Monday, June 06, 2011

The Miracle Of D-Day, 67 Years Later

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a 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. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, 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.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men 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!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

~ Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The above is the statement is the one General Eisenhower released to the allied forces under his command just before the Normandy Invasion that started the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. Not so well known is that General Eisenhower also had another statement in readiness announcing the failure of the invasion and accepting full responsibility for what would have been a debacle.

When you read about Operation Overlord in Cornelius Ryan's "The Longest Day" or in Eisenhower's own remarkable book Crusade In Europe, it's easy to see why General Eisenhower was not unprepared for its possible failure. The weather was uncertain, there were indications that the enemy had found out the details of the plans for the invasion, and the sheer logistics of getting that many men and the supplies they would need landed on those hostile shores is amazing to read about even today. There were plenty of General Eisenhower's advisers who advised him not to attempt it, and it took considerable courage to go ahead anyway.

My uncle was one of the brave men who landed on Omaha beach that day. He never spoke about it much, except, in characteristic fashion, to make a joke about all the stuff he was supposedly carrying.. I can only imagine what it was like to see the gates on that LST drop and have to run through the choppy waves to the beach, straight into the face of enemy fire every inch of the way.

The invasion might have failed if not for a superb bit of disinformation. General George Patton was America's best combat commander, fresh from a superb record of victories in North Africa and Sicily. However, Patton was also in the political doghouse over an incident involving the slapping of a soldier he felt was malingering.

General Patton was removed from command of the Seventh Army in Italy and ordered to London, partly to get him out of the spolight and let the furor die down and partly because allied intelligence had confirmed that the Germans were convinced that Patton was going to be the commander of the allied attempt to invade France, which they also thought was certain to be directed at Calais, the closest point between England and France.

Instead, Eisenhower put General Omar Bradley in command and used Patton as a decoy, creating message traffic back and forth to an entire fictitious army group and feeding the Germans fake intel on a supposed landing straight across the Strait of Dover to Calais. Because of that, German General Erwin Rommel was given only three Panzer units for the Normandy area while the rest were designated as being "in reserve" and held back in locations inland where they could be shunted over to Calais and deployed on Hitler's direct orders. In fact, most of them ended up staying right where they were as Hitler declined to give the orders to move them.

Out of the three Panzer groups Rommel had, only one was placed near the actual site of the Normandy landing. The other two were deployed near Calais and stayed right where they were for two weeks after the invasion, because the Nazis were still convinced that Patton was going to lead the main invasion force in an assault on Calais. By the time the Germans realized they'd been had, it was too late and the Allies had a firm beachhead.

One of the most amazing exploits in a day of amazing exploits has to be the scaling of the cliffs at the Pointe Du Hoc by Army Rangers, and I have a little story to tell about apologies to those of you whom are regular members of Joshua's Army whom have heard it before.

About fifteen or so years ago, a few days after another June 6th, I ran into a grizzled old man and his friend at the bar of a local country club, where I was waiting for a lunch companion to show up. We got to chatting, the way people do in bars, and when a brief item flashed across the screen on the bar TV about D-Day, the man mentioned that his friend had been one of the Army Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of the Pointe Du Hoc under withering enemy fire, taking out the artillery, machine guns and pill boxes at the top of the cliffs. It cost these incredibly brave men a casualty rate of about 60%, and I'm still amazed it was done at all.

Fortunately, my lunch date was late and the elderly warrior felt like talking, so I got to hear a first hand account from him what that had been like, using rope ladders and daggers and pulling themselves upwards while the Germans fired down at them.

As he spoke, a strange thing happened. The years seemed to drop away from him somehow and I could almost see the young soldier who pulled himself up the cliffs of the Pointe Du Hoc and kept going until he reached the top.No histrionics, no hyperbole, just a matter of fact account of a tough day's work.

I read somewhere that only about one in ten the 16 million vets who served in WWII are still with us, and chances are the man I spoke to that day isn't among them. But I feel privileged that I got a chance to spend a few minutes with him, hear what he had to say and buy him a drink or two. I've never forgotten it.

The men who invaded Normandy beat the odds and gave us quite a gift.It is our task to honor them and make the use of it they intended.

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louielouie said...

i have always wondered about the strategy of d-day.
we had an army on the ground in italy.
granted, england made an excellent supply depot.
but if some of those supplies were diverted to italy, clark could have pushed north and to the right of switzerland, while george could have pushed north to the left of switzerland. this pincher would have drawn forces away from the northern bases of germany and made for a less dramatic landing on d-day. i also think the landing would have less precarious as well.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Louie,
There's a couple of things I think you're missing, IMHO.Reading Eisenhower's book ( and Churchill's)are essentials in order to see the big picture.

First,Italy was no cakewalk and because of its topography, a peninsula topped off by the Alps, it took a fairly long time to push through. In fact, the Normandy Invasion was key in diverting enough forces to enable the allies to do so, rather than the other way around.

Second, there was a great deal of political pressure to open up a Western front in order to assist the Russians, who were taking heavy casualties in the East. The Allies were concerned that if Stalin wasn't relieved, he'd make a separate peace with Hitler, which is exactly what the Russians did in WWI, something that gave Germany the manpower to launch their final offensive in 1918,( one that was only halted by the Americans), and resulted in huge allied casualties.

Third, France was the quickest way to the Rhine, the Siegfried Line and the German heartland, as well as providing our bombers with much closer bases.Once Patton and the Third Army hit the ground running, they made it to the Rhine much faster than anticipated,punched through the Siegfried Line and even managed to find a bridge across the Rhine intact.


louielouie said...

i am aware of those items. i'm also aware that churchill wanted an invasion into belgium to destroy the V-1 rocket launchers.
however, i still see no reason to not invade from italy. you don't have to establish a beach head. and clark pushing north through austria would have jeopardized the iranian oil pipelines feeding germany.

you may want to check your history:

and even managed to find a bridge across the Rhine intact.

no, that wasn't patton. it was clint eastwood and telly savalas.

Freedom Fighter said...

Very funny Louie!

Actually, the bridge I was talking about was this one.


Anonymous said...

nice guys...very interestin indeed