June 6, 2009 sees the D-Day 65th anniversary of this astonishing feat and the last of the official celebrations. Prepped for the assault were 160,000 allied troops, 195,000 allied navy personnel and 5,000 allied ships covering 50 miles of French coastline.
The D-Day landings were broken into five beach sectors: Utah and Omaha to be taken by the Americans. Gold and Sword to be taken by the British and Juno to be taken by the Canadians.
Utah Beach was roughly three miles long and was only included in the invasion plans when more landing craft were acquired by the allies.
Facing minimal resistance from the occupying German forces, it was estimated 197 out of the 23,000 troops that landed were killed, making Utah in warfare-speak a relative success.
Omaha Beach, made famous to war and movie buffs by Saving Private Ryan, was a heavily fortified beach coupled with failed naval and aerial bombardments, meant it was by far the bloodiest landing.
At first the operation went so badly that leading commanders thought about abandoning the assualt. However, rag-tag units of soldiers intent on doing their job, backed by naval artillery, two of the surviving sixteen tanks and more infantry landings, eventually secured their objectives.
A gutsy display of defiance from the Germans meant American casualties numbered roughly 5,000 out of the 50,000 that landed. German casualties were just over 1,000, and Omaha's objectives were finally completed by D+3.
Gold Beach also saw high casualties. Digging in previously, the occupying forces fortified the houses around the landing area.
The delayed landing of tanks and support meant the British struggled to defeat the Germans, but they overcame their challenges and managed to position themselves on the outskirts of Bayeux. Out of the 25,000 troops that landed and progressed inland, 400 were killed.
Sword Beach was also the target of aerial and naval bombardment of its coastal defenses before its initial assault.
British troops teamed up with landed paratroopers and breached the weak German defense line, and pushed inland within 45 minutes of landing. Their main objective was Caen.
The Germans launched the only real counter-attack of D-Day with the 21st Panzer division and the 192nd Panzergrenadier regiment.
Creating a defensive line, the British forces were pinned back by the Germans. Any arriving hardware and troops were backing up on a rapidly filling beach.
The Germans who did not push on their attack, retreated when Allied gliders flew overhead. The British stopped 6km short of their objective with roughly 28,500 landed and 630 casualties.
Juno Beach, due to bad weather and planning saw the Canadian forces lose nearly 50% of the first wave of their landing forces, the second highest on the day. It took just over an hour for the Canadians to breach the German defense and fight their way inland.
Despite fierce defending by the SS Hitler jugend, by noon they had stole further into France than any of the beaches.
The Canadians landed 15,000 troops with 1,000 casualties, roughly 370 dead.
Pointe du Hoc was a large German artillery installation built on a cliff top, and intelligence believed its firing range covered the landing beaches of Utah and Omaha. The job of silencing the large guns before they could respond the to the Allied invasion fell to the American 2nd Rangers Battalion.
The guns had been moved inland prior to the invasion, however, the casements still remained a hazard.
The Rangers had to scale the perilous cliff faces before eventually securing Pointe du Hoc over a two day period when reinforcements from Omaha Beach arrived. The 2nd Rangers had lost 60% of it 225+ landing force with only 90 men left standing to fight.
Previous to the D-Day landings, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his rallying ''We shall fight them on the beaches'' speech to his countrymen and allies.
(Transcript of Winston Churchill's ''We shall fight them on the beaches'' speech 4 June, 1940)
"I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.
At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.
The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."
Take a minute on June the sixth, the D-Day 65th anniversary and remember the fallen and those who freed us, and appreciate who we are and the way we live is thanks to the ones who gave their lives for freedom and democracy.
By Stephen Coutts
Lead Writer – MAN ON PLATFORM 13