Wednesday, June 10, 2009

D-Day 65 years on

Prince Charles, President Obama, Canada's Stephen Harper, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, and Britain's Gordon Brown mingle with D-Day Veterans on Saturday June 6th.

Last Saturday June 6th was the 65th anniversary of the allied landings in Normandy. As you know I was in Bulgaria last weekend and didn't have an opportunity to post on it. I want to do something now because I love history and have always been fascinated by World War Two in particular. Its a particularly poignant anniversary because 65 years is the last time we will see a significant number of veterans still around to attend the ceremony. Oh I'm sure at the 85th anniversary in twenty years time there will be some 103 year old timer who was 18 back in 1944, but as of today there are still many men left who fought on D-Day and in the Normandy campaign scattered throughout towns, cities and villages in the US, Britain, Canada and elsewhere. There are still plenty of grandfathers in peoples homes today who do not view these events in a historical fashion as I do. They view it as a personal chapter in their lives that they lived through. This will not be the case for long though as apparently World War Two veterans are dying at a rate of nearly 1000 a day in the US alone.

Why was it so important ?
I have asked myself this many times. Is it the symbolism of landing in western Europe after four years of Nazi occupation ? Or perhaps has its importance been overstated down the years as a way of highlighting the sacrifices of the western allies at the expense of the Russians. I believe the answer in both cases is no. In my opinion it really was all or nothing day and the only thing that was going to ensure victory was sheer blood and guts. When Germany conquered Europe and defeated or expelled all armies from the mainland it was clear that in order to retake the continent an invasion would have to be meticulously planned. Hitler's Atlantic wall was tested several times by raids most notably in August 1942 at Dieppe in Northern France where 6000 allied soldiers landed and attempted to hold the town. They were nearly all captured or killed. This disastrous raid confirmed how difficult it would be to successfully invade the Continent. So began the process of preparing for D-Day. There was the unprecedented build up of men and machinery in Britain, the intelligence gathering, the practise landings on English beaches, the espionage and even the endless weather forecasting. The tiniest error or oversight could have led to a catastrophic failure of the greatest seaborne invasion in history. As an example of the attention to detail that was required and the overall tension that existed at the time watch this clip from the surprisingly excellent low budget movie Countdown to D-Day starring Tom Seleck as General Eisenhower.

What if it failed ?
I have heard it said, "what if it failed, so what, the Nazis were on the run by then and they couldn't have turned the war around at that stage". I do not believe that this is true. The objective at this stage was not just beating the Germans, it was about beating them at quickly as possible. If the Nazis had successfully prolonged the war they may have been able to mass produce the V1 and V2 long range rockets as well as jet fighter and bomber aircraft all of which they were technologically ahead of the allies in. Had they done so these weapons would certainly have been capable of turning the war around. The truth is that if the Germans had of thwarted the invasion on the beaches in the early hours of June the 6th the entire invasion would have failed and the allies would have had to try again. The Germans would not of had to redeploy their forces throughout Europe weakening their position on the Eastern front in the process and they probably would have been able to contain the onslaught on the Red Army in the East. This could have prolonged the war in Europe until 1946 or 47 at which stage who knows what would have happened. Imagine the Nazis with cold war era weapons. It all boils down to one inescapable conclusion, June 6th 1944 was the single most crucial day of the 20th century. It was a unique moment in history when the fate of the civilised world boiled down to who fought hardest during a series of battles between 6am and midday on June 6th 1944. The men who fought in the slaughter of Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and sword beaches literally went through hell on earth so that future generations could live in a world free from Nazi tyranny.


Paul said...

Superb post. I meant to blog about D Day but shamefully did not. I'm reading Beevor's work at the moment it's not as good as his Stalingrad but its still worth the read.

Had D Day failed I think Germany ultimately would have suffered even more. The aerial bombardment would have intensified and Harris would have been fully unleashed perhaps ultimately with chemical and nuclear weapons. That it didn't is good cause to thank what was an ordinary generation in extraordinary times.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Paul

I'm a big fan of Beevor's books too. Stalingrad and Berlin in particular. Looking forward to his new one on Normandy.

You make a good point. If the war had of been prolonged by D Day's failure only for the allies to win at a later date it would have been a total disaster for the German nation and people. The "bomber Harris" would have got his way and the allies would have fought a mainly air war. The reason this didn't happen as you rightly point out is because of the generation who not only liberated Europe, but saved it from physical destruction.

Thanks for your comment Paul. Interesting blog you have. I particularly like your dislike of the eccentric, Israel bashing left.