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The Allied Invasion of Normandy France & The Experience of the Soldiers Storming the Beaches (Fall 2012)

            The Invasion of Normandy, France (also known as D-Day) was a crucial turning point during World War II. The Allied Forces and the Axis Forces came to one of the final confrontations of the war. This mission was crucial because the Allies had to secure the coast of France in order to begin the final assault into Germany. Unless the beaches were secured, then the Allies would have nowhere to ship in supplies, men, and begin taking out the German threat in France and clear the pathway to invade Germany.

            On June 6, 1944 Allied forces began the assault. “The landings took place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword,” (wikipedia.org). Just before the official final instructions for D-Day were given, A.L. Correy recalls hearing from one of his commanders, “‘This is the big day we've waited for. That's what you all came here for. That's what we're here to do.’ He hadn't said a word yet about what we're doing, but finally he says, ‘We're going in there at six in the morning in France as air support for the Allied forces invading the Normandy coast of Europe. This will be the invasion,’” (pbs.org). This operation was a huge and pivotal one, for if it failed, and all of the men, supplies, weapons, and resources were wasted to a failed cause, this huge loss for the Allies could have cost the war.

            As waves of men began to storm the beaches, German forces took the defense and began shooting at the soldiers, taking a majority of the first few waves out. Unfortunately, as predicted, the first few waves of men were essentially on a suicide mission. It was expected that many of these men would be killed due to the infancy of the raid in the beginning, at least until greater numbers of Allies stormed in, eventually overwhelming the Germans. However, as the nature of war goes, that was the sacrifice that these men valiantly gave. “The beach was spotted with dead and wounded men. I passed one man whose foot had been blown completely off. Another soldier lying close by was suffering from several injuries; his foot was ripped and distorted until it didn't look much like a foot. Another I passed was lying very still, flat on his back, covered in blood. Bodies of injured men all around. Sad and horrible sights were plentiful,” (military.com). As Thomas Valence recalls, a fellow soldier called to him, “‘Sergeant, they're leaving us here to die like rats. Just to die like rats.’ I certainly wasn't thinking the same thing, nor did I share that opinion. I didn't know whether we were being left or not.” He describes the scene of the beach he landed at, “The bodies of the other guys washed ashore, and I was one live body amongst many of my friends who were dead and, in many cases, blown to pieces,” (pbs.org). Many survivor veterans would later recall similar memories from the invasion: the red ocean water that washed ashore on the beaches, stained with the blood of the fallen; the bodies in the water floating like buoys. The sand itself was littered with bodies, both wounded and dead, along with thousands of bits of shrapnel and bullets.

            Future president General Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded that nothing short of victory shall be accepted. "You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you...I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle," (u-s-history.com). General Eisenhower, in particular showed great faith in the Allied soldiers and the war. General Eisenhower helped to lead the troops to victory. He was the Supreme Commander during the Invasion of Normandy. 

            The philosophy and motivation of the Allies was simple: victory, and nothing short of it. Our soldiers strongly believed in their cause for fighting. German aggression must be stopped at all costs. Wrongs towards [innocent] people must be stopped. Any faults that could jeopardize Allied victory anywhere must be prevented. The driving force of the Allies was the thirst for solid victory. The Allied forces knew right from wrong and fought for the good in the world, for the innocent people, and to prevent further loss, destruction, and conflict. The soldiers of the Allied forces no doubt had to make decisions that would affect them for the rest of their lives, one example being the trauma of killing another human being; and bonding with fellow soldiers who very well might be blown to bits the next day. It’s a heavy burden to bear, but it is the nature of war and a sacrifice that our boys were willing to make for the greater good.

            There were many technology components that went into the Invasion of Normandy. The aircraft carriers, the airplanes, the ships, tanks, guns, bombs, etc. were crucial to the Allies. Mulberries were developed by the British to serve as temporary harbors to more quickly facilitate cargo unloading, docking, etc. while the coast was being secured.

            There were several factors that were crucial to the execution and success of the Invasion of Normandy. Commanders desired to wait for a full moon to give natural light during the late hours of the night, and the early hours of the morning. Originally the invasion was supposed to take place June 5th. However, the tide was posing a problem, because if it rose too high then soldiers would drown unnecessarily. “Wind and high seas would make it impossible to launch landing craft from larger ships at sea, and low clouds would prevent aircraft finding their targets. The Allied troop convoys already at sea were forced to take shelter in bays and inlets on the south coast of Britain for the night,” (wikipedia.org). The Allies were afraid that any action would have to be delayed further due to the unfavorable conditions. However, acting on the prediction of slightly better weather from a meteorologist on board, General Eisenhower commanded the mission to continue on the 6th of June. The Germans during this time had a fault, thinking that the Allies would not be able to attack due to the conditions. They relaxed their positions slightly and some generals even took a leave for a few days from the defensive positions. 

            John G. Burkhalter gives a very graphic and moving memory as he recalls his experience during the invasion. “When my part of the Division landed, there were impressions made on my mind that will never leave it. Just before landing we could see heavy artillery shells bursting all up and down the beach at the water's edge under well directed fire. As I stood in line waiting to get off the LCI to a smaller craft to go into shore, I was looking toward land and saw a large shell fall right on a landing craft full of men. I had been praying quite a bit through the night as we approached the French coast but now I began praying more earnestly than ever. Danger was everywhere; death was not far off. I knew that God alone is the maker and preserver of life, who loves to hear and answer prayer. We finally landed and our assault craft was miraculously spared, for we landed with no shells hitting our boat. The enemy had a long time to fix up the beach. The beach was covered with large pebbles to prevent tank movements, and mines were everywhere. The enemy was well dug in and had set up well prepared positions for machine guns and had well-chosen places for sniping. Everything was to their advantage and to our disadvantage, except one thing, the righteous cause for which we are fighting - liberation and freedom. For the moment our advantage was in the abstract and theirs was in the concrete.  In from the beach were high hills which we had to climb. We crawled most of the way up. As we filed by those awful scenes going up the hill and moving inland, I prayed hard for those suffering men, scattered here and there and seemingly everywhere,” (military.com). 

            The Invasion of Normandy stands as a monumental part of history. If not for the success of this invasion, World War II very well could have had a very different outcome, not in favor of the Allies. Some of the memories of veterans still hold so much pain and emotion that many cannot talk about it. What those soldiers experienced, no history book can truly explain the ferocity, the horror, the pain, the fear, the determination of war that the Allied soldiers felt, yet carried on forward in their mission for victory. They put in their best effort. The sacrifice of the thousands who took part in the invasion yielded massive favorable results, not to mention the forever indebted gratitude of the people for whom they served in the line of duty. The Invasion of Normandy was a huge victory for the Allies, and it will forevermore be remembered and honored for those that sacrificed their lives for freedom and justice.

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