Yesterday, a Forgotten Battle. Today, One That is a Bit More Familiar. June 6 1944, D-Day.
June 6th 1944. The day John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Sean Connery waded ashore in Normandy. Oh wait, that was the movie. It was a good movie, at least that’s what I recall. I plan on watching it again soon, I see that it’s on Netflix. What an age we live in, I can have a movie I watched in my childhood beamed into my room. Plus 871 billion cat pictures. So, 71 years ago, the largest wartime invasion in history. And the most carefully planned military operation in history. It’s a big deal, no doubt about it. I’m sure there’s all sorts of articles about it, as always I hope to add at least some perspective. Or have some fun.
Could the invasion have failed? Eisenhower was prepared for that eventuality, he had a statement ready in case the invasion was a failure. German troops might have secret weapons, Rommel might pull off a brilliant feat. His worst fear must have been that the Germans had found out about the Allied plan and were ready for them. In any event, that didn’t happen, the Allies successfully fooled the Germans into thinking the attack would happen at Calais, 200 miles (300 km) away from Normandy. And in fact, extensive wargaming has shown that the invasion couldn’t have failed in any military sense, the forces the Allies deployed had an overwhelming advantage. The Allies for example flew more than 10,000 air sorties on D-Day. Two (count them) German fighter planes made a quick strafing run of the landing beaches. No, the only way the invasion realistically could have failed was if the weather had turned really really bad and stayed that way for weeks. Thus keeping Allied aircraft on the ground and limiting Allied shipping to the landing zone. Didn’t happen, and the Allies won a great victory and opened up the western front in the war against Hitler’s Nazi occupied Europe.
There’s a few common misconceptions about D-Day, as astute readers may know. While it was a great victory, and it hastened the end of the war, the war was already over before the D-Day landings. The Germans had suffered catastrophic defeats in Russia, and the Russian juggernaut had grown so huge that there was no question Soviet armies would be rolling into Berlin. D-Day was also not just an American affair, which one wouldn’t know from watching Saving Private Ryan. Only two of the five landing beaches were American, two were British, and one was Canadian. 25 Australians also came ashore, and I’m sure a scattering of other nationalities. 150,000 men … and one woman.
Losses were less that the Allies had planned for. Maybe 3,000 dead. Only one warship was sunk, an American destroyer, the USS Cory, was hit and destroyed by German shore batteries. It may have also hit a mine, and that’s the official story, not that it really matters. Over 100 aircraft were shot down by German antiaircraft fire, losses the Allies could easily afford. On D-Day the Allied soldiers were ordered not to take prisoners. That part Saving Private Ryan got right. The order was not always followed though, I mean, the Germans were white people. Japanese soldiers, yeah, they rarely made it to the prison camps. I digress. One group of soldiers surrendered to a passing American ship, not all the Nazi defenders were enthusiastic in their service to the Reich.
In any event, I’m not trying to discredit the American and Allied accomplishment. Perspective is everything. Just trying to strip it of jingoistic nationalistic nonsense. And see it for what it was, one of the great military efforts in history. And a great success, thanks to the careful planning … and the disaster during Exercise Tiger in April, where the deaths of hundreds of American GIs in a training exercise showed that there were some kinks in the plan still. In any event, I have no great wisdom to impart. I’ve no doubt written about D-day before, it just seemed like a good topic to get back into blogging with.
Lastly, yes, the picture I chose is somewhat grim. A dead American soldier on the beach. In today’s weird insulated media world where to Americans the only danger from war is the unlikely chance one will get electrocuted by their PlayStation, I just thought it was a reminder that no matter how great the victory, afterwards the victors have to clean up the bodies of their dead friends. One would think that might make people want to avoid wars, but I’m an optimist. One other point about World War Two, is that we still pretended soldiers coming home from wars were heroes, and couldn’t admit they had problems. Most people I know who had fathers who saw combat in World War Two said pretty much the same thing about them. They never wanted to talk about it, and it haunted them all their lives. Yes, World War Two veterans had high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. War is not healthy, and many of its survivors will be sick for life.
Even now this war is fading into history. Most of the veterans are long dead, in a few decades the last will die and World War Two will slip from memory into history.
(The above image was taken by a US government employee and is thus Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s what I said it was, I don’t know his name. I did promise some fun, but the only D-Day joke I could find was kind of lame. And, full disclosure, the PlayStation comment isn’t original.)