American wounded return to Britain after D-Day

American wounded return to Britain after D-Day

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The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]

D-Day Data: We Know How Many People Were Lost or Injured During the Allied Invasion

The largest amphibious invasion in history began on the night of June 5-6, with the roar of C-47 engines preparing to take off , and climaxed on the beaches of Normandy.

But just how many paratroopers did it take to support the Normandy landings, how many soldiers braved machine gun fire and artillery to secure those crucial beachheads, and how many German soldiers were they up against?

History on the Net’s article on the D-Day invasion provides the astonishing raw figures.

Operation Overlord Statistics

The Normandy invasion consisted of the following:

5,333 Allied ships and landing craft embarking nearly 175,000 men.
The British and Canadians put 75,215 British and Canadian troops ashore.
Americans: 57,500
3,400 were killed or missing.
The foregoing figures exclude approximately 20,000 Allied airborne troopers.

D-Day Casualties:

The First U.S. Army, accounting for the first twenty-four hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded. The after-action report of U.S. VII Corps (ending 1 July) showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 prisoners, and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.

Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed.

Surprisingly, no British figures were published, but Cornelius Ryan cites estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing, including 650 from the Sixth Airborne Division.
German sources vary between four thousand and nine thousand D-Day casualties on 6 June—a range of 125 percent. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s report for all of June cited killed, wounded, and missing of some 250,000 men, including twenty-eight generals.

American Personnel in Britain:

1,931,885 land
659,554 air
285,000 naval
Total:2,876,439 officers and men housed in 1,108 bases and camps

Divisions of the Allied forces for Operation Overlord (the assault forces on 6 June involved two U.S., two British, and one Canadian division.)

23 infantry divisions (thirteen U.S., eight British, two Canadian)
12 armored divisions (five U.S., four British, one each Canadian, French, and Polish)
4 airborne (two each U.S. and British)
Total:23 American divisions, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 French and 1 Polish.

3,958 heavy bombers (3,455 operational)
1,234 medium and light bombers (989 operational)
4,709 fighters (3,824 operational)
Total: 9,901 (8,268 operational).

German troops:

850,000 German troops awaiting the invasion, many were Eastern European conscripts there were even some Koreans.
In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed 80,000 troops, but only one panzer division.
60 infantry divisions in France and ten panzer divisions, possessing 1,552 tanks,In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed eighty thousand troops, but only one panzer division.
Approximately fifteen thousand French civilians died in the Normandy campaign, partly from Allied bombing and partly from combat actions of Allied and German ground forces.

The total number of casualties that occurred during Operation Overlord, from June 6 (the date of D-Day) to August 30 (when German forces retreated across the Seine) was over 425,000 Allied and German troops.

This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties:

Nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces
16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces)
125,847 from the US ground forces.
But the numbers alone don’t tell the full story of the battle that raged in Normandy on June 6th, 1944. For a complete view of Operation Overlord, check out the full article at History on the Net, D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, as well as some others like D-Day Quotes: From Eisenhower to Hitler.

This article originally appeared in 2020 on the Warfare History Network.

Mass Mobilisation

The hangar bay of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) during a “Magic Carpet” voyage to bring U.S. servicemen back to the U.S. from Europe in late 1945.

In total around 370 vessels were involved in Operation Magic Carpet. These included aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers. E ven Luxury passenger ships were drafted in to help with the effort. The Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, which had been called into service at the beginning of WWII, and had swapped their usual bold colours for drab grey camouflage. This caused the Queen Mary to be referred to as the “Grey Ghost”. These massive ships made several voyages across the Atlantic to bring the troops home.

Warships, especially those which had been designed primarily as destroyers and aircraft carriers, had to be adapted to make them more suitable for the task of carrying a large number of passengers. Conditions were certainly not luxurious with soldiers packed into bunks, some as many as five tiers high in order to get as many home as quickly as possible.

51c. D-Day and the German Surrender

Hitler's refusal to surrender to the Allies led to "Operation Overlord" on June 6, 1944. British, Canadian, and American forces managed to take key points on the coast of Nazi-occupied France, signaling a beginning to the end of war in Europe.

The time had finally come. British and American troops had liberated North Africa and pressed on into Italy. Soviet troops had turned the tide at Stalingrad and were slowly reclaiming their territory. The English Channel was virtually free of Nazi submarines, and American and British planes were bombing German industrial centers around the clock.

Still, Hitler refused to surrender and hid behind his Atlantic Wall . Since the outbreak of war, Stalin was demanding an all-out effort to liberate France from German occupation. An invasion force greater than any in the history of the world was slowly amassing in southern Britain toward that end.

D-Day troops wade into the waist-deep water and onto the shore to face the enemy in battle.

A great game of espionage soon unfolded. If the Germans could discover when and where the attack would occur, they could simply concentrate all their efforts in one area, and the operation would be doomed to failure. The Allies staged phony exercises meant to confuse German intelligence. Two-dimensional dummy tanks were arranged to distract air surveillance. There was considerable reason to believe the attack would come at Calais , where the English Channel is narrowest. In actuality, Operation Overlord was aiming for the Normandy Peninsula on the morning of June 4, 1944.

Foul weather postponed the attack for two days. Just after midnight on June 6, three airborne divisions parachuted behind enemy lines to disrupt paths of communications. As the German lookout sentries scanned the English Channel at daybreak, they saw the largest armada ever assembled in history heading toward the French shore. There were five points of attack. Gold and Sword Beaches were taken by the British, and Juno Beach was captured by Canadian forces. The American task was to capture Utah and Omaha Beaches . The troops at Omaha Beach met fierce resistance and suffered heavy casualties. Still, by nightfall a beachhead had been established. Eventually, German troops retreated.

After D-Day , the days of the German resistance were numbered. Paris was liberated in August 1944 as the Allies pushed slowly eastward. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was moving into German territory as well. Hitler, at the Battle of the Bulge , launched a final unsuccessful counteroffensive in December 1944. Soon the Americans, British, and Free French found themselves racing the Soviets to Berlin.

Following the defeat of the Nazi regime, the full extent of the Holocaust was at last revealed. These survivors of the Ebensee concentration camp were among the 250,000 liberated by Allied troops. Approximately 12,000,000 people were killed between 1933-45.

Along the way they encountered the depths of Nazi horrors when they discovered concentration camps. American soldiers saw humans that looked more like skeletons, gas chambers, crematoriums, and countless victims. Although American government officials were aware of atrocities against Jews, the sheer horror of the Holocaust of 12 million Jews, homosexuals, and anyone else Hitler had deemed deviant was unknown to its fullest extent.

When the Allies entered Berlin, they discovered that the mastermind of all the destruction &mdash Adolf Hitler &mdash had already died by his own hand. With little left to sustain any sort of resistance, the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, hereafter known as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day .

D-Day: What It Meant

A conjecture, worthy of a certainty, is that no American soldier on Omaha Beach at high noon, June 6, 1944, gave thought to being present at a turning point in world history. Any abstract thinking he may have done was more likely along the lines of being in a major debacle. The English Channel to his back, his weapons, fouled by saltwater and sand, he was largely naked before an enemy firing down from trenches and massive concrete bunkers along high bluffs looming to his immediate front. Fortunately for his mission, if of no comfort to his person, his allies invading Europe by sea and air along some fifty miles of less forbidding Normandy coast were in better straits.

Their battle is popularly known as D-Day. Their mission was to break through the German coastal defenses and secure a lodgment area in Normandy for the mustering of the armed might of the Western Allies, then assembled in England. This accomplished, they were to attack and destroy the German armies in Western Europe and, in concert with the forces of the Soviet Union, advancing from the east, invade Germany and destroy the Nazi regime that had held most of Europe in bondage and terror over the past five years.

This generalized American soldier’s lack of interest in history at the darkest moment of his travail is understandable. In the end, of course, he prevailed on Omaha and, with his allies, secured the lodgment. This done, the ultimate success of the mission became as much a given as war ever affords. Costly battles that followed in Normandy, at Arnhem, and in the Ardennes delayed but could not halt the Allied armies that continued to grow in strength, while those of their foes steadily eroded without hope of recovery. By any sort of reasoning, the D-Day victory was decisive to victory in Western Europe.

Now, fifty years later, a clearer perspective of this victory shows that it not only was decisive in a theater of operations of a long-ago war but can also be strongly argued as the decisive turning point in America’s long, hesitant march to the peak of power in a world of vast change in its every human aspect: political, social, economic. This perspective is supported by an abundance of recorded history. The battle and the blind avalanche of events leading to it are exhaustively documented. The half-century since is also minutely recorded for many it is within living memory. For the first time, much of it has been under the electronic eye of television. Unfortunately—as with the written word—this inherently impartial eye can be manipulated to blink selectively. In time, however, the decisive direction of history emerges from these encumbrances with distinct clarity. Just so, from the varied records of this century emerges the trace of America’s sometimes reluctant march to global power, with June 6, 1944, as its final, pivotal point.

No such perspective is now available on America’s tenure in power or on the uses it will make of it, for on time’s long calendar it is a position just assumed. Apart from its effectiveness in serving American interests in the Gulf War and its limitations and dangers in serving European interests in the Balkans and in serving humanitarian interests in Somalia, the record is blank, as only the pages of history yet to be enacted can be blank. The sole certainty is that this history, when enacted, will bear the imprint of what the late Barbara Tuchman identified as the “Unknown Variable…namely man.” Over time this variable has demonstrated a strong proclivity toward illogical and unpredictable behavior—a trait made more confusing by frequent infusions of acts of sense and conscience.

So, this future of America as the global superpower is best left to its uncharted devices. There is no existing tool for determining its course. There is a tool, however, for examining the voluminous record surrounding D-Day as the pivotal point in this march to power. It is best to stipulate that this tool is not the computer. Its astounding capabilities are invaluable, but it cannot, of course, solve problems involving tumultuous human emotions. At present the human stuff, the pulse, of history can be ciphered only by us humans, using humanly conceived criteria against which to measure actions and events an inexact tool, but our own.

The criteria by which I measure the place of D-day in the unending parade of world history were propounded by Sir Edward S. Creasy, a noted nineteenth-century historian and jurist, in his classic study Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World . This work, first published in 1851, was followed in quick succession by five more editions over the next three years and frequent reprints since. It has been studied by generations of historians and read for pleasure by even more history buffs. The criteria are as I extract them from the text of the preface of the first edition. Their prose style is of his period their content has stood up remarkably well to the test of time and dissent I know of none better:

“They [the fifteen battles] have for us an abiding and actual interest, both while we investigate the chain of causes and effects, by which they have helped to make us what we are and also while we speculate on what we probably should have been, if any one of those battles had come to a different termination.” Concerning battle causes and effects: “I speak of the obvious and important agency of one fact upon another, and not of remote and fancifully infinitesimal influences.” He discards fatalism and inevitability as factors in history but recognizes “the design of The Designer” in human affairs. In something of an aside, he notes: “I need hardly remark that it is not the number of killed and wounded in a battle that determines its general historical importance.”

Pursuant to his criteria and method, he named the victory of the Greeks over the Persians on the Plain of Marathon (490 B.C.) as the first truly decisive battle in world history, because it ensured that the “whole future progress of human civilization” would stem from Greece, not from Persia. Among the great armed conflicts of the era, he wrote, to Marathon alone can be traced the spirit that “secured for mankind the treasures of Athens, the growth of free institutions, the liberal enlightenment of the western world and the gradual ascendancy for many ages of the great principles of European civilization.”

Continuing up to his own time, he judged only fourteen other battles of like decisiveness in shaping his nineteenthcentury world, with which, with the British Empire as its superpower, he seemed quite content.

Thirteenth on his list is the American Continental Army’s defeat of the British at Saratoga (1777). In his opinion, this victory decided the outcome of the Revolution, making possible the founding of the American Republic. He observed, with some awe, that the American citizen had in two centuries and a half “acquired ampler dominion than the Roman gained in ten [centuries].” To Britain, France, and Russia—the great powers of his day—he added “the great commonwealth of the western continent, which now commands the admiration of mankind.”

Sir Edward did not venture far into predictions on the future of this “great commonwealth.” Perhaps his judicial experience made him wary of guessing at human directions. He did, however, quote at length the predictions of his noted contemporary Tocqueville, the brilliant firsthand French observer of the American phenomenon. Tocqueville’s predictions were not modest. He was emphatic that nothing could halt America’s growth and power. His predictions about the limits of America’s territorial and population expansion were quickly overtaken and passed, but his basic premise has proven sound.

America’s potential as a world power was first put to the test in World War I. Entry into the war ensured the Allies’ victory and secured a voice in the political squabbling that followed. Disillusioned by the cost of a war that yielded such obviously dangerous and desolate results, popular American opinion forced the return to an aloof position in world affairs frequent reference was made to President Washington’s warning against foreign entanglements. Then, with no military threat from any quarter, the country reduced its formidable wartime forces to negligible size and, in the heady postwar boom, turned to creating domestic problems, principally the devastating economic depression of the 1930s.

The world war of the 1940s, which incidentally ended the Depression, was the most critical test of national character since the American Revolution and the Civil War. From the Revolution came the nation from the Civil War, a firmly united nation from World War II, a nation that was one of two dominant world powers. The almost immediate confrontation that followed with the Soviet Union, the other power, developed into the long and costly Cold War. (Veterans of Korea and Vietnam can rightly call this title an oxymoron.) America emerged from that grueling test, which included the period of raucous and violent dissent over Vietnam, as victor and undisputed king of World Power Mountain. This distinction seems to rouse no great outpouring of national pride, because, perhaps, the reality of it reveals responsibilities that are onerous, homage that is given grudgingly and usually along with demands, blame that exceeds glory, and costs that impinge upon serious domestic needs. A thick national skin and a cool, unblinking eye appear essential to the holder of global power.

To speculate on how Sir Edward Creasy might measure D-Day against his criteria would be grossly presumptuous and might disturb his rest. I apply his criteria and method as I interpret them, nothing more.

I have noted that the “causes and effects” leading to D-Day and afterward are extensively and variously recorded. From the generally agreed-upon hard facts in this record—not upon “remote and fancifully infinitesimal influences,” which Sir Edward disdained—it stands out as the time when and place where American leadership of the Western Allies was unequivocally asserted. This was a mantle bestowed not as a generous gesture but for the preponderance of American manpower and matériel committed to the battle.

Equally significant, American industry in 1944 was not only arming and supplying its own forces around the world but also producing more than 25 percent of the armament of its Allies. This imbalance was to grow. Britain, after five years of total war effort, had reached the limits of its resources. From the invasion on, it would at best maintain its forces at their D-Day levels while American forces in the theater grew until by the time victory was declared in Europe, U.S. ground forces were some three times greater than those of all its Western Allies combined.

This shift in the balance of power in the military structure of the Western Allies was drastic. In hindsight it represented the descent of Britain from, and the rise of America to, the top rank of world power. When the Western Alliance was first formed, after Pearl Harbor, Britain was the senior partner as far as forces in being were concerned. It was bearing alone the air battle over its isles and Germany, the ground war in North Africa, the submarine warfare in the Atlantic, and the war against Japan in the Pacific and Asia. All this while American forces and war industry were in the hectic stage of coming on stream.

This disparity in forces confronting the enemy was rapidly closed by the eve of D-Day, thirty months later, the American commitment of forces worldwide was predominant. Outwardly, Britain’s equality in the partnership was maintained actually, it had ceased to exist. In the war councils American insistence that the invasion be in 1944 overrode British reluctance to risk what its leadership knew would be the last great effort Britain could mount. (In justice, once committed to the invasion, Britain, under the drive of Prime Minister Churchill, held back nothing. It risked all.) As to the Supreme Command of the Allied invasion, no question arose: It would be American.

(A strong case has been made that there have been not two separate world wars in this century but one war interrupted by a twenty-year intermission for refurbishing armaments and antagonisms. With only a slight adjustment in thinking, the Cold War can be included as a third phase of this one war, making, overall, a conflict covering three-quarters of a century—in length somewhere between the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century and the Hundred Years’ War of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, if that be a distinction to cherish.)

History never seems to repeat itself in any exact sense: The close of World War I found America facing no military threat World War II ended with the immediate threat of a Soviet Union bound for world domination. The price of aloofness here was disaster America had to continue leadership and support of what was now called the Free World.

The Soviet Union was unable to sustain this long conflict of sometimes open warfare and always of worldwide clandestine war. When the Communist political and economic structure collapsed in 1989, the Soviet Union dissolved into deeply troubled component parts the mighty Soviet military machine, including its nuclear weapons, was left at dangerous loose ends.

The breakup of colonial empires into independent nations brought freedom for them to engage in tribal, ethnic, and religious wars conducted by a new raft of ruthless tyrants. America, as the superpower, is looked to by the rest of the world for leadership and resources to solve the humanitarian problems of disease and famine that are always the camp followers of such wars. Also in this correctional field is the United Nations, a cumbersome organization with a mixed record of effectiveness. There is an uncertain relationship between America’s responsibilities, by reason of national strength, and those of the United Nations. Once again, great nations do not have small problems.

This troublesome picture has a brighter side that is often obscured by the hurly-burly of the everyday world: the century’s two major tyrannies, Nazi Germany and Communist Soviet Union, have been broken, though their doctrines and practices continue to surface in various hate groups. And I find no credible denial that with American leadership, freedom has a better chance of surviving and growing in the world today than at any time in history. While this leadership is not pro bono in its purest form, it is a historic departure from the tradition that territorial acquisition and economic gain are legitimate spoils of power.

Sir Edward Creasy decreed that the historical stature of a battle must be judged not only on the basis of victory that helped “make us what we are” but also on the basis of “what we probably should have been” had it been lost. He correctly tags this latter process as speculation, not always a productive exercise. “What if” and “if only” applied to history are something on the order of trying to prove a negative. This may be a harmless, ego-stroking exercise when practiced privately, but an irritant when imposed upon others. Sir Edward therefore insisted that the speculation he considered necessary to his method be within the bounds of “human probabilities only,” a porous restraint but helpful. In dealing with human affairs, one must use any tool available.

That D-Day could have been an Allied defeat with farreaching consequences was a decidedly human probability. The generalized American soldier who was left, at the start of this essay, caught in the shambles of death and destruction on Omaha Beach would have been justified in thinking that the battle there had been lost. This thought also plagued Gen. Omar Bradley, commanding the American ground forces. In his autobiography General Bradley wrote that from reports he received around midday of the carnage on Omaha, he had to believe that the assault there “had suffered an irreversible catastrophe.” He wrote that at the time he privately considered shifting further landings to the American Utah Beach on the right and the British beaches on the left. Later in the afternoon, with reports of the attack moving inland, he gave no more thought to evacuating Omaha.

The “what ifs” of a lost Omaha are all ominous: an attempt to evacuate under fire would have been more costly in landing craft and casualties than the initial assault. Shifting the troops and equipment of the entire Army corps destined for Omaha to other beaches that were already crowded would have raised confusion to the level of chaos. A German counterattack, which never came, would have accomplished the same havoc as an ordered withdrawal. The loss of Omaha would have left a gap of some twenty miles between Utah and the British beaches.

The German high command was slow in identifying the June 6 assault as the Allies’ main effort and in assembling the first-class panzer and infantry divisions that it had available to contain and repulse it. Even so, it is highly unlikely that the gap in the Allies’ line would not have been quickly discovered and exploited to flank the adjoining beachheads. As it was, with Omaha Beach won, the situation of the Allies remained serious. Attacks beyond the beachheads were brought to a slow and bloody crawl by stiff resistance in the difficult hedgerow terrain. The British objective of taking the important communications center of Caen on the first day was not accomplished until six weeks later. General Bradley observed in his autobiography that had Hitler launched the forces he had available within the first week of the invasion, “he might well have overwhelmed us.”

The “human probability” that D-Day could have ended as a Dunkirk, or as did the amphibious assault on Gallipoli in the First World War, is too real to be disregarded. Had it happened, Pandora, that well-known packager and purveyor of disasters, would have had a memorable day. The immediate military ill would have been the reduction of Germany’s three-front land war to two fronts. Then the major part of their sixty-one divisions, including eleven panzer, stationed in France and the Low Countries, could have been shifted with small risk to both the Eastern Front confronting the Soviet Union and Italy confronting the Western Allies.

The Eastern Front stretched at the time from the tip of Finland south to the tip of Greece, well away from Germany’s eastern border. In Italy the Allies had taken Rome but were faced with continuing the slow, costly attacks up the mountainous spine of the Apennines.

Even with the major reinforcements made available by repulse of the invasion, it is unlikely that the German Army could have repeated its great offensives of the early war. But that it could have stalemated both fronts is a probability well within the human range.

Churchill, before the invasion, called it “much the greatest thing we have ever attempted.” Defeat would have been crushing to Britain, in both military losses and morale. America would have made good its own losses but would have had to brace for a longer, more costly war, and largely alone. The effect on Germany, of course, would have been a revival of faith in Hitler. It would also have provided time to produce new weapons that would have had dramatic effect on the war right up to its final exclamation point: the atomic bomb. On D-Day this bomb was some fourteen months away from its first appointment in Hiroshima.

Time is more of the essence in war than in any other destructive endeavor. Given fourteen months, Hitler’s Germany would certainly have been into mass production of the jet plane, ballistic missiles capable of wreaking great damage on Britain, and ground-to-air missiles that could destroy bombers by tracking the heat from their engines.

These were not really “secret” weapons. Allied intelligence knew of them and sought to destroy their development and production sites by heavy bombings, none of which was entirely successful. In Britain and in America the jet engine was in development, but not up to the German stage of production. Shortly after D-Day the first rocket missiles, the V-I, were launched against England. Had their launching sites not been overrun by the invasion, the V-I and the much more advanced V-2 would have done incalculable damage to British industry and morale. Forereach in weapons systems has changed the course of battles and of wars.

One of the more tragic consequences of a D-Day defeat would have been the time given the Nazis to complete the Holocaust and to destroy the Resistance movement in occupied Europe. With the launching of the invasion, the Resistance was signaled to begin largescale sabotage of German communications. With the Resistance so exposed, German retaliation would have been swift and brutal. To rebuild the movement would have been slow and difficult. The thousands of additional lives lost in an extended Holocaust can be calculated the effect on the establishment of Israel cannot.

That the war could have been ended by the assassination of Hitler is a human probability supported by the prior attempts on his life. That in a stalemated war it could have been ended between Germany and Russia by an accommodation reached between Hitler and Stalin is supported only by the recognized obsession of each dictator with staying in power, regardless of what was required to do so. This, however, runs off the scale of human probabilities.

Then there was the atomic bomb.

The two bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 ended the war in Asia and the Pacific. This was a war that Japan could not have won, but it could have exacted a terrible price had defeat required an invasion.

That Germany would also have been targeted for the bomb is a human probability of the highest order. (In terms of death and destruction, the conventional bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was on the scale of that visited on Hiroshima some six months later.) To speculate on the response of Hitler to a threat of the bomb requires probing an exceedingly dark mind. He might have seen this new order of flame, smoke, and concussion as a Götterdämmerung scene fitting for his departure. I speculate no further than that. One way or another, the bomb would have ended the war in Europe.

Again, these are projections of things that never happened, of situations that never developed. There is no certain knowledge of what course history would have taken had the Persians won at Marathon, the British at Saratoga, or Napoleon at Waterloo, other than that in each instance oppression would have had a further run. And there is no certainty of the aftermath of a Nazi German victory on D-Day, other than that it would have been followed by at least fourteen months of dark and bloody deeds that would have left an even more terrible scar on what we call civilization.

If we set aside probabilities, these, in sum, are the recorded facts: that D-Day was won by the Western Allies that it was fought at American insistence, with an American as supreme commander that the most critical and hard-fought sector of the battle—Omaha Beach—was won by Americans against heavy odds imposed by terrain and enemy strength and that from this battle to the end of the war, American preponderance in men and matériel continued to grow, and with it grew American influence and leadership in the Western Alliance. This pattern continued throughout the Cold War, the demands of survival denying any discharge from it.

From all this there emerges one overriding result: World leadership now rests upon the shoulders of a free people, committed to democracy—this at a level not equaled since the time of the Athenians and Marathon. It is a decisive turn in history D-Day is the pivotal point upon which this turn was made.

At nightfall after the Battle of Valmy (1792), in which the French revolutionary forces turned back Prussian and Austrian invaders, the poet Goethe, who was there, was asked by some dejected Prussians what he concluded from the defeat. “From this place,” he said, “and from this day forth commences a new era in the world’s history and you can say you were present at its birth.”

It would not be amiss to address these words to all who fought the D-day battle on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

75 Years Later: D-Day

June 6, 2019 will mark 75 years since the largest naval, air, and land operation in history took place. D-Day is often referred to as the turning point of World War II. Although many lives were lost, many more lives were saved. We take this day to remember those who are no longer with us and thank those who still are.

History of D-Day: The invasion of Normandy

The Battle of Normandy, commonly referred to as D-Day, began on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces of Britain, America, Canada, and France launched a combined naval, air, and land strike against Adolf Hitler and his German forces.

Leading up to the battle

German forces invaded northwestern France to try to control all of Europe. The United States entered the war in December 1941. The British and Americans soon started to consider a major Allied invasion, and the plans were set into motion. The Allies included Britain, America, Canada, and France. According to, Operation Overlord was the code name for the invasion.

Leading up to D-Day, the Allies increased the number of airstrikes in German territory. Over 1,000 bombers a day were striking German targets. This was a long diversion to slow down the German army for Operation Overlord to come into play. The Germans knew the Allies were coming to invade, but they didn&rsquot know when or where. The Allies led them to believe they would strike north Normandy at Pas-de-Calais.

There were over 2 million troops from 12 countries in Britain preparing for the invasion by 1944. The Allied forces mainly consisted of American, Britain, and Canadian troops, but they also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian, and Polish naval, air or ground support, according to

D-Day: June 6, 1944

General Dwight Eisenhower

General Dwight Eisenhower was the commander for Operation Overlord. He planned for the invasion to be June 5, 1944, but bad weather caused the attack to be delayed 24 hours.

After midnight on June 6, 1944, the first stage of the invasion began with 18,000 paratroopers jumping out of planes and landing behind enemy lines to secure bridges and destroy key targets.

More than 160,000 American, British, and Canadian forces landed along five beaches within 50-miles of the Nazi-occupied French coastline. This was the start of the turning point in World War II. According to, the invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.

The Allies fought their way inland, allowing for more troops to arrive. Over half a million Allies fought to push the Germans out of France. By the end of August 1944, Paris was liberated, and the Nazis were removed from northwestern France.

Sadly, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives during the D-Day invasion and thousands more were wounded or missing, according to

D-Day prevented Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern front against the Soviets. A year after D-Day, the Allies accepted the complete surrender of Nazi Germany.

This year will mark the 75 th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy or D-Day. Many places will hold commemorative events both in the U.S. and Europe to recognize this day in history.

Is your unit doing anything to remember this historic day? Let us know in the comments!

Sources for this article include:

The ones who remember

In April 2000, I attended a reunion of a dozen veterans from the 186th. It was held in Evansville, Indiana, home to the largest inland producer of the LST during the war.

One medical officer in his late 80s came from California. “At the hospital mess hall, I always sat at the dentists’ table,” he said. “We called ourselves ‘the intellectuals.’ We used to talk about the funny papers. Then a nurse — Ariel Powers, she was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa — did a dance out by the statue on the lawn. It was unforgettable.”

Another veteran, from Michigan, said that when my grandfather, Dr. Felt, worked at the dental clinic with Dr. Chott, he pulled a prank. “When a patient came in, the receptionist would ask, ‘Would you like to be felt or shot?’ Everyone got a kick out of that.”

One veteran came to the reunion from Philadelphia. On D-Day, he was painting a sign announcing a dance that Saturday night. The hospital had a stage, a movie theater and a nine-piece dance orchestra. “That went down the drain when I turned on the radio,” the technical sergeant said. “The next 10 days, well, it was like a living nightmare.”

He helped carry the litters to the operating room — stacked until the surgeons could get to them. “You’re not talking just about D-Day, you know, because to us that was just the beginning,” he said. “We spent days and days and then months and months and then years and years getting those boys back to the lines. And when one went back, here come a hundred more.”

Another veteran, Vincent Tricomi, said, “It was hard on all of us. When you get so busy, you don’t have time to step back and say, ‘That is terrible.'”

Dr. Tricomi, who was in charge of an operating room during the war, died in 2011. He came up to me later at that reunion in 2000. “Listen, I mean the poor young fellows were getting killed, and we were back from the front a little bit,” he said to me, holding my forearm. “So we were trying to do our part. That’s all. You know, we basically felt the war through them.”

Michael Carolan was born in Kansas City. He teaches writing and literature at Clark University. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and two children.

A longer version of this article appeared in The Massachusetts Review, autumn 2008, and was awarded an Atlantic Monthly Writing Award.

Primary Sources

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/>A veteran reacts while watching the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in France via a live feed, during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, England, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Jacob King/PA via AP)

On June 6, 1944, “In the heart of the mist that enveloped the Normandy Coast . was a lightning bolt of freedom,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told the ceremony. “France does not forget. France is forever grateful.”

Charles Shay, a Penobscot Native American who landed as an U.S. Army medic in 1944 and now calls Normandy home, was the only surviving D-Day veteran at the Ver-sur-Mer ceremony. He was also expected to be the only veteran taking part in a commemoration at the American memorial cemetery later in the day.

/>World War II reenactors gather at dawn on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, Sunday, June 6, 2021, the day of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. (David Vincent/AP)

Most public events have been canceled, and the official ceremonies are limited to a small number of selected guests and dignitaries.

Denis van den Brink, a WWII expert working for the town of Carentan, site of a strategic battle near Utah Beach, acknowledged the “big loss, the big absence is all the veterans who couldn’t travel.”

“That really hurts us very much because they are all around 95, 100 years old, and we hope they’re going to last forever. But, you know. ” he said.

“At least we remain in a certain spirit of commemoration, which is the most important,” he told The Associated Press.

Rare color footage brings D-Day memories alive, 75 years on

Seventy-five years ago, Hollywood director George Stevens stood on the deck of the HMS Belfast to film the start of the D-Day invasion.

Over the anniversary weekend, many local residents have come out to visit the monuments marking the key moments of the fight and show their gratitude to the soldiers. French World War II history enthusiasts, and a few travelers from neighboring European countries, could also be seen in jeeps and military vehicles on the small roads of Normandy.

Some reenactors came to Omaha Beach in the early hours of the day to pay tribute to those who fell that day, bringing flowers and American flags.

On D-Day, 4,414 Allied troops lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

/>World War II reenactors pay tribute to soldiers at dawn at the shore of Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, Sunday, June 6, 2021, the day of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. (David Vincent/AP)

Later on Sunday, another ceremony will take place at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overseeing Omaha Beach, to be broadcast on social media.

The cemetery contains 9,380 graves, most of them for servicemen who lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. Another 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing.

Normandy has more than 20 military cemeteries holding mostly Americans, Germans, French, British, Canadians and Polish troops who took part in the historic battle.

Dignitaries stressed the importance of keeping D-Day’s legacy alive for future generations.

“In the face of the threats of today, we should act together and show unity,” Parly said, “so that the peace and freedom last.”

Shadow of D-Day stretches throughout modern history

The beaches of Normandy are swarmed with Allied troops after the successful D-Day landing 75 years ago. BUY

It was a day that defined the world for generations. On June 6, 1944, about 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed five beaches along a 60-mile front in Normandy in the largest seaborne invasion in history. They seized a foothold in northern France and paved the way for the defeat of Nazi Germany less than a year later.

Thousands died in the first 24 hours, although the precise number of casualties remains in doubt. Tens of thousands more died before the Germans were swept from Normandy nearly three months later.

Seventy-five years later, the world still lives in the shadow of D-Day. The events of that day molded history for generations to come.

Had the landings failed, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin may have considered a separate peace with Adolf Hitler, as Russia had done in 1917 during World War I. If the Soviets remained in the war, they would likely have seized even more territory, expanding Communist control of a wider area of postwar Europe.

Even if the United States had rebounded, the shock of defeat on the Normandy beaches could have cost Franklin D. Roosevelt the White House in the November 1944 election. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower would have become historical footnotes.

And countless more soldiers, sailors and airmen would have likely died before the global conflict finally ended.

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. BUY

Long before the first Allied paratrooper stepped out the door of his aircraft or the first shells roared from the 1,140 Allied warships offshore, the British and the Americans had been pondering the idea of massive assault along the French coast to confront the Nazi war machine.

In March 1942, only three months after the U.S. had entered the war, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall sent the White House a plan for an invasion across the English Channel into France by April 1943.

For Marshall and Eisenhower, speed was essential. Unless they took the war to the Germans soon, American generals feared that the Soviet Union, bearing the brunt of the ground war, might collapse. That would free hundreds of thousands of German soldiers to face the Western Allies. Roosevelt concurred &mdash if the British agreed.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill balked. Churchill remained deeply suspicious of amphibious assaults ever since the disastrous Gallipoli landings in World War I. British, Australian and New Zealand forces suffered more than 160,700 casualties before abandoning the Gallipoli operation against the Ottoman Turks.

Churchill argued that American forces were untested in combat and ill-prepared to face the Germans in a head-on assault. He urged that the Allies instead land in North Africa and engage German and Italian forces there. He believed control of the Mediterranean was vital to British interests in the Suez Canal and its territories in India and East Asia.

Marshall and Eisenhower were loath to expend American lives and resources in what they considered a sideshow to defend someone else&rsquos empire. However, Roosevelt overruled his generals and on July 30, 1942, ordered them to land instead in North Africa. That ruled out any cross-Channel invasion before 1944. Eisenhower complained privately that Roosevelt&rsquos decision was the &ldquoblackest day in history.&rdquo

U.S. soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move out over the seawall on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Other troops are resting behind the concrete wall.
U.S. soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move out over the seawall on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Other troops are resting behind the concrete wall. BUY

Churchill&rsquos views appeared validated a few weeks later by a catastrophic raid on the French fishing port of Dieppe on the Normandy coast.

More than 6,000 Canadian, British and U.S. Army Rangers stormed ashore on Aug. 19, 1942. After less than 10 hours of heavy fighting, nearly 60 percent of the Allied force had been killed, wounded or captured.

Canada suffered nearly 3,500 casualties among its 5,000-man raiding force. The British lost 106 aircraft, one destroyer and 33 landing craft. None of the major Allied objectives had been met when survivors fled back to England.

Dieppe taught the Allies that a major cross-Channel assault would not succeed without a massive air and naval bombardment, better intelligence and the element of surprise. It also convinced Allied planners that they should avoid a frontal assault on a defended port and land instead on rural beaches. Marshall and Eisenhower went back to the drawing boards and developed a plan &mdash &ldquoOperation Overlord&rdquo &mdash to strike the beaches in Normandy in 1944, even as American and Allied troops were still fighting the Germans and their Italian allies in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

The decisive Soviet victory over the Germans at Stalingrad in late 1942 and early 1943 meant the Western Allies had time to prepare without fearing an imminent Soviet collapse.

Meanwhile, Hitler began his own planning for a showdown in France. In February 1943 he transferred Gen. Erwin Rommel from North Africa, where the Germans faced defeat, to France to prepare German defenses.

Over the next months, Rommel began work on the &ldquoAtlantic Wall,&rdquo a 2,400-mile network of bunkers, landmines and sea obstacles, aimed at stopping the invasion on the beach. By June 6, 1944, Rommel estimated that less than 20 percent of the fortifications had been completed.

In late 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill met with Stalin in Tehran, Iran. Despite British misgivings, the two Western leaders promised Stalin they would invade across the Channel in the coming year. In return, Stalin promised to launch a simultaneous offensive in Eastern Europe and enter the war against Japan after Germany surrendered.

Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander and planning kicked into high gear. The Americans were to land on the westernmost beaches &mdash code-named Utah and Omaha &mdash while the British and Canadians would storm three other locations &mdash Gold, Juno and Sword.

An American infantry patrol picks its way through the ruins of Saint-Lô, France, during mopping up operations against the Germans. The town was 95% destroyed before it was captured from Germans on July 18, 1944. Some 50% of the town's church of Notre Dame de Saint-Lô, whose south bell tower can be seen in the background, was destroyed. The south tower would lose its spire in the days after this photograph was taken.
An American infantry patrol picks its way through the ruins of Saint-Lô, France, during mopping up operations against the Germans. The town was 95% destroyed before it was captured from Germans on July 18, 1944. Some 50% of the town's church of Notre Dame de Saint-Lô´, whose south bell tower can be seen in the background, was destroyed. The south tower would lose its spire in the days after this photograph was taken. BUY

The 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division would jump behind German lines on the western flank, while British and Canadian airborne units would parachute along the eastern flank.

For months Allied bombers pounded German defenses and rail networks to disrupt communications and prevent the Nazis from sending reinforcements to the battlefield. Adapting from the lessons of the failed Dieppe raid, the Allies built portable docks, known as &ldquoMulberry harbors,&rdquo so they could land supplies without having to seize a port.

They also devised a massive disinformation campaign, complete with phony communications networks, double agents and dummy units, to trick the Germans into thinking the main attack would come at Pas-de-Calais, the narrowest point between France and England northeast of the real landing zones.

The date for the invasion was selected to take advantage of moonlight and maximum low tides, which would expose German obstacles just off the beaches. Eisenhower chose June 5, 1944, but heavy rain and winds forced a 24-hour delay.

At midnight June 5, Royal Air Force bombers began blasting coastal defenses. A couple of hours later, paratroopers began jumping into France. After a ferocious naval bombardment, infantry and armor landed by boat after 6:30 a.m. More than 11,000 Allied aircraft swarmed the skies, preventing the German Luftwaffe from seriously threatening the invasion from the air.

Nevertheless, the landings didn&rsquot go exactly according to plan.

High winds and heavy groundfire wreaked havoc among parachute and glider units, scattering many of them far from the drop zones. Many drowned in flooded wetlands. One unit of the 82nd Airborne, F Company of the 505th Airborne Infantry, landed in the middle of the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise and was cut to pieces by the Germans.

Sea swells pushed landing craft away from their targets. Soldiers jumped into the surf disoriented and seasick as they faced intense German fire. German resistance was the fiercest at Omaha, one of the American beaches, and Juno, where the 14,000-strong Canadian force suffered 340 dead, 574 wounded and 47 captured.

Medics administer a plasma transfusion to a wounded survivor of a landing craft at "Fox Green" sector portion of Omaha Beach. The photograph shows how promptly medical treatment was administered on the beach. Note the inflatable life belt used as a pillow, and the feet of second prostrate man on the right. Louis Weintraub/U.S. Signal Corps
Medics administer a plasma transfusion to a wounded survivor of a landing craft at "Fox Green" sector portion of Omaha Beach. The photograph shows how promptly medical treatment was administered on the beach. Note the inflatable life belt used as a pillow, and the feet of second prostrate man on the right. Louis Weintraub/U.S. Signal Corps BUY

At Omaha, units of the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division faced withering fire from a full German division. Intelligence expected them to face only a regiment. Within the first 10 minutes, all the officers and sergeants from one company were killed or wounded. The combat-experienced 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division was scattered all over the beach as sea swells pushed its landing craft off course.

Within four hours half the first wave at Omaha was dead or wounded. Gen. Omar Bradley, watching from a ship offshore, wrote that he considered evacuating the beach and diverting forces from Utah and the British beaches.

The 16th Infantry commander, Col. George Taylor, found pockets of terrified soldiers holed up where they could find shelter. &ldquoTwo kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die,&rdquo he told his soldiers. &ldquoNow let&rsquos get the hell out of here.&rdquo

As reinforcements poured onto the beach, the two American divisions managed to move forward to the bluffs as German defenders ran low on ammunition. By the end of the day, the 1st Infantry Division had lost about 1,000 killed and wounded. The 29th Division had suffered 743 casualties, including wounded and missing.

The mostly British troops managed to get shore at Sword but failed to seize the city of Caen as planned. It took weeks of heavy fighting before the city fell. The Americans faced less resistance than expected at Utah &mdash in part because rough seas pushed the landing craft a few miles south of their target where German defenders were fewer.

By the end of the day, the Allies had suffered major casualties and had failed to achieve many objectives, including seizing Caen. By the end of June 6, the Allies had suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties, including more than 4,400 dead.

That figure was roughly the same number of dead the U.S. military would suffer decades later during more than eight years of war in Iraq.

But the Germans had failed to push them off the beaches.

Nearly a year of bloody fighting lay ahead. But the Allied victory in Europe was assured.


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