Saturday, June 7, 2008

64 Years Ago Today...

This is my annual D-Day post. It first appeared on a now-defunct discussion board for military wives in 1999. Most recently, it appeared on this blog last year. ~~BG

I am thinking about D-Day – as I do on this day every year. At this point on the clock 64 years ago today, the landing crafts were coming ashore and at Juno Beach and Gold Beach and Pointe du Hoc, meeting the machine gun fire laid down by a well-trained and entrenched German Army. The paratroops and gliders had been on the ground for a few hours. The second front was opened when the allies stormed five beachheads. At Gold Beach and Juno Beach, the allied forces lost half of their landing parties, while at Sword Beach little resistance was met, and the fates and strong currents pushed the landing party at Utah Beach off-course and they – quite by accident – went ashore in the lightly defended Victor Sector. But that is far from the whole story. Another chapter was being written in blood.

Hitler knew the significance of the Western front. “In the East, the vastness of space will... permit a loss of territory... without suffering a mortal blow to Germany’s chance for survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds… consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.” He knew that D-Day was coming, and he replaced the hapless 716th Infantry Division with the well-trained and heavily armored elite 342nd Infantry Division. Somehow, allied intelligence missed that massive troop movement. It was a massacre, and 2400 died that day. The official report of the battle for Omaha Beach states that within the first ten minutes after the ramps were lowered every single Officer and every last Sergeant was dead or wounded.

Omaha Beach was by far the bloodiest battle fought that day. Only FIVE of the 32 tanks that were supposed to come ashore made it. There was no armored battalion to clear the way for the foot soldiers in the landing parties. They faced machine gun nests and pillboxes and they were fighting uphill. Without the heavy armored support, they were walking into the mouth of hell itself. Young men – little more than boys – were leaderless in the face of the tip of Germany’s spear – the 352nd Infantry Division.

The commanders were ready to abandon Omaha Beach, but those leaderless young men banded together and formed ad hoc units and staged attacks and pressed inland - and bit by bit they took the beach.

Thousands died 64 years ago today securing the allied foothold on the western front, pressing inland. In two months the allies would cross the Seine and secure Paris. But first they had to fight their way ashore, and fight their way ashore they did, in what I fervently hope was the last epic, existential battle mankind ever wages.


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