Some seventy-five years ago, over 150,000 men, the vast majority of whom were ordinary people, from ordinary jobs and upbringing, were poised to make the largest invasion ever imagined: a reality. They were supported by the largest naval armada the world had ever witnessed. They were transported by ship, by landing craft, by glider, by parachute from massed aircraft. Over a fifty-mile wide front, the British, the Americans, the Canadians, stormed ashore against the defences built by the Nazi Third Reich.
The defences, the so-called Atlantic Wall, envisaged by Hitler as the ultimate defence against the Allies, that wall which stretched from the Franco-Spanish border to the northern extremity of Norway, over Approximately 1.2 million tons of steel went into the Atlantic Wall. That’s enough to build more than 20,000 Tiger tanks. The Nazis also poured 17 million cubic metres of concrete into the defences – the equivalent of 1,100 Yankee Stadiums. The cost to lay down just the French portion of the Atlantic Wall was 3.7 billion Reichsmarks — an estimated $206 billion in today’s currency. Built with slave and conscripted labour, the Wall’s defences were supposed to stop anything imagined by the German planners.
But, aided by Hitler’s credence in the reports that the invasion would come at Calais, as he and his advisers had believed in the constant news that a huge Army, along with invasion barges, tanks and associated equipment, was massing in East Anglia under the effervescent leadership of General George Patton. Very few German military men gave any thought to the possibility that the Allies would plan for that diversion, named Operation Fortitude, and instead would send an invasion fleet over one hundred miles from the ports of Southern England; when the Straits of Dover were only twenty miles wide. Rommel, fresh from his medical recuperation, drove the entire length of the Normandy section of that Atlantic Wall, realised that the defences had been built with the understanding that reinforcements would be located centrally inland. He wished to move his armoured divisions, massed as they were around the Pas de Calais, to bolster the weak pillbox and emplacement systems. Hitler overruled Rommel, the Tiger tanks did not move until too late, and the invasion won through. Rommel described the entire Wall, along with Hitler’s strategy for defence as something out of ‘wolkenkuckucksheim’ or “cloud cuckoo land”.
He was right. The Atlantic Wall was breached, as the massed power of the D-Day invasion armies, worked on for over two years by the Allied planners; smashed into, through and over the vaunted Atlantic Wall. Nothing was a cake-walk, spirited German Army local defences took thousands of lives, but the planning, the resolution, the literal industrial might and righteous cause of the Allied advance would not be stopped. The American infantry was allocated two landing zones; Utah and Omaha. Utah defences were overwhelmed in minutes. Omaha was a different proposition, with high cliffs which needed scaling, with a broad sloping beach littered with anti-tank obstacles and mines; and an entrenched and well-served German Army defence. America suffered over 2,500 casualties as they hit Omaha beach, but they won through because the Rangers managed to scale the cliffs, kill or capture the defenders, and over 34,000 troops were able to break out, off of the killing ground, and into France. The British and the Canadians hit the beaches tagged as Sword, Juno & Gold. The invasion forces lost thousands, through enemy artillery fire which hit landing craft, tank-landing ships and troops exposed on a broad beaches, but the Germans were overwhelmed, the beachmasters brought sense and order to chaos, and the troops, the tanks, and eventually, the reinforcements drove off the ramps provided by Mulberry, the first artificial harbour in the world, created especially for Normandy.
The ‘Bocage’ countryside in Normandy was perfect for German armour ambush, and it wasn’t until the Battle of the Falaise Gap, which was described by Eisenhower as “ unquestionably one of the greatest ‘killing fields’ of any of the war areas. Forty-eight hours after the closing of the gap I was conducted through it on foot, to encounter scenes that could be described only by Dante.” that Allied armour could confidently move forwards. On 21 August, the Falaise Pocket was sealed. Around 60,000 soldiers of Army Group B were trapped inside, 50,000 of whom were taken prisoner. In the region of 10,000 were killed by artillery or air strikes inside the pocket.
Yesterday, Her Majesty the Queen, together with President Donald Trump, visited Portsmouth as part of the Seventy-Fifth commemoration of D-Day. Her Majesty served, in uniform, in the latter part of the War. Donald Trump was not yet born, his Scots mother may have listened , as the radio told America that ‘We were going back’. I was only four years old, D-Day was just another day, the radio was blaring all day, but I just did not understand why, or indeed why my father did not come home for good for another year, but Our Nation was invincible, because we were part of an unbreakable Alliance.
Writing from the vantage point of my 78 years; I have to ask:-
Have we kept our hard-won freedoms?
Have the true winners been those who would reduce our personal freedoms, all in the cause of Equality, and Diversity, and forced Multiculturalism?
Does the youth, these youngsters who protest, who sneer at the Leader of an Ally, who clamour and call in support of a Marxist Leader of the Opposition because he protests against an American President, of whom he disapproves so strongly; having the temerity to come to Great Britain; even understand what was sacrificed by so many those Seventy-Five Years ago today?
Do they understand why the whole of the South Coast of England was stuffed full of tanks, of batteries of artillery, of trucks parked along every country road for miles and miles?
Do they really understand why men such as my father and hundreds of thousands like him, signed up for Service?
I really doubt it very, very much!