D-Day 75th Anniversary: A Tribute
"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them"
Franklin D. Roosevelt
As commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings draw to a close, the sight of those brave men weeping for those who never made it off the beaches, was a sobering and timely reminder that the privileges and freedoms we so often take for granted were bought and paid for by millions. It's far too easy these days to forget the insurmountable debt we owe and can never truly repay, which is why it is so important to remember and honour these anniversaries, especially with so many of that Golden Generation now in their mid- late 90's. We don't know how much longer we may have them so we need to show our gratitude now whilst they are still with us to see it.
These commemorations were also a firm reminder of what we as humans are capable of when we work together, side by side. A reminder of the wonders we can achieve when we unite in search of the same objective. Fourteen different countries played a part in the Normandy Campaign 75 years ago. United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Greece, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Not all these countries were represented in huge numbers but it didn't matter, they all played their part in the success of the Normandy landings. They may have been soldiers storming the beach, Paratroopers dropped from the sky to claim the flanks so the Allies couldn't be outmanoeuvred. They may have been female spies dropped behind enemy lines to pass false information onto the Germans so that they wouldn't know when or where the invasion was coming. They could have been civilians who risked everything in their occupied countries to protect, hide and offer aid to Allied soldiers; those that were caught were shot. Everyone had value, everyone had a place in the Allies hope for victory. Very different from Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, where you were persecuted and then either shot or gassed for the religion you followed, for being born different, for the person you chose to love. In Hitler's world you could be killed simply for being you; people weren't free to live without fear or persecution without just cause. D-Day was about freeing Europe of that tyranny and oppression and giving people back their freedom.
In many ways, it all began in the East. The war being waged between the Germans and the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front was horrendous and bloody, casualty rates in the millions at places like Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow. Joseph Stalin put pressure on the Allies to open up a second front, one that would ease the assault on the Eastern Front. But after their defeat in France, Britain lacked the manpower to launch an invasion into Western Europe, no matter how much they wanted to. This, of course, changed with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour which brought America, and its vast reserves of manpower, into the war. Suddenly a invasion looked much more achievable.
D-Day was the beginning of Operation Overlord, which was the codename for the invasion of mainland Europe. It was not, however, the Allies first attempt to launch an invasion into Fortress Europe. The first attempt was the Dieppe raid, codenamed Operation Jubilee, two years previously in 1942. A combined force of 5,000 Canadian soldiers, 1,000 British Soldiers and 50 US Army Rangers launched an assault on the German-occupied port of Dieppe in Northern France. The Allies knew exactly what they wanted to achieve from the Dieppe raid; they wanted to seize and hold a major port, both for intelligence purposes and to prove to themselves that it could be done. Upon retreat the Allies desired the destruction of coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings, likely in preparation for a bigger invasion force later on. But the Allied leaders also wanted to boost the morale of their men. Whilst the evacuation at Dunkirk was an undoubted miracle and triumph of spirit, in military terms it was a crushing defeat and morale was likely low; success would help to change that. Sadly, the Dieppe raid proved to be an utter disaster. Within six hours, strong German defences and heavy Allied losses forced Commanders to call a retreat. Within ten hours of the first soldiers landing at Dieppe, the last of the Allied troops had either been killed, evacuated or been left behind to be captured. Of the 6,050 men who landed at Dieppe 3,623 were either killed, wounded or captured. The RAF lost 106 planes, 32 to anti-aircraft fire and accidents and the Navy lost 33 landing craft and one Destroyer. The Allies didn't achieve anything they set out to do with the exception being that they did manage to gather some electrical intelligence. However, the raid proved to both the Allies and Germans that the Allies were simply in no shape to launch an invasion into France and wouldn't be for some time. Thankfully, when planning began for D-Day lessons had been learnt.
Originally planned for June 5th 1944, D-Day had to be postponed for 24 hours due to bad weather. Due to the sheer scale of what they were going to attempt, clear skies and, as calm waters as they could get, were needed. So it was that on Tuesday June 6th 1944 the Allied Nations began the largest air, sea and land operation ever attempted in history before or since. Over 5,000 ships, 12,000 airplanes and over 150,000 men would cross the channel to Normandy to land on five designated beaches. These beaches all had different names. The two beaches the American troops would land on were named Utah and Omaha. The two beaches the British and Commonwealth troops would land on were Gold and Sword. The fifth beach would be stormed by a joint British and Canadian force and that was named Juno beach. 23,000 troops were part of Paratrooper Regiments who were dropped into France and tasked with securing the flanks of the assault areas, as well as capturing key places behind the beaches. The remaining 132,000 soldiers landed on the beaches, whilst there will have been more men serving on the naval ships which fired on to the beaches to offer covering fire to their troops.
Many of the men taking part in D-Day were very young and experiencing war for the very first time. When they speak now, all remember seeing bodies floating in the water, some face down. Some simply find it too difficult to speak of what they saw when they landed on the beach. When these young men disembarked from their ships and amphibious landing craft they still had 200 yards of beach to navigate under heavy German artillery and machine-gun fire, before they reached the first natural feature that would offer protection. 10,000 casualties were suffered on D-Day, 4,000 of whom tragically lost their lives. Omaha beach suffered the worst of the fighting but those brave men never gave up and every beach was taken and held. Over the course of the Normandy campaign the daily casualty rate, which included civilian deaths, was 6,675; this was higher than the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele in the First World War.
D-Day was a huge success and paved the way for victory in Europe, which is why commemorating the anniversaries of this day will be just as important in the future as it was this year; especially when we no longer have these brave men around to share their stories. Just because the brave soldiers that fought for the freedoms we enjoy today are no longer with us, doesn't make remembering them any less important; if anything it makes it more important than ever before. We owe our veterans a debt we can never repay except with a simple vow; we will never forgot. We will remember them. Lest we forget.