It was 59 years ago today that the world’s greatest invasion during the world’s most horrific war was launched. France had succumbed to Nazi Germany in 1940, but four years later, on June 6, 1944, a “D-Day” armada of 3,000 landing craft, 2,500 other ships and 500 naval vessels – all supported by 13,000 aircraft – began the invasion of Europe by first attempting to liberate Paris.
U.S. infantry wades ashore Omaha Beach against the best of the German coastal forces, the 352nd Division.
Some 130,000 troops from the U.S., Britain and Canada hit the beaches of Normandy, France, at five points, while further inland thousands of U.S. and British airborne troops were scattered about the countryside. It was tough going, but by the end of the month, the allies had landed 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles and 570,000 tons of supplies.
It was an invasion more than a year in planning.
Faced with grievous losses in 1941 after the Germans invaded, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin pushed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front in the war. Stalin made his demand in a bid to relieve pressure from his vast eastern front by giving Adolf Hitler another European front to deal with.
Churchill was cool to the idea initially, remembering that Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany for almost a year in 1940, taking a pounding from the Luftwaffe while anticipating a German invasion that, fortunately, never came.
Though Stalin pressed Churchill to stage a full-fledged invasion of France in 1942, the best that could be mounted was the Dieppe Raid.
“The Allied situation in the spring of 1942 was grim. The Germans had penetrated deep into Russia, the British Eighth Army in North Africa had been forced back into Egypt, and in Western Europe the Allied Forces faced the Germans across the English Channel,” said a Veterans Affairs Canada report on the raid. “Since the time was not yet ripe for mounting Operation Overlord, the full-scale invasion of Western Europe, it was decided to mount a major raid on the French port of Dieppe.”
Launched on August 19, 1942, the attack was a disaster that cost the lives of 1,000 Canadian troops. The British Royal Air Force lost 106 aircraft – more than in any other day of the war – while the Royal Canadian Air Force loss was 13 aircraft.
A year and a half later, American Gen. Dwight Eisenhower became the allies’ supreme commander and, adopting some of what had been devised since 1943, began the final planning for D-Day. It was a huge risk, but one the allies knew they would have to take if they were to return Europe to freedom.
Before the day was done, the D-Day invasion force would suffer 10,300 casualties; by the end of the war to liberate France, the U.S. and its allies would suffer nearly 300,000 casualties. In all of World War II, 16 million American men and women served in the armed forces; 600,000 were killed or wounded.
While battles against the Japanese in the Pacific were certainly bloody, the fight to liberate Europe was especially tedious and deadly. Perhaps it was because Americans were fighting a war of liberation there for the second time in less than 40 years.
But finally, on May 7, 1945, the European slaughter came to an end. German Gen. Alfred Jodl signed an unconditional surrender at Reims, France. The war in Europe was over, and, as it had done during the fight, the U.S. would now help lead the way to rebuilding the continent once again.
Fast-forward to June 2003.
Earlier this week, President Bush sounded a “conciliatory tone” with French President Jacques Chirac after his government vehemently and viciously opposed the American effort to rid the Mideast of one of its most dangerous threats in Iraq, while securing for the Iraqi people and the West a valuable energy source.
After all America has “contributed” to sustain France, are Americans really ready to reconcile?
They say forgiveness is divine, and while many of us can forgive the French government for its reckless abandonment of the United States in a time of need, we can’t forget that Iraq isn’t the first time France has purposely opposed the U.S. or given aid and comfort to our enemies, thus endangering soldiers whose grandfathers helped liberate Paris from the clutches of German aggression – twice.
Reconciliation with France? Count me out, Mr. Bush.