A US military plane flies over a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers on June 5, 2014 in Picauville, northern France. (AFP Photo / Jean-Sebastien Evrard) / AFP
The 70th anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in written history and one of the turning points of WWII – the Normandy landings – is being marked in style and with tears of joy as people remember veterans’ bravery and sacrifice.
Neptune, June 6, 1944 landing involved some 175,000 troops and
more than 5,000 ships. The unexpected storm of Hitler’s ‘Fortress
Europe’ by the Allied troops resulted in the death of around
4,000 Allied forces. As many as 9,000 Germans also lost their
lives in the battle which opened up the second, Western Front, to
aid Moscow's battle against Nazi Germany.
Seven decades on, the victorious spirit in Europe, is tainted by
the recent tensions surrounding the Ukraine crisis. Now,
once-allied nations are battling it out to preserve the stability
on a continent that is again threatened by extreme ideology.
Commemorations, taking place on the footsteps of a G7 summit,
which excluded Russia from the club over Ukraine, include Russian
President Vladimir Putin. Amid the celebrations, many of the
official meetings have focused on the Ukrainian crisis.
But despite strain in relations, the spirit of sacrifice, once
born by thousands united against a common threat, is omnipresent
on the Normandy beaches. D-day veterans from Britain, US, Canada,
Australia, France and New Zealand will be joined by 19 heads of
state for an official commemoration Friday.
The Western Front opened as Allied troops landed on five beaches
across the Normandy coast – codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha
and Utah – and on June 6, 1944, liberated from Nazis first of
many towns in northern France.
In the months prior to the landings Allied forces conducted a
skillful and far reaching deception campaign to fool the Germans,
who knew an invasion of some sort must be imminent.
Double agents played an important role in convincing the Germans
that the Normandy landings were at best a diversion from the main
landings further north near Calais and the Belgian border. The
allies even assembled thousands of wooden and rubber tanks and
landing craft to fool German spotter aircraft.
Only ten days in each month were suitable for the landing
operation as a bright moon was required to coincide with a spring
The moonlight was needed to illuminate landmarks for air crews
dropping airborne troops and supplies behind enemy lines. The low
tide was essential to expose defensive obstacles, which had been
laid by German forces on the beaches and in the sea.
Jack Schlegel, now in his 90s, loves to describe how his unit
parachuted into the French countryside in June 1944.
Having been to 3 prisoner-of-war camps he also remembers how he,
as a 19-year-old skirmished with German forces until enemy tanks
arrived and he was captured.
Allied commanders planned the landing for the 5 June but delayed
it over weather conditions were rough and unsuitable for any
With just a slight weather improvement on June 6 air support was
limited and no serious damage could be done to the defenses on
Omaha and Juno beach leading to severe casualties.
Germans believed that there would never be an attack in such poor
weather. Many troops and officers took a few days off and went
away for the weekend, leaving the allies with little opposition.
The only exception was Omaha Beach where very little went
according to plan and US soldiers faced stiffer than expected
resistance and suffered heavy casualties.
The first allied troops to arrive in France were from the British
6th Airborne Division, who were parachuted behind German lines
just after midnight on 6 June 1944.
Allied air power and supremacy was crucial to the success of
D-Day, and in case the Luftwaffe was already much weakened before
the Normandy landing began.
The requirements to keep the landing sites secret-particularly
the deception to encourage the Germans to devote their greatest
attention in the region of the Pas de Calais-complicated the air
The D-Day veterans’ sacrifices are still remembered 70 years on
and their descendants seems to have learnt the lesson.