- Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 11:13
- Published on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 11:13
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Today, if you visit the Normandy Coast in France you will find some very attractive and windswept beaches, some absolutely great restaurants and several nice country hotels. However, 69 years ago this week, a vacation was probably the farthest thing from the minds of the 370,000 men who took a direct part in the assault on France.
They had waited for days, in dozens of assembly areas, aboard troop ships, at airbases, and aboard Navy combat vessels and supply ships. Finally, in the very early hours of June 6, in weather that was dicey at best, they set out on what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called in his order of the day, “A Great Crusade.” Eisenhower, a Midwesterner, usually known for his tendency to understate things, could not have chosen a better description.
By any standard of modern warfare, D-Day was an amazing undertaking and it had all the components of success as well as the seeds of its potential failure. It was a high risk operation. The assault was a carefully crafted undertaking. There were over 5,000 ships participating in the operation along with a staggering 11,000 aircraft. The logistics behind this massive effort were daunting in scale. It was, and remains, the largest amphibious assault ever undertaken by a modern army.
Some of the technology used in the landings, almost seventy years later, is still impressive, even by today’s standards. The massive Mulberry Harbors, built, sunk, and then refloated to keep them from the prying eyes of the Germans or the temporary fuel lines that were laid under the English Channel in just one night have few modern equals.
The invasion also had the critical elements of surprise and luck. The allies, by virtue of good Atlantic weather data (remember, weather systems move from West to East and the allies controlled all points West of France) had weather data which allowed them to predict a lull in the rough weather in the English Channel. On the evening of June 5 bad weather was threatening yet another postponement in the assault, but the meteorologists figured that there would be a one or two day period of relative calm on the 6th and 7th of June. It was a narrow window and deciding to “go” was a risky decision. However, the Germans, not having access to this information, were convinced the weather was far too difficult for a landing. Had they been ready, had they really understood what was about to happen, the entire outcome of this great undertaking might have been different.
Another factor was deception. The allies, wanting to convince the Germans that the assault was going to be at Calais - the point in France closest to the English Coast - created a “phony” Army in Scotland. Using “blow up” rubber tanks and airplanes, phony radio traffic, and even formally assigning General George Patton (who was none too happy about this assignment) to lead this non-existent Army, they convinced the Germans that a vast force was ready and waiting to attack Calais. Even weeks after the Normandy assault Hitler was still holding back a large force in preparation for the assault that never was.
But, beyond the technology and the intelligence work, beyond the skill in the planning, and the enormous logistics train, the fact remains that the real reason for the success of this operation was in the determination, courage and fortitude of the men who went ashore. The American beaches, and these names are etched into the collective memory to this day, were code named Utah and Omaha. The British Beaches were Juno, Sword and Gold. One of the most harrowing battles was on Omaha beach. By some miracle, and their own sheer will, these brave American soldiers overcame vicious obstacles on and above the beaches. From this point the Battle for Europe would continue for almost a year. It would be extremely costly to the Allies, but the events on that gray June morning of the 6th of June along the Normandy coast sealed the fate of Nazism and with it, one of the most evil forces in the history of humankind.
Inevitably the memory of what happened that morning of June 6th will fade, but the courage, will, and determination of these men to do what was right, and protect what they held dear, should always be remembered. They did nothing short of save the world for a better day.