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 hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
The tide has turned. The freemen 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.
I’ve spent time this morning watching old footage from DDay. After serving in the Marine Corps, when I watch videos of past battles, I try to imagine what I would be doing or thinking in the scenes that I see.
With events like DDay, it is simply impossible to put yourself in those positions.
Imagine being one of the young men sitting in a boat waiting to storm the shore. In reality, you have no idea what lies ahead. You’ve heard the briefs. You’ve heard the battle plans, but deep in your heart, you know that the only sure thing is that nothing is for sure. Many of these young men were only teenagers. Many more had lied about their age so that they could join the fight against one of the greatest foes that the world had ever known.
In just over one day, a fighting force of over 156,000 people had stormed the shore and air of France. To put that into perspective, at the height of the Iraq war, the Marine Corps total number was 221,000 troops. The sheer logistics of getting people to the fight in 1944 is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. In the battle, 10,000 plus allied troops were wounded. 4,400 plus were killed. In the age of modern warfare, those numbers are staggering.
Being a retired Marine, I still get a lot of my medical care done on base in San Antonio. Occasionally, when I go to the Army base, I’ll see an old man wearing his WWII hat proudly. Obviously, meeting these gentlemen is happening less and less because our Greatest Generation is going the way of history now. In their tired and weathered faces, behind their eyes still lies the soul of bravery that I cannot understand. The pride they exude when you walk up to shake their hand because they are wearing their WWII hat is evident. Strong hands that once gripped a heavy M1 Garand are now tender and frail. Most simply say thank you. Others will give you a hug. Each moment is special and nearly gone from us forever.
When I look at these brave warriors, I cannot understand the fear that they must have felt on this day 75 years ago. The pictures once again prove that courage isn’t the absence of fear but moving forward despite fear. I cannot imagine how long those seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks must have been. I cannot imagine the months of combat many of them endured after DDay. We dont think about that enough. We dont think about the fact that these heroes landed on France’s beaches and continued to wage war against the Nazis all over Europe and then many went on to Japan. Their bravery truly knew no bounds.
We also don’t think about the nights that many had after coming home. 75 years later, those memories don’t escape them. One of my favorite interviews that Zero Blog Thirty has done is with Cpl Stanley Rubin. He didn’t fight in the European theatre but he did fight on Iwo Jima. He told Connor and me that there wasn’t a night that he slept peacefully after the war. How could you? Many of these men experienced decades of trauma in their minds. I’m sure all would say that it was worth that cost. Without them, our world would surely be different. Without them, we wouldn’t be us. They took the charge of General Eisenhower and delivered. They accepted nothing but full victory, and because they did, the hope of American greatness still lingers on the tongue of the world.
To give you an idea what happened, ZBT’s Capt Cons wrote out a timeline. Imagine going through this. Here we go.
Day of reckoning
In June 1944, British, US and Canadian forces invaded Nazi-occupied France. The invasion marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler’s domination of Europe. Less than a year later, World War Two was over; the Allies had won.
04:17, 5 June
Early in the morning, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, gives the final go-ahead for the invasion.
At a meeting of the Allied commanders, General Eisenhower confirms the decision he made the previous evening: D-Day will be tomorrow. He’s been told the storm that has been battering his HQ and churning up the English Channel, forcing one delay already, will soon ease. He issues an Order of the Day telling the troops: “The eyes of the world are upon you”.
17:00, 5 June
Ships making up the biggest armada the world has ever seen are leaving ports along the south coast of England.
The main part of the fleet assembles just south of the Isle of Wight, in an area referred to as ‘Piccadilly Circus’. Each vessel is packed with troops, supplies, and ammunition. The soldiers are pleased to be on the move after being stuck on board a day longer than expected. Soon the 2,700 ships will make a 90-degree turn out of the area and head for France.
22:00, 5 June
In the air
Airborne troops are checking their equipment before boarding the planes that will take them to their drop zone.
The parachutists are carrying two chutes, life jacket and various weapons and equipment. They are so heavy they have to be helped on to the planes. Others climb aboard gliders. Surprise will be a vital element of their success. Eisenhower had just visited the American 101st Airborne Division. He tells them “the trick is to keep moving.”
00:16, 6 June
The first gliders head through the darkness to land near Bénouville in France
Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork landed the first glider on French soil to capture what became known as
Despite the moonlight, the pilots must rely heavily on their instruments. The gliders crash land and the soldiers rush out to take their two target bridges. Some of the conscripted foreign soldiers guarding them run away leaving just the Germans to return fire. But 10 minutes later the Allies hold the bridges. They send out the coded success signal: ‘Ham and jam.’
0030, 6 June
The Café Gondreé by Pegasus Bridge is the first building to be liberated in France. Allied troops were given champagne by its owner.
0100, 6 June
First airborne troops begin to land. American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne make jumps at the western end of the beaches. Because of cloud cover, a number miss their targets and casualties are high. Paratroopers are dropping in and around the strategically important town of Sainte Mere-Eglise on the main road to Cherbourg.
Around 1,000 regroup close to the town with the intention of capturing it from its Nazi Occupiers. After a few hours of fighting it becomes the first town in France to be liberated around 0400hrs. But some of the paratroopers never make it this far. They are dropped in the wrong place and drown in the deliberately flooded countryside before they can offload their heavy kit.
First Navy hands ordered to man battle stations. Landing craft begins to be lowered into the water; paratroopers cut phone lines and knock down telephone poles. “The landing craft was rolling in every possible direction. The sea-sickness pills had failed.” — Eric Broadhead, who was headed for Gold Beach with the Durham Light Infantry
0520, 6 June
Sunrise. Bombers drop first bombs on German targets. “As we reached Omaha Beach, all 40 aircraft dropped their bombs. More than 100 tons of bombs exploded in a few seconds. This was the only mission over Europe when I felt the concussion of our own bombs.” — Henry Tarca, on a B-17 with the 8th Air Force
05:23, 6 June
Allied warships open fire on the German defenses along the Normandy coast.
Their targets include huge German batteries which could threaten the invasion force. British RAF bombers have been targeting the same defenses since just after midnight. At 06.00 they are joined by bombers of the American USAAF. Troops assigned to Omaha and Utah beaches start to clamber into landing craft. The sea is choppy and many are sea-sick
06:30, 6 June
The first of the seaborne troops land on the Normandy beaches. They are U.S soldiers at the codenamed landing zones Utah and Omaha.
This is followed an hour later by British and Canadian assaults on the beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, and Sword. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, in charge of the German defenses in northern Europe, is at home in south-west Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday on his way to meet with Hitler later in the day. He starts his journey back to his headquarters at La Roche-Guyon after his chief of staff calls to tell him the invasion has begun. ‘Tempo!’ he urges his chauffeur.
0645, 6 June
Rangers assault Point-du-Hoc; 70th Tank Battalion begins to land at Utah.
08:20, 6 June
On Omaha, American soldiers are facing waves of machine gun fire from German gunners. Not for nothing but it will be called ‘Bloody Omaha’.
Many troops are now leaderless and terrified. Survivors who have made it to the top of the beach are huddling together, watching dead and dying comrades. But some tanks have made it ashore and are shooting at German positions, providing cover for troops. Allied soldiers on the other beaches are faring better although defensive obstacles such as mines placed in the water in front of the beaches are taking their toll.
0900, 6 June
2nd Ranger Battalion soldiers take Point-du-Hoc and defend it for the rest of the day.
09:32, 6 June
Communiqué No. 1
In London, the BBC broadcasts a special news bulletin on its Home, Overseas and European Services
Newsreader John Snagge tells listeners that Allied forces have landed in France under the command of General Eisenhower. German radio has already been broadcasting news of the invasion for two hours.
11:30, 6 June
The situation on Omaha has improved. Ships have come in close and are blasting the German positions at point blank range.
Now troops have reached the cliffs, overlooking the hundreds of casualties strewn on the beach. General Bradley, who had considered abandoning the assault on Omaha, receives a message that ‘things look better’. Along the coast, the Allies are pouring ashore and heading inland. But they’re facing fierce resistance from German strongpoints.
12:00, 6 June
At midday, Prime Minister Winston Churchill is in Westminster, addressing the House of Commons.
He begins with a lengthy update from the Italian campaign. Then he says: “I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. So far the commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan!” A clutch of BBC correspondents is embedded with the invasion force, recording eye-witness accounts to keep the British public updated.
12:00, 6 June
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler is sure that the Allied invasion will be repelled.
Hitler is holding his daily military conference at his headquarters in the Bavarian Alps.
He’s in a cheerful mood and thinks the weather is on the Germans’ side. He is convinced the Allies will be driven back into the sea on the following day. He said, “The news couldn’t be better. As long as they were in Britain we couldn’t get at them. Now we have them where we can destroy them.” Operation Fortitude, the Allies’ deception plan to convince the Germans the real invasion would come around Calais, appears to be working. Many German commanders still believe that the landings are a diversionary tactic.
14:00, 6 June
Following the initial landings, the beaches are now becoming crowded with activity.
More and more soldiers are coming ashore, the wounded are receiving treatment and the wreckage of the morning’s fierce fighting lies all around. Beachmasters are trying to bring order, while bulldozers are clearing pathways and engineers are removing German obstacles and mines.
14:30, 6 June
Allied planes are concentrating their firepower on German reinforcements around Caen
Despite this, enemy tanks and infantry are moving up to threaten the Allied beach-head. The Allied forces have so far failed to capture Caen itself, which is a key strategic objective. Few civilians have left the city despite receiving Allied leaflets warning them of a massive aerial bombardment. In Caen prison the Gestapo are executing members of the French Resistance.
15:00, 6 June
Mulberry harbors facilitate the landing of troops, ammunition and supplies.
The first sections of two artificial harbors code-named Mulberry are now heading across the Channel.
These vast constructions of concrete and steel have been designed to help the Allies to resupply the invasion force, particularly in bad weather. Meanwhile, in Caen, hundreds of civilians have been wounded or killed in the Allied bombardment and parts of the city are ablaze. It is still in the hands of the Germans.
18:00, 6 June
A German armored ‘Panzer’ division has been attacking British forces between the Juno and Sword landing zones.
By late afternoon they are in pitched battle. A few Germans managed to battle their way through to the coast by 20.00, but many of their tanks are destroyed. Meanwhile, the BBC broadcasts a speech from French General Charles De Gaulle in which he calls on Frenchmen to “fight with all the means at their disposal”.
20:00, 6 June
British patrols approach Bayeux, another major first-day objective.
But the town won’t be liberated until tomorrow. The British 50th Division, which landed at Gold beach, is tasked with taking Bayeux but is roughly three miles short. However, they have successfully joined up with their Canadian allies, who landed at Juno.
21:00, 6 June
As night approaches, fighting continues and more troops are arriving by glider to join the battle.
The Allies have landed along a 55-mile front and in some places have advanced several miles inland. More than 140,000 troops are ashore. But some German troops have successfully moved north and a few German units are still defending the beaches. King George VI broadcasts to his people and asks them to pray.
“At this moment not one of us is too busy to play a role in a worldwide vigil of prayer.” – King George VI
00:00, 7 June
‘The longest day’
By midnight, the Allies can take stock of what has been an extraordinarily successful day.
Although they have failed to take Caen and suffered thousands of casualties, substantial gains have been made. A foothold in France has been established from which the liberation of Western Europe will spring. Inside a year the Allies will have won the war and Hitler will be dead.