70 years ago on this date on the shores of Normandy, the fate of the world was in the balance as the D-Day invasion to liberate France and Europe from the clutches of Nazi occupation began.
The largest seaborne fleet ever assembled sailed from southern English ports laden with 156, 000 British, Canadian and American troops, tanks and other weapons to land at five code named beaches along 50 miles of heavily fortified French coastline.
The 5000 ship amphibious invasion fleet was protected by a massive air umbrella of over 11,000 airplanes that flew ahead of the ships speeding south to not only drop paratroopers behind the invasion beaches but attack any German forces moving toward them by road, canal or rail.
While the British and Canadian troops landing at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches and the Americans landing at Utah Beach encountered light resistance that morning, that wasn’t the case at Omaha Beach.
Bad luck in terms of nothing going as planned for the American invaders and fierce German resistance at the water’s edge caused over 2000 casualties and had General Omar Bradley briefly consider a withdrawal of troops from the tenuous beachhead.
But the determined attackers pushed through, eventually made their way off Bloody Omaha and inland although not at the planned rate of advance.
It wasn’t a good day for the German defenders either. Their commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife’s June 6 birthday as his command staff was occupied at a military conference. Indecision and confusion reigned from Berchtesgaden to the Normandy invasion front as the massive invasion caught them by surprise. . Attempts to move German reinforcements to the area met savage air attacks by the Allied aircraft that ruled the skies.
By the end of the day the Allies would be starting the liberation of France and Western Europe. The five separate landing beaches would be linked into a single front containing a half million men by the end of the week being reinforced by thousands of tanks tasked for the breakout from the Normandy region in Operation Cobra. Paris was liberated by August and nearly a year later, the European phase of the war ended as Germany surrendered.
The stories of that day have been written in endless books, articles and told in documentaries and movies such as The Longest Day. But without the ultimate sacrifices of these 9000 men that we remember 70 years later, the world might be a far different place.