D-Day in 1944 was a Tuesday, seventy years later it fell on a Friday.
A is for amphibious assault – 70 years ago it was one of the greatest manoeuvres in history that set off from the south coast of England …
- The launch of the allied invasion changed the course of the war and tested innovations in science and engineering for the first time – the planning had started in 1943 …
- … but the Germans had incredible defences, called the Atlantic Wall, all around Europe … but thankfully even they lapsed in their co-ordinations and had thought the invasion would take place at high tide …
A is for Arromanches – the village on Gold Beach spared the brunt of the fighting on the first day … so the installation and operation of a Mulberry harbour could proceed – which allowed the disembarkation of 9,000 tons of material per day.
|The Duchess of Cambridge sharing tea|
with some of the Veterans
- The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with veterans over tea in the village … an emotional memory jog for the second in line to the British throne.
|Bletchley Park and code workers|
B is for Bletchley Park – so long unacknowledged - and now famous as the home of the code-breakers. A colossal debt to the genius of Bletchley … the discipline, secrecy and patriotism shown and maintained during WWII and on for 30 years and longer as we find out more even 70 years later …
B is for Bayeux – the British military cemetery where wreaths were laid and the Queen paid tribute to the “immense and heroic endeavour” of the men at Normandy.
- It is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War where 4,100 allied servicemen are buried alongside 460 Germans.
|The five D-Day code namde beaches|
B is for beaches, the five main landing areas used on D-Day along the Normandy coast … where thousands stormed ashore to liberate Europe.
- All five landings were necessary to link up the allied forces, thus providing a continuous lodgement on the Normandy coast of the Bay of the Seine. … going from east to west:
- Sword Beach (British) – stretched 8 km (5 miles); it was divided into several sectors, and each sector divided into beaches: a 3 km (1.9 mile) stretch of Sword was codenamed Queen Sector – Red, White and Green … which ‘explains’ why the Queen wore that bright green outfit at the international Commemoration, which all the dignitaries attended.
- Juno Beach – the Canadian Advance Forces … they suffered many losses as seen in their War Cemetery; their main drive was to secure each intermediary flanking beach and to capture the German airport, Carpiquet, west of Caen.
- Gold Beach (British) - was secured so an artificial Mulberry harbour could be deployed.
- Omaha Beach (USA), the most heavily defended beach … but after artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition … the Americans were able to continue their landings and clear out other defences.
- Utah Beach - the most westerly beach (USA) … had been affected by strong currents – useful as they washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles, but challenging as the Americans were further south than intended … but fate played luck on the Allies side and the landings were better than expected.
B is for bicycles – used by the troops for silent and speedy movement.
B is for breakfast … at sea after a rough crossing on D-Day … fried eggs and rum … you could move to S**S*** next or perhaps V****? Some very unhappy tummies that day – let alone all the other ghastly agonies that may have followed … and the “***” are code and don’t appear – you should be able to guess! Sorry!
C is for Commemoration: why is it so important to us? Because it is tradition that shapes a nation’s understanding of itself in the present day, defining us by the memories of our forefathers articulated by ancient prayers.
C is for Coincidence of the brothers: after a dreadful assault on Sword Beach, Kenneth Sturdy found himself in a ditch thanking his lucky stars he was still alive … to settle his nerves, he sought out a cigarette, nudged the chap next to him for a light … amazingly it was his brother, Norman – whom he had not seen for four years.
D is for a Diplomatically Delicate lunch at which President Putin was seated well away from the president elect of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko: see G
D is for D-Day – an exemplar as to the way the Second World War was fought. Officers and privates, men and women, civilians and soldiers “all worked with equal energy for victory”.
- D-Day was when it would be … D-Day -1 was the day before … D-Day + 2 was 8th June 1944 …
D is for Defiance, grit, camaraderie and ‘sheer hell and begone’ – the Navy Veteran who went AWOL, so he could honour the anniversary alongside his comrades … Bernard Jordan, now 90, hiding his medals under his coat ‘broke out’ of his care home and escaped to Normandy ... he was an ex Mayor of the town!
E is for Exclamation … 5.15 am on a bunker overlooking the Normandy coast, Major Werner Pluskat of the newly arrived 352nd Division is looking out to sea with his artillery binoculars. He steps back in dazed amazement … the horizon is filled with ships … where did this fleet come from?
- Pluskat calls divisional HQ … “there must be 10,000 ships out there. It’s unbelievable!” he cries … “Look, Pluskat, are you really sure? The Americans and British together don’t have that many ships.”
- An hour later, 6.30 am, a German infantry sergeant says “They must be crazy. Are they going to swim ashore right in front of our muzzles”?
F is for Funnies …” Donald Duck” was one of Major Percy Hobart’s “Funnies” … an amphibious swimming tank ...
- Major Hobart was a maverick in his day when he was in charge of tank brigades ...
- ….he was retired early in the 1930s because of his unconventional ideas ... about replacing manpower and horses with machines – he was languishing in Home Guard …
- … but the powers that be realised his unconventional approach could be exceedingly useful?!
- “Hobart’s Funnies” – worked really well – and were born:
- apart from the Donald Duck tanks ... also:
- the Crocodile, which had a flame thrower
- Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers “Flying Dustbin” – a Petard Mortar projectile capable of destroying concrete obstacles, such as road blocks and bunkers
- AVRE “Bobbin” a reel of canvas cloth reinforced with steel poles, which could be unrolled onto the ground to form a path …
- AVRE “Fascine” a bundle of wooden poles, or rough brushwood, lashed together with wires carried in front of the tank that could be released to fill a ditch or form a step .. metal pipes in the centre of the fascine allowed the water to flow through …
- and others – see Wikipedia or other sources
F is for Friends – Paratrooper Jock Hutton, 89, who once again 70 years later parachuted in to the French cornfields … suddenly caught sight of an old friend, Bert Marsh … “You old beast! I thought you were dead!” he shouted as the two men embraced. ‘Now get that beret on properly’.
- If they are like this now, just imagine what the enemy had to deal with seventy years ago …
G is for Global Gatherings … to Normandy’s beaches had come the greatest group of world leaders since the London Olympics.
- It included 7 monarchs, ten presidents, assorted prime ministers and ‘very important peoples’ from a couple of dozen governments and armed forces. (19 heads of state, including the Queen and US President Barack Obama)
- A monarch, who had served every moment of that day in uniform; who had heard her father broadcast to the nation that night;
- and who has always had a distinguished war veteran at her side, her husband: the Duke of Edinburgh.
H is for Hitler – 5.30 am news had reached the Berghof … the Fuhrer’s HQ in the Bavarian Alps – but no-one wants to wake him … 8.30 am, Albert Speer, Hitler’s armaments minister, asks if the Fuhrer has been woken up … the answer … he always receives the news after breakfast.
- No-one wanted the responsibility of waking Hitler with news of what may be only a small scale attack … thank goodness that Hitler was such a dictator, who scared the living daylights out of his own staff too ..
|Floppy gun ...|
I is for Inflatables … or Invasion fakeries … a phantom army of camps, vehicles and planes was constructed … many inflatable mock-ups.
- Phony wireless communications were sent out from all over the UK to back up this false build up for a fake invasion … keeping the Germans guessing where the strike might occur.
- Fortitude South was the code name for this mythical army, supposedly under Gen. George S. Patton …
I is for imagination in 2014 – for us now to imagine what it must have felt like or been like at 18 in 1944, when it is now a completely different world … it is enormously humbling how incredibly brave those men were …
J is for Journal on D-Day – where a WAAF cypher officer in Hampshire says: “At 01.30 hours I climbed on the ops roof to see the most amazing sight I have ever seen.
- On the runway our fleet of tugs and gliders were taking off perfectly timed; above them at about 5,000 ft came a great formation of US Dakotas flying in V formation of three in a flight – the sky was full of twinkly green and red and amber lights, the air filled with the steady purposeful roar of their engines.
- Away in the distance came another fleet, and further off still a haze of lights betokened yet another. Our aircraft and tows circled below them before streaming off to the south. And as they went the first bombers came back …”
|WW1 recruiting poster for|
the land girls
K is for a Kiss – Arthur Jones, 88, a Desert Rat, asked the Duchess of Cambridge if he could give her a kiss … he said it was just lovely to be able to take the opportunity – he had lost his wife ten years ago and so doesn’t get many opportunities to kiss pretty ladies … he thought he might be taken off to the Tower of London … but I don’t think so … this is just a reminder that hugs and kisses are so important to the elderly – veterans or otherwise …
L is for Land Girls – Women’s Land Army Society was a British civilian organisation created during the First and Second World Wars to work in agriculture replacing men called up to the military … finally from 1995 onwards they were formally recognised.
|Aluminium milk bottle tops|
L is for Logistical Effort – the many who worked in the factories … making bullets, packing parachutes, manning the ops rooms; the engineers who made the floating tanks and portable harbours that helped secure the beaches;
- the children who collected aluminium milk bottle tops for scrap metal to be used in making the aeroplanes.
L is for Letters – the comfort of those sent and those received, yet the most poignant must be: “Darling, if you read this I’ve been killed …”
M is for Minesweepers – which began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn (6th June 1944) without encountering the enemy.
M is for Mulberry Harbours … Phoenix breakwaters were a set of reinforced concrete caissons built as a section of the artificial Mulberry harbours that were assembled in the follow-up to the Normandy landings.
- The Mulberries were created to provide the port facilities necessary to offload the thousands of men and vehicles, and tons of supplies necessary to sustain Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy.
- Patsy (she has a new book out) has given us a link to a 360 degree viewing site: Gold Beach, Arommanches
M is for “Merci” – so many French called out as they watched the Veterans go past … as they have done each year ...
N is for Nurses, Hospitals, Doctors ... a nurse recalls Le Chateau de Beaussy, near Bayeux that became a field hospital - it had a critical role as major surgeries were often performed there to make a casualty stable enough to survive the trip back to England.
As part of a team they were treating up to 200 casualties a day; it was exhausting work. There was no on/off rotation; everyone worked around the clock, sleeping when they had a chance ... often for one or two hours at a time and in a ditch, until tented accommodation was provided.
All patients, both British and German, needed rehydration, rest, morphine to keep them comfortable; while the new penicillin was being used.
N is for Newspapers … unbelievably, at about 8.15 am, one of a squadron Spitfires flying low … drops a bundle of the morning papers from Britain!
N is for a Novel … wading through the sea at Omaha beach is 25 year old counter-intelligence officer, Jerome D Salinger. In his backpack are six chapters of the novel he’s writing: The Catcher in the Rye … he brought the manuscript with him as a lucky charm – and as a reason to survive.
|Teheran Conference 1943:|
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill
O is for Operation Overlord – the code name (Churchill’s inspiration!) for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during WWII.
O is for Operation Neptune, now more commonly known as D-Day.
O is for Ouistreham, Sword Beach – where Francois Hollande played host to an extraordinary array of global statesmen all united by their country’s involvement in the conflict that was World War Two.
P is for Pride – a day of quiet pride and poignant thoughts for those who never came home …
P is for Paratrooper, Jock Hutton, 89, who jumped one last time into the thick and tall green corn … to be greeted this time by the Prince of Wales. The height of the corn at that time had made it difficult for the medics to find wounded men. (also see F for Friends)
P is for Pegasus Bridge – just as 5th June turned into 6th June all those 70 years ago … 380 British soldiers faced the Nazis’ 21st Panzer Division, which had 12,350 men in the area, 127 tanks and 40 self-propelled guns.
|Pegasus Bridge with Horsas in|
- Gliders crash-landed just yards from the bridge at Benouville, now known as Pegasus Bridge after the Parachute Battalion’s winged horse insignia, reinforced shortly after by the Paras … and after a short fire-fight both bridges were taken.
- These Airspeed Horsas were specially designed to carry 25 men … one go … no return … (the Horsa name is after the legendary 5th century conqueror of southern Britain)
- (Capturing the two small bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal … and holding them, would stop German tanks reaching the beaches where Allied troops would land the next morning).
P is for Protocol at the international Commemorative Event at Ouistreham, Sword Beach – which head of State, which Prince and which Queen should arrive first or last, and where should they sit … who is talking to one another …
|Chancellor Merkel, with President Putin and|
- President Obama was kept well away from Putin, except for the split screen tv moment … all were welcomed, some more vocally – even Angela Merkel, German Chancellor was cordially received … and Petro Poroschenko, president-elect (now president) of Ukraine was well received …
- The Russians had been a big ally for the west in the War and had lost millions of men (+/- 22 million I believe) … that we should not forget either …
|Meeting of the Supreme Allied Commanders -|
General Eisenhower with his commanders
P is for Plan … there was no Plan B – the success of D-Day stands testament to the imagination, boldness and technical ingenuity of the British and Allied leaders and armed forces.
P is for Parliament – Churchill addressed the House of Commons on 6th June 1944 breaking the news to MPs that the D-Day mission was underway.
Q is for The Queen – the only head of state old enough to remember D-Day – with six other monarchs, ten presidents and thousands of guests, including 1,000 veterans – gathered to honour those who took part in the greatest maritime invasion in history.
- A few words from the Queen’s speech: “The true measure of all our actions is how long the good in them lasts,” she declared.
- “Each year has compounded in Europe the benefits of our victory in the Second World War. Seen in that light, those heroic deeds will stand out as much in 700 years as they do after 70.”
- As we know the Queen is a great-grandmother also said “Everything we do, we do for the young” … this will be much quoted by future historians.
|Canadian Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer|
R is for remembering D-Day … at dawn on 6 June 2014, a lone piper stood on the sand at Gold beach and played a lament for the thousands of Allied Soldiers who died on D-Day 70 years ago.
- 70 years previously … Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and his Special Service Brigade arrived in the second invasive landing wave, piped ashore by Private Bill Millin, Lovat’s personal piper.
We come to remember those who from the air, in the water and on the beaches made the supreme sacrifice.
|Royal British Legion's sea of flags|
R is for the Royal British Legion – which organised a sea of flags … over 25,000 flags … one for every man that stormed the Arromanche beach.
R is for Erwin Rommel – who apparently wanted to lose the war as soon as possible to save as much of Germany as possible, yet he’d reinforced Normandy with masses defences known as the Atlantic Wall ...
- … it is well known that Rommel left the theatre of impending operations to take his wife a present on her birthday, leaving no clear lines of command between Hitler and his Western Command.
- Interestingly Rommel’s present of handmade grey suede shoes from Paris … did not fit …
- … and on top of that he was under the delusion that the Allies will never invade while the Channel is so rough … fortune favours the brave here I’d say … weren’t we lucky that our antecedents were prepared to do this for us …
|Allies and French Reisistance|
S is for Secrecy – to alert the French Resistance that the invasion was beginning the BBC would broadcast a couplet from a French poem; one line at the start of the month of the invasion; the second just before.
- This was revealed under torture to the Germans, but a German intelligence sergeant actually heard the lines and excitedly alerted the army.
- The army’s response? “No serious power would broadcast their intentions to invade over the radio.” Thank goodness the German army did pay no attention to that broadcast.
- If you would like to read a story about the secrecy and its impact on a fellow blogger, please see here: Deborah Barker, Living Between the Lines, and her Chester Isermann post.
S is for Sacrifice – Standing on Gold Beach in Normandy where he landed as a Lance Corporal 70 years ago, Cyril Ager, 90, raised his hand to salute 413 comrades who lost their lives that day.
|Tenderness and Care ...|
T is for Tenderness – the way the elderly veterans were cared for by the young soldiers during this seventieth commemorative day ...
T is for the true stars … those who were on these beaches 70 years ago – the Veterans …
U is for umbrellas … those held over the Veterans as they waited for the global leaders to finish their lunch, and talks before the Commemorative Event could take place …
U is for Underground Defences … the Atlantic Wall of Nazi bunkers around the whole of western European aimed at any allied invading force …
|The Cross of Sacrifice|
U is for the Ultimate Sacrifice, the savagery of war that so many suffered … death, disability, shell-shock, family disruption, children without parents … on all sides and in all countries …
V is for Veterans – these men are “precious: they embody one of history’s greatest moments, and soon they will all be gone.”
- To witness those Veterans – many in wheelchairs – wiping away tears for colleagues lost was both moving and humbling.
|The Queen greeting the Veterans|
Elderly, wizened faces, heads held high … countless medals emblazoning their smart blue blazers … highlighting the self-sacrificial efforts made … impossible to enumerate.
- The Normandy Veterans’ Association has announced it is to disband in November this year. Its members have dwindled to just over 600 … prior to finally shutting down … the NVA is recording interviews with as many survivors of D-Day as possible, filling in any record before the event “passes over the horizon of living memory”.
W is for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which maintains the cemeteries for all Commonwealth war dead throughout the world; here there are six Commonwealth cemeteries … four are for British casualties: Bayeux, Ranville, Banneville-La-Campagne, St Manvieu – two are for Canadians: Beny-Sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize.
- I will write a separate post about how the War Graves Commission came about.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is at Colleville-sur-Mer.
|President Obama with the United States' wreath|
W is for Wreaths – one of the wreaths laid was by Peter Thompson, chairman of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, whose 19th birthday fell on D-Day. Before the NVA stood down, the veterans sang “We’ll Meet Again” and linked arms for” Auld Lang Syne” to absent friends …
W is for Weather … a truly British topic of conversation … but an essential component in the D-Day landings …
- Three groups of weather forecasters would put forward their individual views … then would follow the interminable discussion around the differences. A common forecast would emerge detailing expected cloud, wind and sea over 48 hours – the longest period possible to forecast nearly accurately …
- They said “no” to 5th June … but prior to midday on 5th June Eisenhower agreed to D-Day as the 6th June … they were ready … and even if the winds were down to Force 3 or 4, although the sea would be rough … the Germans however believed that the conditions were unsuitable … but Operation Overlord went ahead …
X is for X-craft – midget submarines which in late January 1944 in advance of the landings carried two secret swimmers into the beaches – with augers to collect sand samples to establish whether the beach could take the weight of tanks.
- X-craft played a role on D-Day … providing beacons to guide the armada inshore …
X is for facts … many horrific … on D-Day itself 4,413 British Allied soldiers were killed …
- The invasion lasted for 80 days – and cost 250,000 lives. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels.
- Nearly 157,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6th June, while more than three million allied troops were in France by the end of August 1944.
- An estimated 360,000 French civilians were killed during the Second World War, the majority of these during the D-Day invasion and subsequent drive to the German frontier.
- On D-Day itself, 83,115 British soldiers landed in Normandy, including 24,000 on Gold Beach, 28,000 on word Beach and 7,900 by air.
The Allied D-Day in numbers …
- 156,000 troops in Normandy on D-Day;
- The armada comprised 5,000 ships with landing craft and 50,000 vehicles, supported by 11,590 aircraft
- The Allied casualty figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including over 4,413 dead.
- By June 11, with beachheads secured, more than 326,000 troops had crossed, 54,000+ vehicles and more than 100,000 tons of military equipment had been delivered to the beaches.
- World War Two dead … we must remember too there were many millions who died in other countries …
|An explanation for each recognised event|
in the theatre of war ...
Y is for the Young … our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and those to follow … as the Queen said: “Everything we do, we do for the Young”
Z is for Zero hour and one minute later …D-day + 1: = 7th June 1944 … all the beaches are secure – by the end of the day the Allies had disembarked more than 135,000 mean and had bridgeheads of varying depths along the Normandy Coastline.
- But on Omaha beach – the Americans were in a perilous situation as the Germans fought every inch of territory ... and by sunset a total of 10,000 had been killed, injured or were missing …
Z is not for Zee End of the sacrifices made … sacrifices are still made in the name of war – but the two World Wars and for this post the D-Day heroes …
- … Z is for Zee end of many who gave their lives, their family’s lives, their own abilities to free us but who were prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice … let us hope that present and future generations will remember to understand the momentous event that was D-Day – OUR FREEDOM … our ability to make our own choices … at least we can do that: many still cannot.
- Let’s not waste our antecedents’ sacrifice made so selflessly … the fight for freedom … raise our thoughts and minds in a solemn salute, a final poignant farewell … WE WILL REMEMBER.
Z is for Zenith … perhaps the single moment that represents our national achievement … the finest of British endeavours in peace or war, then it must be what was done by millions of our people (and Allies) of all ages and both sexes to make possible the triumph of landings in Normandy on 6th June, 1944.
|iphone photo of Ken Scott -|
at 98 - paying what he says
is his final visit to his fallen
friends - here he is lifted to
his feet for the last post.
How do you finish a post like this … with another story … amid the 4,000 graves of his fallen comrades, D-Day veteran Ken Scott struggles from his wheelchair to his feet …
- … wearing his original forage cap and a replica Second World War uniform adorned with medals, the 98 year-old former platoon sergeant with the Durham Light Infantry manages to raise a shaking hand to salute the Queen and those who gave their lives for freedom …
- … Supported on either side, his tears fall as the Last Post rings out across Bayeux Cemetery.
|A paratrooper in tears|
for his comrades ...
A few notes – this post is from a British perspective, but with some international aspects to remember in the scheme of things. I can’t seem to find out why the beaches were called Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah … perhaps the last two are obvious: linked to the USA.
It is long … but c’est la vie ...
Today another occasion occurred that triggered events leading to the First World War - the killing of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Saravejo - one hundred years ago: 22nd June 1914.
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