Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Operation Overlord or 'Operation Overboard'? Little-Known Facts About D-Day the 6th of June, 1944

Written 20 years ago, this links to my account of the D-Day landings, which has received praise again and again over the decades.

And for the anniversary of D-Day, here are some little-known facts taken from excerpts of Antony Beevor's D-Day The Battle for Normandy (a book* which the Daily Mail's Sam Leith calls "a triumph of research … on almost every page there's some little detail that sticks in the mind or tweaks the heart"):

Churchill once remarked that the Americans always came to the right decision, having tried everything else first.  But even if the joke contained an element of truth, it underplayed the fact that they learned  much more quickly than their self-appointed tutors in the British Army.  They were not afraid to listen to bright civilians from the business world now in uniform and above all they were not afraid to experiment. 

 … American officers regarded their British counterparts as 'too polite' and lacking a necessary ruthlessness, especially when it came to sacking incompetent commanders 

     Bearing the Cross of Lorraine

 … the lofty and awkward de Gaulle, often to the despair of his own supporters, seemed almost to take a perverse pleasure in biting the American and British hands which fed him.  De Gaulle had a totally Franco-centric view of everything

 … Only de Gaulle could have written a history of the French Army and manage to make no mention of Waterloo

 … to the amused resignation of British officers, one of the first ceremonies which Leclerc's Division [la 2ème DB] organized after its arrival in Yorkshire was an official mass in honour of Joan of Arc, whom the English had burned at the stake some five hundred years earlier

 … Dieppe had provided a cruel but vital lesson for the planning of D-Day: never attack a heavily defended port from the sea

      The Airborne Assault

 … Eve of battle rituals included shaving heads, to make it easier for medics to deal with head wounds, but a number of men decided to leave a strip of hair down the middle in Mohican style

 … The fighting became pitiless on both sides; in fact, that night probably saw the most vicious fighting of the whole war on the western front

 … General Maxwell Taylor, the commander of the 101st, had accumulated a group of thirty men [during the night], which included four colonels as well as other officers.  This prompted him to parody Churchill, with the comment,  'Never before in the annals of warfare have so few been commanded by so many'

 … The mission of the American heavy bombers attacking at dawn was twofold:  to destroy their targets, but also to make bomb craters on the beaches 'to provide shelter for ground forces who followed us in'

 … many [civilians] made omelettes or crêpes for the paratroopers or offered them swigs of Calvados

 … farmers' wives rushing out into the fields and grabbing as many parachutes as possible for their silk

 … One of the French farmers said to his companion, pointing to the blackened face of a paratrooper, 'You've now seen an American negro'

      The Armada Crosses

 … by far the largest fleet that had ever put to sea 

 … Almost everyone at every level was acutely conscious if taking place in a great historical event … 'The attempt to do what had been contemplated by all the great leaders of modern European History — a cross channel invasion — was about to commence'

 … In a bunker … an Obergefreiter … was shaken by the sight which dawn revealed.   'The invasion fleet was like a gigantic town on the sea,' he wrote afterwards.  And the naval bombardment was 'like an earthquake'. Another soldier manning a machine gun position … near the Colleville exit had also been shaken at dawn by the sight of the fleet 'stretching in front of our coast as far as the eye could see'

 … many compared the huge shells roaring over their heads to 'freight cars'

 … The men on the landing craft felt the shock waves of the heavy shells from the battleships and cruisers firing over their heads … The passage of the heavy shells created a vacuum in their wake.  'It was a strange sight,' wrote a staff sergeant in the Ist Division, 'to see the water rise up and follow the shells in and then drop back into the sea'

 … 'Make it look good, men', one [officer] shouted as their landing craft jammed on a sandbar just short of the beach.  'This is the first time American troops have been here in 25 years!'

 … Almost every soldier seemed to remember the sight of their first dead German

 … Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard outfit, became a symbol of the sacrifice, albeit an unrepresentative one … Around 100 men out of 215 had been killed and many more wounded … A myth has arisen that most of the dead in Company A came from the town of Bedford, Virginia. In fact only six came from Bedford, and there were just twenty-four from the whole of Bedford County serving in the company on 6 June

 … The Canadians, in spite of their battledress uniform and regimental system inherited from the British Army, in many ways felt closer to the Americans than to their mother country. They cultivated a certain skepticism towards British Army conventions and referred to Operation Overlord as 'Operation Overboard', after being smothered in instructions from British staff officers

 … Many [Tommies] started to brew up on the beach, even though it was still under fire. … Both Canadians and Americans were bemused by the British Army's apparent inability to complete a task without a tea break.  They also noted a widespread reluctance to help other arms 

 … With only a few honourable exceptions, the British Army was woefully unprepared for infantry-tank operations

  … Both Rundstedt and Rommel regarded the [UK's] Second Army as the chief threat. This was partly because they considered the British more experienced soldiers (they later admitted to underestimating the Americans)

 … Other surprises came when talking to prisoners.  One German captive [at Utah Beach] spoke to an American soldier of German origin.
'There isn't much of New York any more, is there?'
'What do you mean?'
'Well', he said, 'you know it's been bombed by the Luftwaffe.'
Americans were to find that many German soldiers had swallowed the most outrageous lies of Nazi propaganda without question.

 … The only certain fact is that 3,000 French civilians died in the first twenty-four hours of the invasion, double the total number of American dead

 … Normandy, [the local population] had discovered, was to be the sacrificial lamb for the liberation of France

 … Omaha became an American legend, but a crueller truth lay ahead in the fighting to come.  The average losses per division on both sides in Normandy were to exceed those for Soviet and German divisions during an equivalent period on the eastern front.

* Strangely, I could not find Antony Beevor's D-Day The Battle for Normandy on Amazon's American website (just an excerpt), only on its UK website…

This year's commemoration of all who have had to stagger out of the blood foaming surf to die on a foreign shore is the first one after No Pasarán's 16-year initiative ended last year. 

On every June 6 since a couple of years after the blog was founded in 2004, the anniversary was commemorated — in addition to a link to my (oft-praised) "story of D-Day" — by one line from Paul Anka's thrilling score from the film The Longest Day, one of the best war movies (and simply one of the best movies) ever made. 

Last year, sixteen years, and 16 lines, after Many Men Came Here As Soldiers, the lyrics sung by Mitch Miller and the Gang reached its conclusion.

I kind of referred to the initiative, albeit very indirectly, back in a post in 2007, on the day the initiative started

One of the best movies ever filmed, and one of the best books ever written

Many men came here as soldiers
Many men will pass this way
Many men will count the hours
When they live The Longest Day
Many men are tired and weary
Many men are here to stay
Many men won't see the sun set
When it ends The Longest Day

For those who might be interested, below are the lyrics, the commemorations, and the hyperlinks from 2007 to 2022:

The first three commemorations were simply the title and a link to the story of D-Day; by 2010, I was adding photos, cartoons, and/or various links to the posts…

Many men came here as soldiers
Many men will pass this way
Many men will count the hours
As they live the longest day

Many men are tired and weary
Many men are here to stay
Many men won't see the sun set
When it ends the longest day

The longest day, the longest day
This will be the longest day
Filled with hopes and filled with fears
Filled with blood and sweat and tears

Many men, the mighty thousands (75th anniversary edition)
Many men to victory
Marching on, right into battle
In the longest day in history

Fox News
also has an anniversary article, and Erica Lamberg's account is well written, although it does get tedious to read in almost every one of its sentences — and invariably at the end — "according to", "says [source]", "notes the same source", etc…

The invasion was conducted in two main phases: an airborne assault and amphibious landings, says the Imperial War Museum in the U.K. 

Shortly after midnight on June 6, over 18,000 Allied paratroopers were dropped into the invasion area to provide tactical support for infantry divisions on the beaches, notes the same source. 

Also, Allied air forces flew over 14,000 sorties in support of the landings and, having secured air supremacy prior to the invasion, recounts the Imperial War Museum in the U.K.

(You don't need to write "in the U.K." the second time you mention the museum's name, especially when it has been quoted in the previous two sentences; likewise, after citing the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library the first time, you can subsequently refer to just the Eisenhower Library.)

By daybreak on June 6, 1944, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads, says History.com. 

The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m., says [sic] multiple sources. 

The British and Canadians overcame some opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach, according to History.com. 

The Germans were aware of the importance of the sector designated Omaha Beach, which the Allies would need to connect and secure the beachheads together, and made certain it was heavily defended, says the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. 

"Fortifications and elevated terrain meant the American landing on Omaha would be the bloodiest that day," says the same source. 

U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties, says History.com.  

"However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches," says the same source. 

More than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing, according to some estimates, says History.com.

At American Thinker, the author of The D-Day Encyclopedia, Barrett Tillman (merci à Évelyne Joslain), adds that 

French citizens suffered severely from the Germans, from the Allies, and from internecine conflict. Allied bombers and artillery inflicted massive damage: surveying a ruined French city, an American soldier gained anonymous immortality when he said, “We sure liberated the hell out of this place.”

 … Logistics also bore heavily upon manpower, as less than 25 percent of the Allied troops in France belonged to combat units. For every infantryman, tanker, or artilleryman who crossed Omaha and Utah beaches, four or five other GIs backed him up: clerks, cooks, mechanics, truck drivers, doctors and nurses.

So when you think of the World War II vet, don’t allow your mental computer to default to the traditional image. He may have been your father, grandfather, or the neighbor you hardly knew. But give him tribute, gentle reader, whether he wielded a bazooka, a bomber, or a bulldozer.

When you think of the World War II vet, think of the uncle who collected scrap metal or the aunt who learned to use a rivet gun.

When you think of World War II, think of a nation unified in its purpose with steely resolve. It was the kind of singlemindedness that took us from 30,000 feet in the skies of Europe in 1944 to the lunar Sea of Tranquility only 25 years later.


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