70 Years On
The bombardment rained down shells of high explosives, the resulting explosions must have seemed like hell, pure terror must have rippled through their ranks as the ground beneath them shook violently. But they gave as good as they got with murderous machine gun fire along fortified beaches as troops rushed ashore to free a continent from the Nazi oppression. On the first day of the D-Day landings thousands were slaughtered on the Normandy beaches, the 6th of June 1944 immortalised by the film Saving Private Ryan. It was a shocking film, the opening scenes so graphic they are burnt forever in my memory and still vivid when recalled. What surprised me was a Veteran of D-Day saying that the reality was much worse than the film, sand and rocks stained red with blood, the haunting screams of men suffering, the waves of dead bodies washing up and down the beach. As the landing crafts approached the code named beeches of Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno, names that will never be lost as they are written into the world’s history in the blood of thousands. The terrified men on those crafts were not to know this was the biggest, and remains the biggest amphibious landing operation in history. As they were buffeted by waves & explosions they could not know what awaited them as the landing craft approached the beeches. Some never made it to their destination as they were hit by shelling sinking them with the troops downing under the weight of the equipment they had on them, those would be the lucky ones.
As other crafts hit the beeches the front of the boats would lower like a draw bridge to allow the terrified young men to exit, but they were often met with machine gun rapid fire straight into the craft killing many before they even stood on sand. Some were burning as incendiaries exploded and engulfed them in fire, the heat so intense that their own ammunition would ignite sending bullets and grenade shrapnel shooting in all directs. Reports from the day stated that even these explosions did not drown out the cries of men dying in the most awful ways that were unimaginable to the current generations, despite their vivid violent gaming trends. Death was not restricted to these crafts though, death swept back and forth across the beeches claiming thousands of lives on both sides of the conflict. The death toll from this day would equal the atrocity of any day in World War One, as once on the beech there was no cover, nowhere to hide for these men. I say men but in many cases they were not much more than boys. The only thing they could do was to move up the beeches, but they landed when the tide was out which meant there was a huge distance to cover. As they ran forward to make room for the next wave of men, they met a hail of gun fire and shrapnel cutting their numbers down with every step, ripping indiscriminately through equipment and flesh alike. Many of the survivors of D-Day described the guilt of surviving as death claimed one person to the left, one to the right, in front and behind, the very definition of indiscriminate, people they had trained with, lived with, set foot on sand with now gone.
As the troops finally got closer to the German defences the fight intensified and the Allied forces were finally able to shoot at targets. The opposing sides could now see each other, it was no longer anonymous long range killing, it was targets where you could see the horror on each other’s faces, and as the Allied troops overwhelmed the concrete bunkers and machine gun nests, cut through the barbed wire and avoided the landmines, the killing was hand to hand. When bullets ran out then men turned to bayonets and rifle butts, the fighting wasn’t about overthrowing the Nazi’s at this level of conflict; it was only about surviving and killing the man trying to kill you. Nearly all troops that survived talked of the horror of that first day, the guilt, being so terrified that they would have done anything not to have gone through that experience, the pain of those they lost, the lives they took for King and Country, but knowing there was no choice if Europe was to be freed from the grip of ruthless Nazi rule. The numbers and logistics of D-Day were simply remarkable and the stakes were high, if D-Day had failed then Britain would have fallen and possibly even America, as there simply were no resources left, everything we had was invested in that one day and the days that followed.
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The Facts About D-Day
On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy. The American forces landed numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7900 airborne troops.
11,590 aircraft were available to support the landings. On D-Day, Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and 127 were lost.
Operation Neptune involved huge naval forces, including 6,939 vessels: 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. Some 195,700 personnel were assigned to Operation Neptune: 52,889 US, 112,824 British, and 4,988 from other Allied countries.
By the end of 11 June (D-Day + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.
As well as the troops who landed in Normandy on D-Day, and those in supporting roles at sea and in the air, millions more men and women in the Allied countries were involved in the preparations for D-Day. They played thousands of different roles, both in the armed forces and as civilians.
“Casualties” refers to all losses suffered by the armed forces: killed, wounded and missing in action (meaning that their bodies were not found) and prisoners of war. There is no “official” casualty figure for D-Day.
The Allied casualty figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2,500 dead. Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6,603 Americans. However recent painstaking research by the US National D-day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate and much higher figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2,499 American D-Day fatalities and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4,413 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2,500 dead).
Casualties on the British beaches were roughly 1,000 on Gold Beach and the same number on Sword Beach. The remainders of the British losses were amongst the airborne troops: some 600 were killed or wounded, and 600 more were missing; 100 glider pilots also became casualties. The losses of 3rd Canadian Division at Juno Beach have been given as 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.
The breakdown of US casualties was 1,465 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing and 26 captured. Of the total US figure, 2,499 casualties were from the US airborne troops (238 of them being deaths). The casualties at Utah Beach were relatively light: 197, including 60 missing. However, the US 1st and 29th Divisions together suffered around 2,000 casualties at Omaha Beach.
Naval losses for June 1944 included 24 warships and 35 merchantmen or auxiliaries sunk, and a further 120 vessels damaged.
Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces. Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces), 125,847 from the US ground forces. The losses of the German forces during the Battle of Normandy can only be estimated. Roughly 200,000 German troops were killed or wounded. The Allies also captured 200,000 prisoners of war (not included in the 425,000 total, above). During the fighting around the Falaise Pocket (August 1944) alone, the Germans suffered losses of around 90,000, including prisoners.
Today, twenty-seven war cemeteries hold the remains of over 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9,386 American, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadian and 650 Poles.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing. Thousands more fled their homes to escape the fighting.
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I have put these facts into the blog to demonstrate the enormity of this singular event in the world’s history, the event that was the beginning of the end of World War Two, operation Overlord. D-Day and the days that followed would take back a continent from grips of Fascism. We should remember the sacrifice of those that gave their lives so that we could live under a democratic system, and give thanks to those survivors, those heroes one and all. By the end of World War Two millions of lives had been lost, tens of millions of lives in battle, in conflict, in bombing and of course in Concentration Camps, more civilians were killed than troops though. This was the price of removing Fascism from Europe and Africa and the Japanese offensive from Asia. So yes we should recognise what was given and what was taken from us to have the freedom we often take for granted, 70 years on with so few of those heroes remaining from that awful, tragic, murderous day.
But this is where I find myself so disgusted with what is happening now; it really troubles me that Fascism is now on the rise again, in Greece, Spain, Italy, France and in the UK. The very disease these men and women died to eradicate has once again found a foothold in the misery of recession, feeding off peoples’ hopelessness and giving them someone to blame, to focus their unhappiness and mould it into hate. The exact same beginnings of the Nazis in Germany during the early 1930’s. Are we really going to accept that the lives during World War Two were given in sacrifice for our freedom for nothing, only to see that rancid Fascist disease rise again? Yes this ‘modern’ Fascism has been washed clean, PR, Media and Image Consultants doing their magic, nice ties and expensive suits. However, you scratch the rebranded Fascists and just below the thin veneer of acceptable sound bites remains the same bigoted, homophobic, racist, sexist, and xenophobic, hate filled, blame others belief held by individuals set on a course that always results in violence. Democracy is just a means for the Fascists to gain power in order to corrupt a country and focus hate on others that are not able to defend themselves and we must not allow this to happen. Fascism must be eradicated wherever it is found, it must not be allowed to grow, to infect our youth, our disenfranchised, or gather support from the mindless thugs just looking to justify their ignorant, moronic views. We must not let the freedom that was paid for by the lives of millions 70 years ago be soiled by the Fascists of today. They must be stopped!
Yours most sincerely
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