Little Bits of History

June 6

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 6, 2017

1944: Operation Overlord begins. Four years before, in June 1940, Adolf Hitler claimed “the most famous victory in history” when France fell to the German war machine. The miracle of the time was the successful evacuation of 338,000 British Expeditionary Force soldiers from the northern coast of France (carried out between May 27 and June 4). By October 1940, Winston Churchill was advised that British troops, even with the help of the United States, could not soon gain a foothold on mainland Europe. When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, Joseph Stalin asked the West to help create a second front to split German troops and in doing so, divide and conquer.

Britain was numerically disadvantaged and wished to avoid such costly assaults as the Somme and Passchendaele of World War I. Two plans were put forth, Operation Roundup and Operation Sledgehammer but both were seen as unlikely to succeed. Rather than attack mainland Europe, Britain opted for an attack on French North Africa and moved onto Sicily and then Italy. The idea of an attack across the English Channel was not completely off the table. The United States, now in on the planning, went against Churchill’s request in May 1943. They were supplying the bulk of both manpower and military equipment. The lack of adequate numbers of landing craft and the difficulty of air support were both issues to overcome before real plans could be laid.

As more ideas and equipment emerged, so did likely plans for a European assault. Four likely landing sites were considered: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and the Pas de Calais. The two peninsulas could be cut off by Germans, Calais was the closest point to England and were within range of V-1 and V-2 rockets. The Germans thought it the most likely landing site and so it was most heavily fortified but offered few options for expansion. Normandy was able to offer a broad front from which assaults could venture forth in a variety of directions. The site was chosen and the attack was to take place on May 1, 1944. This plan was accepted by all parties participating.

US generals first saw the actual plans in December 1943 which called for three landing divisions with two more in support. They insisted the landing division be increased to five with three airborne divisions giving support. Eventually a total of 39 divisions were committed to the Operation, 22 American and 12 British along with 3 Canadian and one each from Poland and France. Over a million troops were committed to the attack on Normandy. The Battle of Normandy begun on this day lasted until August 30 and was a decided Allied victory, turning the tide in World War II. A total of over 2 million Allied troops were employed during the three months with over a quarter million Allied casualties. German troops numbered over 1 million overall and 530,000 of them were either killed or captured.

In the months leading up to World War II, there was a tendency among many Americans to talk absently about the trouble in Europe. Nothing that happened an ocean away seemed very threatening. – Gene Tierney

Our vision of war is probably too influenced by the biggest one of all, World War II, where the forces of evil were so unambiguous and so relentless that there was no choice but to commit to total war and to demand unconditional surrender. Seldom, though, is it quite that clear cut. – David Horsey

Americans, particularly after World War II, tended to romanticize war because in World War II our cause was the cause of humanity, and our soldiers brought home glory and victory, and thank God that they did. But it led us to romanticize it to some extent. – Neil Sheeha

We learned in World War II that no single nation holds a monopoly on wisdom, morality or right to power, but that we must fight for the weak and promote democracy. – Joe Baca


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