Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

D-Day, Dishonouring Their Memory

with 4 comments

DDay storming beaches

Today, well yesterday, was the 67th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. This was a salient event in American history, glorified in such movies as “The Longest Day” or “Saving Private Ryan.” And, unlike certain recent minor military operations involving a few dozen commandos and a few helicopters, it was in fact one of the greatest military operations in American history. Heck, in many senses it was one of the greatest military operations in history, period. It was the largest amphibious landing in history, and it was probably the most carefully planned military operation in history. Americans have every reason to be proud of their contribution to D-Day, and I honour the memory of all who fought that day.

There are however some problems with the battle as it is popularly understood in America. The first being as I alluded to just now, while Americans have every reason to be proud of their role in D-Day, they weren’t the only troops going ashore that day. There were five beaches invaded on D-Day, two of them were invaded by Americans, two of them by the British, and one of them by Canadians. In other words, only about 40% of the troops that waded ashore on June 6 1944 were Americans. While not disputing the crucial role America played that day, it was not an exclusively American victory. And it does a disservice to our allies that most Americans are ignorant of this. It’s not surprising that Americans don’t know this though, in “Saving Private Ryan” for example, there are no references to Canada and only one disparaging reference to the British.

A second and more important point that is misrepresented in American popular understanding of this battle is the idea that it was a “key” battle in the war or even a “turning point” in the war. Well, yes, it was an important battle, but the war was over by June 6 1944. The Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942/43 was the turning point of the war, and the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 43 was the death knell for Germany. Even if the Allied landing at Normandy had been repulsed by the Germans, the Russian steamroller would still have made its way to Berlin. D-Day shortened the war and prevented the Stalin from occupying all of Western Europe, but in the greater scheme of things it wasn’t the war winning battle it is often portrayed as in the USA.

And lastly, a point that is always completely overlooked, the outcome of the battle wasn’t really in doubt. Not only was the battle the most carefully planned operation in history, the forces the Allies deployed were simply overwhelming. The air power advantage alone shows this. The Allies flew something like 20,000 sorties (flights) over the Normandy beachhead on D-Day, the Germans a few hundred. And this included the German Luftwaffe throwing “everything they had” at the Allies on Hitler’s express orders. The German’s basically had no chance of repulsing the D-Day invasion. I’m not belittling the Allied effort here, I’m just pointing out that they had so carefully planned this operation and had arrayed such overwhelming resources for it that in retrospect, they couldn’t lose.

Why does any of this matter? Because the myth of World War Two, and that very much includes D-Day, has been relentlessly used to justify far less justifiable wars since then. Frankly every time an American invokes “The Greatest Generation” to justify some senseless colonial war of choice, they are dishonouring the memory of those who fought and died in World War Two. Shame on them.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s GIs running up the beach on D-Day. I chose it because it captures to reality 0f the moment, and it’s an image that doesn’t seem to have been repeated a  million times on the Internet. A few of these guys might still be alive today, some of them may have been dead within hours of this picture being taken. War is hell.)


Written by unitedcats

June 7, 2011 at 5:44 am

4 Responses

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  1. Totally agree! No one ever gives the Russians credit, yet they lost 20 million people in WWII!
    They always talk about communist propaganda, but we have our own propaganda.


    June 7, 2011 at 6:06 am

  2. It was the Canadians who liberated my grandfather from the german concentration camp in Dachau. He told me personally, may he rest in peace.

    He spent 4 years in that hell-hole

    John Galt

    June 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  3. You’re right that winning WW2 was a team effort. As Stalin put it: “England provided the time, America provided the money, Russia provided the blood”.

    But even with all the firepower commanded by the Allies, D-Day was still a darned close run thing. If the weather had been a bit worse than it was, if the Germans had been allowed by Berlin to deploy their armoured reserves earlier than they did, if a dozen chances had come down this way rather than that way, the result would have been very difficult. We might look at Normandy as we do at Gallipoli 30 years earlier – a disastrous and pointless bloodbath.

    Thank God the day went well.

    Chris Hunt

    June 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    • There was only one seaborne landing in World War Two which was repulsed, and D-Day was the biggest and most carefully prepared for and planned of them all. And it’s also been extensively studied by wargamers since then, including myself: The Longest Day. While, yes, a combination of unlikely events could have led to Eisenhower using his pre-prepared speech about having to withdrawal in the face of insurmountable German opposition, I think this is about as likely as Saddam repulsing the last US invasion of Iraq. Galipoli is one of the most ill conceived, poorly planned, badly equipped, and incompetently led invasions in history, It’s hardly a good analogy for D-Day. And D-Day was still a remarkable accomplishment, I hope we can agree on that. —Doug


      June 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

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