Seventy-five years ago today, thousands of American troops rushed ashore onto the beaches of Normandy along with comrades from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, Norway, Poland, and Czechoslovakia on a mission to liberate Europe from the grip of fascism and Adolf Hitler’s tyranny.
It was and remains the largest amphibious attack in the history of the world.
The Allies knew that if the attack failed, it could significantly prolong World War II, so they pulled out all the stops to maximize the chances of success.
They sought to deceive the Nazis into thinking that there would be an attack on Norway and that Calais would be where the Allies would attempt to break into France, not Normandy. They coordinated with the French Resistance to sabotage rail lines, electrical facilities, and telephone and teleprinter cables. And they planned and executed a massive aerial bombardment ahead of the landings.
Paratroopers were dropped beginning shortly after midnight, which is also when the night aerial bombardment effort began. Some advance forces arrived by glider, and were in fact the first to touch down in France that night.
The largest naval fleet ever seen was assembled to ferry troops across the English Channel and provide protection from enemy forces.
6,939 different vessels participated in the operation: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of assorted types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.
Eight different navies were represented in the fleet.
The United States provided three battleships, which engaged in bombarding coastal targets beginning just before first light on June 6th, 1944.
The Allies came ashore at five different beachheads starting at 6:30 AM (0630). They were codenamed Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno, and Gold.
American forces were responsible for the Utah and Omaha zones; forces from Britain, Canada, and other Allied nations were responsible for Sword, Juno, and Gold. Free French Forces commanded by Philippe Kieffer landed at Sword.
The going was particularly tough at Omaha Beach because Nazi fortifications had not been impaired by the aerial bombardment as planned.
Nevertheless, the Allies came ashore, and were able to secure additional territory as the days went on. None of the major objectives for the first day (capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux) were achieved, but in time, they would be. The Allies’ plan to deceive the Nazis worked, and Allied air supremacy prevented the Nazis from finding out about and acting to repel the invasion until it was too late.
Confirmed Allied casualties on D-Day were 4,414; actual casualties were over 10,000. The opposition is estimated to have lost between 4,000 and 9,000.
If you’re not interested in listening to the remembrance speeches that were offered today by current officeholders like Donald Trump and Theresa May (and that lack of interest is certainly understandable), then you might want to instead read or listen to the prayer President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered on that day.
Here’s the audio:
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces.
Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace.
They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest.
They fight to liberate.
They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.
Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.
And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Seventy-five years later, we pause to remember all who were involved in the Normandy landings. The success of the operation set the stage for the end of Hitler’s Third Reich and the liberation of occupied Europe, including France. Men rushed ashore onto those beaches not knowing if they would live or die on a mission of the utmost importance. Many survived, but many did not.
We remember the fallen and we salute their sacrifice.
They died so we could be free, and we thank them.