Below is an article I wrote last year (2019) on the D-Day invasion. Saturday will mark the 76th anniversary of the Allied landing. RCP, fortunascorner.com
D-Day From An Individual Soldier’s Perspective: My Review Of Giles Milton’s New Book — “How The Allies Won D-Day: Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill, Or Die”
As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day this June 6, I wanted to share with you my review of Giles Milton’s new book, “How The Allies Won D-Day: Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill, Or Die,” just published by Henry Holt & Company of New York. I am sure many of you have read and seen documentaries about the brutal horror that was D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the liberation of Europe began. This book was originally published in the U.K. in 2018, under the title, “D-Day: The Soldier’s Story.” Mr. Milton has written several books, including, “Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat,” which was published in 2017. This book on the D-Day invasion is written from a soldier’s perspective, and is loaded with vignettes of individual courage, and leadership under fire.
I apologize for the length of the article. But, it is the 75th anniversary of that momentous undertaking; and, to do Mr. Milton’s book justice, I felt there needed to be several examples of the many riveting individual soldier’s experiences on D-Day. With that said……
Two days from now, 75 years, ago, June 5, everyone from Presidents and Heads of State, to the lowest private — were anxious and reflective in the waning hours before D-Day, June 6, 1944, The Allied invasion of France/Normandy coastline — known by the code name — Operation Overlord, marked the beginning of the end of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Mr. Milton provides the reader with a vivid and riveting picture of what it was like in those last few hours before many young men stormed across the English Channel to liberate Europe. It was a staggering and risky undertaking. Some 156,000 soldiers were to assault five beaches on the coast of France at Normandy: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. As Mr Milton wrote: “The first two were assigned to the Americans, Juno to the Canadians, and Gold and Sword to the British. The landing zone would stretch for 60 miles across France’s Normandy coastline, from Sainte-Mere-Eglise, to Lion-sur-Mer.
President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill chose Normandy for the Allied invasion while at the Trident Conference, May 12 – May 25, 1943 in Washington D.C. General Dwight Eisenhower did not assume command of the operation, as the Supreme Allied Commander until December 1943, seven months prior to D-Day. British General Bernard Montgomery would serve as his deputy, and someone that Gen. Eisenhower despised until his dying days. Roosevelt had persuaded Prime Minister Churchill that the invasion should take place in May 1944, one year after the conference; but, the atrocious English Channel weather delayed the invasion till June.
General Eisenhower Frets On The Eve Of D-Day; “Fears Of Another “Little Bighorn”
Rick Atkinson in the “Guns At Last Light: D-Day, And The Liberation Of Europe,” writes that “on the night of June 5, 1944, the prospect of “another Little Bighorn” gnawed at General Eisenhower in these final hours. Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s Irish chauffeur-cum-secretary, tried to help Eisenhower relax in the few hours before the seaborne invasion of Normandy would begin — but, to no avail. “In those pre-dawn hours, no matter how much strength I used, I could not undo the knots at the base of Eisenhower’s neck,” Ms. Summersby wrote in her diary. “His eyes were bloodshot, and he was so tired, his hands shook when he lit a cigarette. “Sommersby feared the responsibilities were too much for one person,” Mr. Milton added. She noticed Eisenhower had tears in his eyes when she drove him back after meeting the American paratroopers who were about to depart for Normandy.” “Eisenhower was,” Ms. Summersby noted, “the loneliest man in the world,” at that moment in time.
“After watching British troops board their naval craft from South Parade Pier, in Portsmouth, — he [Eisenhower] sat down to compose a contrite note of responsibility” — writes Mr. Atkinson — “just in case,” the Normandy invasion failed. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harve area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold; and, I have withdrawn the troops,” he wrote. “If any blame, or fault attaches to the attempt — it is mine alone.” As Mr. Atkinson adds, “miss-dating the paper July 5, — symptomatic of exhaustion and anxiety — he slipped it into his wallet, for use as needed. When he returned to the manor house at his headquarters, in a royal preserve outside London,” Mr. Atkinson wrote, “Eisenhower climbed the roof to get a final glimpse at his men. “The light of battle was in their eyes,” he would write to George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief Of Staff. “I hope to God, I know what I am doing.” And, as it turned out, Eisenhower knew what he was doing; and, June 6, 1944 was indeed the longest day.
In The Dark Weeks And Hours Before D-Day — Eisenhower Would Depend On Men Like George Lane To Pave The Way
Mr. Milton writes that “George Lane viewed his life in much the same way a professional gambler might view a game of poker: something to be played with a steady nerve, a dash of courage, and a willingness to win or lose everything in the process. His addiction to risk had driven him to join the commando’, and volunteer for an undercover mission in the two weeks before D-Day, “code-named Operation Tarbrush X.” Lane’s mission was to “smuggle himself into Nazi-occupied France, using the cover of darkness, to paddle himself ashore in a black rubber dinghy. His mission was to investigate a new mine that the Germans were installing on the Normandy beaches.” Mr. Milton’s telling of how the mission unfolded and ended, through Lane’s eyes, is worth the price of the book alone. “Lane was Hungarian, and his real name was Dyuri Lanyi — and his formative years were spent as a member of the Hungarian water polo team,” Mr. Milton wrote, before he landed in Britain and joined the special forces. He and his cohort were eventually discovered and captured by German forces, where both men would be brought before Rommel.
Then, there was nineteen year-old Dennis Edwards, “and his pals from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry,” who had been given a “crucial mission on D-Day,” Mr. Milton writes. Edwards and his group were charged with “spearheading the initial assault into Nazi-occupied France, with an audacious coup-de-main — a swift and surprise attack, that would require them to be dropped behind enemy lines. Long before the seaborne forces landed, Edwards and his unit would be fighting their way through the French countryside with the goal of seizing two really important bridges, one at the village of Ranville, and one at Benouville,” Mr. Milton noted. He adds, “the capture of the bridges was vital to the success of D-Day, as they were the principal crossing points for two waterways, the River Orne, and the Caen Canal, which ran northwards to the coast.” Mr. Milton’s description of how the mission unfolded is riveting.
Mr. Milton goes on to describe other individual acts of bravery and heroism which was in full display on D-Day. Meanwhile………
The Largest, Most Challenging Invasion From The Sea In History Of Warfare
As Mr. Milton notes, “the goal for the invasion day was ambitious: a near contiguous beachhead stretching along much of Normandy’s coast, with only a small gap between Omaha and Utah beaches. The beachhead was to extend 15 miles inland, and was to include the cities of Caen, and Bayeux. The imperative was to secure the coastal landing zone. First there would be a pre-dawn bombardment from the air to eliminate the German coastal defenses. This would be followed by a big-gun naval attack, with smaller rocket ships providing additional firepower. Next, an army of amphibious tanks would emerge from the sea, and blast away the remaining [big] guns. Specialist tanks would follow, along with armored bulldozers. Then, once passages had been cleared through the beach debris in the opening hours of the first day, large numbers of infantry troops would be landed, followed by thousands of tons of supplies.”
“The logistical challenges were unprecedented,” Mr. Milton wrote. “The number of American troops stationed in England had risen to 1.5 million by the spring of 1944, fully twenty divisions. There were also 14 British divisions, three Canadians, one French, and one Polish. These troops required thousands of jeeps and armored vehicles, as well as artillery pieces, shells, and ammunition. On D-Day itself, 73,000 American troops would be landed in Normandy, along with 62,000 British, and 21,000 Canadians.”
“Allied forces would be doing battle against a formidable German military machine,” Mr. Milton wrote. “Despite the hammering it was receiving on the Eastern Front [from Stalin’s Russia], its soldiers displayed extraordinary bravado. Their fighting spirit was supported by superb weaponry. The Wehrmacht’s Panther and Tiger tanks, combined both power and strength: the thinly armored British Cornwell’s and American Sherman’s were simply no match. Nor, was Allied infantry weaponry as efficient as its German counterparts.The Wehrmacht’s MG-42 Machine Gun, fired 1,200 rounds per minute; while, the Allies’ Bren gun less than half that number.”
The beaches themselves were heavily fortified with numerous obstacles meant to encase the allies in a water-logged killing field. Omaha and Utah, in particular, had been heavily fortified with pillboxes, a kind of concrete dugout, with reinforced bunkers and machine-gun nests. “There were also anti-tank positions, mounted guns, and multiple-barreled mortars, as well as rocket batteries and artillery positions,” Mr. Milton wrote. “All were connected by a zigzagging maze of trenches, manned by snipers.”
Omaha Beach “Resembled A Mine-Strewn Medieval Moat”
Omaha Beach “itself, was waterlogged at high tide, and resembled a mine-strewn, Medieval moat,” Mr. Milton wrote. “Next came a 25 foot-high concrete seawall, built like an enceinte (enclosure) and topped with barbed wire. And then, there were the bluffs and the cliffs that reached a height of 60 meters. Omaha Beach was but 1000 yards wide, that had a gentile, upward slope; and, some 7,000 yards long at low-tide. If an invading force actually got to the beach — in addition to the obstacles noted above — troops would have to fight their way past 5, MG-42 German machine guns posted at the top of the 150 foot bluff overlooking the beach. The MG-42 was the fastest firing machine-gun in the world at that time; and, could fire 1500 bullets per minute/ 25 bullets per second. The bullets were fired so fast, the troops nicknamed the MG-42 “Hitler’s Zipper.” The Germans troops had another name for it — “Hitler’s Saw, and/or, “Hitler’s Bonesaw.” Additionally, the Germans had 30 anti-tank weapons, 17 heavy mortars, 20 field guns and numerous snipers. If the Allied invasion did indeed come to Normandy, Rommel was going to make sure that attacking troops were going to have to overcome a gauntlet of obstacles and weaponry — all the while navigating forward on an exposed beach. In some ways, reading accounts of the battle reminded me of “Pickett’s Charge,” for the Confederacy at Gettysburg.
“Hitler’s army in France and the Low Countries, numbered 50 divisions — some 850,000 men — with the 15th Army defending the Pas de Calais, [where Hitler thought the Allies would land] and the 7th Army defending Normandy,” Mr. Milton wrote. “Together, they comprised Army Group B, commanded by Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.” Rommel disagreed with Hitler and believed the Allies would land at Normandy. Rommel lobbied heavily for more coastal defenses and kill the Allied invasion at its birth on the beaches of Normandy; but, his superior, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt did not believe the Allied beach landing could be stopped Mr. Milton noted; and Rundstedt thought it was better for German forces to hang back inland and suck the Allies into an envelopment trap deeper inland and off the beaches. To his credit, and the Allies detriment, Rommel did as much as he could to strengthen the coastal defense of Normandy, “reinforcing concrete bunkers, planting anti-tank obstacles on the beaches, and setting underwater minefields in the coastal shallows,” Mr. Milton wrote. “By June of 1944, some 6 million mines had been laid.”
“As an additional defense, potential landing fields had been studded with slanted poles, to prevent the landing of gliders, while low-lying coastal meadows had been flooded so as to hinder the movement of Allied troops,” Mr. Milton wrote. “This newly strengthened front line, the so-called Atlantic Wall, represented a significant obstacle to the Allied invasion.”
The French Resistance
The French resistance, led by Charles de Gaulle also played a crucial role up to, during, and throughout the Allied invasion. Mr. Milton tells a small piece of this story through Guillaume Mercader, a unit leader in the French Resistance, who, when listening to a BBC radio broadcast on the evening of June 5, 1944. Personal messages on his clandestine wireless heard the words that would transform his life, and the war: “Le champ du laboureur dans le matin brumeux. (The field of the ploughman in the morning mist). It was the signal to the French Resistance that the Allied invasion was only hours away. Mercader’s unit, was charged with blowing up the main railway line between Caen and Laval, thus robbing the Germans of a key logistics railway they would have used to bring armor and weapons to their troops deployed on the high ground, just off the beaches of Normandy.
Allied Air & Naval Bombardment In Attempt To ‘Soften’ German Defenses
The air component of D-Day was also spectacularly large. The allies would fly 14,075 sorties on D-Day, to the German Luftwaffes’ putrid 139. ” About 100 Allied aircraft were shot down that day, mostly due to anti-aircraft weapons deployed along the high-ground adjacent to Normandy’s beaches.
In the early minutes of the attack, just after midnight, June 6, 1944, things were already going badly for the allies. Four hundred forty-six U.S. and Allied bombers had been tasked with taking out the German heavy guns perched at the tops of the 150ft high bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach. Before the operation, USAF officers had boasted that their bombing was so precise, “they could hit a pickle-barrel from 10K feet.” But, in the wee hours of the morning, before daylight, there was cloud cover and overcast. Navy commanders feared that the Army Air Corp could mistakenly hit their vessels as they approached the beaches. So, the bombers were instructed to wait precious seconds (after they believed they should) before dropping their bombs — in order to prevent fratricide.
Additionally, “Shortly before the bomber fleet got airborne, Eisenhower had agreed to a request from the English Air Force, that pilots be allowed to delay their bombardment up to thirty seconds, as they passed over the Normandy coast,” Mr. Milton wrote. “This was to avoid hitting the Allied infantry landing on the shore below — but, it [this delay] had unfortunate consequences. The 329 U.S. B-24 bombers targeting Omaha Beach dropped 13,000 bombs in the pre-dawn period. Virtually all of them exploded in the cliff-top pastureland, killing cows and damaging farms — but, leaving the German coastal defenses…..completely untouched. They didn’t scour a single crater into the beaches, as was intended, in order to provide cover for the infantry that was soon to land.”
“The American Air Corps may as well have just stayed in bed,” commented one American officer watching the bombing from a few hundred yards offshore. An English Captain was equally damming,” Mr. Milton wrote: “That’s a lot of use,” he said. “All that did was wake them [German’s] up.”
At least initially, the naval bombardment fared little better.
Seizing The Town Of Sainte-Mere-Eglise
Capturing the French town of Sainte-Mere-Englise was a key strategic goal of the D-Day invasion, as evidenced by the dropping of some 13,000 paratroopers in and around the town, beginning at 0140 am on June 6, 1944. The town stood in the middle of the route that the Germans were most likely to utilize for a counter-attack on Allied forces landing at Utah and Omaha Beaches. Among those paratroopers, were members of the Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. But, as with other operational Allied goals on D-Day, Mr. Milton writes that the “Airborne Division’s drop from the sky had gone spectacularly wrong for many of the 13,000 paratroopers” that early morning. “Some had landed in the sea and had been dragged to a watery grave. Others had been drowned in the inundated meadows around the town. Men has also been scattered many miles from their drop zones, and found themselves with neither weapons, nor equipment. They felt helpless and unless — the jokers in the pack — and yet these frightened stragglers were destined to play a vital role that night.”
“Tom Porcella was one of the many who’s first hour in France was particularly woeful,” Mr. Milton wrote. “Even before he jumped, he was torn with anguish with what lay ahead. A devout Christian, he found the same question repeating itself in his head: “Will I be able to kill a man?”
Meanwhile, Colonel Edward “Cannonball” Krause had spent the previous hour-and-one-half [after landing] assembling enough men to assault Sainte Mere-Englise,” Mr. Milton wrote. “In that time, he had gathered about 200 paratroopers, some from his own battalion, and some from units who landed far from their intended drop zones.” Col. Krause then began to lead “this impromptu band of soldiers” to assault and capture the town. Krause was unaware that other members of his battalion had already converged on Sainte Mere-Englise,” and “were slugging it out in hand-to hand combat.” Mr. Milton noted. Men like “Ronald Snyder, a plucky 20 year-old Sargent, whose unit had spearheaded the invasion of Sicily and Salerno.” There was also 21 year-old Jack Eads, an engineering student from Illinois, whose original mission had been to capture one of the four raised causeways connecting Utah Beach and Sainte Mere-Englise, But, like so many parachutists that night, Eads had been dropped in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Once captured, the key for the Allies was to hold on to what they had. The D-Day landing had been underway for fourteen hours, and many felt as one young soldier, William Holmore did, “nervous.” “Many soldiers were concerned that they would not be able to hold on to their territorial gains,” Mr. Milton wrote. “The stage was set for an epic battle whose intensity and violence would reflect the personalities of the men involved.” I refer you to Mr. Milton’s book for some of those personalities.
There are many more examples of individual heroism, courage, fear, and death. But. Mr. Milton breathes life into what the individual soldier was thinking on D-Day, and how they reacted to the face of battle. All of which make the book a nice read for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Main Invasion/Landings At Dawn, June 6, 1944; By Noon, The Outcome Was Very Much In Doubt; Gen. Omar Bradley, Eisenhower’s Principal American Commander Privately Considered Foregoing The Beachhead At Normandy & Instead Reinforcing Utah & British Beaches
“The first landings on Omaha Beach had been an ongoing catastrophe,” Mr. Milton notes, “with wave after wave of men being mowed down as they landed. But, a few troops had managed to reach the seawall; and, they represented the first glimmer of hope that not everything was lost. If they could only scale the bluffs, and attack the strongholds from behind, they had a chance of silencing the guns of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.”
“Jack Ellery was one of those slithering under the seawall,” Mr. Milton wrote, and close to reaching his first objective, a German observation post, WN62, that had been mowing down Allied soldiers advancing up the beach. “Now, in a display of extraordinary courage, he gathered four or five men, and started to lead them up the bluff. About two-thirds of the way up, a machine-gun opened fire from the right front. Ellery’s little band, scrapped themselves together into the dirt, while Ellery himself ‘scurried and scratched’ his way forward, until he was just ten meters from the gun position.” “Then, I unloaded all four of my fragmentation grenades’ and hurled them into the machine gun nest. All four exploded, devastatingly, enabling Ellery to continue up the bluff.” “Those other kids were right behind me.”
“Ellery knew if others acted like him, then the catastrophe of Omaha might yet be turned to victory,” Mr. Milton wrote. “But, he also knew that any advance up the bluffs would have to be led by young officers like himself, for none of the senior ranks had landed in the first waves. He saw one young lad with a broken arm, leading seven men up the bluff. He saw another carrying a wounded comrade up the cliffs.”
“As he clambered even higher, and saw a handful of others doing the same, he was struck by a thought that would remain with him for years to come,” Mr. Milton wrote. “That morning’s fighting owed nothing to the much decorated generals and chiefs of staff; but, everything to the heroic individuals in the lower ranks.” “True courage is found on those who believe that there are things in life worth fighting for, and dying for. You can’t buy valor, and you can’t pull heroes off the assembly line.”
“Of the generals and colonels who would later claim to have stormed up the beach, Jack Ellery saw not a single one,” Mr. Milton wrote. “When you talk about combat leadership under fire on the beach at Normandy. I don’t see how the credit can go to anyone other than the company grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers’ — men like Ellery himself who led the way.”
“Now, the fate of Omaha lay in their hands,” Mr. Miltion so eloquently wrote.
The landings on the five beaches all took place as the sun was rising, or shortly thereafter on June 6, 1944. But, by noon on June 6/D-Day, the outcome was still very much in doubt. Little ground had been gained at that time, and Eisenhower’s principal American Commander, General Omar Bradley, privately thought “this is a nightmare, as he watched hundreds of landing craft circling in the distant shadows, unable to land because the beached was so chocked with junk. What was there to be done? What orders should he give? If ever there was a time for leadership — it was now,” Mr. Milton wrote.
“Privately, I considered evacuating the [Normandy] beachhead, and directing the follow-up troops to Utah Beaches, or the British beaches,” Gen. Bradley would later write. “But, he knew that evacuation was logistically impossible; and, that a diversion of troops would wreck the entire invasion plan. It would also condemn those already on the beach to certain death,” Mr. Milton wrote. “I [Gen. Bradley] agonized over the withdrawal decision, praying that our men could hang on.”
Rommel’s Biggest Fear Comes True
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox.’ rose early on June 6, “unaware of the momentous events taking place,” on the beaches of Normandy, Mr. Milton wrote. Rommel in fact, was in southwest Germany, preparing to celebrate his wife’s birthday. When he got the telephone call informing him that the Allied invasion had begun, at Normandy, Rommel immediately summoned his aide and raced to the French Coast. At one point in the journey, Rommel remarked to Capt. Lang, his senior aide, “You see Lang, I was right all the time. I should have had the Panzer Lehr, and the 12th SS under my command near the beaches,” something he had lobbied hard for; but, was denied by Hitler and the German High Command. A few months earlier, Lang remembered Rommel’s “prescient words, uttered just a few months earlier: “If we don’t throw them back into the sea within the first 24 hours, we are lost. When this happens [the invasion], the day will be the longest day, and perhaps the final day.” Cornelius Ryan would latter immortalize Rommel’s prophecy — that the Allied invasion would have to be defeated on the beaches of Normandy, or all would be lost — in his WWII/D-Day classic, “The Longest Day,” which was later made into a movie of the same name, staring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery and Henry Fonda, among others.
The ‘Boys’ Of Point du Hoc
By 0745, the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy had been underway for a little over an hour. Hundreds of bodies of Allied soldiers floated in the water and were strewn across the sand, in particular at Omaha Beach. The German machine gun nests were an effective, and efficient killing machine. The German cliff-top guns at Point du Hoc had been of particular concern to Gen. Eisenhower and the Allied planners. “A mission of uncommon daring was called for,” Mr. Milton wrote. One such mission “was taking place some thirty miles to the west, between the towns of Grandcamp and Vierville. The sky was still hunkered into the night, when James Rudder and his band of adventurers set off for the foreboding cliffs of Point du Hoc.” Two hundred-twenty five U.S. commandos were to “knock out six German 155mm cannons that could lob shells some 25,000 meters,” that were situated, and burrowed into the top of the cliffs. The shells “could hit both Utah and Omaha Beach, as well as the cruisers and destroyers anchored just off the beaches,” Mr. Milton explained. “This mission was deemed vital,” according to General Omar Bradley, Eisenhower’s top American commander. Bradley had said before D-Day, “those six guns could fatally wreck our invasion force.” And, the German military was well aware that the only sure fire way for the Allies to take out these guns, was from an assault force on the ground. “For this reason,” Mr. Miltion notes, “the Germans had fortified the guns from the rear, protecting them with minefields and trenches.”
“James Rudder knew this, and it prompted a more creative approach,” Mr. Milton wrote, as to how to take the guns out. “He studied aerial reconnaissance photographs and samples of clay, before announcing his plan of attack to Max Schneider, a war-toughened Colonel in the Rangers. Schneider could scarcely believe what he was being told: ‘he just whistled through his teeth.’ Others though Rudder had lost his marbles. “”It can’t be done,” snorted an officer from Naval Intelligence.
“Rudder’s plan was to give the Germans a surprise they would never forget,” Mr. Milton wrote. “Instead of attacking from the land, as they expected, he intended to strike from the sea, scaling the near-vertical cliffs using grapnels, ropes and ladders. Such a dramatic assault,” Mr Milton adds, “was a wink and a nod to Major General James Wolfe’s attack on Quebec nearly two centuries earlier, relying on stealth, subterfuge, and physical stamina. But, it would require two other ingredients that didn’t yet exist. If the plan were to work, it would require the best trained men ever to go into battle. It would also need a battlefield commander of uncommon ability.”
Mr. Milton goes on to provide riveting detail of the uncommon courage and valor that ultimately proved Rudder right, and ultimately remove a critical German threat to the D-Day invasion.
The Morning Of June 7, 1944 — And The Road To Victory & The Liberation Of Europe
After 24 hours of intense mayhem and violence, by the morning of June 7, 1944, “the 156,000 Allied troops landed on D-Day were successful in carving out a beachhead; but, it was neither as large, nor as secure as intended,” Mr. Milton wrote. “If all had gone according to plan, the liberated zone would have covered 50 miles of Normandy coast, and including four beaches: Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword. Perfectly executed, D-Day would also have seen the full capture of the cities of Bayeux and Caen. A further liberated zone was to have stretched eight miles inland from Utah Beach, encompassing the Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and a dozen or more nearby villages”
“The reality after 24 hours was somewhat different,” Mr. Milton wrote. “The allies occupied little more than a precarious ribbon of coastline, with eleven miles of enemy territory between Utah and Omaha, and three miles of still vulnerable no-man’s land between Juno and Sword. Only the Gold and June beachheads were linked. Nor, had the allies penetrated far inland: At Juno, the Canadians had managed to advance six miles from the coast; but, the American-controlled enclave at Omaha Beach was just 2,000 yards deep, or a little over a mile. At Point du Hoc, the Ranger assault battalions were desperately clinging to their cliff-top position — despite heavy casualties.”
“Although the beachhead was small, it enabled the Allies to pour in massive quantities of men and machines over the days that followed,” Mr. Milton noted. The bloodshed, was the price to be paid, for the coastal bombardment, which aided the landing of massive quantities of military equipment. Three weeks after D-Day, by the end of June, 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies had been landed at Normandy. Five days after that [a few days shy of one month] that total would top 1 million,” proving that Field Marshall Rommel had been right all along about the turning point of the war on the European continent.
“The great Allied breakout from Normandy began in the third week of July, a multi-stage operation, with the British and Canadians driving south eastward beyond Caen; and, the U.S. Third Army pushing through German lines at Saint-Lo,” Mr. Milton noted. “Almost simultaneously, Hitler was severely wounded in an attempted assassination at his Wolf’s Lair Field Headquarters. The ‘July Plot,’ and its aftermath, sent shock-waves through the German high command. Among those implicated, was Field Marshall Rommel, who had been injured in an Allied air attack three days earlier. Rommel was given a choice of defending himself before a kangaroo court, or commit suicide. He chose the latter, after assurances that his family would be spared, and he would be buried with full military honors. After denying any involvement in the plot — a source of controversy to this day — he swallowed cyanide.
“It would take another six months before Allied forces crossed the Rhine, with many hard-fought battles along the way,” Mr. Milton reminds us. “The collapse of the last German counter-offensive in the Ardennes — the so-called Battle of the Bulge that ended in January 1945 — paved the road to victory. The first Allied forces crossed the Rhine at Remagen on March 7, 1945, by which time the [Soviet] Red Army was fast approaching Berlin. The city was liberated on May 2, 1945,” eleven months after the D-Day invasion.
“In all, D-Day would be followed by 335 days of fighting, before Germany’s unconditional surrender, May 7, 1945, brought the war in Europe to a close,” Mr. Milton wrote.
“Those who planned the Allied landings, knew there would be a high cost in human life on the first day of combat. No definitive roster of the dead and wounded was ever compiled for June 6 itself; but, subsequent research suggests there were approximately 8,200 casualties on the right flank — Omaha, Utah, and the Cotentin peninsula — and a further 3,000 British and Canadian casualties on the three other beaches,” Mr. Milton wrote. “The number of German dead and injured remains unknown: estimates range from 4,000 – 9,000.”
“The number of dead French civilians is rarely mentioned, despite their many trials in the wake of the Allied invasion,” Mr. Milton wrote. “An estimated 3,000 men, women, and children died in the 48 hours that followed D-Day.”
Great Loss Of Life; But, The Liberation Of Western Europe Had Begun
The “stars,” of The Longest Day,” were not in Hollywood. They were those brave souls of “The Greatest Generation,” who gave their last full measure of devotion in defense of freedom and liberty — and, against Fascism. It was French leader Charles de Gaulle who — when overlooking the windswept graveyards near the beaches and coastline of Normandy said, “the graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men.” Operation Overlord was the largest and most ambitious seaborne/amphibious military operation that had ever been attempted — at the time — and, it remains so to this day.
Over 11,000 U.S. and Allied forces lost their lives on June 6, 1944. General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former U.S. President, who helped lead the landings at Utah Beach — earning the Medal of Honor. A week after D-Day, he suffered a heart attack during battle — and, was later buried at Normandy.
Where Does Normandy Rank In U.S. Military History?
As Jonathan Jordan wrote in this weekend’s/June 1/2, 2019 Wall Street Journal, “Inch by Inch, Foot by Foot,” that “Among American marital milestones, D-Day holds a reverence in our collective memory equaled only by the Battle of Gettysburg, and Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River — an eminence whose warm glow has deepened as twilight falls over the Greatest Generation. The battle’s resonance lies not only in its epic scale — history’s largest amphibious invasion,” Mr. Jordan wrote, “but, in its easily comprehended “High Noon” format: democracy versus tyranny free citizens hurling themselves at an Atlantic Wall studded with cannon, machine guns, and Hitler’s Ubermenschen.” Some military history sites rank Normandy as the second most consequential military engagement of all time.
“We Cannot Choose Our Battlefields, God Does That For Us; But, We Can Plant A Standard, Where A Standard Never Flew”
So, when we honor those who fought and died 75 years ago this Friday, June 6, 2019 — we might remember a quote from an unknown author. The quote is believed to be about the Standard Bearers of the Civil War, who disproportionately suffered the highest mortality rate of any other assignment/duty in the Civil War.
The quote goes as follows, “We Cannot Choose Our Battlefields,” God Does That For Us; But, We Can Plant A Standard Where A Standard Never Flew.”
For the boys of Point du Hoc, the U.S. Army V and VII Corps, the British 1st and XXX Corps, the British 6th Airborne Division; the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, and 2nd Armored Brigade, and others, U.S. Eighth Air Forces, U.S. Navy/Marines, British, Canadians, Free French Army and French Resistance, the OSS, et. al. — “Planted A Standard, Where A Standard Never Flew.”
Thanks to Giles Milton for a great read on the most historic event of the 20th century. V/R, RCP