We owe our freedom today to Operation Overlord, which included “D-Day.”
The “D” stood merely for the “day” on which the Allies (American and British troops and their supporters) would invade German-occupied France.
Nothing out of Hollywood has ever topped the drama of June 6, 1944. Amidst savage odds, the world’s greatest armada was launched, with 160,000 first-wave, do-or-die participants. The horrors that ensued were sobering: cruel weather, poor communications, faulty equipment, navigational errors and an underestimated enemy.
As 1944 dawned, the U.S. was facing the unimaginable—war on its own soil. By spring 1944, only England, in all of Western Europe, remained free of Axis (German) control. British and American forces had no choice but to cross the English Channel.
German commanders, expecting an invasion along the “Atlantic Wall,” had peppered the beaches of northern France, at General Rommel’s orders, with some four million land mines and obstructions.
Early June, chosen as the best time to cross the Channel, offered up only storm-tossed seas. By June 5, General Eisenhower could no longer delay, and gave the go-ahead. Some 6,900 vessels (landing craft and ships) and 13,000 aircraft began their missions.
By 6:30 a.m. on June 6, British and Canadians were landing on beaches designated as Gold, Juno and Sword. Utah Beach was assigned to American forces. Omaha Beach, assigned to the American 1st and 29th Divisions, was fortified by the 352nd German infantry division, fierce fighters trained on the eastern front.
For the Allied forces, the success of D-Day came at a terrible price. The final tally of human sacrifice will never be known. What is a certainty is the bravery of those in D-Day’s paratroop, infantry, tank and commando divisions.
A visit to the 27 war cemeteries near Normandy, France, is testimony to the carnage: 110,000 graves, among them the remains of 9,386 Americans. In total, 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded, or missing in the Normandy action, not including 200,000 Germans taken as prisoners of war, or 19,000 French civilians killed in Allied bombing in 1944.
How can we best honor D-Day? By reflecting upon its lessons of courage, sacrifice and we-can-do-anything American spirit. D-Day was the effort of many nations: The U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Belgium Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland. What did not matter in battle was one’s language, skin color, religion or nationality, only whether one supported freedom or Nazi oppression.
The planning and logistics of Operation Overlord are astounding. By June 11, 326,000 troops and 104,428 tons of supplies had arrived on Normandy’s beaches. Prefabricated artificial ports, “mulberries,” were towed into place. In the next 100 days, an Allied-built port disembarked two and a half million men, one-half million vehicles, and four million tons of equipment and supplies, single-mindedness at its finest.
Amidst our current economic and global concerns, let us be grateful to those who have given us the opportunity to work, to overcome new challenges, and to prosper in freedom.
J.R. Rosskamp is an investor, entrepreneur and managing director of Veritas Partners, Inc., a business consulting firm.