Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day, 65 Years On

Official U.S. 1st Army Group position map at 2400 hours on D-Day (6 June 1944).
(Source: Library of Congress G5701.S7 svar .A4, via Wikipedia).
In this column, I want to tell you what the opening of the second front entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.
Ernie Pyle, 12 June 1944 (as quoted in Stephen Ambrose, D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (Simon & Schuster, 1994).
65 years ago today, the western allies returned to the European continent: the Normandy landings signaling the beginning of the end of Hitler's Germany. The invasion, Operation Overlord, with 15,000 vessels, over ten divisions of troops (from the US, UK and Canada as well as Free-French contingents) and thousands of aircraft, is still the largest amphibious assault ever attempted, only approached in size by the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. (Operation Olympic would have dwarfed Overlord, but thankfully, that one never happened).
Neither D-Day nor the ensuing Normandy Campaign (Operation Cobra, and the breakout across France) decided the war -- in retrospect, the Germans had lost the war, probably, by August 1941, certainly (as I wrote here) by December 1941. But the allied armies delivered the western half of the continent from Nazi bondage and barbarism, and by their victory bought liberty and freedom for much of Europe. In the fullness of time, eastern Europe too, would be delivered from tyranny: and the foundation for that outcome was laid in particular by the sacrifices of the Americans, Canadians, Britons, Poles and Frenchmen who died on Normandy beaches, and in the hedgerow country (bocage) in the summer of 1944.

1 comment:

LFC said...

I see that in "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc," Reagan's speechwriter had Reagan quote a Stephen Spender line ("left the vivid air signed with their honor") from Spender's well-known poem which begins, iirc, "I think continually of those who were truly great."

Reagan quoting Spender is pretty ironic in some ways. Anyway, thanks for the link to the speech. (Of course I don't agree that Reagan was the greatest post-war president, but that's a discussion for some other time.)