28 February 2019
Omaha Beach today, © Anton Bielousov
As we commemorate 75 years since the Battle of Normandy and D-Day this year, we think about the experience of war and honour those involved.
The War Within -
75 Years since D-Day and the Battle of Normandy
by Olivia Nicholds
At school, we often learn the causes, strategies and outcomes of war, presumably to prevent conflicts in future generations, however we rarely take the time to consider its emotional impact. The notion of war conjures questions of morality, conflicting emotions and subverts expectations of humanity and the Second World War demonstrated this to the highest degree.
Killing vs. loss. Destruction & division vs. sense of unifying comradeship & purpose. Honour vs. shame. The fear vs. the thrill. True self-sacrifice vs. sense of duty. The dread of going to war vs. the dread of coming home (with the effects of war). Preventing bloodshed on home soil vs. causing blood shed on foreign soil.
Despite this inner turmoil, it is often argued that it was the Allies’ morale that won the war.
"The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
- General Dwight D Eisenhower
Eisenhower’s statement aimed to boost morale and reassure the soldier’s conflicted and wavering sense of integrity in the face of a terrifying and brutal operation, Operation Overlord. However, the General famously, and perhaps tellingly, smoked up to four packets of Camel cigarettes a day in the lead up to the operation.
D Day and the Battle of Normandy signified the start of Operation Overlord, which concluded 2 months later once the Allies reached the River Seine. Originally planned for 5 June, the start of the operation was postponed for one day due to bad weather conditions. Yet, throughout the operation Allied soldiers of all ages, of all backgrounds and all persuasions, united by a desire for freedom, reached the Normandy beaches by sea or air on 7000 vessel and 4000 landing craft, using two temporary harbours called ‘Mulberries’.
Landing ships on Omaha beach
Whether they were blinded by faith or fear, the Battle of Normandy, was a success thanks to the bravery of these men, thorough military strategy and the communal war effort of the Allies back at home. These included 350,000 Resistance fighters working underground in France, committing acts of sabotage and espionage, and Operation Bodyguard, the deceptive strategy that kept the Germans guessing as to when and where the invasion would land.
Men of the British 22nd Independent Parachute Company, 6th Airborne Division being briefed for the invasion, 4–5 June 1944
With both armies praying to the same God for victory but with two very different social implications, we rarely equate the two sides. Yet, with the chances of survival at 1 in 4 on D-Day, over 100,000 Allied and German troops died together that day. These sobering statistics represent the bleak prospects of the operation.
“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be. We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it, and we're going to make it a success."
- General Dwight D Eisenhower
However, morale evolved from shaking courage to bolstered optimism. And it was this confidence in the operation, exampled by Eisenhower’s statement, that took place across Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches that resulted in the largest naval, air and land operation in history and one of the largest human losses during the war. Yet, this operation signalled the beginning of the final campaign to defeat Germany, gave the Allies a foothold to start their advance into France and, essentially, was the turning point which won the Allies the war.
Normandy American Cemetry
ACE Tour Director, John Greenacre, will lead the Battle for Normandy: 75 Years On tour this June for the anniversary of this incredibly significant military operation and victory. The tour will incorporate John’s military background and expertise to provide an insight into the plans, strategies and realities of the battle, including visits to the beaches, bunkers, and memorials.