Before we get started with our D-Day facts, I’d like to request that you take a moment to reflect about the fearless and heroic actions of the 160,000 Allied troops who took part in the Invasion of Normandy.
Without their efforts and their willingness to put country above everything, we’d live in a much different than we do today.
I don’t want to get too preachy in this preamble so I will leave you with this: the Normandy Invasion, which started on this day 70 years ago, is without question the most substantial moment in our military’s history. Whatever comes second — take your pick: the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Trenton, the killing of Osama bin Laden — doesn’t come anywhere close to the turning point of World War II.
Storming the beaches of Utah, Omaha and other points of German-occupied France is more than just an iconic moment in American history; it’s one of the most important events in human history.
With all that said (I tried to keep it as short as possible), here are some fun facts that you may or may not have known about D-Day:
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the invasion and would go on to become the 34th President of the United States, drafted a letter on June 5, 1994 to be sent to Washington in case the mission failed.
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
While there is little nobility in preparing to lose a battle, Eisenhower certainly wasn’t doing that in this hand-written statement. Rather, he was taking all the blame for what easily could have been a tactical mistake — attacking from the sea, not the air or land — and his ownership of that decision is what is so commendable.
As I’m sure it’s been said before, you’d be hard-pressed to find a general in our army, or anyone in our current administration, that would display such a willingness to take the moral high ground and admit his or her own fault.
We could very well have been celebrating D-Day yesterday if it weren’t some bad weather on June 5, 1944 — the day the invasion was originally scheduled. A meteorologist informed Eisenhower that morning the weather on the following day would be much more favorable for the amphibious attack.
The weather on June 6 wasn’t all that much better in reality, but the patience paid off, as the troops were able to gain a foothold on the beach and beyond.
German General Erwin Rommel’s troops were unprepared for the invasion on the 6th because they did not believe such a tactical approach was possible considering the conditions. This hubris, coupled with the fact that General Rommel wasn’t even in France on June 6, gave the Allied Forces the upper hand and they made sure to take advantage.
In case you were wondering, Rommel was back in Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday when the invasion started.
Also, another fun fact to poke fun at the Germans: they had to wait the morning of the attack to get approval to move two of their tank divisions because Hitler wasn’t awake and hated being woken up.
Four years in the making
Something as massive as the Invasion of Normandy — codenamed as Operation Overlord — doesn’t just come out of thin air. While the Americans played an irreplaceable role in the liberation of Europe, plans to invade France had started back in 1940 — from the moment the British forces had been forced to withdraw from France.
The plot all along was to liberate northwestern Europe first and begin to push the Nazis back into Germany. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered Admiral Roger Keyes to prepare the invasion strategy in September 1941, specifically calling for landing crafts and other techniques that Eisenhower would implement three years later.
“The whole of the South Coast of England is a bastion of defense against the invasion of Hitler; you’ve got to turn it into the springboard for our attack,” Churchill said.
Three months later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the Americans had entered the war and began to formally discuss plans for invasion with the British.
At the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943, Eisenhower was appointed commander of the operation. To meet the conditions of the beach, special technology was developed such as two artificial ports called Mulberry harbors and a large amount of specialized tanks nicknamed Hobart’s Funnies.
To show how prepared the Allies were, they spent two years planning for the medical treatment of the wounded. With all the military equipment on the ships, there were also 30,000 stretches and 60,000 blankets for soldiers that were anticipated to be wounded.
The largest armada ever assembled
Did I mention the massiveness of the invasion?
While numbers don’t impress some people, try to swallow these down without showing a glimmer of astonishment: 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and 71 large landing crafts of various descriptions all were positioned on the coastline that morning.
In all, there were 5,000 vessels that carried the nearly 160,000 troops across the English Channel on June 6.
It was the largest naval fleet ever assembled, and for good reason. The Germans had quite a stronghold on the Normandy coast and the terrain was almost impossible to conquer. It was no easy mission, but the good guys rose to the occasion and came out victorious.
By August 25, more than three million allied troops were in France and the Liberation of Paris was declared, marking the closing of Operation Overlord.
Stopping Germany…and Russia
I know we promised you five, but consider this a bonus: if it weren’t for the successful invasion, Hitler’s Nazi forces would have continued to occupy France and dominate western Europe for years to come.
However, looking elsewhere, Soviet troops were pushing at Germany from the east and creating an entirely new threat for continental Europe. Without the Allied presence in the west, there is no saying what could have happened — the Soviets very well could have toppled the Nazi Empire and started their own reign of control.
Thankfully, both fascism and communism were contained and, ultimately, defeated.
[Image via ShutterStock]