top of page
  • Writer's pictureJody Ferguson

Normandy



June 6 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings in France that signaled the beginning of the culmination of the Second World War, the world’s deadliest conflict. We recently visited Normandy where in June 1944 the world held its collective breath and watched as forces from Britain, Canada, Free France, and the United States disembarked on the rainy shores of northern France. The names Omaha Beach and Utah Beach are synonymous with heroism in the American lexicon, even to younger generations, due to the boom in WWII movies and television shows during the 1990s that marked the 50th anniversary of the landings. With an excellent local guide, we spent two days focusing on the American sector of the Normandy campaign.



The American and British airborne forces that jumped into Normandy did so during the night preceding the amphibious landings to create diversions for the German forces. Unfortunately, due to high winds and intense German anti-aircraft fire, most of the paratroopers missed their drop zones, so they had to improvise with mixed units and carry out whatever missions they were able to on the fly. Ironically, the chaotic nature of the paratrooper tactics caused even more confusion for the German forces than had probably been envisioned by Allied planners.

The first day we toured the sites behind Utah Beach (the westernmost landing point and the focus of the American airborne landings). Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt was the only general to land in the first wave, though he was hobbled by arthritis and a heart condition (he died a month later of a heart attack). In the small towns and fields inland from Utah Beach U.S. paratroopers fought desperate battles among hedgerows against larger and better armed German forces. The most moving site for us was a Catholic church where two American medics set up an aid station and tended to wounded U.S. paratroopers and German soldiers.


On the second day we toured the area around Omaha Beach, the scene of the bloodiest fighting on June 6. On that first day alone U.S. casualties at Omaha amounted to approximately 2,400 but by day’s end 34,000 U.S. Army troops had successfully landed on that beach. Close to 160,000 Allied troops had landed in five different areas during a 24-hour period and were ready to carry out the campaign in Europe by the end of the day. The most impressive site may be the American cemetery and memorial perched on a bluff high above the Omaha landing beaches. As you gaze out over the turgid waters you can still see remnants of the artificial ‘Mulberry’ harbors that were built and towed from Britain to help keep the Allied forces supplied and sustained for weeks until a large port could be captured. Within a few days of the landings this artificial, floating harbor off Normandy became the world’s largest port by volume of goods. Within three weeks Allied forces had landed 850,000 troops, 570,000 tons of supplies and 150,000 vehicles of all types through these artificial harbors. Their remains are a mind-boggling testament to the logistical effort needed to support the forces that had come to liberate Europe from Nazi oppression.



Comments


bottom of page