75 years ago today, on 6th June 1944, Allied forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, Northern France. Overnight, gliders and paratroopers had landed further inland. The landings represented the first phase of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – with the aim of bringing World War Two to an end.
The Allied forces of US, British and Canadian troops also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian [present-day Zimbabwe] and Polish naval, air and ground support. Up to 7,000 ships and landing craft were involved, delivering a total of 156,000 men and 10,000 vehicles to the shore. By the end of the day, 4,400 troops died from the combined allied forces. Some 9,000 were wounded or missing. Total German casualties on the day are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000 men. Thousands of French civilians also died.
But, by midnight of 6th June, the Allies had secured their beachheads (codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah) and begun to push further inland. Within eleven months, Nazi Germany was defeated and the war was over.
D-Day marked the turning point in the Second World War. It was a remarkable military, technical, logistical and physical achievement, made possible by international cooperation, driven by a shared belief in the importance of defeating the oppression and horror of the Nazi regime.
The anniversary of D-Day is always a special one to me. My grandfather, Jim Hildrew, was in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He supported the Allied invasion of France from the English Channel, working on Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean) which was designed to supply fuel from England to the Allied armies in France by laying flexible pipes all the way across the seabed. I am proud to think that he made his contribution to the freedom that we all enjoy – and perhaps take for granted – today.
He was one of the lucky ones who came back alive after the war, returning to teaching as the Headmaster of Grasmere School in the Lake District. Many were not so lucky: by the time Paris was liberated in August 1944, 200,000 of the Allied troops who had landed in France were dead, wounded or missing. On the anniversary of this important day in history, we should all take time to remember those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in liberty.