In Remembrance: D-Day 75th Anniversary
On this day in 1944, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the go-ahead for the largest amphibious military operation in history: Operation Overlord, code named D-Day, the Allied invasion of northern France.
By daybreak, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion. At 6:30 a.m., American troops came ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches.
The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where the U.S. First Division battled high seas, mist, mines, burning vehicles—and German coastal batteries, including an elite infantry division, which spewed heavy fire. Many wounded Americans ultimately drowned in the high tide. British divisions, which landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and Canadian troops also met with heavy German fire.
But by day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches and were then able to push inland. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.
Before the Allied assault, Hitler’s armies had been in control of most of mainland Europe and the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.
For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays.
He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.
Though D-Day did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery–for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France–the invasion was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.
1. “This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower
2. “God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy. We do not join battle afraid. We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that, if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world.” — Lt. Col Robert L. Wolverton, commanding officer of 3rd battalion, 506th PIR.
3. “The waiting for history to be made was the most difficult. I spent much time in prayer. Being cooped up made it worse. Like everyone else, I was seasick and the stench of vomit permeated our craft.” — Pvt Clair Galdonik, 359th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 90th Division
4. “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt
5. “There’s a graveyard in northern France where all the dead boys from D-Day are buried. The white crosses reach from one horizon to the other. I remember looking it over and thinking it was a forest of graves. But the rows were like this, dizzying, diagonal, perfectly straight, so after all it wasn’t a forest but an orchard of graves. Nothing to do with nature, unless you count human nature.” — Barbara Kingsolver, American novelist, essayist and poet
6. “Lieutenant Welsh remembered walking around among the sleeping men, and thinking to himself that ‘they had looked at and smelled death all around them all day but never even dreamed of applying the term to themselves. They hadn’t come here to fear. They hadn’t come to die. They had come to win.” — Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
7. “There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON’T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, ‘Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.’” ― General George S. Patton, Jr. to his troops on June 5, 1944
8. “It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide.” — President Barack Obama
9. “And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.” — Winston Churchill
10. “Men, I am not a religious man and I don’t know your feelings in this matter, but I am going to ask you to pray with me for the success of the mission before us. And while we pray, let us get on our knees and not look down but up with faces raised to the sky so that we can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do.”
“God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy. We do not join battle afraid. We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that, if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world.”
“We do not know or seek what our fate will be. We ask only this, that if die we must, that we die as men would die, without complaining, without pleading and safe in the feeling that we have done our best for what we believed was right.”
“Oh Lord, protect our loved ones and be near us in the fire ahead and with us now as we pray to you.”
All were silent for two minutes as the men were left, each with his individual thoughts. Then the Colonel ordered, “Move out.” — Lt. Col. Robert L. Wolverton, commanding officer of 3rd battalion, 506th PIR.
Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor.
—British Broadcasting Corporation message for French Resistance fighters, informing them that the invasion was on.
I am prepared to lose the whole group.
—Col. Donald Blakeslee, commanding the Fourth Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, briefing his P-51 Mustang pilots on 5 June.
They’re murdering us here. Let’s move inland and get murdered.
—Col. Charles D. Canham, commanding the 116th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach.
This is a very serious business.
—Photographer Robert Capa on Omaha Beach.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
—Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, 6 June 1944.
Four years ago our nation and empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall. . . . Now once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. . . .
At this historic moment surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nation-wide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.
—King George VI, radio address, 6 June 1944.
You get your ass on the beach. I’ll be there waiting for you and I’ll tell you what to do. There ain’t anything in this plan that is going to go right.
—Col. Paul R. Goode, addressing the 175th Infantry Regiment, Twentyninth Infantry Division, before D-Day.
Well, is it or isn’t it the invasion?
— Adolf Hitler to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel on the afternoon of 6 June.
We shall see who fights better and who dies more easily, the German soldier faced with the destruction of his homeland or the Americans and British, who don’t even know what they are fighting for in Europe.
—Gen. Alfred Jodl, operations chief of the German high command, early 1944.
I took chances on D-Day that I never would have taken later in the war.
—First Sgt. C. Carwood Lipton, 506th Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.