A great invasion force stood off the Normandy coast of France as dawn broke on 6 June 1944: 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and 71 large landing craft of various descriptions as well as troop transports, mine sweepers, and merchantmen—in all, nearly 5,000 ships of every type, the largest armada ever assembled. The naval bombardment that began at 0550 that morning detonated large minefields along the shoreline and destroyed a number of the enemy’s defensive positions. To one correspondent, reporting from the deck of the cruiser HMS Hillary, it sounded like “the rhythmic beating of a gigantic drum” all along the coast. In the hours following the bombardment, more than 100,000 fighting men swept ashore to begin one of the epic assaults of history, a “mighty endeavor,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it to the American people, “to preserve … our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.”
The attack had been long in coming. From the moment British forces had been forced to withdraw from France in 1940 in the face of an overwhelming German onslaught, planners had plotted a return to the Continent. Only in that way would the Allies be able to confront the enemy’s power on the ground, liberate northwestern Europe, and put an end to the Nazi regime.
SecDef Robert Gates is in France to note the anniversary:
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Marking the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day landings that turned the tide of World War II, Defense Secretary Robert Gates evoked emotional images of a bloody beach assault that “unfolded as if it were a lifetime” for the young men who braved German guns.
Gates attended the anniversary ceremony and dedication Wednesday of a visitor’s center at the Normandy American Cemetery, the burial ground for 9,387 war dead, most of whom lost their lives in the June 6, 1944, landings and subsequent operations.
There isn’t much I can add to the record of what’s been said about D-Day in the past. It was the greatest amphibious operation in history. The fighting was indescribably intense, the casualties were extremely heavy, but the task was accomplished. The Allied fighting men who survived D-Day would go on to crush Hitler and build a new Europe out of the ashes, and then begin the staring contest against Stalin and the USSR. They’ll never let themselves be called heroes, but heroes is the best word to describe them.
Those who did survive D-Day, and those who didn’t, should never be forgotten.