The Longest Day
It should have been 1 May, but it had been pushed to June 5 to make more equipment and vehicles available. On the day the weather was bad – far too tricky to attempt something like what the Allies had in the offing. Delays to what would be called Operation Overlord were nothing new. The way the Americans saw it, the cross-channel invasion was at least a year past due.
The British were tired, worn out and haunted by the defeat at the hands of the Germans in this war, and the grinding stalemate in the last one. They were gun-shy of a frontal assault as their ability to replace men and equipment had been hollowed out. In short, the British failed to grasp the industrial might of an America on the other side of the world that had never been bombed. For its part, America grossly underestimated the what fighting the Wehrmacht would be like, the last time we’d squared off with the Germans in 1918, the army had been reduced to a desperate Hail Mary of an operation.
The Nazi’s weren’t hopeless yet, despite the heavy losses they’d suffered at the hands of the Soviet secret weapon: lousy weather. They were short a million men they could not replace and had failed to secure the Russian oil fields they needed to keep the armor humming. In the east, the Soviets were gathering steam thanks to their other secret weapon – until about the 1970’s, you could always find another million Russians somewhere in their Siberian back forty. They might not be crack troops, but this was a grinding war so cannon fodder would do the trick.
So, the time had come and the weather held and on 6 June 1944 the Allied forces, in the words of Rear-Admiral George Creasy: ”What Philip of Spain tried to do, what Napoleon tried and failed to do, what Hitler never had the courage to attempt, we are about to do.” And they did. It was something the world had never seen before, 7,000 ships, 13,000 aircraft that put better than 160,000 men in France on the first day, and about a million over the next couple of weeks.
Part of its success was due to surprise, with a deception operation that was only slightly less elaborate that the actually invasion. Operation Fortitude was so successful that even after the invasion of Normandy, the Germans still thought that the “real” invasion would come at Calais.
Part of its success due to blind luck, the weather cleared early. The man in charge of the scant 58 divisions guarding all of France, Erwin Rommel, thought the bad weather gave him enough time to be Berlin for his wife’s birthday. It didn’t. Hitler, a little deranged on the best of days, was now entirely unhinged with his cocaine-laced vitamin injections.
D-Day may have been a miracle of technology, logistics and bravery, but it wasn’t the end of the war. But with it went any hope of anything but unconditional surrender for the Nazis and whatever dark world they were planning. For that we should all be grateful.