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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

D-DAY

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Sixty-four 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.

Despite British 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.”

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 first one.

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.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
June 9, 2008 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
(The East Texas Historical Association provides this column as a public service. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.)

See
World War II | World War I

Books by Archie P. McDonald - Order Here

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Primary Source Accounts of the Civil War
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