Today, is, of course, the 72nd (!) anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, also known as the D-Day landings, perhaps the finest hour not only for our army, but also the British, Canadian, and the free forces of many of our allies in World War II.
For those of you who are young, or maybe just not history buffs, in the early 1940s Germany had conquered the bulk of mainland Europe and had even run off the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkerque, France, in 1940. With the exception of partisans (notably in Yugoslavia) and resistance forces (notably in France, but every occupied country had some form of organized resistance) mainland Europe had become what Hitler referred to as "Fortress Europe."
The British Isles remained unconquered, as did most of the Soviet Union, but by December of 1941 the Germans had invaded the Ukraine and western Russia as well. For the western Allies the war was taking place in north Africa, the Italian isles, and, by 1943, mainland Italy as well. For the Soviets, an existential war was taking place on what the Germans called the Eastern Front.
Stalin was not satisfied with the contributions of his American and British allies and consistently demanded the opening of a second European front against the Germans. ("Second" front is, I suppose, a bit of a misnomer, considering the Italian campaign.) Remember: for us, World War II is history and its outcome is assured. During the war, though, no one knew how things were going to turn out, and it was terrifying. The Allies discussed sending expeditionary forces into Russia to aid in the warfare there, but Stalin continued to insist on a second front in France.
The Germans, for their part, were terrified by the idea of a second front as well, and tried to take steps to make Fortress Europe unassailable. Their expectation was that the western Allies would cross the English channel and attack France, so they began laying in booby traps and strengthening their armies in France in preparation. Common wisdom in the German High Command was that the attack would come at Pas de Calais in clear weather. Pas de Calais was the closest point between continental France and Great Britain, and while reason would always suggest to undertake an amphibious operation in clear weather, the Allies had also demonstrated in the past an almost dogmatic obsession with landing in clear weather.
A third expectation was that Patton, who the Germans viewed as a sort of boogey man, would lead the invasion. The Allies stationed Patton across from Pas de Calais, along with a false army of cardboard tanks for the viewing pleasure of the Luftwaffe, thus solidifying in the minds of the German High Command all three of their false assumptions.
The rest, is, as they say, history. Montgomery and Bradley, not Patton, led the invasion, which happened at Normandy, not Pas de Calais, and in a patch of not ideal weather. The story of D-Day itself is fascinating, and well worth taking the time, if not today, then at some point, to read one of the many books or watch one of the many movies on the subject. My personal favorite on both counts is THE LONGEST DAY by Cornelius Ryan, and its big screen adaptation, quite possibly the greatest war movie ever made. If there aren't a bunch of movies about D-Day playing on TCM and AMC today, I'll eat my hat.
What about you? What are your favorite D-Day books and movies? And did I bolo up any of the history? I was just doing it from memory, so I may well have, and if there's one thing history buffs like, it's noticing mistakes. Let me know in the comments!
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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