Thursday, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the largest seaborne attack in history when Allied forces from six countries participated in the invasion of German-occupied Normandy, France, in the early morning hours. Allied soldiers from 15 countries including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Czechoslovakia and France were under the command of Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States Army.
Landing craft were launched from a flotilla of some 5,000 larger ships. The smaller craft came in at low tide to discharge their valuable cargo of equipment and heavy-laden soldiers. Low tide was chosen because there was a much better chance to spot wooden stakes and steel triangles erected by the Germans to repel any invasion from the sea.
The combined naval, air and land assault was in the planning stages for two years and had to be delayed a day because of the adverse weather and wind. The ultimate goal was to liberate northwestern Europe from German occupation. Operation Overlord was the name given to the entire plan while Operation Neptune was the name of the attack phase which lasted from June 6-30.
History has recorded the invasion as a success, but at a terrible loss in military and civilian lives. The success of the operation proved to be the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler’s goal of world domination. In essence, Allied forces, half of which were Americans, saved the world from Nazi control. We would all probably be speaking German today if were not for the Allied victory on D-Day 75 years ago.
By June 20, 1944, the U.S. First Army had sustained 3,082 killed in action, 13,121 wounded and nearly 8,000 missing. The subsequent breakout from the beaches added another 5,000 casualties. At midnight June 6, 13,000 paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions began dropping behind German defenses from 822 aircraft. Two-thirds of them were lost, killed or wounded by the end of the day because they were outnumbered 3-to-1 by Germans.
Army Rangers were tasked with scaling the cliffs above Omaha Beach to knock out a six-gun coast defense battery overlooking the landings. Of the 225 Rangers under the command of Col. Earl Rudder, 135 were killed or wounded. First Army commander Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley said of Rudder, “No other soldier in my command had been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the young commander of the Provisional Ranger Force.”
A total of 12 soldiers earned the Medal of Honor, nine posthumously, during the Normandy campaign, according to VFW Magazine. There probably were countless others who performed heroic acts during this time who were not recognized for one reason or another due to the chaos of war. We owe all of these soldiers a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
The D-Day World War II soldiers did indeed save the world from tyranny. There is no question about it. Let’s never forget this as we mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day Thursday, June 6.