D-Day took place on June 6, 1944. It happened 75 years ago from this week Thursday.
It was the greatest invasion ever seen, an Allied attack marked by sheer numbers and incredible courage against the heavily fortified German Axis powers. It was a victory of strategy, guile and superior military force. It was knowing going in many among the American, British and Canadian forces would not survive.
On this day, approximately 156,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel in a massive amphibious military assault, breaking through the Germans’ extensively fortified Atlantic Wall to begin the invasion of German-occupied France.
In an effort to halt the Allied attack, Hitler ordered the installation of landmines, bunkers, and other obstacles to fortify 2,400 miles of French coast. At Normandy, German machine-gun nests were planted in the highground above the beach.
Thousands of American, British, and Canadian paratroopers were dropped before dawn behind enemy lines on the eastern and western flanks of the landing zones. They helped secure roads and bridges in an effort to hinder the Germans’ ability to counterattack as well as facilitate the progress of the landing forces off the beaches.
The Allied landings on the beaches then began with American, British, and Canadian infantry divisions landing along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy coast on five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Allied troops faced German resistance on all beaches, but the bloodiest fighting was on Omaha, where the Americans landed.
By the end of “The Longest Day”, all five beaches had been captured. The Allies had made progress in pushing their way inland. More than 4,000 Allied troops were killed.
They were sent into battle by Dwight D. Eisenhower on the order of “Full victory, nothing else.” Those who returned home united as part of The Greatest Generation. They grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II, or labored to help win it.
In his 1998 book, American journalist Tom Brokaw wrote that these men and women fought not for fame or recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”
The tide was turned in the war 75 years ago. Soldiers streamed into Europe, needing supplies like food, munitions, airplanes, tanks, medicines, bandages. Back home the country was prepared to work harder, faster and longer to furnish what was needed.
A June 6, 1944 editorial in the Los Angeles Times states: “There will be no holding back by the armed forces; there must be no holding back here.”
Three quarters of a century later, this could be the last major battle commemoration for surviving World War II veterans. Only a handful of the 73,000 Americans who participated in Operation Overlord — as the invasion was called — are expected to attend commemorations in France this week. World War II veterans currently are dying at a rate of 348 every day.
One day these brave fighting forces will vanish. Their entire generation who allied for freedom and liberation will eventually fade into the past. They may be gone, but their stories mustn’t go with them.
Ladysmith News editorials are written by news staff.