Politics & Policy

D-Day at 70

General Eisenhower speaks with paratroopers prior to the invasion. (Library of Congress) (Library of Congress)
Remembering the most brilliantly conducted invasion in military history

Seventy years ago this June 6, the Americans, British, and Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion of Europe since the Persian king Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 b.c.

About 160,000 troops landed on five Normandy beaches and linked up with airborne troops in a masterly display of planning and courage. Within a month, almost a million Allied troops had landed in France and were heading eastward toward the German border. Within eleven months the war with Germany was over.

The western front required the diversion of hundreds of thousands of German troops. It weakened Nazi resistance to the Russians while robbing the Third Reich of its valuable occupied European territory.

The impatient and long-suffering Russians had demanded of their allies a second front commensurate with their own sacrifices. Their Herculean efforts by war’s end would account for two out of every three dead German soldiers — at a cost of 20 million Russian civilian and military casualties.

Yet for all the sacrifices of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin was largely responsible for his war with Nazi Germany. In 1939, he signed a foolish non-aggression pact with Hitler that allowed the Nazis to gobble up Western democracies. Hitler’s Panzers were aided by Russians in Poland and overran Western Europe fueled by supplies from the Soviets.

The Western Allies had hardly been idle before D-Day. They had taken North Africa and Sicily from the Germans and Italians. They were bogged down in brutal fighting in Italy. The Western Allies and China fought the Japanese in the Pacific, Burma, and China.

The U.S. and the British Empire fought almost everywhere. They waged a multiform war on and under the seas. They eventually destroyed Japanese and German heavy industry with a costly and controversial strategic-bombing campaign.

The Allies sent friends such as the Russians and Chinese billions of dollars worth of food and war matériel.

In sum, while Russia bore the brunt of the German land war, the Western Allies fought all three Axis powers everywhere else and in every conceivable fashion.

Yet if D-Day was brilliantly planned and executed, the follow-up advance through France in June 1944 was not always so. The Allies seemed to know the texture of every beach in Normandy, but nothing about the thick bocage just a few miles inland from Omaha Beach. The result was that the Americans were bogged down in the French hedgerows for almost seven weeks until late July — suffering about ten times as many casualties as in the Normandy landings themselves.

So how did the Allies get from the beaches of Normandy to Germany in less than a year? Largely by overwhelming the Wehrmacht with lots of good soldiers and practical war matériel. If German tanks, mines, machine guns, and artillery were superbly crafted, their more utilitarian American counterparts were good enough — and about ten times as numerous. Mechanically intricate German Tiger and Panther tanks could usually knock out durable American Sherman tanks, but the Americans produced almost 50,000 of the latter, and the Germans fewer than 8,000 of the former.

Over Normandy, British and American fighter aircraft not only were as good as or better than German models but were far more numerous. By mid 1944, Germany had produced almost no four-engine bombers. The British and Americans had built almost 50,000, which by 1944 were systematically leveling German cities.

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt were far more pragmatic supreme commanders than the increasingly delusional and sick Adolf Hitler. American and British war planners such as George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Alan Brooke understood grand strategy better than the more experienced German chief of staff. Allied field generals such as George S. Patton and Bernard Montgomery were comparable to German legends like Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel, who were worn out by 1944.

The German soldier was the more disciplined, experienced, armed, and deadly warrior of World War II. But his cause was bad, and by 1944 his enemies were far more numerous and far better supplied. No soldiers fought better on their home soil than did the Russians, and none more resourcefully abroad than the British Tommy and the American G.I., when bolstered by ample air, armor, and artillery support.

Omaha Beach to central Germany was about the same distance as the Russian front to Berlin. But the Western Allies covered the same approximate ground in about a quarter of the time as had the beleaguered Russians.

D-Day ushered in the end of the Third Reich. It was the most brilliantly conducted invasion in military history, and probably no one but a unique generation of British, Canadians, and Americans could have pulled it off.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.

 

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

Most Popular

Media

Mark Zuckerberg’s On the Right Track

In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users. “I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind ... Read More
Media

Mark Zuckerberg’s On the Right Track

In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users. “I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Five Thoughts on the George Floyd Story

After a night of riots, looting, and arson in Minneapolis to protest the police killing of George Floyd, five thoughts spring to mind: One: It is always hazardous to draw sweeping conclusions about society from individual criminal cases. Every individual case involves individual facts, and those facts often ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Five Thoughts on the George Floyd Story

After a night of riots, looting, and arson in Minneapolis to protest the police killing of George Floyd, five thoughts spring to mind: One: It is always hazardous to draw sweeping conclusions about society from individual criminal cases. Every individual case involves individual facts, and those facts often ... Read More
U.S.

Toward Justice — and Order — in Minneapolis

George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died shortly after being physically restrained by four Minneapolis police officers on Monday. His arrest on suspicion of a non-violent crime (passing a counterfeit $20 bill) was caught on a cellphone video and at least two store surveillance videos. From the videos that are ... Read More
U.S.

Toward Justice — and Order — in Minneapolis

George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died shortly after being physically restrained by four Minneapolis police officers on Monday. His arrest on suspicion of a non-violent crime (passing a counterfeit $20 bill) was caught on a cellphone video and at least two store surveillance videos. From the videos that are ... Read More
World

Let’s Focus on China’s Origin Story Again

On the menu today: a return to the topic of the Wuhan labs and the origin of the coronavirus, as China’s top epidemiologist declares the Huanan Seafood Market was not the origin point of the coronavirus. China Stops Blaming the Huanan Seafood Market for Launching the Pandemic The fact that scientists ... Read More
World

Let’s Focus on China’s Origin Story Again

On the menu today: a return to the topic of the Wuhan labs and the origin of the coronavirus, as China’s top epidemiologist declares the Huanan Seafood Market was not the origin point of the coronavirus. China Stops Blaming the Huanan Seafood Market for Launching the Pandemic The fact that scientists ... Read More