This month of June in 1944 was anything but routine for the United States of America. Europe was under the yoke of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini's fascist Italy. Many of the Pacific Ocean islands and countries of Asia were now under Japan's Emperor Hirohito's occupation. Finally, Allied military forces were ready to correct the mistakes they committed at Dieppe and launch an armada to liberate Europe, making it free from occupation troops of any nation.
Misinformation had been flowing for months from London under "Operation Fortitude" to convince the German military high command that Pas de Calais would be the French site for the expected Allied landing. The body of "The Man Who Never Was" had been found by Spanish sailors and his fake invasion documents delivered to the German government.
French resistance forces were sent encoded messages designating them to disrupt and destroy German communication and transportation facilities. Fake balloon tanks, planes and trucks were positioned along the English Channel away from the actual troop transport staging areas.
Disgraced General George Patton, who was expected by the Germans to be leader of the Allied invasion, was prominently deployed as a decoy away from the actual British D-Day launch areas. German panzer tanks were deployed at positions to defend against the falsely assumed invasion site at Pas de Calais, which was the shortest distance across the English Channel from Britain to France. Hitler was assured by his astrology adviser that no invasion would be forthcoming.
The Germans were so sure an invasion was not imminent that their General Erwin Rommel had left his European command post in France and returned to Berlin to attend his wife's birthday party.
An alarming New York Times crossword puzzle that included many of the secret code words for the invasion was dismissed as coincidental, and it was decided that the Germans still did not know the date or plans for the forthcoming invasion. Allied Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower designated June 5 as the day of the armada launch and personally visited in Britain with American paratroopers to boost their moral. All was ready for the Allies to commence their "Operation Overlord" invasion June 5 except that the weather over the English Channel was not cooperating.
Gen. Eisenhower finally received word from chief meteorologist James Stagg of a short period of clearing weather and ordered a one-day delay until June 6 for the amphibious invasion of Normandy's 50-mile coastline. If this window of opportunity was not used, then it would be June 19 before the next favorable time. What many people don't know was that the highest ranking Allied military leader participating in the landing would be U.S. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and a cousin of the then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, paratroopers and glider troops landing in Normandy, France, behind the German English Channel beach front defenses. The main attack commenced at 5:30 a.m. when aircraft bombed and Allied naval ships began their 35-minute American to two-hour British bombardments of the Normandy beach fortifications. Landing craft began dispensing troops in a frontal assault along beaches coded as Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. Cameraman Robert Capa was imbedded within the troops to film the landing for posterity, which he would have accomplished, except the film was overexposed by a darkroom technician during developing, destroying all but 11 pictures.
A recorded 6,939 naval vessels and more than 11,000 aircraft participated on D-Day with more than 156,000 troops representing the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Free French, Free Polish, Dutch, and a smattering of unaffiliated other free European soldiers.
After fiercely fighting all day, Allied troops finally accomplished several breakthroughs allowing them to leave the French beaches and slowly move south and east into the heartland of German-controlled France. The beginning of the western European front fighting to end the German Third Reich was now under way. It was being initiated to fulfill a promise made to Joseph Stalin to relieve German pressure waged against his armies of the Soviet Union fighting on the eastern European front.
For American school students, June 6, 1944, now became a D-Day to remember and learn along with Peal Harbor's Dec. 7, 1941, "Day of Infamy."
With thousands of World War II veterans dying every year, it behooves all Americans to give honor to them in this 70th anniversary while they are still with us to receive recognition. We also must remember to give our gratitude and respect to all our soldiers past and present of all military branches for their years of service given to keep American soil free during years of war as well as peace.
Warner Taiclet is the president of the Howland Historical Society. He can be contacted at OhioHistorian76@hotmail.com.