June 6th, 2014

D-day: 70 years

[NOTE: The following is a repeat of a previous post from the 65th anniversary of D-day. I have added some new commentary in brackets to update.]

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy landings in WWII. Here’s a video with a few grainy clips of the Allies wading ashore:

I wonder how many people under forty, either here or in Europe, now know or care what happened there. The dog barks and the caravan moves on, and all that.

The world we now live in seems so vastly different, including the relationship between the US and western Europe. But make no mistake about it; if threatened in a way that finally gets their attention, Europeans would be counting on us again. And I have little doubt that our armed forces would be up to the task; the question is whether our government would [in the five years that have passed since I wrote this post, I have gotten to the point where I have little doubt that our government would not be up to the task, and I'm beginning to doubt whether our armed forces would, either, because of the way it's been hamstrung under Obama].

But back to the D-day landings. About thirty-five years ago I visited Omaha Beach, site of the worst of the carnage. A quieter place than that beach and those huge cemeteries, with their lines of crosses set down as though with a ruler, you never did see.

omahacemetery.jpg

But the scene was quite different in 1944. The D-day invasion marked the beginning of the end for the Germans.

The weather was a huge factor, and the Allied commanders had to make the decision knowing that the forecast for the day was iffy and the window of opportunity small. For reasons of visibility and navigation (maximum amount of moonlight and deepest water), the invasion needed to occur during a time of full moon and spring tides, and all the invasion forces had already been assembled and were at the ready. To postpone would have been hugely expensive and frustrating, but to go ahead in bad weather would have been suicidal.

This is how bad the weather looked, how difficult the decision was, and how much we owe to the meteorologists, who:

…were challenged to accurately predict a highly unstable and severe weather pattern. As [Eisenhower] indicated in the message to Marshall, “The weather yesterday which was [the] original date selected was impossible all along the target coast.” Eisenhower therefore was forced to make his decision to proceed with a June 6 invasion in the predawn blackness of June 5, while horizontal sheets of rain and gale force winds shuddered through the tent camp.

The initially bad weather ended up being an advantage in other ways, because the Germans were not expecting the invasion to occur yet for that reason:

Some [German] troops stood down, and many senior officers were away for the weekend. General Erwin Rommel, for example, took a few days’ leave to celebrate his wife’s birthday, while dozens of division, regimental, and battalion commanders were away from their posts at war games.

In addition, there was Hitler’s personality and his reluctance to give autonomy to his military commanders:

Hitler reserved to himself the authority to move the divisions in OKW Reserve, or commit them to action. On 6 June, many Panzer division commanders were unable to move because Hitler had not given the necessary authorization, and his staff refused to wake him upon news of the invasion..

This didn’t mean that the beaches were not heavily fortified and manned, especially Omaha:

[The Germans] had large bunkers, sometimes intricate concrete ones containing machine guns and high caliber weapons. Their defense also integrated the cliffs and hills overlooking the beach. The defenses were all built and honed over a four year period.

The number of Allied casualties was enormous. Reading about it today makes one appreciate anew what these men faced, and how courageously they pressed on despite enormous difficulties. This is just a small sampler of what occurred on Omaha Beach at the outset; there was much more to come:

Despite these preparations, very little went according to plan. Ten landing craft were lost before they even reached the beach, swamped by the rough seas. Several other craft stayed afloat only because their passengers quickly bailed water with their helmets. Seasickness was also prevalent among the troops waiting offshore. On the 16th RCT front, the landing boats found themselves passing struggling men in life preservers, and on rafts, survivors of the DD tanks which had sunk. Navigation of the assault craft was made more difficult by the smoke and mist obscuring the landmarks they were to use in guiding themselves in, while a heavy current pushed them continually eastward.

As the boats approached within a few hundred yards of the shore, they came under increasingly heavy fire from automatic weapons and artillery. The force discovered only then the ineffectiveness of the pre-landing bombardment. Delayed by the weather, and attempting to avoid the landing craft as they ran in, the bombers had laid their ordnance too far inland, having no real effect on the coastal defenses.

These obstacles and unforeseen circumstances were extraordinarily costly in terms of the human sacrifice that occurred that day. Note that I use the word “obstacles and unforeseen circumstances” rather than “mistakes.” Today, if the same things had occurred (particularly if under the aegis of the Bush administration), they would be labeled unforgivable errors rather than the inevitable difficulties inherent in waging war, in which no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Another historical footnote is the following passage from Eisenhower’s message to the Allied Expeditionary Forces: You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. It’s another sign of how times have changed; the word “crusade” has become verboten.

In his pocket, Eisenhower also kept another statement, one to activate in case the invasion failed. It read: Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The note was written in pencil on a simple piece of paper, and is housed in a special vault at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library & Museum in Abilene, Kansas, a bit of thought-provoking fodder for an alternate history that never occurred—fortunately for all of us.

11 Responses to “D-day: 70 years”

  1. T Says:

    Neo,

    . . . I have gotten to the point where I have little doubt that our government would not be up to the task, and I’m beginning to doubt whether our armed forces would, either . . . .

    May I offer this thought? The eventual success of D-Day and likewise the later Battle of the Bulge are testaments to the indomitable and indefatigable spirit of human beings to consistently surprise us by doing the “impossible.” I offer that such a spirit has not changed (nihil sub sole novum). As to the govt failing, I think such failure is less due to any military organizational flaws than to our govt’s inability to inspire people to make that sacrifice as it did in WW II.

    Obama tried such inspiration and initially conned many Americans into believing once again in the government good. However, given the failure, the mendacity and underlying anti-Americanism of this administration and our ruling elite, why would anyone be willing to put their own life on the line, or even work hard, knowing that the government’s word-of-the-day each and every day is “capitulation”?

    My own screed reflects exactly the opposite of the WWI mentality. Yes we must join together, not to support the ever expanding interference of the nanny-state, but to “starve the beast!” It is patriotic to work together to constrain its growth because unlike the 1940s, it is no longer the defender of our liberty, but the unchallenged propagator of viral regulation designed to restrict it.

  2. T Says:

    Sorry,

    “My own screed reflects exactly the opposite of the WWI WW II mentality”

    Fixed it.

  3. T Says:

    ” . . . the unchallenged propagator of viral regulation designed to restrict [liberty].”

    As I was saying,

    Charles C W Cooke:

    D-Day Veteran Sneaks Out of His Nursing Home, Goes to France

    The link:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/379751/d-day-veteran-sneaks-out-his-nursing-home-goes-france-charles-c-w-cooke

    A comment: WE are the customers, i.e., the masters of the house. Why in the Hell should someone have to sneak out of a nursing home in which they are the customer?

  4. Ryan Says:

    Re: not waking Hitler up

    I believe he didn’t wake until 9 am, a full 2 1/2 hours after the landings had begun at Omaha and Utah Beaches, and well after airborne units had dropped into Normandy.

    German Field Marshal von Rundstedt had requested two divisions be sent towards the coast at 4 am, and these had to be released by Hitler, who wouldn’t even be awake for another 5 hours.

  5. kit Says:

    My mom told me never to chew gum in public as it is a sign of disrespect.

    Obama CHEWED, nay CHOMPED on gum during the D DAy Ceremony.

    This was deliberate just like he shows his middle finger at people.

    His pants should be pulled down in public and he shoud be spanked with a battering ram.

  6. blert Says:

    Ryan…

    It was medically IMPOSSIBLE to wake Hitler up. He was an addict.

    Dr. Morell was injecting him with uppers in the late AM and downers in the wee hours of the morning.

    The invasion news arrived shortly after Adolf hit the sheets.

    &&&

    Missing from virtually ALL historical accounts — yet remembered by a regimental commander forty-years later — OKW (Adolf) had issued standing orders that okayed the release of the panzer reserves if any of the following Allied gambits were used:

    Dummy parachutists
    Real parachutists
    Battleship bombardment (fleet action)
    etc.

    This standing order was posted on the doors of every commander in France. (regimental on up)

    During the stress of events, he and all of the other superior commanders entirely forgot this invasion specific general order — direct from Hitler’s hand.(!)

    %%%

    The panzer reserves existed in two categories: The 1SS Corps and everything else. (pretty much)

    The ONLY panzer reserve that Adolf excluded from prompt release was the 1SS Panzer Corps. All other formations were free to move.

    Lastly, the 116th Panzer Division was not released until the very end. The anti-Nazi officers had been holding it back in the event of a palace coup. It had been newly crafted by Guderian and presented to Adolf as a ‘birthday gift’ April 20, 1944! (Cue irony)

    Far distant reserves for France were released in a timely manner: 2SS Division Das Reich. It massacred a French village on the way to Normandy, which it reached ten days too late.

    The ENTIRE notion that the panzer reserve release was a true issue is actually bogus. The nearest unit, the 21st Panzer Division made it all the way to the beach. The tankers fled without firing a shot once they saw the combined naval fleets. (!)

    It was an ineffectual unit on June 6th because Allied air power crippled its mobility and the men had major morale issues. They realized that they’d be all alone while the British had landed in Corps if not Army level strength + the Royal Navy. The 21st Panzer Division hailed from Africa. So all of the senior officers knew that the Royal Navy would be the death of them. 16″ rifles are too much.

    It was the Royal Navy that drove the Germans back — in the beginning. The big guns were totally demoralizing — and impossible to shut off. In there frustration, the British just started to hose down German positions within range — firing off map co-ordinates. This tactic almost destroyed the morale of the 12th SS Panzer Division. It was losing all of its officers to the Royal Navy.

    As for waking him up, every account I’ve read puts him coming to just before noon. Until the good doctor gave him his uppers, Adolf wasn’t ready to process any news at all. Most of his command decisions started later that night, which was his usual routine. Ever the optimist Hitler didn’t even think the battle was in trouble during the first days. Hence, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if he’d been getting reports from the first second. This was his style during every single debacle in the east.

  7. Beverly Says:

    General Lucien Truscott, under Patton in the Third Army, and a genuine hero to his men (long story there) was sent to the cemetery on a windy day to address assembled dignitaries, politicians, and the like.

    He walked to the podium; stood, looking at all the assembled faces in silence. Then he turned his back on them, removed his hat, and said a quiet prayer to the dead. He replaced it, saluted, and walked off, never having said a word.

  8. Ray Says:

    In the early 1980s I worked in Germany and made a trip to the American cemetary in Luxenbourg. It was awe inspireing. General Paton’s grave is in the very front so he is still leading the troops.

  9. parker Says:

    We are not the society that we were back in my/your parents generation. Its been slipping through our fingers decade by decade. I assume everyone in my generation had fathers and uncles who fought in WWII; we had grandparents, mothers and aunts who worked for the war effort. For a very brief moment after 9/11/01 we experienced the same sense of commonality for the first time since the 1960s. It vanished in the blink of an eye as the left turned on the rest of us in order to better collaborate with the enemy to “fundamentally transform America”.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    If the leaders and pols had ordered the surrender at D Day, there would never be a V Day.

    Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, is what sacrifices in vain would look like.

    But WWII was our last memory of sacrifice that was repaid, that wasn’t in vain.

  11. holmes Says:

    I am under 40 and I care. :) Just watched the first two episodes of Band of Brothers for perhaps the 7th or 8th time, I can’t remember. Incredible bravery.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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