In addition to more than 100 photos, first up here is a recounting of the event from 25 years later. The passage of time allowed for a greater understanding of the military invasion — including its backstory — and offers a lot of information that was not available in the original accounts from 1944.
25 years later, D-Day is still significant (1969)
By Boyd Lewis; President & Editor of Newspaper Enterprise Assn. – June 6, 1969 (Syndicated)
CAEN, NORMANDY — Stand here on a beach known as “Omaha.” Stand on a cliff called Pointe du Hoc. Stand at “Gold” and “Juno” and ”Sword.”
Here where the men came ashore on the sixth of June in 1944, buying with blood the beachhead that doomed Nazi Germany, stand and consider the perilous Grand Decision of Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, which forever makes D-Day stand for Day of Decision.
Let minds leap to a tent in a storm-lashed grove on the English shore, to a leaden day in June a quarter-century ago. Ike Eisenhower, the man of Abilene become Supreme Allied Commander, crushes a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray; he pencils words which will live in history.
They are his Order of the Day, which will send American, British and Canadian troops, airmen and naval forces into their successful assault upon a European continent dominated by Adolf Hitler’s armies — specifically against the flat beaches between Cherbourg and this Normandy road junction.
“You are about to embark,” he writes, “‘upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.”
What follows is a general’s exhortation of his troops to “total victory.”
And then the man inside the uniform writes the last words of his order: “Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Thus begins the operation known as D-Day. In army parlance, the “D” merely stands for a chosen day of an operation. In this case, it must carry broader connotations, and these we may explore.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, on these sandy beaches fronting the English Channel, the first decisive blow was struck which was to lead before the end of a single year to the destruction, defeat and capitulation of the Third Reich.
Today, while vacationers dot those beaches still marked by a few rusted relics of landing ships or artificial harbors, generations too young to remember may find it difficult to believe that a German nation with super-race delusions once actually planned to conquer the world.
Not until that D-Day of Decision a quarter century ago did the malevolent tide of Hitlerism begin to ebb, and free people begin once more to breathe in hope.
Even to the small band of America’s War Correspondents, brought back by Pan-American World Airways to Normandy to commemorate D-Day, as has been the custom every five years, these events, have almost the same unreality by now as the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1088, which is chronicled on the famed Bayeux tapestries just down the road from here.
Must study torments
But if D-Day is to mean more than a historic holiday to future generations, one must study the almost unbelievable torment, tension and firm courage which produced the Great Decision, outweighing all the many little decisions. That was the decision to launch the Allied armada across the English Channel against the Nazi fortified French Coast on June 6 during an interval of providential good weather between storms.
Let us, therefore, reconstruct from the memories and memoirs of those who participated the events which took place during early June, 1944, which would lead General Eisenhower to send forth his Great Crusade with the words:
“O.K. We’ll go!”
This account is compressed into three days — the fourth, fifth and sixth of June.
The position maps in military headquarters show the Nazi armies in control of most of Europe — from the Arctic tip of Norway to below Rome, from the west coast of occupied France to the marshes of Poland where hordes of Russians and Germans are inflicting daily slaughter upon one another.
The long-awaited Second Front, which President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill have promised to Russia’s Josef Stalin is teetering on the brink of a decision governed by moon, tides and winds — a decision which in the end must be made by one man, Ike Eisenhower.
An invasion force of more than two million men has been assembled, fitted and trained to battle pitch in the fields of southern England. A naval armada greater than the world has ever seen is waiting to transport and protect these forces to the French coast from ports 90 to 200 or more miles away.
Thousands of bombers, fighters, transport planes and gliders ill soften the German Atlantic Wall and drop the airborne forces behind the Nazi lines to disrupt bridges, blow up key installations. The infantry must go in at low tide if it is to breach the obstacles and two daylight low tides are a requirement.
The Supreme Commander begins his ordeal of decision on June 4 in his forward headquarters in the grove of trees. His office is a square of canvas with walls lined with Stained slabs from packing cases and a concrete floor covered by a rope rug. He sleeps in a converted truck in the grove nearby with direct lines to the White House and No. 10 Downing Street.
Despite his relative isolation, Eisenhower is the focus of an enterprise of awesome complication. As the fateful days of 5-6 June approach, when it is hoped that wind and tides will be favorable, he is acutely aware, as he tells it later, that all of south England is ”one vast military camp… a mighty host tense as a coiled spring.”‘
Aware of labor
He is also aware that the Germans have used slave labor to throw up a wall of concrete and steel on the invasion coast with underwater obstacles, mines and defenses in depth at every crucial area.
Adding to the tension the worst weather in years lashes the Channel area.
If this “mighty host” cannot spring on the fifth or sixth of June, it must await another month for suitable tides, with consequences Eisenhower saw as “almost terrifying to contemplate.”
A great landing fleet, already tossing at sea in the Channel awaiting the order to steer for France, would have to be recalled for refueling. Secrecy would be lost. Assault troops would be penned back behind barbed wire. Morale would sag. Eisenhower saw this as “a sort of suspended animation involving more than two million men.”
Another month’s delay would compress the time left for major campaigning on the Continent.
And he would write in “Crusade in Europe,” there “always was lurking in the background the knowledge that the enemy was developing new and presumably effective secret weapons on the French coast.” He could not even guess the effect upon the crowded harbors of Plymouth and Portsmouth if the Nazis could begin showering them with V-1 “doodle bugs” or V-2 rockets.
So these are the elements racing through his mind as he responds to the call of his orderly, Sgt. Mickey McKeough, for a 4 a.m. staff meeting on Sunday the fourth. Mickey notes signs that the commander has had a fretful night, a tray of cigarette butts, half-read westerns.
Drives to headquarters
Wind batters the grove. Ike drives two miles to Somerset House, the large estate where the main headquarters is located, close by the invasion port of Portsmouth.
As he Strides into the conference room, a comfortable library, grim faces await him. They belong to Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, chief of staff; Lt.Gen. Walter Be- dell (Beetle) Smith, chief planner; Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, for air; Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, for sea, and Lt. Gen. Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, for ground forces.
Group Captain J. M. Stagg, the “canny Scot” who heads the meteorological board, quickly gives his report: ‘Low clouds, high winds, formidable wave action.”
Air forces cannot soften defenses. Naval guns cannot be trained from tossing ships. Landing craft would be smashed on the beaches or sunk before they left the sides of mother ships.
One voice is raised for attack on Monday the fifth. Montgomery is concerned by the “great disadvantages of delay” and believes a landing might be risked.
Eisenhower paces a few moments. Tedder advises caution. Afterwards, Eisenhower tells his thoughts at this time: “The one thing which could give us this disastrous setback was entirely outside our control. If really bad weather should endure permanently the Nazis would need nothing else to defend the Normandy coast.”
Despite the advice of his ground commander, Monty, Eisenhower postpones the command for assault. Tension mounts and is unrelieved by, an equally gloomy weather report at the next meeting of the staff that same evening.
“Do you see any reason for us not to go on Tuesday?” Ike asks Monty.
“I would say go!”
Thinking out loud, Ike says, “The question is just how long can you hang this operation on the end of a line and it hang there.”
Eventually, after getting all views on tides, naval refueling problems and cloud level for the bombers, Eisenhower defers the final word until Monday morning.
Back to the little tent on the coast. Back to the lonesomeness of authority. Back to the bunk in the trailer truck and a few restless hours.
It is 3:30 next morning when Mickey McKeough goes in to waken his boss and finds him open-eyed. Tent and trailer are ”shaking and shuddering” in the gale and a horizontal rain lashes the jeep as Ike drives to headquarters.
4 A.M. report
Stagg begins his weather report at 4 a.m. with a statement that the forecast of the previous day had been borne out and that had the landing been attempted on the fifth it would undoubtedly have ended in disaster.
Eisenhower noted that the meterologists’ report was probably intended to inspire confidence in Stagg’s next ‘”‘astonishing declaration.”
By the following morning — the sixth of June — said Stagg, there would ensue a period of relatively good weather heretofore totally unexpected! It might last as much as 24 to 36 hours.
The decision then: To land as many troops as possible within that good weather interval, with the chance that the Germans could counterattack and wipe them out before they could be reinforced or supplied.
Ike paced a few moments weighing the even greater risks of a one-month postponement to await favorable moon, winds and low tides.
“O.K.” he snapped. “We’ll go!”
Then he went out to visit the troops in the field and show them a confident face.
No account of the decisions of D-Day would be complete without recording two decisions on the German side.
The first was that of the Fuhrer himself, backed by his Commander-in-chief Gerd von Rundstedt. That was to concentrate the heaviest Nazi defense forces in the Pas de Calais region. This was the area only 20 miles from the English cliffs and Hitler’s generals regarded it as a prime target for invasion. A flood of planted false rumors did nothing to dissuade them.
Thus is was that a portion of the almost impenetrable fortifications strung along Normandy was lightly manned when the Americans, British and Canadians thrust ashore at H-Hour of D-Day.
And even after they were well lodged ashore, the German high command was deluded into holding an entire army nervously stationed at its guns in the Pas de Calais because they thought the Normandy assault was only a feint.
The second German decision which played a part here was that of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed “desert fox,” who after a remarkable campaign to upgrade the Normandy defense systems, decided that the weather would not permit an Allied landing before mid-June, and took off by motor car to celebrate his wife’s birthday in Ulm.
Lucie Maria Rommel’s birthday was June the sixth.