I’ve written about D-Day a few times over the years, but today marks 77 years since the British and Allied Forces landed on various beaches on the French coast. Of course, that’s only part of the story and part of the military campaign. Many more men jumped from Dakota’s while the Navy played their part from the ocean depths and the air force theirs in the sky.
D-Day – the words sound strong. It stands for “Day Day” which sounds so very different and rather less effective if you were announcing it to the troops for the first time. D Day has a much stronger military effect overall. The term has become iconic and was coined for the actual name of the campaign – Operation Overlord.
D-Day, launched this day in 1944, was the largest sea, land and air operation. The forces involved in the campaign, included British, American, Canadian, Australian, Belgian, French, Greek, New Zealanders, Polish, and servicemen from Norway, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
There had never been a campaign on this scale before. Even the equipment with which to carry it out was invented, such as landing craft with a drop down ramp so the men didn’t have to scramble over the side of the vessel. The campaign was scheduled to leave the Southern coast of England on June 5th. Due to bad weather, it was postponed, and brought forward to the 6th, when a meteorologist spotted a window of opportunity – a break in the bad weather that was just enough time for the landings to take place.
The south coast became one massive camp as troops prepared and equipment built up. Security was tight, travel restricted. Next came the job of fooling the enemy. Fake news was big news. The allies carried out exercises to confuse the Germans, who were already bracing for an allied invasion. Fake camps were established in England, and fake plans were leaked. Even fake coded radio messages were sent out.
Flight Lieutenant Les Munro, dropped “Window” from his aircraft on D-Day to make it appear there was an invasion fleet off Calais. “Window” was actually strips of aluminium dropped from aircraft to confuse German radar. Les (New Zealander) was a bomber pilot who previously took part in the Dambusters raid in May 1943 with 617 Squadron. The picture above shows him talking to King George VI.
There were more than 5000 ships, 11000 aircraft, and over 150,000 troops. Training for the operation began months before in England and for days leading up to the 5th June, equipment and vehicles lined the streets in England, as troops waited for their orders to ship out.
In addition, around 100,000 French Resistance were ready and waiting to carry out planned acts of sabotage on German targets throughout France.
While Hitler had information that there would be an Allied invasion, he did not know when or where they would strike. The Allies launched a series of false operations in a bid to deceive the German forces and lead them to believe that the invasion target was the Pas-de-Calais. Norway and other targets were also leaked. The deception was to prove very effective, leaving the Germans with little defences at the Normandy beaches.
For the troops landing on the beaches, it was anything but a piece of cake.Hitler’s troops had prepared well, building impenetrable defences that stretched along the coast from Norway to Spain. For the troops, surviving the amphibious landings was their first objective. The second, was to breach the defences. Concrete turret defences, walls, and anti-landing obstacles.
News of the invasion reached Anne Frank as she listened to the radio from the family’s hiding place. From her written account she stated how there was “Listening on a secret radio, Anne Frank recounts there was “great commotion in the secret annexe!” She went on to say, “Hope is revived within us. It gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again”. Tragically, the Franks were discovered by the Nazis and taken away to a concentration camp. Liberation for them did not arrive soon enough.
Nancy Wake longed for D-Day. Having joined SOE and trained hard, she parachuted into France in April 1944. Her orders? To infiltrate the various Maquis groups in the Auvergne region, recruit them, train them in readiness for the Allied invasion. The only problem was, she, like most others at that time, had little idea of when the invasion would take place. So, she carried out her orders. Just before June 6th, Nancy took a trip from her base in Chaudes-Aigues, to Montlucon. She had an address in her head, and her driver sped along the dry, dusty roads, the sun blazing. She wore a dress and had her bicycle in the back of the car. Her mission? Collect Anselm (codename), their new weapons instructor.
When they drew close enough to the town, out of sight of any German checkpoint, Nancy got out, climbed on her bicycle and pedalled the rest of the way. As she approached a checkpoint, the Germans had stopped a male citizen and one searched him while the other waved Nancy through. She arrived at the address, and was surprised to see Anselm was no other than her friend, Rene, from SOE training in England. He would be responsible for training the men to use a bazooka. When they returned to Chaudes-Aigues, Denis Rake, her radio op and friend rushed over to her. “It’s finally happened, Gertie,” he said. Gertie was his friendly nickname for her. “The Allies are here.” Well, needless to say Nancy was miffed to have missed all the excitement, especially all the acts of sabotage her group had carried out during the previous 24 hours.
Events are taking place across the UK to mark this special day this year. In Normandy, France, second world war reenactors paraded in WW2 vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery on June 5. There are also events taking place on the Normandy beaches.
The image above shows an Army nurse at a field hospital. Nurses landed on the Normandy beachhead four days after the initial invasion. The first to arrive were members of the 42nd and 45th Field Hospitals and the 91st and 128th Evacuation Hospitals. (Image courtesy of National Archives, 111-SC-190305)
In the UK, the National Memorial Arboretum will host an event with the Royal British Legion and Normandy Memorial Trust to commemorate the day. This includes a live broadcast of the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer.
D-Day was brutal, bloody, with huge losses of life, but it was a monumental campaign which overall proved to be successful, helping to bring an end to the war.
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