June 6, 1944, D Day. Sixty-Six years ago today on the beaches of Normandy, France, the ‘day of days’ had arrived. Allied forces under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the ‘Atlantic Wall’, opening up the long-awaited second front. Forces of the United States landed at two beaches, code-named Omaha and Utah, while British, Canadian and Free-French units landed at three beaches, code-named Gold, Sword and Juno. Hours before the massive amphibious assault had begun, some 24,000 airborne paratroops had landed in several locations inland. Altogether, nearly a half-million soldiers, sailors and airmen participated in the attack.
The invasion marked a turning point in World War Two. Despite successes elsewhere, Germany was still in control of most of Europe. Their industrial capacity had even grown, and new weapons, such as the jet fighter and the V-1 and V-2 rockets were being produced in quantity. The Soviet Union had carried the brunt of the war for three years. Around 75% of Germany’s military forces were engaged on the East Front. While Germany had been steadily pushed back since their defeat at Stalingrad, the outcome of the war was still in doubt.
D-Day changed that. With the Allied invasion, Germany now had to fight a two-front war. Most of their defensives were concentrated further east near the French port of Calais. A long war of deception was carried out by the Allies to trick the Germans into believing that the main assault would be there. Indeed, even a month after the Normandy landings, some German leaders still thought that another, larger invasion would be at Calais.
Weather and tides played a huge role in the timing of D-Day. June 4th was the initial date set for the invasion. But foul weather delayed the assault. Had the weather continued to be bad on June 6th, tidal conditions would have forced the invasion to be delayed for several weeks.
On a personal note, my father was there. He was a member of the Free Polish Navy, serving on board the warship Dragon. On June 12th, the ship was sunk, most likely by a mine (though some speculate a ‘human torpedo’) off Sword Beach while providing fire support to a Canadian unit on shore. Half the crew was killed, and the hulk of the vessel was later used as part of the artificial port system known as a ‘Mullberry’.
The heroic efforts by Allied servicemen on D-Day can hardly be comprehended. Often called, “The Longest Day”, the fighting in some areas was brutal. At Omaha Beach alone, Americans suffered some 5,000 casualties. So much hung in the balance on D Day itself , but even afterwards well into the campaign. It was not until Operation Cobra, launched in late July, that finally secured the Normandy peninsula once and for all. D-Day, June 6, should be long remembered for it’s role in saving Western Civilization and for preventing a new Dark Age.