Remembering D-Day

Courage, D-Day

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D-Day: Did You Know?

The following information can be found on PBS.org/American Experience.

The invasion of France on June 6, 1944 was a triumph of intelligence, coordination, secrecy, and planning. The bold attack was also a tremendous risk. Ultimately it succeeded because of individual soldiers’ bravery in combat. Learn some of the basic facts about D-Day.

The Meaning of the “D”
Ever since June 6, 1944, people have been asking what the “D” in “D-Day” means. Does it stand for “decision?” The day that 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy was certainly decisive. And with ships, landing craft and planes leaving port by the tens of thousands for a hostile shore, it is no wonder that some would call it “disembarkation” or “departed.”

There is not much agreement on the issue. But the most ordinary and likely of explanations is the one offered by the U.S. Army in their published manuals. The Army began using the codes “H-hour” and “D-day” during World War I to indicate the time or date of an operation’s start. Military planners would write of events planned to occur on “H-hour” or “D-day” — long before the actual dates and times of the operations would be known, or in order to keep plans secret. And so the “D” may simply refer to the “day” of invasion.

D-Day’s Impressive Numbers
Convoy of ships crossing the English ChannelAn invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 — and once the massive force set out, there was no turning back. The 5000-vessel armada stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting over 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the channel to the French beaches. Six parachute regiments — over 13,000 men — were flown from nine British airfields in over 800 planes. More than 300 planes dropped 13,000 bombs over coastal Normandy immediately in advance of the invasion.

War planners had projected that 5,000 tons of gasoline would be needed daily for the first 20 days after the initial assault. In one planning scenario, 3,489 long tons of soap would be required for the first four months in France.

By nightfall on June 6, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were dead or wounded, but more than 100,000 had made it ashore, securing French coastal villages. And within weeks, supplies were being unloaded at UTAH and OMAHA beachheads at the rate of over 20,000 tons per day.

Captured Germans were sent to American prisoner of war camps at the rate of 30,000 POWs per month from D-Day until Christmas 1944. Thirty-three detention facilities were in Texas alone.

Tuning in to D-Day
In the pre-television era, Americans got their breaking news from their radios. London-based American journalist George Hicks made history with his radio broadcast from the deck of the U.S.S. Ancon at the start of the D-Day invasion. “…You see the ships lying in all directions, just like black shadows on the grey sky,” he described to his listeners. “…Now planes are going overhead… Heavy fire now just behind us… bombs bursting on the shore and along in the convoys.” His report, including the sounds of heavy bombardment, sirens, low-flying planes, and shouting, brought Americans to the front line, with all its chaos, confusion, excitement, and death.

An American Noah
Allied landing craftLouisiana entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins first designed shallow-draft boats in the late 1920s to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Higgins tried for years to sell his boats to the U.S. military, but he was rejected repeatedly. At last, the Marine Corps selected the flat-bottomed landing craft for troop landings on Pacific beaches. Higgins, who had paid heavily out-of-pocket to promote his boats, finally landed the government contract — and his factories produced 20,000 of the versatile craft for the war effort — including D-Day.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed on January 27, 2015, is an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust. Holocaust is the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of six million European Jews as well as millions of others by the Nazi regime. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on November 1, 2005.

The Resolution establishing January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges every member nation of the U.N. to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.

January 27 is the date, in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau), was liberated by Soviet troops. This camp was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was the largest of the German concentration camps.

The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the SS in an attempt to hide the German crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. The SS command sent orders on January 17, 1945 calling for the execution of all prisoners remaining in the camp, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out. On January 17, 1945, Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility. (With material from: Wikipedia.)

Despite this terrible blight on the human condition, there is hope.  Hope was found in the diary of a young girl:  Anne Frank.

Anne Frank quote

This teenager’s diary is one of the most celebrated pieces of literature.

Honoring Anne Frank’s Birthday

by Rebecca Faulkner – April 28, 2014
 

Looking out of the window of her secret annex, Anne Frank saw beauty in a chestnut tree as the horrors of the Holocaust were closing in on her and her family. See how saplings from that tree are helping to plants seeds of tolerance all over the world.

If Anne Frank were alive today, June 12, 2014, she would be 85 years old.  Thanks to her diary and saplings from the white chestnut tree that grew outside her attic window, she will live forever.  

 
Anne Frank (Photo: AFF/Basel)

Anne Frank (Photo: AFF/Basel)

 

From her only window to the outside world, Anne Frank could see the sky, the birds, and a majestic chestnut tree. “As long as this exists,” Anne wrote in her diary, “how can I be sad?” During the two years she spent in the secret annex, the solace Anne found in her chestnut tree provided a powerful contrast to the Holocaust unfolding beyond her attic window. And as war narrowed in on Anne and her family, her tree became a vivid reminder that a better world was possible.

Anne’s tree would outlive its namesake by more than 50 years, before succumbing to disease and a windstorm in August 2010. But today, thanks to dozens of saplings propagated in the months before its death, Anne’s tree lives on in cities and towns around the world.

In the United States, The Anne Frank Center USA’s Sapling Project is bringing 11 of these precious trees to specially selected locations across the country. As the saplings take root, they will emerge as living monuments to Anne’s pursuit of peace and tolerance. In the process, they will serve as powerful reminders of the horrors borne by hate and bigotry and the need for collective action in the face of injustice.

Anne’s tree was a white horse chestnut tree, of a variety found throughout the Northern hemisphere. At the time of its demise, it was over 170 years old, making it one of the oldest trees of its kind in Amsterdam. Throughout that period, it stood in the courtyard garden of number 188 Keizersgracht—right outside of Anne’s secret annex window.

“Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” — Anne Frank’s diary, May 13, 1944

As decades passed, the majestic tree became infected with a moth and fungus infestation. Determined not to let the tree be lost forever, The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam decided, with the permission of the tree’s owner, to gather chestnuts, germinate them, and donate the saplings to schools and organizations dedicated to Anne Frank.

In 2009, the Anne Frank Center USA (AFC) received 11 of those saplings with plans to plant them across the United States. After a lengthy selection process, the AFC chose planting sites which memorialize incidences of intolerance and discrimination and share its mission to promote equal rights and mutual respect. The sites include: Little Rock Central High School and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas; Sonoma State University in California; the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Idaho; The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; Boston Common; the Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan; Liberty Park Commemorating 9/11 in New York City; the Southern Cayuga School District in New York State; the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, and the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

After a three-year quarantine, the saplings were cleared for planting in 2013. Holocaust survivors, school children, and local dignitaries attended the public dedications of these saplings, which were celebratory and deeply moving events that remind us how tolerance can grow in the face of bigotry and racism.

Congressional leaders will plant the next sapling this Wednesday, April 30th, on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. The remaining five saplings are scheduled to be planted in 2015. In conjunction with the plantings, AFC has launched a “Confronting Intolerance Today” speaker series to showcase global approaches to combating intolerance.

As Americans, we sometimes think of the horrors of the Holocaust as events that only happen in far off places and not on our own shores. But the United States has its own human rights issues, as evidenced by treatment of Native Americans, slavery, segregation, and by the ongoing struggle for full civil rights for women and people of color. These chapters in our shared history become the stories from which today’s generation can learn to fight intolerance in all forms, to identify prejudice, stereotyping, polarization, and to advocate for a world based on mutual respect. By attending a planting ceremony or a “Confronting Intolerance Today” event, you can help honor Anne’s vision of a more just world.

Rebecca Faulkner is the Special Projects Manager for The Anne Frank Center USA.

Visit the Sapling Project website for information on where the next event is taking place. You can also join the discussion on the Speak Up! page to participate in a dialogue on topics as diverse as the inequalities in the American justice system, genocide in South Sudan, poverty across the United States, and the rights of the LGBT community.

10 Facts about D-Day – June 6, 1944

June 6, 2014 by NCC Staff

D-Day Landings: Normandy on June 6, 1944

Approximately 1. 5 million Allied servicemen landed on 5 Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. It was the largest amphibious assault in military history. Read more at History.com

On June 6, 1944, about 150,000 troops stormed the beaches of France in the epic D-Day invasion that proved pivotal to the Allied war effort. But how did the idea originate and how did the Allies pull off such a huge task?

The numbers involved in the Normandy landings are still staggering today, and unlikely to be seen again in a modern age of combat. Here are a few of the numbers, and some fascinating facts about this historic event.

1. What does D-Day mean anyway? That remains a topic of debate today, since the operation was cloaked in secrecy. One prominent theory is that the word D-Day originated in a World War I tradition of assigning generic words like D-Day and H-Hour to events with unassigned dates. Another is that the “D” stands for the word “departed,” as in “departed date.”

2. The invading force by sea and air was staggering. The D-Day attack consisted or more than 150,000 personnel coming across the English Channel by sea and air, and about 100,000 troops were involved in the invasion on June 6.

3. The cost of the invasion was high. Of the 100,000 or so fighters in the invading force, about 9,000 were killed or wounded on June 6, 1944.

4. How rare is a major amphibious attack? Throughout history, attacks over water were a feature of many wars and campaigns, but not on the scale of the D-Day invasion. The Spanish Armada in 1588 that failed to invade England had about 130 ships and a potential 55,000 fighters. The D-Day force had about 5,000 vessels involved in various roles.

5. Was D-Day the biggest marine invasion ever? Again, that is another debate topic. Many people believe the Normandy invasion was the largest such operation during World War II, but others can make an argument for the April 1945 invasion of Okinawa in the Pacific. The 1943 Allied landing in Sicily was also a very large and complicated operation.

6. There were live broadcasts of the invasion on radio. After a German news agency scooped the Western press by confirming the invasion in a wire report, press coverage began in the Allied nations. One CBS reporter broadcasted live from a ship within the invading force. In all, more than 700,000 words recounting the events of June 6, 1944 were relayed back to the public.

7. How did the Allies fool the Germans? The grand plan included the construction of a dummy invasion force across from the Pas de Calais near Dover. Rubber ships and plywood tanks were part of the fake invasion force.

8. How did D-Day happen on June 6th? Since everyone knew an invasion of some type was imminent, so weather and timing played prominent roles. General Dwight Eisenhower picked June 5, 1944 as the date for the invasion, but bad weather forced a postponement. After meteorologists told Eisenhower that the weather would clear the next day, the invasion was on. In reality, the weather was nearly as bad on June 6.

9. Where did the name Operation Overlord come from? Winston Churchill is believed to be the person who assigned the codename to the D-Day invasion, since he had a very high interest in selecting code names. The Germans actually pioneered the use of code names in World War I.

Eisenhower and Churchill inspect troops in England, 1944.  Photo from The New York Times Photo Archives.

Eisenhower and Churchill inspect troops in England, 1944.
Photo from The New York Times Photo Archives. Copies available.

10. What was Eisenhower’s message to the troops? Ike’s Orders of the Day told the force, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”

 

Did you know?

The date June 5, 1944 was originally chosen for the invasion, but bad weather forced the Allies to postpone one day.

Code names for the five beaches where the Allies landed: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

 

Timeline:

  • August 19, 1942 – A raid on the French port of Dieppe that resulted in heavy losses convinces D-Day planners to land on the beaches, so discussions and preparations for an Allied invasion across the English Channel begin.
  • May 1943 – The Trident Conference, a British and American strategy meeting on the war. In Washington, DC, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and their military advisers discuss, among other things, crossing the English Channel.
  • August 1943 – The Quadrant Conference, where the British and American military chiefs of staff outline Operation Overlord.
  • November and December 1943 – The Sextant and Eureka Conferences, where the British and American military chiefs discuss the specifics of the assault on France.
  • 1944 – The Germans expect an invasion along the north coast of France, but they do not know where. They build up their troops and artillery near Calais, where the English Channel is the narrowest.
  • June 5, 1944 – Between 11 pm and 3 am, 13,000 allied paratroopers and gliders carrying heavy equipment leave England to begin the invasion of France by air.

In a broadcast message to the troops, delivered before they leave, President Eisenhower says, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”