D-DAY.D-DAY IN MILITARY HISTORY
D-DAY IN EAST AND WEST
D-DAY AND EUROPEAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS
The term D-Day in general denotes the unnamed day on which a military offensive is to be launched. In particular, D-Day refers to 6 June 1944, the day on which the Allied forces invaded France during World War II, and to the following victory over Germany; in this connection D-Day stands for the greatest logistical achievement in military history as well.
The preparations for the cross-channel invasion finally began after the Quadrant Conference at Quebec in August 1943. On 18 December 1943 Dwight D. Eisenhower became supreme Allied commander and Bernard L. Montgomery was appointed invasion commander. The plan for Operation Overlord, as the invasion was to be known, was for a landing in Normandy between Cherbourg and Le Havre. The site was chosen for three main reasons: First, the coastline was favorable to a seaborne operation, with beaches and few cliffs. Second, the landing beaches were well in range of the Allied fighter airplanes. And third, the German army high command expected an invasion at the Strait of Dover, and therefore massed its most intact divisions, including all tank divisions, in that region. To further persuade the German generals that the landings would be made north of the Seine, the Allies created an entire phantom army, said to be based around Dover in southeast England opposite the Strait of Dover and commanded by George S. Patton.
In fact, during the first six months of 1944 the United States and Great Britain gathered an impressive land, naval, and air force in the south of England, the initial landing force concentrated between Falmouth and Newhaven. This invasion force consisted of five infantry divisions: two American (the First and Fourth Divisions), two British (the Third and Fiftieth Divisions), and one Canadian (the Third Division). Seven more divisions were held in reserve. These troops were assigned to go ashore on beaches code-named, from west to east, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Two American airborne divisions (the 82nd and the 101st) were to land behind the western end of the assault area, with one British airborne division (the Sixth) at the eastern end.
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, one day after the originally scheduled date, the Allies landed around 155,000 troops in Normandy; 57,500 Americans on the Utah and Omaha beaches; 75,000 British and Canadian soldiers on the Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches; plus nearly 23,500 British and American airborne troops. The troops had been delivered to the landing zones by an armada of nearly 900 merchant vessels and over 4,000 landing ships and landing craft, which had been marshaled and escorted by more than 1,200 naval combat ships. Some 195,700 personnel were assigned to the operation. In the air, nearly 12,000 fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft supported the landings, against which the Luftwaffe (the German air force) was able to deploy fewer than 400 planes. On this day, the Allied pilots flew over 14,000 sorties, and only 127 aircraft were lost. In the airborne landings on the flanks of the Utah and Sword beaches, more than 3,000 aircraft and gliders of the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) were used on D-Day.
By the end of 11 June (D-Day plus 5), more than 320,000 troops, nearly 55,000 vehicles, and over 100,000 tons of supplies had been landed on the beachhead. Two weeks later, the Allied troops could fall back upon nearly 200,000 vehicles and 600,000 tons of stores. Most supplies had to be landed on the beaches because the two artificial harbors, known by their code name Mulberry, were each the size of Dover harbor, and the five smaller harbors, known as Gooseberries, were not in place as scheduled. The Americans abandoned their Mulberry when a heavy storm destroyed much of the half-finished floating structure on 19 June; the British harbor (Mulberry and a Gooseberry), near Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach), was not in use until July. Nevertheless, the enormous logistical effort not only enabled the Allied forces to land on the Normandy beaches but also to develop an overwhelming weight of firepower, break out of the beachhead, and then fight and win a battle of attrition against the German troops.
On the ground in mid-July, as many as thirty-one Allied divisions and numerous independent brigades, with 770,000 American soldiers and 591,000 from the British Empire, faced 420,000 German troops who had no hope of getting additional men and material. The Seventh German army had lost 117,000 troops during battle in Normandy but by 24 July had received only 10,000 reinforcements. More than 3,500 Allied tanks stood opposite 475 German panzers (tanks). And in the air, up to 13,000 Allied aircraft faced a mere 1,000 Luftwaffe airplanes. The successful invasion of the Continent on D-Day meant the foreseeable end of World War II in Europe. Logistics and reinforcements had been a major key to this great victory.
D-Day and what followed was a great victory for the Western Allies, but not so for the Soviet Union. The former Soviet—and today Russian—attitude to the Normandy invasion has always been that the United States, Great Britain, France, and the other Western Allies have never given proper recognition to the part played by the Soviet troops in the defeat of Germany and its armies. The Soviets had always been of the opinion that they played a much bigger role in defeating Germany than the Western Allies did. Indeed, the Soviet Union lost an estimated twenty-five million citizens in World War II. By comparison, total military and civilian casualties for the United States and Great Britain are estimated at around seven hundred thousand. And in addition to this, the Soviets felt that they had been let down by their Western Allies. From the moment that the Soviet Union was attacked by the German Wehrmacht (army) on 22 June 1941, Moscow called upon its allies to open a second front against Germany. But it took three years before the invasion came off. When the Western Allies finally landed on the Normandy beaches in June 1944, the Soviets maintained that it was too late, and that as a result of this imprudent delay the war had dragged on and millions of lives, especially Russian lives, were lost unnecessarily.
Russian politicians and historians blamed that mainly on the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, whom they were convinced disliked the Soviet Union. This belief was bolstered by the fact that when General Eisenhower had suggested that a second front be opened in the summer or fall of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, but Churchill refused. Had he agreed, and had the second front opened then, Russian officials are persuaded that World War II in Europe would have ended not later than 1943. The Soviet Union celebrated 8 May 1945 as the day the war ended, and today Russia does so as well.
The French undoubtedly admired the stunning success of the Normandy campaign. They felt relief to be free but also a touch of humiliation that rescue had come from across the Channel. Being indebted to the Americans and the British for their liberation was, and is still, hard for the Grande Nation, especially since it was so bitterly defeated by the German army in 1940.
For the Germans, D-Day was not their worst defeat. As a turning point of war, the surrender of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad counted much more, and in retrospect the bombing of the German cities was the greatest catastrophe. As a result of the Second World War, a majority of German society has developed a profound antimilitarism. Today, German conscripts often serve in the army with reluctance. The army itself, deprived of a role, has lost almost all of its self-respect, a situation for which there is no precedent in German history, not even after the defeat on D-Day.
For the Americans, the British, and the Canadians, the invasion of the Continent was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, and it seems that today the memories of D-Day (often reduced to the Omaha Beach landing in the United States, particularly since the release of the movie Saving Private Ryan) are of more importance than the capitulation of Germany and the actual end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945.
Not surprisingly, ceremonies commemorating the anniversaries of the Allied landings in Normandy were held every year. Usually, celebrating D-Day was a private event; some veterans of the invasion met in Normandy and remembered the heavy fighting. But in the later years of the twentieth century, the D-Day commemoration had become more and more part of world politics. The fortieth anniversary in 1984 was overshadowed by political conflict between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union over Soviet missiles that were threatening Western Europe. For that reason, D-Day was celebrated as triumph of democracy. In his address at the Normandy invasion ceremony at Omaha Beach, President Ronald Reagan underlined the cause of freedom for which so many gave so much. The president pointed out that, when the Allied forces marched into Germany, they came not to prey on a brave and defeated people, but to nurture the seeds of democracy among those who yearned to be free again. He reaffirmed the unity of democratic peoples who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace. Furthermore, the president made it clear that the Western democracies would always be prepared, so they might always be free. Ten years later, the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day was celebrated as a triumph of the Western Allies over Germany, and over the former Soviet Union as well, as the president of Russia had not been invited to Normandy. Because the British and French leaders at that time, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President François Mitterrand, had been very skeptical about German reunification (which took place in 1990), the commemoration ceremonies demonstrated the power, not of the United States, but of the European Allies Britain and France, to the now-reunited Germany.
The sixtieth anniversary of D-Day had to cope with differences between the Western Allies—the United States and Britain on one side, France on the other—over the Iraq war. The ultimate message of the day was that modern leaders have to honor what the troops who took part in the Normandy landings died for by standing together in the cause of freedom and democracy. President George W. Bush took the opportunity to strengthen the ties between the United States and Europe, saying that the Allies were bound together by the sacrifices that were made on D-Day to help liberate the European continent. The President emphasized that the alliance was strong and was still needed. It was the first time that a Russian president and a German chancellor had been invited to a D-Day ceremony. The intended message to the (Islamic) world was: Franco-German reconciliation shows that hatred has no future and there is always a road to peace.
D-Day has always had a special meaning for the Western Allies of World War II because it represented a huge common struggle, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in his D-Day prayer, "to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity." There have been, there are, and there will be (as in every relationship), differences between the United States and Europe, based on different views of politics, economics, culture, religion, and philosophy. But D-Day offers both sides a chance to put current differences aside. The shared commemoration of the Normandy invasion in which Germany, the previous enemy, is now included serves to remind Europeans and Americans of their common values and accomplishments. D-Day ultimately has become a symbol of the transatlantic alliance.
Bryant, Arthur, Sir. Triumph in the West, 1943–1946: Based on the Diaries and Autobiographical Notes of Field Marshal the Viscount Alanbrooke. London, 1959.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. Garden City, N.Y., 1948. Classic memoirs of the commander of the European Theater of Operations.
Boog, Horst. "Invasion to Surrender: The Defence of Germany." In World War II in Europe: The Final Year, edited by Charles F. Brower, 115–140. New York, 1998. Study of the war in the West from the German point of view.
Chandler, David G., and James Lawton Collins, Jr. The D-Day-Encyclopedia. New York, 1994.
Hall, Tony, ed. D-Day, Operation Overlord: From Its Planning to the Liberation of Paris. London, 1993. Very useful collection of articles.
Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris. London, 1982; rev., 1994. Detailed and innovative study of the Normandy campaign.
Overy, Richard J. Why the Allies Won. London, 1995. The study stresses the importance of technological innovation and structural responsiveness in winning World War II.
Vogel, Detlef. "German and Allied Conduct of the War in the West." In Germany and the Second World War, Vol. 7: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943–1944/45, edited by Horst Boog, Gerhard Krebs, and Detlef Vogel. Oxford, U.K., 2006. Official German history of the Second World War, in translation.
On June 6, 1944, the Allied troops of World War II (1939–45) invaded German-occupied France. The Allies arrived on the beaches of Normandy in hopes of pushing their way into France. The date of the invasion is remembered in history as D-Day.
D-Day is a term used in military planning before dates are decided. D-Day refers to the target date for an operation. Events planned on days before or after may be referred to with a plus or minus. For example, two days before an operation would be referred to D-Day minus two.
The events at the invasion of Normandy were so monumental that the term D-Day has been applied permanently to that date. The Germans, led by dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), had occupied France since 1940. The Allied powers did not have the resources until 1944 to try to push the Germans back out.
A combination of resources, full moon, and low tide were all important to a successful invasion from the English Channel. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy. Five thousand Allied ships carried nearly one hundred thousand men. Over a thousand heavy bombers and more than two thousand fighter planes flew overhead. It was the largest combined air, sea, and land operation in history.
Fighting at Normandy was intense and brutal, even though the Germans were poorly prepared. The Allied troops persisted, and in the end of July, they were able to break out of the beach area and advance across France. By August 25, the Germans had been pushed back with another bombardment, and Paris was liberated. By September 14, the Allies had pushed the Germans back to the Franco-German border. Then it was only a matter of time until the defeat of Nazi Germany was complete. The invasion of Normandy had provided the Allies with the opening to victory.
R. A. C. Parker
D-day: see Normandy campaign.