Sword, Juno, Utah, Omaha, Gold

 

D-DayEach June 6th, those words leap to the front of one’s consciousness. They were the code names of the five most important beaches in the history of the United States — and the free world. (Ok. The men who landed on Iwo, Tarawa, Guam, Saipan and dozens of others in the Pacific might argue that point).

Seventy years ago, the largest armada ever assembled crossed the Channel from England headed for Normandy. It was called “Operation Overlord” and it almost didn’t take place.

A few days before it was to begin, the word “Overlord” appeared in a crossword puzzle in the London papers. Intelligence assumed it was a signal to the Germans about the upcoming invasion. To this day, it has never been explained–except to call it an untimely coincidence.

Operation Overlord had originally been planned to occur a month earlier — something about the moon and tides. In fact, the French Resistance had been alerted to start destroying the railways back in May, before the original plan was aborted.

Unbeknownst to Ike, German intelligence knew that when the first line of Verlaine’s poem, “Chanson d’Automne”,was broadcast on the BBC, the French Resistance was to gear up, and when the 2nd line “Blessent mon coeur D’une langueur Monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), was transmitted over the air waves, the attack was imminent.

On June 5th, when “wound my heart…” was broadcast, German intelligence alerted their High Command. As they had been alerted just a month earlier, they assumed the alert was routine, and didn’t react. Blind luck.

Hitler always believed that the attack was going to come at Calais under the leadership of Generals Martin and Patton. Thinking that the original invasion (5,000 ships and eventually 3,000,000 men) was a “feint,” he held back some panzer divisions for a few crucial days.

In a political compromise (reminiscent of what’s being argued in D.C. today), the German defenses had been weakened because Rommel had insisted that the Panzer Divisions be close to the coast, reasoning that it would be better to have one Panzer Division fighting next to the sea than three divisions fighting troops that had moved inland.

General Gerd Von Rundstedt had argued for the Panzer Divisions to be centralized around Paris and Rouen.The argument went all the way up to Hitler, who imposed a compromise solution. Three Panzer divisions were given to Rommel, too few to cover all the threatened sectors, and three to Von Rundstedt, not enough for a decisive intervention. Hmm. Politicians calling the shots for generals, with disastrous results. And Harry Reid thought he had the market cornered.

The Brits landed at Sword and met “light” resistance. The Canadians landed at Juno and sustained 50 percent casualties the first day. The British 50th Infantry Division landed at Gold, where the casualties were also quite heavy. Utah beach turned out to be relatively “easy” (197 casualties out of 23,000 who landed). The U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry divisions landed at Omaha and ended up fighting the German 352nd division, one of Germany’s finest. They’d been told that they were going to face the 714th (one of Germany’s weakest), but intelligence had failed to discover that the 352nd had replaced the 714th just a few days before. Poor intelligence? I’m shocked.

You’ve all seen the pictures of the 2nd Ranger Division scaling the 100-foot cement walls at Pointe Du Hoc. They took heavy casualties, and when they reached the gun emplacements- they found the cupboard bare. Intelligence failed again. (The guns had been moved further inland).

The 82nd Airborne and the 101st dropped in from the sky in operations code named Chicago and Detroit, but, due to bad weather, unmarked landing zones, and simple bad luck, they missed their marks and took many casualties.

Every schoolchild knows all this. Still, then as now, Monday morning quarterbacking and pointing fingers are decidedly unattractive actions when a country is at war. Can you imagine how the modern news networks would have reported this decisive battle back in the day?

Since man began to fight, a few things have remained constant. Intelligence often gets it wrong. Luck happens to both sides — good and bad. The expected rarely happens — and that which is unexpected often does. All one can hope for is that men of good will are doing the best they can against unseemly odds.

To point out failures — to castigate men for decisions that appeared right at the time, but proved to be wrong after the fact — is somewhat nefarious. Should those Panzer divisions have been on the coast? How about Pointe Du Hoc? 225 Brave Rangers set out to scale those cliffs and only 90 remained combat-fit after the battle. Should men have lost their lives scaling walls where no guns existed? Of course not. But who knew? (Actually, they found the guns hidden a bit further back — but the intel was not quite accurate). 

The same is true regarding modern wars. Mistakes were occasionally made in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only because one can’t fight a war without mistakes. Sure, we didn’t find the WMD’s we expected. But what if we had? And everyone else — the Russians, Israelis, French and English — also believed they were there. Sure, maybe we should have had more troops. Would you or I be willing to sacrifice our kid so that Iraqis or Afghanis might breathe free? Maybe not. But we think daily about those parents who sacrificed theirs so long ago on those (almost) forgotten beaches in Europe that we might live free.

So many families make the ultimate sacrifice. Where do they get the courage? All we know is that then, as now, there are young boys and girls (and selfless parents) willing to give their last full measure that so that people worldwide may someday be free. It boggles the mind. Always has. We shall never forget.

 

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There are 20 comments.

  1. FightinInPhilly Thatcher

    Great post. Only one point of contention: “every school kid knows this” ? I wish it was so.

    Thanks to all our veterans.

    • #1
    • June 6, 2014, at 7:23 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Doctor Bass Monkey Inactive

    If you’re in central Virginia, it is worth the time to visit the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Bedford lost more men per capita on D-Day than any other community in the US. We took my grandfather there when it first opened, and I can only describe it as overwhelming. My father, in an awed whisper, looked at all the veterans who were there and said, “These men saved the world.”

    • #2
    • June 6, 2014, at 7:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    Whiskey Sam:

    If you’re in central Virginia, it is worth the time to visit the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Bedford lost more men per capita on D-Day than any other community in the US. We took my grandfather there when it first opened, and I can only describe it as overwhelming. My father, in an awed whisper, looked at all the veterans who were there and said, “These men saved the world.”

     I’ve just added one more stop on my bucket list. Thanks Gordon passing it along. Afd yhanks to all those young men from Bedford and their brethren who truly did “save the world.”

    • #3
    • June 6, 2014, at 8:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    FightinInPhilly:

    Great post. Only one point of contention: “every school kid knows this” ? I wish it was so.

    Thanks to all our veterans.

    I always use that phrase “as every school kid knows…” as an ironic twist as it is so patently untrue, yet was once true. Thanks for the note

    • #4
    • June 6, 2014, at 8:05 AM PDT
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  5. Kelly B Inactive

    If anyone has a few (okay, 24) hours to spare, the CBS Complete Broadcast Day recordings for D-Day (starting about 2:30 am EWT June 6) are here. That first hour, in particular, is fascinating.

    • #5
    • June 6, 2014, at 8:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. tabula rasa Member

    Beautiful post. My father landed on Omaha on D-Day +3 in his Sherman tank. Which meant, as he described it, “we landed peacefully, but had to drive a few miles inland to get shot at.’

    He always said the men who landed on the morning of June 6 on Omaha (1) “got the hell shot out of ’em,” but (2) “made it so I could land peacefully.”

    Here’s a picture of my father, sitting on the side of a tank, somewhere (we believe in Normandy) in the summer of 1944. His war ended in October 1944 when his shoulder and upper arm were shattered by shrapnel. In the meantime, he had two other tanks shot out from under him.

    Scan 89

    I have good reason to remember. I pray our schools will never stop teaching our children to remember the sacrifices of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, on the seas, and in the air.

    • #6
    • June 6, 2014, at 9:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    tabula rasa:

    Beautiful post. My father landed on Omaha on D-Day +3 in his Sherman tank. Which meant, as he described it, “we landed peacefully, but had to drive a few miles inland to get shot at.’

    He always said the men who landed on the morning of June 6 on Omaha (1) “got the hell shot out of ‘em,” but (2) “made it so I could land peacefully.”

    Here’s a picture of my father, sitting on the side of a tank, somewhere (we believe in Normandy) in the summer of 1944. His war ended in October 1944 when his shoulder and upper arm were shattered by shrapnel. In the meantime, he had two other tanks shot out from under him.

    I have good reason to remember. I pray our schools will never stop teaching our children to remember the sacrifices of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, on the seas, and in the air.

     Great photo! How did they do it? Amazing, amazing, men. Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing your tale.

    • #7
    • June 6, 2014, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Frozen Chosen Inactive

    4 years ago my wife and daughter and I visited the American cemetery at Normandy while on a trip to Europe. It was beyond a doubt the highlight of our entire trip. Chills ran down my spine and tears moistened my eyes as I walked the beach, read the gravestones and saw the exhibits in the visitor’s center (very well done I might add). It is sacred ground.

    As an added bonus we met the director of the visitor’s center who asked my daughter and I if we would like to retire the flag for the day which of course we were honored to do. The whole thing was wonderful and very educational – an experience I will never forget, that’s for sure.
    IMG_0189

    • #8
    • June 6, 2014, at 11:38 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Stad Thatcher

    We watched “Saving Private Ryan” Memorial Day weekend, and plan on watching “The Longest Day” tonight. Call it a tradition.

    We’ve talked about taking a trip to Normandy, and the friends I grew up with also want to go. When we do visit the cemetery, I know I’ll think about the opening and closing scenes in “Saving Private Ryan”, along with the farmhouse scene where the mother Ryan receives the three telegrams about her sons. The segue at the closing scene – from the young Private Ryan on the battlefield, to the old, grandfatherly James Ryan visiting the cemetery – was one of the most powerful moments in any of the war movies I’ve ever seen . . .

    • #9
    • June 6, 2014, at 2:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Frozen Chosen Inactive

    Stad:

    We watched “Saving Private Ryan” Memorial Day weekend, and plan on watching “The Longest Day” tonight. Call it a tradition.

    We’ve talked about taking a trip to Normandy, and the friends I grew up with also want to go. When we do visit the cemetery, I know I’ll think about the opening and closing scenes in “Saving Private Ryan”, along with the farmhouse scene where the mother Ryan receives the three telegrams about her sons. The segue at the closing scene – from the young Private Ryan on the battlefield, to the old, grandfatherly James Ryan visiting the cemetery – was one of the most powerful moments in any of the war movies I’ve ever seen . . .

     You won’t regret going there, I can tell you that

    • #10
    • June 6, 2014, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    Stad:

    We watched “Saving Private Ryan” Memorial Day weekend, and plan on watching “The Longest Day” tonight. Call it a tradition.

    We’ve talked about taking a trip to Normandy, and the friends I grew up with also want to go. When we do visit the cemetery, I know I’ll think about the opening and closing scenes in “Saving Private Ryan”, along with the farmhouse scene where the mother Ryan receives the three telegrams about her sons. The segue at the closing scene – from the young Private Ryan on the battlefield, to the old, grandfatherly James Ryan visiting the cemetery – was one of the most powerful moments in any of the war movies I’ve ever seen . . .

     Good for you and good for your family. They are lucky that you are passing this history down to them. No doubt they will do the same (in some fashion) to their kids. This is how we keep those amazing kids alive today. God Bless.

    • #11
    • June 6, 2014, at 4:21 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. profdlp Inactive

    Took a train from Paris to the ocean
    Found a small hotel by the coast
    As we walked along the beaches of Normandy
    We came to Juno, Omaha and Gold
    And whispered a prayer for the boys
    Who said goodbye to it all

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7RUI5riVBw

    • #12
    • June 6, 2014, at 11:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    profdlp:

    Took a train from Paris to the oceanFound a small hotel by the coastAs we walked along the beaches of NormandyWe came to Juno, Omaha and GoldAnd whispered a prayer for the boysWho said goodbye to it all

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7RUI5riVBw

     Great addition. Great–poignant sont. Thanks for introducing it to us!

    • #13
    • June 7, 2014, at 6:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Goddess of Discord Member

    Jeffrey Earl Warren:

    tabula rasa:

    Beautiful post. My father landed on Omaha on D-Day +3 in his Sherman tank. Which meant, as he described it, “we landed peacefully, but had to drive a few miles inland to get shot at.’

    He always said the men who landed on the morning of June 6 on Omaha (1) “got the hell shot out of ‘em,” but (2) “made it so I could land peacefully.”

    Here’s a picture of my father, sitting on the side of a tank, somewhere (we believe in Normandy) in the summer of 1944. His war ended in October 1944 when his shoulder and upper arm were shattered by shrapnel. In the meantime, he had two other tanks shot out from under him.

    I have good reason to remember. I pray our schools will never stop teaching our children to remember the sacrifices of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, on the seas, and in the air.

    Great photo! How did they do it? Amazing, amazing, men. Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing your tale.

     My dad was ” second wave.” He never talked about it unless it was to say how all his buddies were shot down around him, with machine gunfire all around. He did reminisce about th e French girlfriend in Paris. How I wish I had the wisdom to ask more, but if don’t know that he would have talked about more than that.

    • #14
    • June 8, 2014, at 7:49 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Jeffrey Earl Warren: You’ve all seen the pictures of the 2nd Ranger Division scaling the 100-foot cement walls at Pointe Du Hoc. They took heavy casualties, and when they reached the gun emplacements- they found the cupboard bare. Intelligence failed again. (The guns had been moved further inland).

    Actually, the Ranger Commander knew the guns had moved prior to departure for the D-day landing. He went a bit nuts about it and was replaced just before to the landing.

    • #15
    • June 9, 2014, at 8:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Jeffrey Earl Warren: The 82nd Airborne and the 101st dropped in from the sky in operations code named Chicago and Detroit, but, due to bad weather, unmarked landing zones, and simple bad luck, they missed their marks and took many casualties.

     A bunch of paratroopers drowned after landing in flooded fields. They were so laden with gear, weapons and ammo that 2 feet deep water proved deadly.

    • #16
    • June 9, 2014, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. CuriousKevmo Member

    My Grandfather was with the 101st on D-Day. Mom has boxes full of letters he sent from various places on his journey. I’ve been watching Band of Brothers with my oldest Step-son and I rarely make it through an episode without tearing up. Unfortunately my grandfather came back a mess and died an unseemly death. It’s incredible to read those letters and feel the changes in him as the months wore on. I wish I had been able to meet him.

    • #17
    • June 9, 2014, at 8:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. profdlp Inactive
    Jeffrey Earl Warren: The 82nd Airborne and the 101st dropped in from the sky in operations code named Chicago and Detroit, but, due to bad weather, unmarked landing zones, and simple bad luck, they missed their marks and took many casualties.

    An irony is that due the scattered way they came down, the Germans had their own share of confusion about where to mount a counterattack. They were getting reports of allied troops everywhere and didn’t know where they should mass their own forces. Had they been able to do so it might have been a different story, at least regarding the nighttime action.

    • #18
    • June 9, 2014, at 11:11 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Jeffrey Earl Warren Contributor
    Jeffrey Earl Warren Post author

    Goddess of Discord:

    Jeffrey Earl Warren:

    tabula rasa:

    Beautiful post. My father landed on Omaha on D-Day +3 in his Sherman tank. Which meant, as he described it, “we landed peacefully, but had to drive a few miles inland to get shot at.’

    He always said the men who landed on the morning of June 6 on Omaha (1) “got the hell shot out of ‘em,” but (2) “made it so I could land peacefully.”

    Here’s a picture of my father, sitting on the side of a tank, somewhere (we believe in Normandy) in the summer of 1944. His war ended in October 1944 when his shoulder and upper arm were shattered by shrapnel. In the meantime, he had two other tanks shot out from under him.

    I have good reason to remember. I pray our schools will never stop teaching our children to remember the sacrifices of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, on the seas, and in the air.

    Great photo! How did they do it? Amazing, amazing, men. Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing your tale.

    My dad was ” second wave.” He never talked about it unless it was to say how all his buddies were shot down around him, with machine gunfire all around. He did reminisce about th e French girlfriend in Paris. How I wish I had the wisdom to ask more, but if don’t know that he would have talked about more than that.

     My dad was on gum and Saipan in the pacific. Like you, I wish I had asked him more

    • #19
    • June 9, 2014, at 11:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Jeffrey Earl Warren: (your photo didn’t copy)

     

    Your photo is of British Troops coming out of a British LCM. They had more armor than the American Higgins boat which only had an armored ramp.

    • #20
    • June 10, 2014, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • Like