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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Marking the 67th anniversary of 'D-Day'

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Normandy landings, also known as Operation Neptune, were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 a.m. British Double Summer Time (GMT+2). In planning,

'D-Day' was the term used for the day of actual landing, which was dependent on final approval.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne assault landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6:30 a.m. There were also decoy operations mounted under the codenames 'Operation Glimme' and 'Operation Taxable' to distract the German forces from the real landing areas.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing on June 6, 1944. 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. The invasion required the transport of soldiers and material from the United Kingdom by troop-laden aircraft and ships, the assault landings, air support, naval interdiction of the English Channel and naval fire-support. The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

(Photo)
U.S. Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, as the Normandy landings begin.
Just prior to the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower transmitted a now-historic message to all members of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It read, in part, "You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months." In his pocket was a statement, never used, to be read in case the invasion failed.

Only a few days in each month were suitable for launching the operation: a day near the full moon was needed, both for illumination during the hours of darkness and for the spring tide, the former to illuminate navigational landmarks for the crews of aircraft, gliders and landing craft, and the latter to provide the deepest possible water to help safe navigation over defensive obstacles placed by the Germans in the surf on the seaward approaches to the beaches. A full moon occurred on June 6. Allied Expeditionary Force Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower had tentatively selected June 5th as the date for the assault. The weather was fine during most of May, but this deteriorated in early June. On June 4th, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing; wind and high seas would make it impossible to launch landing craft from larger ships at sea, and low clouds would prevent aircraft finding their targets. The Allied troop convoys already at sea were forced to take shelter in bays and inlets on the south coast of Britain for the night.

It seemed possible that everything would have to be cancelled and the troops returned to their embarkation camps (which would be almost impossible, as the enormous movement of follow-up formations into them was already proceeding). The next full moon period would be nearly a month away. At a vital meeting on June 5th, Eisenhower's chief meteorologist (Group Captain J.M. Stagg) forecast a brief improvement for June 6th. General Bernard Montgomery and Eisenhower's Chief of Staff General Walter Bedell Smith wished to proceed with the invasion. Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory was doubtful, but Admiral Bertram Ramsay believed that conditions would be marginally favorable. On the strength of Stagg's forecast, Eisenhower ordered the invasion to proceed.

The Germans meanwhile took comfort from the existing poor conditions, which were worse over Northern France than over the Channel itself, and believed no invasion would be possible for several days. Some troops stood down, and many senior officers were away for the weekend. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, for example, took a few days' leave to celebrate his wife's birthday. While dozens of division, regimental, and battalion commanders were away from their posts at war games, the Allied forces were attacking.

The Allied Invasion by land, sea and air was a great success and a turning point in the war, which ended less than a year later with the German surrender. General eisenhower, of course, went on to be elected President of the United States in 1952 and was re-elected in 1956.

The Normandy Invasion was certainly not without casualties, however.

Today, the beaches at Normandy are still referred to on maps and signposts by their invasion codenames. There are several vast cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the American dead. Commonwealth graves, in many locations, use white headstones engraved with the person's religious symbol and their unit insignia. The largest cemetery in Normandy is the La Cambe German war cemetery, which features granite stones almost flush with the ground and groups of low-set crosses. There is also a Polish cemetery.

Streets near the beaches are still named after the units that fought there, and occasional markers commemorate notable incidents. At significant points, such as Pointe du Hoc and Pegasus Bridge, there are plaques, memorials or small museums. The Mulberry harbour still sits in the sea at Arromanches. In Sainte-Mère-Église, a dummy paratrooper hangs from the church spire. On Juno Beach, the Canadian government has built the Juno Beach Information Centre, commemorating one of the most significant events in Canadian military history. In Caen is a large Museum for Peace, which is dedicated to peace generally, rather than only to the battle.

We pause on this 67th anniversary of 'D-Day' to remember and give thanks for the enormous effort and sacrifice of all the Allied troops in June of 1944.



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