Seventy-five years ago, Operation Overlord was launched, opening a third land front in the strategic counteroffensive against Nazi Germany. The Germans were already reeling back from their high-water mark in the east (Stalingrad), and had squandered the cream of their veteran force in the Battle of Kursk during the summer of 1943. Predominantly American forces were slowly slugging their way up the length of Italy, where terrain favored competent defenders. It was finally time to open a western front with the sort of maneuver room found on the eastern front. We ought to pay tribute now, while there are still veterans of that great crusade with us.
The note here, dated July 5, was written by General Eisenhower, in case the D-Day landings failed. He praised “the troops, the air, and the navy,” and took total responsibility for the failure: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” His message was ready for transmission to the Allied nations. Mercifully, it never needed to be sent.
Calling out the deeds and identities of World War II heroes, both lost and living, is especially fitting on this, “The Last Longest Day.”
Emmanuel Macron will not attend the 75th anniversary of D-Day, “saying that French presidents only lead international D-Day ceremonies on round-number anniversaries such as the 60th or 70th. … critics argue that he should make an exception this year as it is likely to be the last major D-Day anniversary while veterans are still alive.”
[…] Over 4,400 soldiers died in a single day, the Longest Day, so named in popular culture after Erwin Rommel’s prescient observation: “The first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive. . . . For the Allies as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.”
On June 3, 2019, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abby. Two young Marine sergeants placed the wreath in the brief ceremony, honoring those lost in the first Great War of the 20th Century, in which America rescued Europe from itself. Through the rest of the visit, the President and First Lady honor the memory of those who died in the Great Crusade to save Europe from murderous darkness, again.
President Trump has rightly ridden to the long echoes of the sound of the guns. His state visit to Great Britain is timed to honor our American forces, as well commemorating our alliance with the British. As President Trump recounted in his state banquet remarks, proposing a toast to Queen Elizabeth, she and her family set the public example for the British people. Then Princess Elizabeth served in uniform as a vehicle mechanic. Many young women took support positions, freeing more men to take combat assignments.
In that dark hour, the people of this nation showed the world what it means to be British. They cleared wreckage from the streets, displayed the Union Jack from their shattered homes, and kept fighting on to victory. They only wanted victory.
The courage of the United Kingdom’s sons and daughters ensured that your destiny would always remain in your own hands.
Through it all, the Royal Family was the resolute face of the Commonwealth’s unwavering solidarity.
In April of 1945, newspapers featured a picture of the Queen Mother visiting the women’s branch of the Army, watching a young woman repair a military truck engine. That young mechanic was the future Queen — that great, great woman. Her Majesty inspired her compatriots in that fight to support the troops, defend her homeland, and defeat the enemy at all cost.
We also pay tribute to Prince Philip’s distinguished and valiant service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
On D-Day, the Queen’s beloved father King George the Sixth delivered a stirring national address. That day, he said, “After nearly five years of toil and suffering, we must renew that crusading impulse on which we entered the war and met its darkest hour…Our fight is against evil and for a world in which goodness and honor may be the foundation of the life of men in every land.”
This evening, we thank God for the brave sons of the United Kingdom and the United States who defeated the Nazis and the Nazi regime, and liberated millions from tyranny.
The bond between our nations was forever sealed in that “Great Crusade.” As we honor our shared victory and heritage, we affirm the common values that will unite us long into the future: freedom, sovereignty, self-determination, the rule of law, and reverence for the rights given to us by Almighty God.
These remarks were in reply to Queen Elizabeth’s toast, which was, in relevant part:
Visits by American Presidents always remind us of the close and longstanding friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States, and I am so glad that we have another opportunity to demonstrate the immense importance that both our countries attach to our relationship.
In the coming days, you will see some of our most treasured historical buildings, speak to the business leaders whose expertise and innovation drive our economies, and meet members of our armed services, past and present. You will also travel to Portsmouth and Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
On that day — and on many occasions since — the armed forces of both our countries fought side-by-side to defend our cherished values of liberty and democracy.
Mr. President, in your State of the Union Address this year, you paid tribute to some of the American heroes who risked their lives, and we owe an immeasurable debt to the British, American, and Allied soldiers who began the liberation of Europe on the 6th of June 1944.
I paid my first State Visit to your country at the invitation of President Eisenhower. As Supreme Allied Commander, he had ultimate responsibility for the execution of the Normandy landings. In his headquarters in St. James’s Square — not far from Buckingham Palace — British and American officers worked closely together to plan the freedom of a continent, and it would be no exaggeration to say that millions of lives depended on their common endeavour.
As President Trump noted in his joint press conference with Prime Minister May, over one and a half million Americans were stacked up in the British Isles in preparation for the great offensive launched seventy-five years ago this week.
On June 6th, 1944, tens of thousands of young warriors left these shores by the sea and air to begin the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Europe and the brutal Nazi occupation. It was a liberation like few people have seen before. Among them were more than 130,000 American and British brothers-in-arms. Through their valor and sacrifice, they secured our homelands and saved freedom for the world.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister May and I will attend a commemoration ceremony in Portsmouth — one of the key embarkation points for the invasion. More than one and a half million American service members were stationed right here in England in advance of the landings that summer. The bonds of friendship forged here and sealed in blood on those hallowed beaches will endure forever.
We had finally achieved air and naval supremacy. That is, we could operate from the British shores through the inland areas of Normandy without any effective resistance by German submarines or aircraft. The Germans could, and did, extract a bitter price with anti-aircraft artillery and beach defense fires (artillery and machine guns). Yet, they could not stop us massing and moving an entire invasion force as Eisenhower directed. This was one of the key factors in reducing the butcher’s bill.
As D-Day approaches, consider two other factors in greatly reducing the cost in Allied lives: naval (including Coast Guard) logistics and meticulous medical planning and training. C-SPAN is a treasure trove for such video as “Beachhead to Berlin:”
Released in December of 1944, “Beachhead to Berlin” was filmed primarily by the U.S. Coast Guard, and produced and distributed by Warner Brothers. The color film documents D-Day preparations and the June 6, 1944, assault on the Normandy beaches of France.
Watch this video to get a feel for the relentless and massive preparations. The Allied forces practiced full-up loading and beach assault landings over and over again. This not only shook out the kinks in planning, equipment, and training, it also was a sort of strategic deception. Adding to the strategic deception were a band of fakers, a shadow command emitting fake radio traffic and positioning dummy equipment. German agents and any military observation forces would see the same thing happening repeatedly, never materializing, until suddenly it was real.
Additionally, consider that the Coast Guard had long been our premier coastal rescue service. The cutters were working in close to shore on D-Day and afterwards to rescue personnel from damaged or sunken landing craft. Yes, men drowned in the landing, but far fewer than might have without planning and resourcing.
The medical plan leveraged both medical and transportation revolutions to massively reduce fatalities. Medics, or medical corpsmen, were trained and equipped, for the first time in history, to effectively treat shock on the battlefield. With morphine ampules that reliably dispensed a single dose, and with blood plasma, medics could relieve pain and boost the blood volume enough to stabilize casualties for evacuation to advanced care by nurses and doctors. The U.S. Army produced a brief film documenting the medical support plan and its execution. Medical Service in the Invasion of Normandy is well worth your viewing on C-SPAN.
This U.S. Army film details the logistics involved in treating wounded soldiers in the field, and in hospitals in England, during and after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. From the National Archives collections, the film was marked “restricted” because of its graphic scenes of the wounded and was originally intended for military audiences only.
The graphic scenes, in black and white, are quite tame by today’s standards. You see a surgical team begin treating a patient with a sucking chest wound. Remember the Allies had air supremacy? This translated into a sudden change in the medical evacuation plan from sea to air only days into the invasion. An uninterrupted aerial bridge carried seriously wounded soldiers directly back to the most advanced medical care in Britain.
An Army Air Forces film, made in the days after D-Day to urge on factories to further U.S. glider production, was brutally honest in its assessments of risks and effects of parachute and glider operations. With combat camera footage, Normandy, the Airborne Invasion of Fortress Europe, made the point that not a single German fighter could get through to attack our airborne operations, while our fighters and light bombers could pound targets while the light infantry forces lacked the heavy ground support of artillery and tanks.
The film features the role of more than 13,000 parachuters and 500 gliders which were dropped behind enemy lines on the night of June 5 and morning of June 6.
A group of U.S. WWII aircraft have been flown in stages from America to England, joining others from around the world. This operation is called Daks over Normandy. “Daks” is short for Dakotas, the name of the primary transport aircraft, the C-47.
On 5 June 2019 we will follow into the footsteps of the Greatest Generation! About 250 men and women will board the aircraft in the United Kingdom to, exactly like 75 years before, fly across the English Channel and to jump into the historic drop zones of Normandy. They will be wearing WWII style Allied uniforms and will jump military round parachutes. It will be an event which has no equal. History in the making. Again! Just like in 1944.
The San Diego Tribune tells of Tom Rice, who will jump again, as he did in 1944. The paper also gives the accounts of several other surviving veterans of that momentous day. All plan on making it to Normandy this Thursday.
Pathfinders were mentioned in the Army Air Forces film. The Warbird Digest reports on one of those largely-unremarked heroes:
World War II Pathfinder pilot Lt. Col. David Hamilton (97), from Prescott, Arizona, returned to the same British airfield from which he and fellow pilots launched a pre-invasion strike on June 5, 1944.
Hamilton was part of an elite Pathfinder unit comprising air crew from the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) IX Troop Carrier Command and volunteers from the U.S. Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. They spent months at RAF North Witham training in secrecy for the mission – to land in darkness behind enemy lines, secure landing areas and set up navigational aids to guide in the main airborne invasion force of C-47s carrying paratroops and towing gliders.
Hamilton flew as a Pathfinder pilot during World War II for the Normandy mission, Operation Dragoon in Southern France, Operation Market Garden in Holland, and led the supply planes into the 101st Airborne when they were surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge. He continued his service into the Korean War where he flew 50 combat missions in B-26s, and shares his experiences with the public at air shows and other events.
There are many other stories of well-known and little-known contributors to the success of the D-Day invasion. Around Memorial Day, I paid tribute to the Native American code talkers who offered real time secure communications to senior Allied commanders in Europe.
In Europe, the first message off of Utah Beach on D-Day was in Comanche:
When the 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, they were five miles off their designated target. The first message sent from the beach was sent in Comanche from Code Talker, Private First Class Larry Saupitty. His message was “Tsaakʉ nʉnnuwee. Atahtu nʉnnuwee,” which translates to: “We made a good landing. We landed in the wrong place.”
All of the planning, for both combat and support operations of every branch of service, required reliable information. It turns out that the Supreme Allied Command had an incredibly detailed map of the beach areas. The map was 55 feet long and detailed German defenses. This map was the product of an espionage unit, an information-gathering unit. The unit’s name: Alliance. Its leader? An elegant blonde Frenchwoman, who men said had an obvious air of leadership authority.
Never mind the usual nods to current political and cultural fashion, this recent talk, captured by C-SPAN, introduces us to Madame Fourcade’s Secret War. Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was the only female French resistance group leader. Her organization was the longest lasting and most successful, critically contributing to Eisenhower and his staff understanding the Normandy battlefield. Fourcade told her comrades’ story in a now out-of-print book, available to borrow at archive.org, Noah’s Ark:
Who were the men and women who risked and often lost their lives to resist Nazi domination? They were the members of a military intelligence network that waged a relentless and unremitting flight in France from her fall in 1940 until her liberation in 1845…I should like to know that they will not be forgotten, that the divine flame that burned in their hearts will be understood…At that beginning we described ourselves by groups of letters and numbers; later we adopted names of animals: Eagle, Humming Bird, Tiger, Ermine. The Germans called us Noah’s Ark.
Fourcade’s group flooded the Allies with quality information from 1941 until the liberation of France. Like the code talkers, espionage groups’ work was highly classified, not a subject of quick public acclaim after the war—unlike the mythologized Resistance of direct action units, committing sabotage or rescuing downed pilots. Let us remember their contributions now, recovering their memory from forgetfulness.
Here are the U.S. military services’ D-Day history pages, with multi-media content:
- Army: D-Day [See especially the four D-Day Medal of Honor citations]
- Navy: Operation Overlord [The best of the link collections among the services]
- Coast Guard: D-Day [Excellent article with photographs, can be downloaded as PDF]
- Air Force: [Least informative. See Warbird Digest for D-Day information. Also see Daks over Normandy.]