Built on Facts

Normandy

Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
- Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, undelivered statement in the event of the failure of Operation Overlord

On this day sixty-five years ago the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, free France, Poland, and Norway invaded Nazi-held territory at the beaches of Normandy. Despite the unfathomable preparation and manpower brought to bear against the German defenses, final victory was far from certain and Eisenhower had good reason to write his militarily laconic but still poignant claim of sole responsibility for a possible failure.

In 1960, The Atlantic published an account of the landings at Omaha beach from the perspective of some of the units that are less well known in the subsequent accounts by virtue of being wiped out almost to the man. Some modern depictions of the war like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers have done a remarkable service in managing to convey some fraction of the enormity of what the invasion force actually suffered – and what they accomplished. We owe it to them to learn their story and remember their sacrifice.

The soldiers who were eighteen years old on that June day are eighty-three now. For the service of those still with us and those who have passed away, we thank them. What they achieved will live forever.

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Landing craft evacuating casualties. June 6, 1944.

Comments

  1. #1 Uncle Al
    June 6, 2009

    Eisenhower was political to the point of paralysis both during WWII (prolonging it a year) and as President. He found a kindred soul in Montgomery who punctiliously lost battles given overwhelming odds in his favor by simple dint of substituting caution (decorated with ineptitude) for action.

    With few exceptions, the US won the European war by smothering Germany with production. Its field staff was remarkably undistinguished – and its best generals were ostracized.

    The Pacific theatre was worse. US torpedos had defective firing pins. A perfect hit was a guaranteed dud through much of the conflict. MacArthur was a strutting pidgeon and prig while Truman was a double disaster of weak leadershp wholly unschooled in history.

  2. #2 Lassi Hippeläinen
    June 7, 2009

    “the US won the European war”

    Bollocks. Remember the Berlin Wall?

    The Nazis lost the war in the east front. Normandy was only a coup de grâce, motivated by speculation about post-war politics.

  3. #3 anonymous
    June 7, 2009

    We must remain vigilant against evil so that their service and achievement will not be lost to time.

  4. #4 Matt Springer
    June 8, 2009

    The Red Army would certainly not have been able to win the war without a western front. I’d go so far as to say they wouldn’t have even won Stalingrad had not some large fraction of the Nazi forces been tied down fighting in North Africa and defending against the impending invasions of Italy and France. The 8th Air Force and Bomber Command had by that point begun to make life difficult for German infrastructure and resupply as well.

    None of this is to put down what the Soviet military did – they paid by far the most cost in blood in the European theater. It would have been extraordinary difficult if not impossible for the western allies to have won alone (at least until the Manhattan project was completed). But the idea that the Normandy invasion was not decisive is just completely at variance with the facts.

  5. #5 Lassi Hippeläinen
    June 8, 2009

    I don’t want to start a propaganda war about 60+ year old events, but maybe a non-American view is needed here…

    Stalin had been asking for a second front since 1941, while the Western allies were happy to see Hitler and Stalin exhausting each other. However, after the Red Army had beaten Wehrmacht in Stalingrad and Kursk the end result was clear: Stalin had more resources, and he was willing to use them mercilessly. He was going to Berlin, and he wouldn’t stop there. The fear of a communist rule over the whole Europe was born. (By the D-Day the Red Army was already in Poland, and advancing quickly.)

    So late in 1943 in the Tehran Conference Churchill and Roosevelt agreed with Stalin about spring 1944. Stalin had a strong position, and was able to dictate what would happen in eastern Europe after the war.

    In not claiming Operation Overlord was in vain. There is no doubt it shortened the war in Europe. But it wasn’t the reason why a fraction of German forces were in the west. They had to be there anyway, just in case. Besides, it also saved western Europe from communism, as intended.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    June 8, 2009

    Again, not to minimize the sacrifices of all of the armed forces involved in the war, but the Allies benefitted from two major Axis strategic mistakes: the Germans went to war with the Soviet Union (breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) and the Japanese didn’t. Yes, it took great courage for the Soviet army to hold off the German invasion, but it helped that the Soviets did not have to commit troops to fighting a rearguard action against a Japanese invasion. Russia and Japan did not declare war against one another until well into 1945.

    Meanwhile, the Allies were also advancing up the Italian peninsula. The defeat of Mussolini in 1944 also would have had a large impact on the war.

  7. #7 NoAstronomer
    June 8, 2009

    Backing up Matt here … Had Overlord failed, had the unthinkable happened and the western allies signed a separate peace with Germany, the Germans would easily have held off Soviet Russia. By 1944 the profligate use of human lives in Red Army attacks was beginning to tell. The Soviet Union was starting to scrape the bottom of the manpower barrel.

    This is all complete conjecture though. The western allies would never have signed a separate peace with nazi Germany. It’s defeat was their top priority. That defeat would have left a huge vacuum in central Europe with the Soviets set to occupy it. For that reason alone D-Day had to happen.

    Lassi, on June 6th 1994 the Red Army was close to the Polish border at only one point in the south. The offensive that carried them into eastern Poland, Operation Bagration, started June 22nd. They advanced 200-300 miles in a few weeks. The next 300 miles to Berlin took them ten months – even with the allies rampaging through France.

    I don’t have the numbers handy, but the percentage of German force in the west was hardly a mere fraction. Tank strength in the west was close to, if not over, 50% of that available. Fighter strength was well over half.

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