D-Day. What do you think of when you read D-Day? In my generation, we often used the term D-Day to mean ‘the end of the world’, ‘Demolition Day’ or ‘Day of Destruction’. The ‘D’ in D-Day actually stands for the less innocuous ‘debarkation’. D-Day is a military term which refers literally to the day on which a military operation commences. And the most famous ‘D-Day’ in history was June 6, 1944. The military operation was known as ‘Operation Overlord’, the invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe. Operation Neptune specifically, was the first stage of Operation Overlord: the landing of troops via the beaches at Normandy, France.
Although the invasion was expected, the Allied Forces of the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, surprised German commanders. General Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the invasion in the worst of weather and at an unlikely location along the French border. Most of the German brass were away from the front. Hitler’s prized panzers were held back, and even Der Fuhrer himself slept till noon on June 6, 1944.
Still, Operation Overlord seemed an almost impossible venture. Paratroopers and gliders had to land in the dark. In the early morning, across treacherous, storm-tossed waters at the widest part of the English Channel the Allied Armada crossed. Although supported by hundreds of aircraft and shelling from offshore, troops had to land in amphibious vehicles loaded with troops, tanks and equipment. Soldiers and sailors were emptied into water and onto beaches heavily fortified with ‘anti-personnel devices’. Rushing from their Landing Craft Transports, many souls drowned, entangled in equipment in water far too deep. Beaches, code named ‘Gold’, ‘Sword’, ‘Juno’ ‘Utah’ and ‘Omaha’ were laced with high hills of sand and sheer cliffs. From pillboxes, bunkers and machine gun nests atop these hills, Axis troops rained destruction on Allied Forces. Messerschmidt and Fokkwolf fighters strafed the beaches. By nightfall, 10,264 souls were dead, wounded, missing or captured.
D-Day was heralded by the opening four notes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: Dot-Dot-Dot-Dash which represents the letter ‘V’ in Morse code. V for Victory. Was Operation Overlord indeed a victory? Troops at Utah and Omaha beaches suffered unspeakable numbers of casualties. Paratroopers of the 87th Airborne were shot down en masse as they dropped right in the middle of St. Mer-Egliese. After the landing at Normandy, forces had to fight their way through France and Germany; the war dragged on for over a year with many more conflicts and battles. The inhumanity, sadism and depravity of the National Socialists are ended. The horrors of nationalism gone mad, silenced. The world as we know it now is not a perfect place. But I’ll take it over having to pray to Adolf Hitler.
Writing this article 65 years later, I wonder about those sailors, soldiers and airmen. I’d like to thank them and say ‘well done’. Those who perished and those who survived. I’m told that many who were there say that it was the worst experience of their life and they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I guess that’s the legacy of D-Day.