D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Greatest Military Invasion in History
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
On June fifth, 1944, a huge Allied force waited for the order to invade German-occupied France. The invasion had been planned for the day before. But a storm forced a delay.
At three-thirty in the morning, the Allied commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, was meeting with his assistants. The storm still blew outside the building.
General Eisenhower and his generals were discussing whether they should attack the next day.
A weatherman entered the room. He reported that the weather soon would improve. All eyes turned to Eisenhower. The decision was his. His face was serious. And for a long time he was silent. Finally he spoke. "OK," he said, "we will go."
And so the greatest military invasion in the history of the world, D-Day, took place on June sixth, 1944.
The German leader, Adolph Hitler, had known the invasion was coming. But he did not know where the Allied force would strike.
Most Germans expected the Allies would attack at Calais, in France. But they were wrong. Eisenhower planned to strike at the French coast of Normandy, across the English Channel.
The Second World War was then almost five years old. The Germans had won the early battles and gained control of most of Europe. But in 1942 and forty-three, the Allies slowly began to gain back land from the Germans in northern Africa, Italy, and Russia. And now, finally, the British, American, Canadian, and other Allied forces felt strong enough to attack across the English Channel.
Eisenhower had one hundred fifty thousand men, twelve thousand airplanes and many supplies for the attack. But most important, he had surprise on his side. Even after the invasion began, General Erwin Rommel and other top German military experts could not believe that the Allies had really attacked at Normandy.
But attack they did. On the night of June fifth, airplanes dropped thousands of Allied parachute soldiers behind German lines. Then Allied planes began dropping bombs on German defenses. And in the morning, thousands of ships approached the beaches, carrying men and supplies.
The battle quickly became fierce and bloody. The Germans had strong defenses. They were better protected than the Allied troops on the beaches. But the Allied soldiers had greater numbers. Slowly they moved forward on one part of the beach, then another.
The Allies continued to build up their forces in France. They brought nearly ninety thousand vehicles and six-hundred-thousand men into France within one week. And they pushed ahead.
Hitler was furious. He screamed at his generals for not blocking the invasion. And he ordered his troops from nearby areas to join the fight and stop the Allied force. But the Allies would not be stopped.
In late August, the Allied forces captured Paris. The French people cheered wildly as General Charles de Gaulle and free French forces marched into the center of the city.
The Allies then moved east into Belgium. They captured the great Belgian port of Antwerp. This made it easier for them to send supplies and fuel to their troops.
Only when Allied troops tried to move into the Netherlands did the Germans succeed in stopping them. American parachute soldiers won battles at Eindhoven and Njmegen. But German forces defeated British "Red Devil" troops in a terrible fight at Arnhem.
Germany's brief victory stopped the Allied invasion for the moment. But in less than four months, General Eisenhower and the Allied forces had regained almost all of France.
At the same time, in 1944, the Soviets were attacking Germany from the east. Earlier, Soviet forces had succeeded in breaking German attacks at Stalingrad [Volgograd], Moscow, and Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. Soviet forces recaptured Russian cities and farms one by one. They entered Finland, Poland, and Romania. By the end of July, Soviet soldiers were just 15 kilometers from the Polish capital, Warsaw.
What happened next was one of the most terrible events of the war. Moscow radio called on the people of Poland to rise up against the German occupation forces. Nearly forty thousand men in the Polish underground army listened to the call. And they attacked the Germans. The citizens of Warsaw probably could have defeated the German occupation forces if the Soviet army had helped them.
But Soviet leader Josef Stalin betrayed the Poles. He knew that many members of the Polish underground forces opposed communism as much as they opposed the Germans. He feared they would block his efforts to establish a new Polish government that was friendly to Moscow.
For this reason, Stalin held his forces outside Warsaw. He waited while the Germans and Poles killed each other in great numbers. The Germans finally forced the citizens of Warsaw to surrender.
The real winner of the battle, however, was the Soviet Union. Both the Germans and the Poles suffered terrible losses during the fighting. The Soviet Army had little trouble taking over the city with the help of Polish Communists. And after the war, the free Polish forces were too weak to oppose a Communist government loyal to Moscow.
Adolf Hitler was in serious trouble. Allied forces were attacking from the west. Soviet troops were passing through Poland and moving in from the east. And at home, several German military officials tried to assassinate him. The German leader narrowly escaped death when a bomb exploded in a meeting room.
But Hitler refused to surrender. Instead, he planned a surprise attack in December 1944. He ordered his forces to move quietly through the Ardennes Forest and attack the center of the Allied line. He hoped to break through the line, separate the Allied forces, and regain control of the war.
The Germans attacked American troops tired from recent fighting in another battle. It was winter. The weather was so bad that Allied planes could not drop bombs on the German forces. The Germans quickly broke through the American line.
But the German success did not last long. Allied forces from nearby areas raced to the battle-front to help. And good weather allowed Allied planes to begin attacking the Germans.
The battle ended by the middle of the following month in a great defeat for Hitler and the Germans. The German army lost more than one hundred thousand men and great amounts of supplies.
The end of the war in Europe was now in sight. By late February, 1945, the Germans were forced to retreat across the Rhine River. American forces led by General Patton drove deep into the German heartland.
To the east, Soviet forces also were marching into Germany. It did not take long for the American and Soviet forces to meet in victory. The war in Europe was ended.
Adolf Hitler waited until Russian troops were destroying Berlin. Bombs and shells were falling everywhere. Hitler took his own life by shooting himself in the head.
One week later, the German army surrendered officially to Eisenhower and the allies.
The defeat of Germany was cause for great celebration in Britain, the United States, and other Allied nations. But two facts made the celebrations less joyful than they might have been.
One was the discovery by Allied troops of the terrible German death camps. Only at the end of the war did most of the world learn that the Nazis had murdered millions of innocent Jews and other people.
The second fact was that the Pacific war had not ended. Japanese and American forces were still fighting bitterly. That war in the Pacific will be our story next week.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators have been Harry Monroe and Jack Weitzel. Our program was written by David Jarmul.