On June 6, 1944, 150,000 allied troops embarked on the biggest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. We all know about D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, but there is a backstory, and it was one of the biggest military rope-a-dopes ever. About a million German troops waited at the wrong place while the Allies established a beachhead and began their relentless drive to the heart of the Third Reich.
The fact that the Allies were preparing to invade the European mainland through the north Europe coast was no secret. The pre-invasion buildup was enormous, as southern England became a huge military encampment. English ports filled up with transports; airfields were stacked with military aircraft, and tanks, trucks, jeeps, and billeted troops were everywhere. In fact, by early June 1944 nearly three million Allied servicemen were ready for an assault on Nazi-occupied Europe.
Such monumental preparations could not have escaped German intelligence. Again, everyone knew the invasion was imminent. What were unknown to the Germans, however, were the when and where, and these unknowns remained essential to the success and the surprise that was ultimately pulled off the by Allies before the Germans could blunt the attack.
And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.
~ Winston Churchill
The Allies devised several careful deception plans:
- An actor who looked like British General Montgomery was dispatched to North Africa to attract Nazi attention to the south; i.e., the Mediterranean, suggesting a possible invasion of southern Europe.
- The American First Army Group set up a skeleton force along England’s southeastern coast, with dummy tanks deployed – actually inflated balloon mockups — to fool German air reconnaissance, along with fake messages radioed for the benefit of German interceptors.
- Rumors and bombing raids strongly hinted at attacks along other areas of northern Europe including the logical choice of Pas De Calais, Holland, and even Norway.
Even disgraced General George Patton was recalled to active service after his infamous soldier-slapping incident. Patton stood by in southern England as a decoy distracting German attention from the actual invasion plans. (Hitler still couldn’t believe that the Americans would take a fighting general off the line for whacking an enlisted man.)
There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you won’t have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.
~ General George S Patton Jr.
Luck and chance also intervened in delaying the German reaction to the Allied invasion of Normandy. General Erwin Rommel, who was in charge of German defenses against the invasion, decided that the Allies were not yet ready. He drove back to Germany on June 4 to celebrate his wife’s birthday. As a result, Rommel would be 24 hours late in getting back to the front and command an effective and immediate response.
As for Hitler, on the morning of D-Day, the Fuhrer was fast asleep at his headquarters, dopey with barbiturates; none of his staff thought it wise to wake him. In fact, by the time the rest of the Germans awoke and realized that Normandy was at the main thrust of the Allied operation, beachheads were established, and the first stages of the end of the Third Reich had begun.
To this day there is still no exact figure of how many patriots lost their lives on D-Day.
The U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., numbers 6,036 American casualties, including wounded and missing. The Heritage Foundation in Washington estimates 4,900 dead. Historians say a definitive death toll will likely never be known. Even now, the Normandy soil for which soldiers fought so bitterly offers up new bodies…
So as our greatest generation of World War II veterans is diminished by one more passing year, let’s pause today to remember and vow to never forget their efforts and sacrifice in further securing liberty and freedom.
There’s a graveyard in northern France where all the dead boys from D-Day are buried. The white crosses reach from one horizon to the other. I remember looking it over and thinking it was a forest of graves. But the rows were like this, dizzying, diagonal, perfectly straight, so after all it wasn’t a forest but an orchard of graves. Nothing to do with nature, unless you count human nature.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
At *your* service,
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