2024 Marks 80th Anniversary of D-Day

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By Nathan Cartmell

The date is June 6, 1944. The Nazis have been in control of France for more than four years, working to mercilessly destroy any remaining resistance from the French people. In response to the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942, they seized all of France from Vichy collaboration government control. The Allies have recently invaded Italy, while the Wehrmacht’s progress in the East against the Soviet Union is being rapidly reversed, resulting in a decisive Soviet victory in the Battle of Kursk in 1943.

Leading up to the beginning of June 1944, the Germans had been fortifying the French coast. They had intercepted Allied communications and knew that a massive invasion of Europe was imminent. They even knew where it was going to happen. They had received intelligence that several divisions were assembling in southern England under General Patton, and they fortified the position that the Allies were going to attack. That position of course was… Calais, right?

It turns out that the Allies, with the help of the British Special Operations Executive and a couple of very talented Spanish MI6 operatives, had deceived the Germans into believing that Calais would be the landing site for an Allied invasion instead of the actual site, which was Normandy. In fact, in the weeks after the invasion, several divisions were still stationed in Calais, waiting for the army that wouldn’t come. Operation Overlord had begun.

On the night of June 5, US Paratroopers were dropped inland, to divert German reinforcements and destroy supply lines. One of these groups was the 101st Parachute Regiment, which contained the group known as Easy Company. The 101st successfully destroyed German supply lines diverted troops, destroyed key bridges, and caused chaos all throughout the French countryside, which prevented reinforcements from reaching the beaches.

Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, while the Germans were unawares, the Allied fleet launched a massive barrage of artillery on the coastal defenses to try and destroy the gun batteries overlooking the beaches. Then, the Allies launched their attacks on Normandy: the US landed at Utah and Omaha Beach, the British landed at Golden Sword, and the Canadians landed at Juno. The coast was still well fortified, mainly due to the immense amount of German fortifications known as the Atlantic Wall, and the Americans at Omaha Beach faced particularly brutal resistance. They lost about 2,500 men in that single day, more than the entire twenty-year war in Afghanistan. The Germans mowed hundreds of US and Allied troops down with machine guns. However, under the command of General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Americans held firm and established a beachhead along with the British and the Canadians. Operation Overlord had been a success, and it would forever be known in history as D-Day.

After D-Day, Germany’s fortunes were rapidly turned. An assassination attempt was made on Hitler’s life shortly after the Normandy landings, and Italy switched sides. The Russians were steamrolling towards the capitol of Poland, Warsaw, and the other Allies liberated Paris and moved on to Holland and then Germany. A final major German offensive near the Ardennes in the winter of 1944 culminated in the Battle of the Bulge, which was a decisive Allied victory and depleted the rest of Germany’s military strength.

Only a few thousand veterans of D-Day are still alive, according to the National WWII Museum. The last Easy Company veteran passed away in 2022. The soldiers who saw combat in WWII are in their late 90s at least, and we’re losing more of them every year. Let’s not forget the men who fought in WWII, especially the ones who went to France and took the fight to the Nazis, 80 years ago, on June 6, 1944.

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