It was just 40 years ago on Wednesday – June 6, 1944 – that the great Allied invasion of the French Normandy coast took place, a vital step toward ending World War II the next year.
This “greatest amphibious assault of all time” pierced Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” defense and inspired Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, to reflect later:
“Every man who set loot on ‘Omaha Beach’ that day was a hero.”
In “Operation Overlord,” as the invasion was tagged, the Allies hurled nearly three million men, 4,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft, into the operation. Heavy air bombardments had preceded the invasion.
Within the Herald’s circulation area there undoubtedly are a great many WWII veterans who participated in the European campaigns on the long road to Berlin, if not in the actual D-Day operation. What memories they must have!
“Omaha Beach,” the designated name for one of five major Allied beachheads established that day, was the scene of furious and courageous fighting by the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions.
The U.S. 4th Division seized “Utah Beach” with less opposition and joined forces with American paratroopers who had been dropped inland. The British and Canadians overpowered the enemy at their three beaches. There were plenty of heroes at these landings, also.
Many of you in Utah Valley will remember that in the tense, crucial D-Day atmosphere, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a nationwide day of prayer for victory…and then a lasting peace.
Americans gathered in homes and churches that evening with radios turned on while the President led in a prayer which he had penned. In Provo, according to Herald files, the Provo Tabernacle was designated as a gathering place. The Jaycees sponsored the meeting, endorsed by all religious denominations.
Over-all. with an estimated 90 million-plus listening or participating, American newsmen said this probably was the “largest collective prayer ever uttered.”
The Allies had landed five divisions consisting of about 154,000 men before D-Day was over.
Casualty figures reveal the sickening price they paid in this phase of the battle for freedom. Allied dead, missing and wounded totaled more than 10,000.
Germany and its allies had occupied broad sections of the European continent in early stages of the war and forced British and French to evacuate nearly 350,000 troops at Dunkirk in the spring of 1940. The picture was dismal.
But Allied military strength and resolve gathered steam. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Allied Command began charting “Operation Overlord” in 1943. Now, after D-Day, hopes began to rise for an Allied victory within a year.
A great deal of fierce lighting still was ahead – to break out of Normandy, reach Paris (accomplished Aug. 24), the Battle of the Bulge, etc. And, of course, in the Pacific where the Japanese were putting up stubborn resistance.
A secondary landing in southern France took place Aug. 15. Allied troops advanced toward the Rhine, clearing most of France and Belgium of German forces by October, 1944.
Meantime, American-led force had taken Rome in June. Soviet armies on the Eastern front had swept through the Baltic states, East Poland, Belorussia and the Ukraine, and forced capitulation of Rumania, Finland and Bulgaria.
The eventual German collapse brought unconditional surrender and V-E Day May 8, 1945. The Pacific phase of WWII ended Aug. 14 of that same year with Japan’s surrender.
With all the heroic actions and sacrifices to put down tyranny in World War II, perhaps no single military operation outshone D-Day.
As long as mankind remembers and history lives, June 6, 1944, will remain a special day in the eternal fight to preserve freedom.