Dispatches. 75 Years Ago Tonight, Now, It Was On.

American Cemetery, Coleville-sur-Mer.  Personal photos from a 2017 visit. Click for larger view.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (AP) — Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight today and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

German broadcasts said the Allies penetrated several kilometers between Caen and Isigny, which are 35 miles apart and respectively nine and two miles from the sea.   

Prime Minister Churchill told the House of Commons part of the record-shattering number of parachute and glider troops were fighting in Caen, and had seized a number of important bridges in the invasion area.  

German opposition apparently was less effective than expected, although fierce in many respects, and the Germans said they were bringing reinforcements continuously up to the coast, where “a battle for life or death is in progress.”

— Wes Gallagher. The full dispatch is worth a read.

Omaha Beach

By Ernie Pyle:

Our men were pinned down for a while, but finally they stood up and went through, and so we took that beach and accomplished our landing. We did it with every advantage on the enemy’s side and every disadvantage on ours. In the light of a couple of days of retrospection, we sit and talk and call it a miracle that our men ever got on at all or were able to stay on.

Before long it will be permitted to name the units that did it. Then you will know to whom this glory should go. They suffered casualties. And yet if you take the entire beachhead assault, including other units that had a much easier time, our total casualties in driving this wedge into the continent of Europe were remarkably low – only a fraction, in fact, of what our commanders had been prepared to accept.

And these units that were so battered and went through such hell are still, right at this moment, pushing on inland without rest, their spirits high, their egotism in victory almost reaching the smart-alecky stage.

This will give you Pyle’s full report from D-Day Plus One.

The monument to the 116th Regiment, 29th Division (and also Virginia National Guard) on Omaha Beach at the foot of Avenue de Bedford Virginie U.S.A. The other side of the structure honors the First Infantry Division, the other division on Omaha June 6.

Martha Gellhorn, working for Collier’s, may have been the only woman correspondent there that day, in her case having boarded a hospital ship without permission, which got her arrested on her return to England.  Here’s her Collier’s article:

It will be hard to tell you of the wounded, there were so many of them. There was no time to talk; there was too much else to do. They had to be fed as most of them had not eaten for two days; their shoes had to be cut off; they needed help to get out of their jackets; they wanted water; the nurses and orderlies, working like demons, had to be found and called quickly to a bunk where a man suddenly and desperately needed attention; plasma bottles had to be watched; cigarettes had to be lighted and held for those who could not use their hands; it seemed to take hours to pour hot coffee from the spout of a teapot into a mouth that just showed through bandages. 

 

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20 responses to “Dispatches. 75 Years Ago Tonight, Now, It Was On.

  1. Steve,
    While I respect your honoring D-Day (my Dad fought in the Pacific and my uncle in Europe), the fact is that the Soviets bore the major burden against the Nazis (Stalingrad and Kursk). Without them, there would have been no D-Day. Love them or hate them, that’s a fact.
    Peter

    • https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-hitler-stalin-pact

      So is that, too – a fact. Probably not too prominent in their history books. Poles haven’t forgotten.

      I don’t know about Jim, but I didn’t know until much later about all the guys around Roanoke who had served in the 29th that day, including Bob Slaughter at the paper. Frank Hancock at the paper had been in the North Africa invasion and was captured at Kassarine Pass. One of the legislators during my days at the Caucus had made several combat jumps, including June 6. One of my section heads at the AG’s office was the son of an Omaha beach master (USN.) We walked among heroes and often didn’t know. My mother knew one of the Bedford gold star families. My son sent me the NYT piece on the Pyle column and that got me started.

  2. Nice post, Steve.

  3. Yeah, the Soviets suffered a greater loss of life in Stalingrad, Kursk, etc. I don’t understand how that diminishes the sacrifices the Americans made at the Kasserine Pass, Anzio, and all the other battles leading up to D-Day, including D-Day itself and what followed. By remembering the sacrifices we made, we in no way diminish the sacrifices that other nations made in fighting the Nazis. But who is supposed to remember our dead… other than us?

  4. Jim,
    My point is the enormity of Soviet losses — maybe 10 million troops and 24 million civilians compared to 416,000 or so U.S> military losses.
    Steve, gee thanks for the history lesson the Molotov Rippentrop pact. After reporting from Russia for six years, I really need that.

    • I assumed you knew the history. Other people do read these strings. Yes, the Russian people suffered the worst casualties of the war, the deepest human burden. But their leaders had much to do with that, including the damage Stalin had done in his Red Army purges before the war. But for some reason, (well, the 29th Division) Virginians have always felt a strong affinity to the Normandy landings. From a historical standpoint, DDay was easy and the fight to break out of Normandy over the next few weeks far more of a struggle for the Allies. I had a chance to interview General Walton Opie, when he was publisher in Staunton, and 35 years after the fact he was still bitter that he commanded the 29th all through training, but the Army brass judged him too old and inexperienced to lead it in France, and he was reassigned.

      • I’d define it this way – The Soviets (particularly the Russians led by Stalin) defeated the Germans in Eastern Europe. After that, the Americans and British defeated the Germans in North Africa and Western Europe. Neither alone, without the other, could have defeated unconditionally the Germans. So America and the British saved the free world in Western Europe, and the Soviets, particularly the Russians led by Stalin, enslaved the rest of Europe. But you can’t unscramble these scrampled eggs. The omelet’s many parts are dependent one upon the others.

        • The role of American material support in the Soviet’s struggle cannot be ignored, nor can the Soviet reluctance to engage the Japanese until at the very end, when the opportunity to grab and keep territory also presented itself. Bottom line, and I’m sure all can agree to this, it was a huge allied effort and all were crucial to ultimate success. No question the battles and sieges on Russian soil were incredibly costly all around.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Yes, exactly, in all respects.

            And, as you suggest, the Russians bore the great bulk of the fighting and loses all around. But, if the Russians bore 80% of all WW 2 combat fighting against the Germans versus say a 20% share borne by the British/American combat fighters, the horror and misery endured by each combatant was equal down the line. Combat on the line is that horrible, unforgiving, and relentless in its misery, pain, and sacrifice on each, irrespective of total loses endured by all war-fighters.

  5. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly a big Stalin fan. But everyone can make dicey deals — witness Neville Chamberlin and “I give you peace in our time.”

    I have always been fascinated with WWII since my family was involved directly. But when I lived in Russia I had no idea how many innocent people in affected. Far, far more than in the U.S. I’m not talking about thuggish Commies — just ordinary folk trying to get by.

    • Understood. Once I had more understanding of their suffering, and how it dominated their political psychology for decades, I became far less worried that they would ever want to go through that again. Proxies, maybe, but not directly, not again.

  6. Poland lost the highest percentage of its population during WW2, and both Germany and the Soviet Union contributed to that (although Germany obviously much more so through the Holocaust).

    I don’t see anything wrong with D-Day commemorations. This will be the last major anniversary witnessed by actual participants. It doesn’t diminish any other country’s contribution.

  7. There is nothing wrong with a D-Day remembrance ceremony or blog post. All Americans should try to understand how it would have felt to be on one of those landing craft hitting the beaches when the doors dropped open. Unless you were there I can’t imagine you can know how it must have felt but it is still worth trying. Freedom isn’t free and eighteen year old boys ready to run into gunfire across an open beach is testament to the price which the Greatest Generation was willing to pay in order to secure freedom.

    A parallel point should also be made however. The battle of Stalingrad was at least as strategic a victory for the allies as D-Day. There was less of the dramatic single day amphibious landing but far more of a grueling misery. By the end of the 5 month long battle more Soviet soldiers would be dead in that single battle than American soldiers in the entire war.

    Americans should remember D-Day and revere those who fought on those beaches. Americans should also understand Stalingrad and pay homage to our Russian allies who endured unspeakable misery to thwart Germany’s thrust to the East.

  8. What don’t people understand about the phrase “world war”? Who claimed the Normandy landings were THE crucial battle? Not me. It was certainly a crucial battle, especially the period until the breakout and the race across France. I’m just fascinated by how the history is around us, and the people who are passing. In Newport News I can show you where the carriers that helped win the Pacific war (starting with Midway) were built, and also the pier where all the troops for the Torch landings in North Africa boarded their transports.

    I haven’t been to Stalingrad – and if Peter has I’d love to read about it. A time like this and I just wish I’d spent more time talking to and questioning my uncle who was on Guadalcanal, another uncle who was an MP throughout the campaigns in France and the Low Countries, and a great uncle who was a sergeant in a combat division in France. I’d love to hear more from my Dad, too. Lost opportunities. I never asked my grandfather about his grandfathers, both Confederate veterans. Too late now.

    • I agree. There is a long chain of events from Gavrilo Princip through Gen Jonathan Wainwright. Millions of zigs and zags, detours and tales of heroism and treachery. The most important point for those of us “seeking to understand” is to master the context and intersections of the many events that constitute what I consider a single world war with a 20 year lull in the fighting. So too, the US Civil War where a frail young man who claimed he never won any of the fist fights he fought as a youth, opposed succession and disliked slavery would become one of the Confederacy’s most decorated war heroes and the father of modern US military guerrilla tactics. The man – John S Mosby – would become US Grant’s campaign manager in Virginia after the war.

      History is nuanced. Epic battles are almost always preceded by decades of non-epic actions which lead to the fight. In retrospect, the battles seem obvious and outcomes seem certain. At the time, nothing was obvious and no outcome was certain.

  9. “I’d spent more time talking to and questioning my uncle who was on Guadalcanal.”

    My father called Guadalcanal the most demanding for many Marines. Why? The uncertainty of victory, the myth of the Japanese superman, the seemingly impenetrable Jungle hiding Japanese Jungle Fighters hidden high up in the trees, the length and complexity and exhaustion of the fight, the initial quick abandonment of the Marines on the beachhead by the Navy. But the Navy came roaring back once they got a fighting Admiral off shore.

  10. My Dad loved that pop, pop, popping sound of a B-25 engine at start up.

    So Dad was a student at Tech after the war, speaking with another vet, this one had been a Marine. “Haner, Haner,” the man said, thinking. “The meanest SOB sergeant I met on Guadalcanal was named Haner.” “Oh, yeah, that’s my brother,” Dad responded with pride. Seems my uncle the line chief for the fighter squadron never saw a Marine relaxing without giving him something to do….Sarge passed three years ago at 97, buried in full dress blues.

    • Wow! That squadron and its ground crews, likely part of the Cactus Air Force, were the best ground air war fighters ever in WW2 anywhere any time, a legendary group doing amazing things for a critical 1st victory that kept America going in its darkest days.

  11. Yep, Cactus AF. He was among the first to reach Henderson Field.

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