A Genealogical Historian Says Thank you to all. Operation Neptune, Operation Overlord, and Operation Fortitude: D-Day
Seventy years ago today, as everyone knows, was D-Day. The Allied invasion of “Fortress Europe” beginning on five beaches of Normandy: Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, and Utah. Plus over 13,000 paratroops and an untold number of spies, partisans, glider men, and others were giving their all. We owe every single one of them a huge debt of gratitude.
By June, 1944 over 2,000,000 soldiers were amassed in the United Kingdom awaiting the word from Allied Commander in Chief, General Dwight Eisenhower, to ‘Go’ on what he had named ‘the great crusade’ with ‘the eyes of all the world watching’. The weather did anything but cooperate. While the troops waited, the decision to invade was cancelled first on June 5th, 1944, but time was also the enemy as the invasion had to also be scheduled to coincide with the lowest tide of the month.
General Eisenhower, based on the word of the single weatherman, Stagg, gave the go ahead and more than 7,000 ships began Operation Neptune, the naval portion of D-Day. But before that day there were already advance men being landed by x-boats, which were mini-submarines, minesweepers were at work trying to clear channels free of marine mines. As a matter of fact, the USS Osprey, a minesweeper, was the first ship sunk during D-Day when it struck a mine during the mine while clearing the night before the invasion.
From the air, silent, wooden gliders were filled with their loads of 12 men each. The design of their work was to secure bridges beyond the beaches to allow for an escape from the narrow band of sand on the beaches just beyond Hilter’s ‘Atlantic Wall’.
All the while just a short distance away one of the largest military deceptions ever, Operation Fortitude (North and South) had the critical purpose of making the Axis powers in Europe hold crucial men and materials away from Normandy while thinking the invasion was going to occur at Pas de Calais, France and Norway.
Then the ingenious Higgins’ boats (the smaller of the landing craft) began to load their compliment of 30 men in order to head for the beaches. At 0530 the largest naval ships in the armada began their bombardment of the shore batteries and Axis defensive positions. Only 35 minutes of pre-landing bombardment in order to try and maintain the element of surprise. Then the battle moved to the sands of Normandy.
It is estimated that over 4,414 Allied soldiers died on those beaches and just beyond. In all, over 425,000 Allied and Axis troops were killed, wounded, or went missing during the overall Battle of Normandy.
My father came ashore on Omaha Beach. As a first lieutenant, he was leading his men in one of those Higgins boats. Only decades later did he ever tell the story how when they ‘hit the beach’ and the ramp dropped down, he raised his arm and yelled ‘follow me’ and stepped off first. Unfortunately they had only hit a sandbar and my father went in well over his head unable to move under the weight of his gear. Luckily two of his men were able to reach down into the water, grab his shoulder straps and drag him back into the Higgins boat. On the second approach they made it to waist-deep water and went ashore. My father then proceeded to earn five battle stars and a Bronze Star. For months after D-Day he would be one of the Graves Registration Officers doing what he said was the worst assignment he ever had during the war. Later he would find himself as a Liberator of the Langenstein Concentration Camp. His story is just one of millions that we need to never forget.A Genealogical Historian Says Thank you to all. Operation Neptune, Operation Overlord, and Operation Fortitude: D-Day
Some 15 years after D-Day, my family and I would find ourselves on the shores of Omaha Beach. My mother had been driving when she saw a sign for ‘Omaha Beach’ and with my father asleep in the passenger seat she decided to surprise him and take us there. It was anything other than a pleasant surprise for my father. He did not wake up until we had parked the car within sight of the rows of crosses in the cemetery there. While my sisters, my mother, and I were all ready to see the ‘sights’, my father refused to leave the car for quite some time. Eventually he did and it was only when he finally told us his stories that we began to understand his feelings there that day.
So on this anniversary please be sure to thank any Veteran you know, who was in your family tree, or current military personnel.
As genealogy and family history fans we owe them this thanks and of course far more.
For an excellent review of D-Day, I recommend the PBS show from Nova that you can watch by clicking here.