Tuesday, June 5, 2012

D-Day + 68

King George VI's letter to Churchill
Today we celebrate the 68th anniversary of the Allied Landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944.  Thousands of very young Americans, British, Canadians, Poles and others went ashore that day to storm the well-defended beaches of Normandy.  The Allied air campaign had shattered the French rail system impeding the German's ability to counter-attack in force.  Rommel, who was in charge of the Normandy defences happened to be in Germany that weekend for his wife's birthday party.  He had been informed that rough weather would preclude an invasion that weekend.  The French resistance aided by SOE operatives had worked to sabotage German communications.  A well-coordinated Allied espionage and disinformation campaign had directed Axis efforts towards the Pas de Calais as the invasion target.

Virgin and Paratroopers, St. Mere Eglise
The invasion had actually begun very late on night of June 5th with airborne invasions at both flanks of the Normandy beaches.  The British airborne troops landed and secured Pegasus bridge on the East while the American airborne troops landed near St. Mere Eglise on the West.  Private John Steele of the 82nd Airborne landed on the clock tower of the church in St. Mere Eglise and survived the battle by feigning death.  Today a visitor to St. Mere Eglise will see a copy of his parachute hanging from the church tower.  Enter the church and you will see a beautiful stained glass window of the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers!

The Allied landings were a tremendous success despite substantial casualties, particularly on Omaha beach.  The Allies secured a firm beachhead from which the liberation of France could proceed.

Winston Churchill knew, of course, about the Allied D-day plans.  He dreaded that D-Day might turn out to be another disaster the way that another seaborne invasion, Gallipoli, (his idea) in the first world war had been.  He wanted to go ashore on D-day itself.  It was only  a direct intervention by King George VI (The King's Speech) that dissuaded Winston from landing on D-day.

Above you will see a letter dated May 31, 1944 from King George VI arguing that Churchill reconsider his plan to hit the beaches together on June 6.  "A change of Sovereign" and Prime Minister would not be a good idea.

Visit Omaha today and you may at first be disconcerted to find that just below the immaculately kept American cemetery large Frenchmen with speedos are cavorting.  Children are playing with beachballs.  You can buy an ice cream.  The mines have all been cleared and there are no tank traps or visible scars on the landscape.  Do not let this trouble you too much!  They fought that day just so that the beaches at Normandy could return to being beaches that free people could enjoy.

I will allow Ronald Reagan with some help from Peggy Noonan to tell you about the Rangers of Pointe du Hoc (see below).

Reagan on 6/6/84 (40th Anniversary)

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