History, Veterans, War

‘D-Day’ Occurred 36 Years Ago

Click to see original imageBy N. LA VERL CHRISTENSEN
Scripps League Newspapers
“The greatest amphibious assault of all time.”

That was the term used in news dispatches June 6, 1944 to describe the ”D-Day” allied invasion of Normandy in France, possibly the most decisive stepping stone to the European victory in world war II.

Everyone knew the allies were poised for a major invasion of Europe as the war moved into its advanced stages. But “where” and “when” remained the big questions until the momentous operation began 36 years ago, on June 6.

In the invasion, the American, British and Canadian landing forces quickly cleared the “first five or six hurdles” in sometimes furious fighting.

The allies hurled millions of men, 800 warships, 4,000 transports, and more than 11,000 aircraft into the operation.

In the tense, crucial atmosphere, president Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Commander-In-Chief. called for a nation-wide 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 out in a prayer which he had penned. With an estimated 90 million listening or participating, newsmen said it probably was the “largest collective prayer ever uttered.”

Germany and the axis powers had dominated the early stages of the war and occupied broad sectors of the European continent. When the British and French were forced to evacuate nearly 350,000 troops at Dunkirk in the spring of 1940, the picture looked black for the allies.

But military strength, unity, and resolve gathered steam. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s supreme allied command began charting the invasion plan, tagged “Operation Overlord,” in 1943.

In May 1944 tactical bombing crippled German communications in northern France.

At about 12:15 a.m. June 6, American and British airborne forces began landing behind German coastal fortifications known as “the Atlantic wall.” They were followed after daybreak by the seaborne troops of the U.S 1st army and British 2nd army. Naval guns and allied bombers assaulted beach defenses.

At the base of the Cotentin Peninsula the U.S. forces established two beachheads – Utah Beach, west of the Vire River, and Omaha Beach, east of the Vire, scene of the fiercest fighting.

Prime minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain said the allied troops advanced many miles in some cases on the first day. He said the invasion was going according to plan – “And what a plan!”

Cherbourg fell to the Americans June 27. A secondary landing in southern France took place Aug. 15. Allied forces advanced toward the Rhine, clearing most of France and Belgium of German forces by October 1944.

Meantime, American-led forces 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 whole allied operation seemed to gain momentum after “D-day” and move step by step, despite determined opposition, until eventual German collapse and signing of the unconditional surrender May 7, 1945.

The Pacific phase of World War II ended Aug. 14 of that same year with Japan’s surrender, formally signed aboard the United States battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2.