Early in June 1944, seventy years ago, Southern England saw thousands of Allied troops gathering in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Over 400 miles to the north I was a Scottish schoolboy approaching my sixth birthday in Aberdeen. I don’t remember, but I am sure I heard reports on the progress of the war from the BBC on the wireless (radio). By June, 1944, we felt safer on the north-east coast of Scotland, because Aberdeen had not been bombed in over a year, after having attacked 25 times from late 1939 until April 1943. A year later, preparations for the invasion of Europe was going forth far to the south.*
Ever since the United States entered the war in December 1941, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minster, was trying to convince President Roosevelt to agree to a cross-channel invasion as early as 1943 to help take the pressure of the Soviet Union. However, he had to settle for American troops landing in North Africa in late 1942. After driving the Germans out, from there the Allies, under the command Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower invaded Sicily and Italy. Eisenhower was then promoted to the Supreme Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).
On the other side of the English Channel, German intelligence was trying to determine where enemy troops were going to land. In the meantime the German army were building formidable defenses to block Allied landing where ever they planned to invade. These defenses were under the command of the “Desert Fox,” Erwin Rommel. Once the decision was made to invade and the site selected, the SHAEF intelligence did everything possible to mislead the Germans as to where the landings would take place. The Allies were trying to get the Germans to believe the invasion would take place in either Norway or Pas de Calais on the English Channel. Actually, the landings were to take place on Normandy coast in northwest France.
Initially, June 5, was the date picked for the invasion, but the weather worsened, postponing the operation for twenty-four hours. In the greatest armada ever assembled, 5, 000 vessels set sail for the coast of Normandy, carrying ammunition, transportation, food and other supplies for the 160,000 troops that were landing. In the darkness before dawn, Allied soldiers and machines were loaded onto landing craft, which circled in rough seas 13 miles off the coast of Normandy, before heading to the beaches.
There were five landing zones in Normandy, east to west: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The first three were British and Canadian and the last two American. Allied paratroopers were dropped a few miles inland before the landings started. From the skies, Allied bombers were dropping heavy explosives on the German defenses. Behind the invading forces, at sea, was a barrage of artillery coming from everything from battleships to destroyers. Between Omaha and Utah Beaches was Pointe du Hoc, a steep cliff that housed a large caliber German gun. American Army Rangers had the task of silencing that weapon.
H hour was 6:30 A.M., June 6, 1944.
To be continued!
*Les Taylor, Luftwaffe Over Scotland, 2010. (Not available on Cardinal)
For further reading:
Anthony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
Max Hastings, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy
John Keegan. Six Armies in Normandy
Adrian R. Lewis, Omaha Beach: a Flawed Victory
Ben MacIntyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day, June 6, 1944
Stephan Talty, Agent Garbo