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
Seventy years ago today was the beginning of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. But “D-Day” was actually just one step in a process that lasted several years. But it was a BIG step.
World War II in Europe started in September 1939 with the joint invasion of Poland by Germany and the USSR. We didn’t officially join the party until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. A lot of fighting went on prior to that date.
France was invaded by Germany. The British army was defeated and had to be evacuated from Dunkirk by a flotilla of civilian ships and boats. The Battle of Britain began as the Germans tried to bomb England into submission. The British were expecting an invasion across the Channel. It was one of the darkest times in English history.
Things began to get better when FDR proclaimed that the United States was the “Arsenal of Democracy” and announced the Lend-Lease program to get around the Neutrality Acts passed to keep us out of foreign wars. We began to supply Britain with badly needed military supplies. Then Hitler turned his attention eastward and ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union.
When we first joined the war we had an undersized military with antiquated weapons and equipment. Most of our existing military was taking a beating in the Pacific. We literally had to build an army from scratch.
Millions of our young men enlisted in the military right after Pearl Harbor, including two of my uncles who joined the Marines. But building an army didn’t happen overnight. Each of those new recruits needed to be properly trained and equipped. Then all those soldiers and equipment had to be moved over to Europe.
The industrial might of the United States shifted to war time production as our factories and shipyards began producing planes, tanks, jeeps, trucks, submarines, aircraft carriers and all the other necessary military supplies. Then we built more ships to transport everything.
The Germans sent out wolfpacks of U-Boat submarines to sink our ships. Lots of men and equipment never made it to Europe but instead ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Meanwhile we began fighting the Nazis in North Africa, followed by Sicily and Italy. Our troops gained combat experience and developed tactics tested new weapons and equipment.
England became a giant military base as more troops and supplies made it past the wolfpacks. The Allies gained control of the seas and the skies, and bombing raids began on targets in Germany, France and other parts of Europe.
But sooner or later we would have to cross the Channel and invade the continent. It was no secret. The Germans knew we were coming, they just didn’t know when and where. But we couldn’t just swim across.
The Dieppe Raid of 1942 had shown that the Allies could not rely on being able to penetrate the Atlantic Wall to capture a port on the north French coast. The problem was that large ocean-going ships of the type needed to transport heavy and bulky cargoes and stores needed sufficient depth of water under their keels, together with dockside cranes, to off-load their cargo and this was not available except at the already heavily-defended French harbours.
The Germans knew that we would need to capture a major port in order to move all the necessary and and equipment across the English Channel. So they concentrated their defenses around every port. That is why the Dieppe Raid was a disaster. Almost 60% of the Allied troops involved were killed, wounded or captured in a raid that only lasted a few hours.
It was a stalemate until the Allies came up with a stroke of genius. (This is the part of the Normandy invasion that you rarely hear about.) If we couldn’t capture a port, we decided to make one!
A Mulberry harbour was a portable temporary harbour developed by the British in World War II to facilitate rapid offloading of cargo onto the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Two prefabricated or artificial military harbours were taken in sections across the English Channel from Britain with the invading army and assembled off the coast of Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.
That’s why we landed at Normandy. Compared to the rest of the French coast it was lightly defended. But it wasn’t undefended. They first had to take the beaches, then move inland. They had to gain a toehold and hang on to it while the Mulberries were assembled and the deliveries of troops and supplies gave them the necessary strength to break-out of Normandy and begin pushing across France and into German.
Thousands of our young men in England boarded planes and ships and headed for Normandy. Some of those kids never even made it to the beaches and landing areas. Many of the ones who made it died right after they arrived. Many more died in the days, weeks and months afterwards. But the ones that survived went on to win the war and eventually came home.
Every single one of those men was a hero.