Historians have called the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944, one of the seminal days in the Western civilization. It ushered in the final chapter to the European theatre of World War II. In so doing, it likely shaved a year, tens of millions of dollars and thousands of lost lives from the ultimate toll of war. On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, we pause to reflect and remember those whose hands wrought it into being.
The Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June to August 1944, resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from the control of Nazi Germany. The D-Day invasion, which was code-named Operation Overlord, began when 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. It represented one of the largest amphibious assaults in military history.
The logistics, planning and preparation preceding the attack are almost as impressive as the heroism exhibited on those bloody beaches. Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the Germans about the intended invasion target. Designed to make the German leadership erroneously focus on Pas-de-Calais (the narrowest point between Britain and France) rather than Normandy, Allied forces staged elaborate tableaus to complete the illusion.
Another important element of the invasion came through the bravery of paratroopers and glider troops who had landed behind enemy lines with a goal of securing bridges and roadways. Their efforts laid down transit paths that would later prove crucial to the overall success of the campaign.
Delayed a day by insurmountable weather, conditions improved enough for a 6:30 a.m. commencement. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of Operation Overlord, hoped to buoy the spirits of the troops with these words: “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.”
As the onslaught began, 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 costly resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties; but by day’s end, all of the Allied troops had stormed Normandy’s beaches. Some estimates place Allied troop loses in excess of 4,000 with many thousands more wounded or missing.
By June 11, the beaches were secured, which paved the way for the inland movement of the more than 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment that had landed at Normandy.
For their part, the German response was fierce but fractured. Despite the heavy casualties they exacted on the beaches, miscommunication, absent leadership and Hitler’s own hubris sealed the Third Reich’s fate.
In the weeks that followed, the Allies made their way across Normandy. While German resolve was evident and the terrain unforgiving, the tide had irrevocably turned.
Near the end of August 1944, the Allies reached the Seine River, Paris had been liberated and the German hold on northwestern France was eliminated, thus effectively concluding the Battle of Normandy. This signal victory allowed Allied forces to enter Germany, where they would join Soviet troops moving from the east.
While actual events of D-Day are sufficient on their own to stand as a great triumph for Democracy and freedom, D-Day itself has become an important metaphor for perseverance, determination and preparation. It showed once and for all what determined people can accomplish in the face of seeming insurmountable odds.
While the brave souls who fought on those beaches and planned for the invasion’s success grow fewer by the day, as a nation we owe them increased gratitude and assurances that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.