[Note: I write this same article every year with only slight revisions and changes. But it is always important.) 73 years ago today, at around 0000Z tonight (UK Time, or GMT) or about 1800 EDT - not adjusting for Summer Time - here in Texas, the greatest armada that the world has ever seen is just steaming out of all of the ports in England, both on the eastern and western side, northern and southern sides. The ones on the western side started early, probably about an hour ago. The ones on the eastern side are just casting off their ropes. The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies composed of 6,939 vessels (far greater than the Spanish Armada) that included:
- 1,213 warships
- 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and
- 736 ancillary craft and
- 864 merchant vessels.
On board the ships are about 130,000 men with rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, machine guns, tanks, jeeps, bazookas, Bangalore Torpedoes, ammo and nobody has a bullet-proof vest. Most have on a Mae West, a life jacket of sorts that will not, contrary to what they have been told, keep them afloat with all of the stuff that they are carrying. But, they trust in the CO and faithfully put on their Mae West hoping that they don't have to use it. If anyone has to jump into water over their heads, they will sink straight to the bottom and stay there. By the end of 11 June 1944, (D + 5), 326,547 troops, the Allies had brought over 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies. By 30 June 1944, (D+24) over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies had been ferried over from England. By July 4th (the anniversary of American Independence) well over one million men had been landed at Normandy.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, most of the German officers and generals are taking a bit of time off. Genral Irwin Rommel, the man in charge of the Normandy defense, has gone home to see his wife and Der Fuehrer Adolph Hitler. You see, most of the German weather boats have been sunk or captured but, for some reason, they are absolutely sure that in this foul weather that nobody can mount an invasion.
But the Allies have better reporting. They have a forecast that there will be a small break in the weather on the 6th of June. So, betting on a spotty-at-best forecast, General Dwight David Eisenhower orders the invasion. Having all of the troops already on the ships and planes, having followup troops already staging and on the way, it would have been impossible to call it off. Looking back, early May would have been the absolute best time to have invaded. The Allies were just fortunate that they got a small, one-day break in the weather. And, above all, it was the best kept secret of WW II. Nobody in England had a clue WHEN the invasion would happen, but it will happen in a few hours.
I think about this every year. You see, my Dad (MSgt Carl P. Owen of the First Special Service Forces - precursors to the Green Berets) and my Uncle Bill (TSgt William L. Leach) were both in WW II. At this point in time, Dad was battling his way up through Italy having started at the Anzio beachhead. My Uncle Bill was in the 82nd Airborne and he had already geared up and was in the plane by this time. Nervous as Hell and, like all of the other men (despite what Holly would have you believe) NONE of them would admit to being scared. That kind of namby-pamby BS happens only in the "modern" army or in Hollywood. Back then, you did not show fear. Fear is contagious and NOBODY showed that he was scared as hell. And all of them, except for the "crazies", were scared. Personally, I think that Uncle Bill was one of the "crazies." I know that Dad was. :-)
In about six hours, midnight my time, the Allies will open up with 15" and 16" battle ship guns. The shell was almost as big as a Volkswagen bug. When it went over the boats going ashore, the men in the boats said that the small landing craft would literally lift up out of the water because of the tremendous vacuum created by a shell that big going going that fast just overhead. (OK, maybe so, maybe not - but it really was a huge shell!) But the German bunkers were built really, really stout. Very few were destroyed by the shelling. However, when that 14", 15" or 16" shell hit those bunkers it deafened those inside. No sound deafening had been provided.
The American forces landed at Omaha and Utah beaches - the most heavily defended coast line. The foul weather had prevented the Allies from pounding those defenses as much as was needed and most were still intact. And the Allies paid dearly for it. Rommel had done an excellent job of ensuring that not a single foot of the beach could not be raked with 9mm and 10mm machine gun fire as well as 20mm and 40mm rapid-fire cannons. The British and Canadians landed at Sword, Gold and Juno beaches. These were not quite as heavily defended. Most of the gun emplacements did not even have the guns mounted yet. However, they paid later when they ran into the interior German armies.
Intermixed with these assaults (usually with the English landing parties) are the Canadians, Australians, Free French, Belgian, Czechoslovakians, Netherlands, Danish, Greek, New Zelanders, Norwegian and Polish. No mention of the Swedes, Spanish, Turkish, Mexican nor any other South American nation has ever been made. Probably there were some, but not enough to have been mentioned.
To quote from Wikipedia:
The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June. Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men. The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved. The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep. Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July. The Germans had ordered French civilians, other than those deemed essential to the war effort, to leave potential combat zones in Normandy. Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.
Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere. The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obligated to defend a huge stretch of coastline. The Allies achieved and maintained air superiority, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere with bomber attacks. Transportation infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies. Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact, but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches. Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command was also a factor in the Allied success.
There are several really good links that tell about this day. Some are
Two GREAT movies about D-Day are
And then there is D-Day, the movie
Check out some of the other references at
But, remember of these men who went ashore close to 10,000 men died on that day and close to 1 million Allied military men died by the end of the June - died so that we could live in peace. If you see a soldier, marine, coast guard sailor, navy sailor or airman, THANK THEM for being there then and here today. Buy their breakfast, lunch or supper if you see them in a restaurant.
See you in December: