CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 7, 2017 – June 6 came and went with hardly a whimper this year. But 73 years ago, June 6 was D-Day, the day when the biggest amphibious military assault in history took place. Anyone who has watched the movies “The Longest Day” (1968), “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) or “Band of Brothers” (2001) will know most of today’s D-Day trivia items, but they are still well worth remembering.
Within three months following the assault on the beaches of Normandy, France, the allied invasion force would be setting its sights on entering Germany before meeting the Soviet army from the east.
U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 6,000 landing craft and ships carrying 176,000 troops across the widest expanse of the English Channel to invade five beaches in Normandy, designated as Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha. During the night prior to the landing, some 822 planes filled with parachutists jumped into drop zones along the coast, while 13,000 additional aircraft provided cover and air support.
At approximately 6:30 a.m. British and Canadian forces captured Gold, Juno and Sword beaches with only minimal opposition. The same was true for the Americans at Utah Beach where the fleet landed. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt led troops to shore with the first wave of the invasion.
Roosevelt’s requests to participate were denied at first. But in the end, his petition was accepted. At the age of 56, Roosevelt was the oldest soldier to storm the beaches at Normandy and the only general to participate in the assault.
Meanwhile, at Omaha Beach, American troops ran into the greatest resistance of the invasion as they attempted to slog about 200 yards across an open beach and then up a sloping embankment to reach the German counter-attack. More than 2,000 soldiers lost their lives during the assault at Omaha Beach.
It was only through tenacity and the will to win that the Americans were able to achieve their goal. By the end of the day more than 155,000 American, British and Canadian troops had stormed the beaches of Normandy.
As should be expected with an invasion the size of D-Day, the assault did not go off precisely as it was planned. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery noted that the Allies were only able to land a fraction of their supplies and vehicles initially. But by the end of June, there were 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy ready to move inland across France and into Germany.
In the final analysis, the outcome of D-Day really boiled down to which side made fewer mistakes.
The Germans, who were anticipating an attack at Calais, the shortest route across the channel, were mired in confusion when the invasion took place elsewhere.
In some cases, the German forces were also hampered by a lack of leadership. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was on leave when the attack took place, and Adolf Hitler believing the invasion was actually a diversion away from what he thought was the true invasion site, refused to release nearby reinforcements.
Instead Hitler called for a counter-attack from a greater distance while, at the same time, hesitating to send in armored divisions to bolster his defenses.
According to Gen. Eisenhower, former Nebraska National Guard Infantry Officer Andrew Higgins played a major role in the allied victory. The lumber businessman from Louisiana had been having difficulty getting hardwood trees from the back swampland of the state because his boats kept running aground in the shallow water.
Higgins attempted to improve the boat design for decades with little success until he landed a government contract for the purchase of over 20,000 boats to serve as Land Craft Vehicle Personnel ships. The vessels were used in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy causing Eisenhower to claim that Higgins was “the man who won the war for us.”
In hindsight, despite the overall success of D-Day, neither Gen. Eisenhower nor British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were confident of victory. Eisenhower had already prepared a letter to be opened in the event of defeat in which he wrote, “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt (D-Day invasion) it is mine alone.” The letter was sealed in an envelope labeled “In case the Nazis won.”
Churchill, who was no stranger to defeat, had a keen memory of other campaigns in which he sent young British soldiers to their deaths. On the eve of D-Day, Churchill turned to his wife and said, “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?” It was a sobering thought.
Thankfully the numbers were significantly smaller and the Battle of Normandy was a success despite the many “snafus” that inevitably occurred.
Shortly after the D-Day invasion, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. died of a heart attack. He is buried at the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach along with 9,386 other soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Here, the stunning landscape architecture of white crosses and Stars of David all face in the same direction across the Atlantic. Toward home.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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