‘The most ghastly disaster of the whole war’

Classic: A still from the famous opening sequence of the D-Day epic, Saving Private Ryan.

Was D-Day more of an epic human tragedy than a military triumph? Tomorrow, Donald Trump and the Queen will lead the world in marking the 75th anniversary of a famous Allied victory.

Almost exactly 75 years ago, on 6 June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion force in history landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Even before the landing started, hundreds of paratroopers had drowned in the flooded fields.

The Allied bombers missed most of the German shore defences.

Allied casualties were not much less than those of the Germans — even though most of the German side in France was made up of child soldiers and deaf war invalids.

Nearly 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy during and immediately after the landing, most of them as a result of misguided Allied bombing attacks that hit people’s homes.

By the end of the campaign, 50,000 French civilians had died — more than the number of soldiers that fell.

On the eve of the invasion, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke confided, “It may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war.”

The supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, announced, “The landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed.”

And yet, D-Day proved to be a great military success.

The operation began the liberation of German-occupied France, and later Europe, from Nazi control.

The story has been told thousands of times, notably in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The long opening sequence of the beach landings has been called “probably the most realistic battle sequence ever filmed”.

T-Day?

Tomorrow’s commemoration, led by the Queen and Trump, will offer thanks and honour to the many who died in battle. But it is very likely to present D-Day as a triumph that brought the alliances together for generations of future peace and stability for the western world.

Surely, it is now time to be more honest, say the critics. Like all war, D-Day was a mess and a disaster. And what we are witnessing tomorrow is really T-Day or Trump Day: a display of one huge, ego-driven economic power, the USA, dominating its old partner, Britain.

You Decide

  1. Should all war commemorations be a form of grieving?

Activities

  1. Draw a timeline of D-Day, of what happened when, during the 24 hours of 6 June 1944.

Some People Say...

“At this historic moment, surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nation-wide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.”

King George VI (radio address, 6 June 1944)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed over this period.
What do we not know?
What might have happened if D-Day had failed.

Word Watch

Seaborne
By sea.
Normandy
An area of northern France, site of the D-Day landings.
Paratroopers
Trained to parachute in the army.
Allied
The big four Allied powers of World War Two were England, the USA, the Soviet Union (USSR, Russia), and France. But other allies included: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa and Yugoslavia.
Invalids
Made weak by injury or illness.
Civilians
People not in the army.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.