Band Beach?

Today I learned something new. We’ve always known there were five beaches on D-Day in Normandy: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno. However, there was a planned sixth beach called Band that was a contingency to protect the eastern flank from the German shore batteries.

Jim aka Old NFO has more on it here.

Follow-On American Units To D-Day Landing

June 6th saw parts of six US divisions arrive in Normandy. The 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division had been dropped on the Normandy just after midnight while parts of the 1st, 4th, and 29th Infantry Divisions along with two Ranger battalions landed in the early hours of the morning on Omaha and Utah beaches. A beachhead was established on Utah Beach by mid-morning and elements of the 90th Infantry Division began arriving by early afternoon. It took longer to establish a beachhead at Omaha Beach due to heavier resistance with many exits from the beach not opened until almost evening.

The first units ashore or on land have gotten most of the attention in the Battle of Normandy. They rightly deserve this attention as landing on a hostile beach or behind the beaches in the dark of night is a terrifying task. That said, this post will given attention to the follow-on units that arrived in June and July of 1944. Part of my reasoning is that they don’t get this attention and the other part is that my sister-in-law’s father who passed away in April at age 102 was a member of one of these units.

June 7th or D + 1 saw the first of what would be a total of five infantry and two armored divisions arrive in Normandy. That was the 2nd Infantry Division which landed on Omaha Beach. The entire division was ashore by June 12th. They were soon joined on June 9th by the 2nd Armored Division who attacked towards to Cotentin Peninsula. D + 4 saw both the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions arrive in France with the 9th headed towards Cherbourg and the 30th into the bocage. Two days later the 79th Infantry Division arrived and likewise headed towards Cherbourg. The final two units to arrive in June were the 83rd Infantry Division on the 18th and the 3rd Armored Division on the 23rd. Both of these units fought in the hedgerows or bocage of Normandy and helped with the breakout.

Early July saw both the 8th and 35th Infantry Divisions arrive in France. The 8th was soon in action helping to capture the cities of Brest and Rennes. As July progressed, three armored divisions, the 4th, 5th, and 6th, landed in France and were instrumental in closing the Falaise Gap. The final infantry division to participate in the Battle of Normandy was the 28th Infantry Division which arrived on July 22nd to join Operation Cobra.

Of particular interest to me is the 8th Infantry Division. Walter Driscoll, my sister-in-law’s father, was assigned to 3rd Platoon Mortar Squad, Co. A, 1st Battalion, 121st Regiment, 8th Infantry Division as a PFC. He passed away at the age of 102 on April 1st just short of his 103rd birthday. A native of Massachusetts, he was married for 58 years, raised three daughters (two of whom served as officers in the USAF Nurse Corps), had eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Walter was wounded in action in Normandy and carried the shrapnel in his hand throughout the rest of his life. That shrapnel was recovered after his cremation by the funeral director and presented to the family. He tells the story of how he was wounded in the oral history video below. The French subtitles are due to this being a project of the World War II Veterans Memories located in Normandy.

There are not many of these veterans still alive and that Walter made it to 102 was remarkable in and of itself. We should be grateful that a number of their stories have been captured either in video or audio format. Without that, the human element would be lost and our knowledge of these events would be confined to the history books.

D-Day Plus 79 Years

It is hard for me to believe it has been almost 80 years since Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin their march towards Germany. As I was born a little less than 13 years after the landing, it was still fresh in the minds of many. Today, not so much. Most of the veterans of that day have now passed away.

Some of the most enduring scenes from that day were pictures taken by famous photographer Robert Capa on Omaha Beach. Most of his photos were lost due to errors in processing.

From PetaPixel

Actually, it turns out that much of that story was a myth. It laid the blame on a novice film processor who overheated the negatives in a drying box to the point that the emulsion melted. All that was left were the 11 frames above.

From PetaPixel debunking the myth:

In retrospect, I cannot understand how so many people in the field, working photographers among them, accepted uncritically the unlikely, unprecedented story, concocted by Morris, of Capa’s 35mm Kodak Super-XX film emulsion melting in a film-drying cabinet on the night of June 7, 1944.

Anyone familiar with analog photographic materials and normal darkroom practice worldwide must consider this fabulation incredible on its face. Coil heaters in wooden film-drying cabinets circa 1944 did not ever produce high levels of heat; black & white film emulsions of that time did not melt even after brief exposure to high heat; and the doors of film-drying cabinets are normally kept closed, not open, since the primary function of such cabinets is to prevent dust from adhering to the sticky emulsion of wet film.

No one with darkroom experience could have come up with this notion; only someone entirely ignorant of photographic materials and processes — like Morris — could have imagined it. Embarrassingly, none of that set my own alarm bells ringing until I started to fact-check the article by Baughman that initiated this project, close to fifty years after I first read that fable in Capa’s memoir.

The PetaPixel article by A. D. Coleman is rather long but well worth the read. It is meticulously researched and documented. Myth has its place but documenting the reality of what really happened is more important.

Time-Lapse Map Of Allied Armies In Normandy

The above is a time lapse map of the Allied advance in France starting with the Normandy Invasion and then going for the next 87 days. Click on the map to set it in motion.

If you look closely at the 7 second mark, you will see the Falaise Pocket as it closes around a number of German divisions.

The color code is as follows:

  • Black = German
  • Blue = American
  • Orange = British
  • Red = Canadian

I found this on the “map porn” subreddit of Reddit which has a plethora of interesting maps from across the centuries.

“Embark Upon The Great Crusade”

Embarking upon a great crusade is how Ike described what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen were about to do on June 5-6, 1944.


Ike released this statement at 9am British Double Summer Time which would make it 3am in New York and Washington, DC.

At noon, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to the House of Commons that the invasion of Normandy was well underway and that the Allied Forces had captured Rome on June 4th.

I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled. The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.

By 6pm local time, all five invasion beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword – had beachheads established and troops were starting to move inland.

By 9pm local time, ground troops were starting to link up with paratroopers and glider troops from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and other smaller units. At the same time, the first reinforcements are starting to arrive from England.

The invasion of France was not without cost. The number of first day casualties is estimated at around 10,000. It has been a challenge to get a precise figure. Many units didn’t file their “morning reports” until days later. Fighting to get off the beach and move inland was of greater importance as one might imagine.

The number of killed in action had previously been put at about 2,500. However, research by the US National D-Day Historical Foundation has provided a much higher and more accurate total.

The number of people killed in the fighting is not known exactly. Accurate record keeping was very difficult under the circumstances. Books often give a figure of 2,500 Allied dead for D-Day. However, research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation  has uncovered a more accurate figure of 4,414 Allied personnel killed on D-Day. These include 2,501 from the USA, 1,449 British dead, 391 Canadians and 73 from other Allied countries. Total German losses on D-Day (not just deaths, but also wounded and prisoners of war) are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000. Over 100,000 Allied and German troops were killed during the whole of the Battle of Normandy, as well as around 20,000 French civilians, many as a result of Allied bombing.

I look back on D-Day 76 years after the fact and am still amazed how such an operation could not only be organized but succeed. There was no computers, there was no Internet, and operations research was done using slide rules. My graduate degree is in project management and this was the project of all projects.

D-Day: The Largest Seaborne Invasion In World History

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know I love infographics. I found a very appropriate one that helps put June 6, 1944, D-Day, the invasion of Normandy into perspective.

I found this infographic on The Sitrep and it came from a BBC guide to D-Day.

Stephen Green gives another perspective on the numbers involved.

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 Plus 74 Years

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.

D-Day Plus 73 Years

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.

D-Day Plus 72 Years

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.

As I noted last year, my father and many of my classmates fathers had served in WWII. The war wasn’t a so distant memory. TV shows like Combat, 12 O’Clock High, and McHale’s Navy were in their heyday. There wasn’t a National WWII Memorial and there weren’t Honor Flights taking the veterans of D-Day to see the Memorial before they passed away.

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.

D-Day Plus 71 Years

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.

If you have trouble reading cursive, you can read the message here along with a story about its background.

The Christian Science Monitor has a 25 question quiz about the D-Day invasion. It isn’t easy.