It can be argued that the Germans were already doomed; they just didn’t know it yet. Morally bereft, overextended, overconfident, and reaping the seeds sown by poking the Russian bear to their north and east, the “Thousand-Year Reich” would not last a decade. For millions, it could not end soon enough. Despite its losses in Africa, the defeat of its axis partner, Italy, and the terrible grinding will of the Soviets, who had clearly shown they would fight not only to the last man, but to the last woman and child, the Nazi war machine in the spring of 1944 could still muster terrible destructive force–and millions still languished under the twisted, genocidal psychopathy of Adolf Hitler and his minions. They had to be stopped.
And they would be. Seventy years ago today American, British, and Canadian forces slogged onto the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, France under a withering firestorm and into the arms of mayhem and, for many, death. I can’t imagine it. YOU can’t imagine it. Steven Spielberg might have come close, albeit on a very small scale, in the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan–the clip below is not for folks prone to nightmares.
Over a third of the men in the first wave of the assault were dead within the first hour–many in the first two minutes. Immediately besieged by an onslaught of machine gun fire, many saved themselves by jumping from their landing craft into the churning waters, only to drown under the weight of their equipment. Those who found purchase in the waves faced a virtual wall of gunfire, artillery, and mines placed amidst carefully arranged obstacles.
The survivors in the surf now faced a thousand feet of beach, all of it in the gun sights of those fortified German emplacements in the bluffs above. It must have been impossible for some of them to believe, but within eleven months Hitler would be dead, and the German war machine in ruins. Much of the fiercest fighting of the war remained–not just in Europe, but in the Pacific, as well–but D-Day was the real beginning of the end.
But I’m not here to teach you a history lesson that hundred have done before me, each a hundred times better than I could–and all of it a simple google search away. You can manage that yourself. I’m just here to remind you what was given, freely and willingly. And if you’re lucky enough to know a some surly old codger who spent some time in uniform back in the day, today would be an excellent time to pat him on the back.
As I write this, I find that my words are inadequate–better to show. This collection of photos is excellent, especially for the somewhat rare color pictures that are included. I find that the black and white pictures that were standard in that time create a certain disconnect, the shades of grey in some senses otherworldly in their starkness.