6 June 1944

(An archive post, for today.)

So this is one of those historic dates that seems to be slipping faster and faster out of sight, receding into a past at such a rate that we who were born afterwards, or long afterwards, can just barely see. But it was such an enormous, monumental enterprise – so longed looked for, so carefully planned and involved so many soldiers, sailors and airmen – of course the memory would linger long afterwards.

Think of looking down from the air, at that great metal armada, spilling out from every harbor, every estuary along England’s coast. Think of the sound of marching footsteps in a thousand encampments, and the silence left as the men marched away, counted out by squad, company and battalion, think of those great parks of tanks and vehicles, slowly emptying out, loaded into the holds of ships and onto the open decks of LSTs. Think of the roar of a thousand airplane engines, the sound of it rattling the china on the shelf, of white contrails scratching straight furrows across the moonless sky.

Think of the planners and architects of this enormous undertaking, the briefers and the specialists in all sorts of arcane specialties, most of whom would never set foot on Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha or Utah Beach. Many of those in the know would spend the last few days or hours before D-day in guarded lock-down, to preserve security. Think of them pacing up and down, looking out of windows or at blank walls, wondering if there might be one more thing they might have done, or considered, knowing that lives depended upon every tiny minutiae, hoping that they had accounted for everything possible.

Think of the people in country villages, and port towns, seeing the marching soldiers, the grey ships sliding away from quays and wharves, hearing the airplanes, with their wings boldly striped with black and white paint – and knowing that something was up – But only knowing for a certainty that those men, those ships and those planes were heading towards France, and also knowing just as surely that many of them would not return.

Think of the commanders, of Eisenhower and his subordinates, as the minutes ticked slowly down to H-Hour, considering all that was at stake, all the lives that they were putting into this grand effort, this gamble that Europe could be liberated through a force landing from the West. Think of all the diversions and practices, the secrecy and the responsibility, the burden of lives which they carried along with the rank on their shoulders. Eisenhower had in his pocket the draft of an announcement, just in case the invasion failed and he had to break off the grand enterprise; a soldier and commander hoping for the best, but already prepared for the worst.

Think on this day, and how the might of the Nazi Reich was cast down. June 6th was for Hitler the crack of doom, although he would not know for sure for many more months. After this day, his armies only advanced once – everywhere else and at every other time, they fell back upon a Reich in ruins. Think on this while there are still those alive who remember it at first hand.

7 thoughts on “6 June 1944”

  1. A beautiful tribute, and thanks Doc K for the pix– WWII sites, especially Normandy, are still on my list.

    Cousin Eddie

  2. I am a sometime military tourist. Waterloo on the 200th anniversary.

    I missed a trip to Guadalcanal about 20 years ago when the Solomon Islands had a revolution and the tour was cancelled. I missed an even greater opportunity as one of thr tour guides was Mitchell Paige, who had retired as a Colonel but was a Gunny at the battle. He was old at the time and has since died. A chance that would never come again.

  3. My wife and I visited Normandy and the D-day beaches in 2004. Hard to hold back the tears at the American Cemetery there. My father was in First Infantry Division, Omaha Beach, Easy Red Sector, Third Wave. He took some shrapnel in a leg, and was evacuated back to England, where he spent the rest of the war, after recuperating, as a Phys Ed instructor for other troops. In early 1945, Dad was informed that he did not have enough “points” to go home (in spite of having been in N Africa and Sicily), and was to be transported via troopship through the Panama Canal to Okinawa for the invasion of Japan. Thank God for the A-bomb. I lost him in 2000. RIP, Dad.

  4. dhmosquito,

    The points system was going to be a huge problem for the invasion of Japan. Lots of guys that were senior had a lot of points and would have wanted to be discharged rather than go to Japan. Nobody seems to write about it now but I doubt an invasion could have been done. There might have been a mutiny, even. Eisenhower and Marshal had a tough time with the Battle of the Bulge scraping up enough replacements. The draft had ended in 1944. Everyone at home thought the war was over.

  5. Two days before, GUADALCANAL captured U-505, and Rome was captured. At the same time, 120,000 men were on their way, to Operation FORAGER, the capture of the Marianas,which started on June 15, and led to the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. Ships were bringing troops to staging areas for Operation MUSKETEER, the liberation of the Philippines, set for October, but run from West Coast ports, that had to sail to Manuscript, and other staging areas, for the final assault, a total of 320,000 men. With the success of OVERLORD, the assault ships started rehearsals for Operation DRAGOON, the invasion of Southern France, in August.
    The 8th and 15th Air Forces were busy bombing everything they could, in the strategic bombing, and the 9th was doing tactical bombing, in support of OVERLORD.
    The War was still going full blast in Italy, too. June, 1944 was a busy month for the US War and Navy Departments.

  6. @MikeK,

    Having discussed this very issue with some actual, y’know… Veterans who’d have been involved, I can tell you this much: Operation Olympic would have happened if it were down to just the troops involved doing as they were told. Subsequent actions would have depended entirely on the success or failure of Olympic. Failure due to military ineptitude? Yeah; mutiny and combat refusal. Failure due to, say, typhoon taking out the fleet? Deep breathing, and onward movement.

    Most of the “Hell, no… I won’t go…” speech from those guys was just that–Speech. They’d have bitched, rightfully, and the post-WWII political landscape would have been littered with the corpuscular remains of many a political career, but they’d have gone over the beach. Period.

    I am pretty damn sure, however, that had the Imperial Japanese Army managed to do what it seemed to be intending, and managed to turn Olympic into a charnel house through mobilization of civilians? Japanese would, as I think Halsey put it, would only be spoken in Hell. The outcome would have basically been a total cultural and likely biological genocide of Japan as a nation. The US was already up for that, and it was only Japans total and utter surrender that changed anyone’s mind.

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