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Holidays & Heritage June 2024: D-Day



The History of D-Day:


On June 6, 1944, the stage was set for a pivotal moment in history where the future of countries around the world hung in the balance. It was a day that would shift the tides of World War II in favor of the Allied Powers. This year, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a day forever carved into history by the incredible heroism and sacrifices made by our service members.


Originally planned for June 5, D-Day faced an unanticipated foe: Mother Nature. A terrible storm delayed the troops’ landing on Normandy Beach in France. They waited out the weather until both sky and sea were clear enough, and the morning of June 6 brought far better conditions for their mission. Seventeen nations, led by the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, united their militaries with the singular goal of purging German control from Europe in a covert undertaking dubbed Operation Overlord [1].


Picture this: 150,000 troops, 6,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles, and 11,000 planes converging on 50 miles of coastline [3]. D-Day received its name from the countdown the military uses to discuss the date of an operation. The day before an operation is known as D-1, the day of the operation is known as D, and the day after would be D+1 [4]. Every operation has a “D-day,” but June 6, 1944, is the most famous one because of its global impact.


Early in the morning of June 6, Allied forces stormed 50 miles of Normandy's coastline. Each beach was bestowed with a cryptic codename. The United States and some of the collective airborne forces landed on Utah and Omaha Beaches, British and additional airborne forces landed on Gold and Sword Beaches, and Canadian forces landed on Juno Beach [3]. From the crack of dawn to the twilight hours, the Allies pressed forward, culminating in a resounding victory that echoed across the English Channel. Nevertheless, necessary sacrifices had been made to ensure the undeniable victory that day. The United States alone lost 8,230 men [3].


Less than a week after the June 6 landing, more than 326,000 troops and 100,000 tons of equipment had crossed the English Channel to land at the Allied stronghold at Normandy Beach [3]. This victory was pivotal in the final Allied victory the following May of 1945 as German troops were forced into defensive mode.


This triumph was no small win; it paved the path for the eventual collapse of the German stronghold in France. Operation Cobra, the thunderous crescendo of Operation Overlord on July 25th, delivered a knockout punch with a daring air assault [4]. As German troops retreated into defensive postures, the tide had turned decisively in favor of the Allied forces.


Today, as we pay homage to the heroes of D-Day, let us not just remember their history but also draw inspiration from their courage. Their sacrifices serve as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


The legacy of D-Day, however, extends beyond military strategy and into more personal matters. For example, the overwhelming demand for new reading material by soldiers overseas skyrocketed during World War II. Esteemed children’s author Carole Marsh Longmeyer delivers a detailed look at the reasons behind and the result of this interesting development in Starved for Books. She explains that despite Hitler orchestrating the burning of more than 100 million books and the banning of 10,000 authors, those fighting against him became increasingly avid readers. The slogan "Let's do it" became not just a rallying cry but a testament to the human spirit's refusal to be silenced.


Timeline of Events:


  • April 1942 - Preparations for D-Day begin with Operation Bolero, which moved US forces into Britain.

  • January 1943 - Allied leaders agree that Operation Overlord will not take place in 1943 as they are not ready.

  • December 1943 - Dwight D. Eisenhower is appointed Supreme Commander of the combined Allied forces.

  • December 1943 through January 1944 - Military exercises commence as Allied forces begin rehearsing for Operation Overlord.

  • January 1944 - The landing at Normandy is delayed from May 1 to May 31.

  • March 1944 - The landing is once again delayed.

  • April 1944 - Senior officers begin truly laying out plans for the D-Day landings; lower-ranking members receive little to no information about the plans.

  • May 1944 - Allied forces agree once again to delay the attack due to a desire for more moonlight when troops would depart. They agree upon June 5-7 or June 18-20.

  • May 31, 1944 - Naval forces begin embarking as it will be a five-day long process to cross the channel.

  • June 4, 1944 - Terrible storms hit, so Allied forces agree to postpone their landing.

  • June 5, 1944 - Allied forces agree that the weather has cleared enough that the attack should commence the next day.

  • June 5, 1944: 2300 hours (11:00 pm) - Airborne forces begin heading towards Normandy.

  • June 6, 1944: 0000 hours (12:00 am) - Naval fleets begin crossing the channel.

  • June 6, 1944: 0100 hours (1:00 am) - Paratroopers begin landing, but it will take them hours to find one another and regroup due to strong winds that carried many of them off course.

  • June 6, 1944: 0400 hours (4:00 am) - Landing crafts begin arriving at the Normandy coastline.

  • June 6, 1944: 2300 hours (11:00 pm) - Allied victory is confirmed.


Key American Figure of the Day, Dwight D. Eisenhower


 Dwight D. Eisenhower was an athletically gifted teen who was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and excelled at everything to which he was assigned. Following the attack at Pearl Harbor, he was called to Washington, D.C. before being appointed a commander in the U.S. Army. Eisenhower was appointed as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces at the end of 1943.


Following the war, Eisenhower switched career fields and accepted a position as the President of Columbia University before returning to command the newly assembled North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in 1951. It was then that those around him persuaded Eisenhower to run for president. The 1952 election saw a landslide victory for Eisenhower and he was sworn in as the 34th president of the United States.


During his two terms in office, Eisenhower tried to find the middle ground between the United States’ interests and those of other countries. He was able to negotiate a truce with Korea and worked tirelessly to stop the Cold War conflict from escalating. Eisenhower left office in January of 1961 and passed away in March of 1969 following a prolonged battle with his health.


Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know:


  1. D-Day was the largest land, sea, and air invasion in history [9].

  2. To decide where the attack would take place, the BBC ran a contest which asked their listeners to send in photographs of their favorite vacation spots in France. Contestants had no idea those photographs would be used to strategize the best place the Allied forces could attack German forces in France [3].

  3. The Germans did not think the Allies would attack Normandy because it was harder to reach and had no port for their ships to dock. Ironically, that knowledge is part of why the Allies chose it, as they figured Normandy would be less defended [2].

  4. German spies tried to steal the Allies’ plans and paid good money in order to do so. The Allies planned in advance for this and employed double agents that leaked fake reports, plans, and news. The money from the Germans actually helped to fund the D-Day attack against their own forces [3].

  5. Germans felt so reassured by the terrible weather forecast that the commander stationed at Normandy returned to Germany to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday. He felt confident that nothing would happen in his absence and was still home when the attack was happening [7].

  6. Only two of the 29 amphibious tanks in the US forces managed to land on Omaha Beach as intended. Rough waves pushed the remainder off course [4].

  7. British intelligence came up with the brilliant idea to release dummies alongside actual paratroopers from aircraft to confuse the Germans as to the actual intended landing site [3].

  8. Combined Allied aircraft dropped a total of 7.2 million pounds of bombs on D-Day alone [7].

  9. Because of all the fake reports being released by Allied forces, German troops outside of Normandy actually had no idea that the attack on Normandy was happening until after it was over [2].

  10. A final casualty count is still being calculated. Due to the nature of the attack and weather complications, militaries were unable to accurately keep track of their men. While they know the number of casualties is in the thousands, they have no final number yet [7].


Interview with Gallopade's Tommy Webb:


Gallopade Operations Manager Tommy Webb recently returned from a tour of the important historical and cultural sights of France. One of his main stops was Normandy. Webb had previously toured parts of Germany but had been trying to travel to Normandy since before Covid-19 swept the world in 2020. He finally got the chance to do so in April of this year. “I am a novice World War II historian,” Webb said. Something he attributed, in part, to the fact that his mom had been a Civil War buff and instilled in him a love and appreciation for historical happenings.


While at Normandy, Webb had the opportunity to see firsthand the setting for one of the most infamous battles of World War II. He toured the coastline of Omaha Beach and saw first-hand the tobruks (concrete foxholes) scattered across the North Eastern Atlantic seawall. The Germans would use these vantage points to fire on the soldiers landing on the beach below. Webb found it incredibly impactful how such a “minor position could affect so much change.”


Another destination at which the group stopped was the Longues-sur-Mer battery, the artillery battery that sat between Omaha and Gold Beaches. While they were unable to completely prevent the Allied landing and victory, these five guns held their own and forced several ships to retreat until, one by one, the guns fell. It is believed that despite heavy fire from Allied forces, the last of the Longues-sur-Mer battery did not fall until sunset, more than twelve hours after the attack began.


Webb said that despite the many impressive sights to see at Normandy, “the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial and its magnitude had the most impact” on his understanding of what D-Day had been like. He has studied so much about World War II that it is no longer hard for him to imagine. However, seeing the rows of white crosses truly drove home the realization of how monumental Operation Overlord and D-Day were. While visiting the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial, Webb had the opportunity to witness the Retreat Ceremony, where at 5:00 every evening, “Taps” is played as the American flag is lowered. This incredibly moving and humbling experience is a way of honoring all of those who gave their lives on that day 80 years ago.


Photos from Tommy:

 






Other Photos:


Photo by Library of Congress





Sources:


[2] “10 Facts about D-Day: WW2: Royal British Legion.” The Royal British Legion, www.britishlegion.org.uk/stories/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-d-day. Accessed 20 May 2024.

[3] “D-Day 70 - 24 Facts about D-Day.” BBC One, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/Q9YNVD851WHmGm6jy9mx1X/24-facts-about-d-day. Accessed 20 May 2024.

[4] “D-Day: The Beaches.” U.S. Department of Defense, dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/2016/0516_dday/docs/d-day-fact-sheet-the-beaches.pdf.

[5] “Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The White House, The United States Government, 23 Dec. 2022, www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/dwight-d-eisenhower/.

[6] “Fact Sheet the D-Day Invasion at Normandy.” The National WWII Museum, www.nationalww2museum.org/sites/default/files/2019-03/D-Day-75-Fact-Sheet_0.pdf.

[7] Irvine, Amy. “82 Fascinating Facts about D-Day.” History Hit, History Hit, 8 Jan. 2021, www.historyhit.com/fascinating-facts-about-d-day/.

[8] Lange, Katie. “5 Things You May Not Know about D-Day.” U.S. Department of Defense, 3 June 2022, www.defense.gov/News/Feature-Stories/story/Article/3052217/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-d-day/.

[9] “Learn about D-Day, the Memorial, and Bedford.” National D-Day Memorial, 18 Mar. 2024, www.dday.org/learn/?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwi_exBhA8EiwA_kU1MvtIt1J5L2pV5IuQDO2JryAkh7pMd8icaSb_VW81pIJU1nu4tIYvGhoCMUoQAvD_BwE.

[10] Longmeyer, Carole Marsh. Starved for Books. Gallopade International, 2024.

[11] Reed, Adam. “D-Day Timeline.” The D-Day Story, Portsmouth, theddaystory.com/discover/d-day-timeline/.

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