years ago in June the forces of Allied Supreme Commander Dwight
David Eisenhower hit the beaches of Normandy in northwestern
France. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill from another context, it
was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany’s Fortress Europa
and the iron grip of Hitlerism that had controlled the continent
since the summer of 1940.
For months Allied bombers—the British by night and the Americans
by daylight—had pounded German defenses and industrial sites while
literally millions of men and their logistical support for the invasion
mustered in southern England. Operation Overlord, the code name
for the invasion, was no secret to German defenders, but they had
failed to pinpoint the exact site where it would come, partly because
the German high command would not heed the advice of field commanders.
And when the invasion came, many of those field commanders were
absent from the front, also slowing a more effective response.
complaints that so many American GIs were “over-paid, over-sexed,
and over here,” preparations for the invasion proceeded smoothly
because of the common goal of defeating Hitler and also because
of the diplomatic skills of Eisenhower, known to most by then as
Ike once remarked
that our victory in Europe resulted from our having better weathermen.
He meant that in addition to worrying about men, ships, and supplies,
only a narrow window of time existed for tides and other variables
to work. D-Day was set for June 5 to take advantage of the most
favorable tide conditions, and then stormy clouds covered the channel
and the beaches, forcing postponement.
In a tense
headquarters conference, Ike’s weathermen predicted that he might
have 36-hours of acceptable weather before the next front arrived
if he began the invasion the next day. With seasick men already
aboard transports, Ike elected to go rather than disembark them
on the wrong shore and wait another month. It was a grand gamble,
and he knew it: in his pocket were two messages, one announcing
success and the other failure. Fortunately, he got to issue the
British troops under Field Marshall Montgomery stormed Gold and
Sword beaches on the right of the assault, and Gen. Omar Bradley’s
American troops hit Omaha and Utah beaches on the left. Some 50,000
U.S. troops made their way to shore before the day ended, suffering
about 6500 casualties, less than expected.
For a week the troops struggled to keep their toehold on the continent
and to extend it. Caen, and then other German-held positions fell,
and gradually the Allied advance picked up steam. Within eleven
months, despite a setback in the Bulge during the winter of 1944-1945,
Allied forces had liberated Paris and were poised on the banks of
the Elbe in Germany for an assault on Berlin. By then Soviet troops
had reached the Oder River to the east of Berlin, and the previously
invincible German war machine ground to a halt.
East Texans heard the news of D-Day early; newspapers published
“extra” editions to spread the news, and churches opened their doors
so those who wanted to pray for the safekeeping of “our boys” could
come in. The price was high, the gamble great, but this one paid
off: V-E Day was only eleven months away.