I want you to imagine picking up every resident of a medium-sized city, everything they’ll need to eat and drink and rest for a few days, any vehicles they might need, gasoline, of course, plus lots of guns and ammo — did I mention this was a hunting trip? — and then moving them all in a few short hours a distance of anywhere from 30 to 125 miles or so.
Now imagine you have to move all those people and all that stuff partly by air, but mostly across heavy seas in foul weather.
Under enemy fire.
I should also mention that if you messed up any of the big details, a lot of your people are going to die, and then you’re going to have to figure out how to move them all back without getting too many more of them killed.
And all that is just the beginning. Because once you’ve done all that, those men on that “hunting trip” are going to have to take and widen a beachhead big enough and secure enough that you can rebuild (or build from scratch!) the ports and roads necessary to bring another million men over… plus all the additional stuff all those additional men will need.
D-Day or the Allied invasion of the beaches of German-occupied Normandy took place 74 years ago today on June 6, 1944. To kids like me born in the 50s and who grew up in the 60s, D-Day wasn’t the distant past. Our parents came of age during WWII and had passed that knowledge of the war on to us.
While searching for something to use for this blog post, I came across this first-ever documentary about D-Day. It had been put together by the Public Relations Division of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) for viewing by military leadership. Sometime after that, it was deemed classified and forgotten. Archivists rediscovered this documentary when they found films of in the Eisenhower Library back in 2014.
As an unrelated aside, this morning I was going through my father’s military records and found that he was sent to Korea on June 6, 1957. It is just an interesting coincidence with no relevance to this.
I can’t help but compare the young men – boys really – who stormed the beaches of Normandy with the young men of today. Those young men’s formative years were during the Great Depression. It didn’t matter if they were “Harvard men” or eighth grade drop-outs they had all lived through it and were impacted by it. There are some Millennials who are made of the same stern stuff as the infantrymen and combat engineers who came ashore that day but they are few and far between.
The men above had to wade ashore in chest high water wearing heavy, impregnated uniforms. They then had to make their way up across the wide beach and over the bluffs in the background. the Germans rained fired down upon them. If they survived that, then their battle to defeat the Germans and to establish a beachhead began.
To put their odds of making it off that beach into perspective, here are the casualty counts (killed, wounded, missing) by landing beach from West to East. This does not count the airborne and glider landings.
Utah (US) – 589
Omaha (US) – 3,686
Gold (British) – 1,023
Juno (Canadian) – 1,242
Sword (British) – 1,304
The casualty rates in the first waves ran as high as 50% The number of men killed on D-Day was traditionally given as about 2,500. However, more recent research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation puts the number as much higher. Their estimate derived by checking unit reports and names of individuals killed put the American number of deaths at 2,499 and other Allies at 1,915 for a total of 4,414.
I think it is important to remember the sacrifice of these men as so few of them are alive today. I would hate to see this fade from memory.
A child born on D-Day would turn 72 years old today. He or she would have reached their full Social Security retirement age six years ago.
If it was a boy, he would have missed the Korean War and the Vietnam War hadn’t begun in earnest when he turned 18. If he did serve in Vietnam, he would have either been the young lieutenant or the “old man” in his early 20s serving as the squad leader or platoon sergeant.
If it was a girl, she would have been in college learning how to be a nurse or teacher when the Beatles invaded the US in 1964. Alternatively, she was a young mother with one or two children as she got married out of high school. She could have been Miss Shaw who was my third grade teacher at Park Street School and who was the first teacher I had under the age of 50.
So on this day, let us remember the young men from the US, Canada, and the UK who landed on a 60 mile swath of Normandy beaches. They went into the great unknown to save the world from Hitler and the Nazis. If you know of someone who landed on D-Day, sit down and talk with them as they won’t be around much longer to tell first-hand what they went through. And, it should go without saying, thank them for the sacrifices they and their comrades made.
As a child of the 60s and 70s, it is hard for me to comprehend that D-Day occurred 71 years ago today. My father and the fathers of many of my school mates had served in WWII. The war was not some distant memory.
I came across Gen. Eisenhower’s handwritten speech to be used if the Normandy invasion failed. What struck me about it is how he was willing to take the blame if the invasion failed. By contrast, I think about modern day politicians at the highest levels and see how few of them are really willing to take the blame. “Under the bus” seems to be their motto.
By this time on June 6, 19944, Allied troops had established a beachhead on all five invasion beaches. I came across an interesting photo essay contrasting Normandy in 1944 and now. It used pictures taken by combat photographers in June 1944 and then went back to today’s Normandy to find the same exact locations. A lot has changed in the last 70 years but so much of the countryside and buildings remain the same.
Here are couple to give an idea of the essay. The first picture shows a US paratrooper with a German prisoner of war.
And now that same location today.
As I said, so much of Normandy remains the same. Other than a repaired dormer window, a paved road, and some different vegetation, it looks the same as it did in 1944. You also have to wonder about the two soldiers pictured, American and German. Did they make it through the war and are they alive today?
By this time 69 years ago, beachheads had been established on all five of the Normandy invasion beaches including Omaha. Soldiers and tanks were starting to move inland to secure the beachheads.
As to casualties, we will never have an exact figure. Most of what we have are estimates. The long-time general estimate was 10,000 Allied men killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action. However, research from the National D-Day Memorial Foundation now puts the number killed at a much higher figure than previously thought.
The Allied casualties figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2500 dead. Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans. However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate – and much higher – figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2499 American D-Day fatalities and 1915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead). Further research may mean that these numbers will increase slightly in future. The details of this research will in due course be available on the Foundation’s website at www.dday.org. This new research means that the casualty figures given for individual units in the next few paragraphs are no doubt inaccurate, and hopefully more accurate figures will one day be calculated.
Casualties on the British beaches were roughly 1000 on Gold Beach and the same number on Sword Beach. The remainder of the British losses were amongst the airborne troops: some 600 were killed or wounded, and 600 more were missing; 100 glider pilots also became casualties. The losses of 3rd Canadian Division at Juno Beach have been given as 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.
The breakdown of US casualties was 1465 dead, 3184 wounded, 1928 missing and 26 captured. Of the total US figure, 2499 casualties were from the US airborne troops (238 of them being deaths). The casualties at Utah Beach were relatively light: 197, including 60 missing. However, the US 1st and 29th Divisions together suffered around 2000 casualties at Omaha Beach.
The Wall Street Journal had an article today by Nathan Ward in which he tells of his maternal grandfather who was a chaplain in the 29th Infantry Division. His grandfather and a Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Manuel Poliakoff, held a funeral service for 800 dead American servicemen buried in a temporary mass grave on Omaha Beach. I think that gives some idea of the enormous losses from that first day of battle.
Looking back at the men that fought and died in the invasion of Normandy, we think of them as fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. However, most who will read this today are older than the men who fought on those bloody beaches were when they landed. I am older today than Ike, Omar Bradley, and Monty were in 1944. The oldest man to go ashore that first day was Brigadier Gen. Ted Roosevelt, Jr. who was 56 just as I am today. I still have a hard time comprehending this.
To sum it up, I thank God that we had such men who willingly faced such unimaginable horrors to liberate Europe and the rest of the world from the Nazis. I just hope we can still prove to be worthy of their sacrifice.
UPDATE:Here is an interesting photo essay of Normandy in 1944 and now. The photographer has used archival photos and returned to the same location to show what it looks like today.
At this time 68 years ago, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division as well as the 101st Airborne Division were stumbling around in the dark in the Normandy countryside trying to find their comrades. Despite being dropped in the wrong areas and having their units scattered about, these brave men had already begun the battle to drive the Nazis out of France.
Below is some archival footage of the 82nd All-American Division as it prepared to take off for France.
And so with these words, General Dwight D. Eisenhower began his announcement of the start of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. By this time 67 years ago, American troops had started inland at Utah Beach and were scaling the cliffs on Omaha Beach. At Gold, Sword, and Juno Beaches, the British and Canadian troops had started to clear the beaches and begin their progress inland.
So many years now, and so many with the memories of that day now gone. We look back on D-Day and the other horrific set-piece battles of World War 2 with an air of unreality, through goggles of the omnipresent media…perhaps the epic celluloid battles against the Sith or the dinosaurs of Jurrasic Park are more “real” to us than our fathers’, or our grandfathers, great sacrifices. As Americans, I believe we cannot look back at D-Day, at the Second World War, without a sense of utmost reverence, a profound sense of the power of good to triumph over evil even in the face of unimaginable pain, suffering and death.
Excellent post from Michael Bane on the 66th anniversary of D-Day. Read the whole thing.