Today marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing that eventually led to the freeing of a continent.
For over two years, the Allies had been fighting the Germans in northern Africa and Italy. They had been putting off the invasion of mainland Europe until the time was right. For nearly two years, the Allies prepared for the invasion. Tens of thousands of soldiers and military planners prepared for the battle on the southern coast of England.
During this time, the Allies tried to deceive the Germans about where the landing would take place. The deception campaign was codenamed Operation Bodyguard.
After years of preparation, the fateful day finally came.
150,000 men were prepared to die to liberate a continent. Accompanying them would be 7,000 ships, 1,213 warships, 4,127 landing craft, 12,000 aircraft and 10,000 vehicles.
This was to become the largest amphibious operation in history.
On the eve of the invasion, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the following message to the troops:
“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
“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. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … The freemen of the world are marching together to Victory!
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
D-Day: June 6, 1944
The day had finally arrived. The bombings began before dawn. Allied bombers were tasked with dropping bombs on German bunkers and artillery positions to help limit the firing capacity of the Germans, paving the way for an easier assault from the landing troops.
However, cloud cover obscured the vision of the pilots. They dropped nearly 2,000 bombs, but they overshot their targets. The bombings resulted in zero German deaths.
The battle was not off to a good start.
The Allies were to invade five beaches, codenamed Omaha, Juno, Utah, Sword and Gold.
At 6:30 a.m. the first wave of troops disembarked and proceeded to storm the beach. The first wave took the most casualties. A Company lost 92% of their unit at Omaha beach in the initial wave.
The scene was pure chaos. The war planners had a precise timetable for each wave of landing craft to disembark. They envisioned the landings like a conveyor belt, each wave landing at a precise time. However, the initial waves took heavy fire, which disrupted their movement.
American soldier Walter Elhers described his experience:
“We got on the beach and they have all these people laying down on the beach that were killed, it was chaos. The Germans were firing down on American soldiers from trenches veiled by tall grass, and from several pillbox bunkers made of concrete. Mines littered the ground.”
Another solider, from Minnesota in the 1st division, wrote a letter home that said, “I’ve never in all my life prayed so much. It was awful. People dying all over the place—the wounded unable to move and being drowned by the incoming tide and boats burning madly as succeeding waves tried to get in.”
Eventually the Allies broke through the German lines. The Allies had strength in numbers and superior firepower. The Allies prevailed; however, the war was not over. Another ten months of battles would take place, and many thousands more would perish. In the end, 9,000 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice during D-Day.
They are buried at a cemetery nearby. The impeccably manicured grass is adorned with rows upon rows of white crosses with the names of the fallen.
Free men and women owe so much to those brave men who stormed the beach that day. It is a debt that can never be fully repaid. Sadly, most of our World War II heroes have departed this earth.
Only a few remain. If you know or meet any WWII survivors, make sure to shake their hand and thank them for their service. Let them know that they will never be forgotten. It is the least we can do.
On the 40th anniversary of the landings, President Reagan delivered a moving address at Normandy. He was addressing veterans who had climbed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. He addressed the survivors by saying, “Forty years ago at this moment, the air was sense with smoke and the cries of men, and … was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.
“Free nations had fallen. Jews cried out in the camps. Millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue.
“Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Rangers daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them here.
“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Our nation must never forget those heroes.