Ken Leighton 2 p.m., March 12
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D-Day: The Beginning Of The End Of "Festung Europa."
"How long, on this longest day/ until we finally make it home?" --Iron Maiden, from "The Longest Day" on A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.
It was sixty-six years ago that "Operation:Overlord"--the sea-and-airborne invasion of the French Channel Coast, took place. Five beaches on the French coast (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword) were about to be hit with a combined American, British, and Canadian assault--after being softened up by naval gunfire and bomber attacks.
For Hitler and the Reichsheer (the term "Wehrmacht" does not mean "German Army, btw. "Wehrmacht" is shorthand for "Oberkommando der Wehrmacht," which translates to "High Command of the Armed Forces." This included the Reichsheer (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy), and the Luftwaffe (Air Force), but did not include the Waffen SS (Armed SS--Nazi Party Troops) troops that fought alongside the Reichsheer on all frionts), the invasion of the Normandy beachhead had to be thrown back at all costs. With the Red Army doing it's steamroller act on the Eastern Front, it was "make-or-break" times for the German Armed Forces, particlarly the Reichsheer and the Luftwaffe.
The Germans planned well for this event. Beach obsticles, some tipped with high explosive, jutted out of the water. With or without the explosive tips, they could rip the keel of a landing craft wide open. They also situated batteries of heavy guns along the beachhead, plus added concrete fortifications. After all, Normandy was part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall.
However, the Allies planned too. Bombardment from heavy naval guns (14" and 16") were to make short work of the German fortifications. Allied bombers and fighter-bombers had the job of taking out machine-gun nests, mortar pits, and any Panzer (armored) units in the area. The infantry was to land on the beach, slug it out with any Reichsheer and/or Waffen SS troops in the area, and establish a beachhead to bring the heavy equipment (Sherman tanks, trucks) ashore from the LSTs.
Naturally, all of this was carried out in secret. Except for a bit of serendipity (a crossword puzzle in the London Times that had the names of the landing beaches, plus the name of the operation--later turned out to be coincidence), the Germans did not expect the Allies to land at Normandy, but in the Pas-de-Calias.
The "Double Cross" organization (part of MI-6) had also ensured that the Germans would never know by capturing every German spy that landed on British soil (a real kick in the nuts for German Military Intelligence) and turning most of them into British-controlled agents (some non-turnables met death at the hands of the hangman). In order to save their necks from the hangman's noose, they told their former controllers what the Brits wanted them to hear...which was NOT that the expected invasion was headed for Normandy.
Stangely enough, it was the Channel weather--not the Germans--that almost scrubbed Operation Overlord. In the first week of June, the cross-Channel weather was horrid, with gales and squalls that made the landing nearly impossible. But, on June 5th, the weather lightened up--and away went the Allies to Normandy.
It was Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (the very same Desert Fox, now in charge of the Atlantic Wall defense) who coined the term "The Longest Day"--as in it would be "The Longest Day" for the Allies, ending with the invasion force thrown back into the sea.
However, it was not to be.
It took a hellishly hard fight to claim the Normandy beaches, but in the end, it was the Allies who held the Normandy beaches, pouring armor, infantry and artillery into the Normandy countryside. Allied fighter-bombers hunted Panzers of every description, while Mustangs, Spitfires, and Lightnings going after any Luftwaffe fighters going after Allied ground forces.
June 6th, 1944 was indeed The Longest Day--but it was the day that The Nazi Nightmare-Come-True (an active two-front war) truly began. The Nazi regime had less than a year left to run, and with each city liberated, the end of Adolf Hitler's fevered nightmare became that much more real.
However, on this, The Longest Day?
Operation Overlord sounded the death knell of Hitler and his reign of terror, helped bring WWII to it's conclusion (it would not be until May 8th, 1945 in the European Theater of Operations, with the seziure of Berlin by the Red Army and Hitler's suicide), and began the liberation of millions of folks who before then were nothing more than slaves (or worse) for their Nazi masters.
Would such a battle be fought again, in the modern day? Depends on whom you ask, but if another Hitler cropped up? Then I'd daresay that men would take up arms again and throw the newswest version of Evil Incarnate to it's fate--to be sent back through the very Gates of Hell that allowed it to be spawned up here in the first place!
So Be It!