stephen G. Hyslop, 2012)