Last week, on 6th June, war veterans, world leaders and civilians alike gathered to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, in a show of solidarity reflective of the unions established and honoured in the Second World War.
Once the scenes of mud, blood and tragedy, the northern shores of France found themselves host to a series of tributes including fly-pasts, parachute jumps and memorial services. On the other side of the Channel, itself engraved into the history of D-day, the celebrations were mirrored, with HRH Princess Anne attending a drumhead ceremony and military demonstration in Southsea.
On that momentous night seventy years ago, over a hundred thousand Allied troops, the largest-ever seaborne invasion, landed on the French coast. The landings themselves followed extensive bombing from the air and from the sea, all of which was preceded by months of deception carried out by British and French intelligence services to throw the occupying German forces off the Allied scent. By simulating invasion forces using dummy paratroopers and fleets of small boats, utilising double agents and broadcasting false radio signals, the Allies successfully bought time and misled the enemy.
It was time the Allied forces were desperately in need of – German field officer Rommel had identified Normandy as susceptible to attack, and subsequently ordered its shores be heavily fortified with traps and defences. The men were up against a terrain positively infested with land mines and littered with metal tripods from which hung barbed wire, as if a giant metal spider had spun its way along the coast. Battling their way through all this whilst under fire was no mean feat for the Allied soldiers. To top it all, the weather set in, whipping up the seas and causing many troops to have to wade through water neck-high to even reach the fighting on the land.
Although D-Day brings to mind images of Saving Private Ryan beach battles, the Allied military presence was keenly felt from above, too. The German Luftwaffe could only scramble 815 planes over Normandy compared to the Allied 9,543, and the latter used this to their advantage to take bridges and bomb the coasts in preparation for the infantry.
The battle is hailed as a decisive Allied victory, the first major step towards ousting the Nazi presence from Europe, but the fighting, which continued for weeks after the landings themselves, was costly for both sides. Germany suffered somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 casualties on D-Day, and the Allied forces around 10,000. Remembering those who fell, and honouring all who risked their lives that day, last week’s commemorations, and those who attended, presented a unified Europe, and a unified world – the world for which these soldiers were fighting.