I have decided to publish this post a day ahead of schedule. Because both Consimword Expo 2011 and MonsterGame.Con XI starts tomorrow, I thought that it might be a good idea to get this latest essay up before a lot of my regular readers head off to Tempe, Arizona for a week of fabulous gaming.

Thoughts on the 67th Anniversary of the Allied Landings in Normandy


U.S. WWII Cemetery, Normandy, France
Today is the anniversary of D-Day. If past experience is any guide, the various network and cable outlets will commemorate this date in history with a smattering of short “public service” style announcements accompanied by brief and blandly uninspiring screen images. Even worse, but just as inevitably, a few TV channels (to include, regrettably, the History and Military channels) will abuse their audiences by rebroadcasting, for the umpteenth time, the earnest but cringe-worthy (the movie has Fabian in it, for Christ’s sake) screen version of Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day” (1962) and/or Stephen Spielberg’s technically impressive, but vastly overrated “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Genuinely informative historical programs, it would seem, are just too difficult for our contemporary media content providers to come up with; so, with very few exceptions, they don’t.

Beny Sur Mer Canadian WWII Cemetery, Calvados, France.
Instead, in the age of “Twitter” and “Facebook”, the tendency of contemporary popular culture to elevate the banal while trivializing the important seems to be accelerating with every passing day. Given this societal trend, it probably should not be surprising that the average college junior can no longer place the American Civil War in the correct century, or identify the particular belligerent countries that made up the Axis and Allies during World War II. Nowadays, learning even the most basic facts about one’s own history, it would appear, is simply too hard. Call me a dour old curmudgeon, but this is depressing; it is also a damning indictment, both of the current American educational establishment, and of those elites who exert influence over American culture, as a whole.

St Manvieu British WWII Cemetery,
Cheux, Calvados, France.
In the case of D-Day, such ignorance is even more inexcusable because, in a very real sense, the outcome of the Allied invasion of northern France in the spring of 1944 largely shaped the outcome, not only of World War II, but of the trajectory of the rest of the 20th century. Had the unthinkable happened and Overlord failed, the Germans would undoubtedly still have lost the war, but a Western Europe occupied by the Red Army and dominated by Moscow would have presented post-war America and Britain with a very different, and much more serious threat than that which actually emerged in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat. For this reason, if for no other, the events of D-Day deserve to be revisited and understood because, to a large degree, they helped to shape the world in which we live today. Moreover, putting everything else aside, it is also a fascinating story.


German pillbox, Normandy, France WWII.
Sixty-seven years ago, people around the globe listened with hope, tinged with apprehension, to the first sketchy bulletins on the joint American, British, Canadian, Polish and French landings against the German-held beaches of northern France. The official announcement that the D-Day invasion had begun, for most ordinary Americans, came as a surprise; everyone knew that an Allied cross-Channel assault was immanent, but no one — outside of the senior Allied military planners at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) and the topmost military and political leaders that those planners served — knew exactly when or where the blow was actually slated to fall. In that sense, D-Day was, perhaps, the best-kept secret of World War II. However, once the landings had begun; the people at home, utterly helpless to influence events so far away, could only stoically settle down to await official word on the fates of fathers, sons, husbands and brothers. The news on 6 June, 1944, did make one thing very clear: the reports from France meant that yet another battle front was being added to that of Italy and the Pacific, and a new front could only mean more American casualties — a lot more.

SAC General Dwight D. Eisenhower,
Nonetheless, on D-Day, as word of the cross-Channel landings quickly spread, the mood of the nation was guardedly optimistic. In some ways, despite the global cataclysm that was the Second World War, the spring of 1944 was a simpler, less cynical time. Patriotism, religious faith, and the wide-spread belief in America’s wartime mission to destroy fascism were not yet the targets of supercilious ridicule on the part of some among the Nation’s media and academic elites that these “old fashioned” sentiments would become in later years. In fact, early on the day of the invasion and with the outcome of the Allied landings in Normandy still very much in doubt, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to the airwaves to address his fellow citizens. His message was heartfelt, sober and simple: he urged every American listening to his voice to join him in a solemn prayer for the safety and ultimate victory of those of America’s sons who, locked in a desperate battle halfway around the world, were engaged in a just and even righteous crusade to liberate Europe from the murderous grip of Nazi domination.

Protestant service for American troops,
D-Day, Normandy landing.
Of course, those listening to the president’s words on 6 June, 1944, could not yet be sure of the outcome of the Normandy landings; however, they were, like their president, still confident about the final outcome of the war. Berlin might be a long way from the beaches of France, but the vast majority of Americans felt that the fate that awaited the German capitol was, ultimately, certain: at some point, the seat of Nazi power would fall to the steadily-advancing Allied armies. And subsequent events would show that this confidence was not misplaced. The expansion of Allied air and ground offensive operations in the west, along with the constant hammer blows from the Red Army in the east, furnished constant and irrefutable proof that the brutal edifice of the German Führer’s “thousand year” Nazi empire was already teetering and ready to come crashing down. Nonetheless, in the spring of 1944, the defeat of the Third Reich and the end of the war still seemed a long way off; this was why, in the eyes of the Allied strategic planners, opening a new front against German forces in France was viewed as being essential. And, in June of 1944, the Allies were finally able to launch a massive, combined air-ground-naval assault against the forces that manned the formidable defenses of Hitler’s Festung Europa.

D-Day embarcation American troops, English street.
The Allied cross-Channel invasion, codenamed “Overlord,” had been a long time in preparation. Earlier seaborne assaults — first against North Africa, then Sicily, and finally, Italy — had all taught the Allied planners valuable lessons about the special requirements of complex, large-scale amphibious operations in the European theater, and the special factors that distinguished them from those conducted in the Pacific. Unlike the bloody struggles for Japan’s island strongholds, the battle to free Western Europe would pit an initially inferior landing force against an enemy that could not permanently be denied either reinforcements or supplies. And instead of a few square miles of volcanic ash or sandy coral, the Allied troops landing in France ultimately would have to fight for and capture thousands of square miles of enemy-held territory if they were to gain a decisive, war-ending victory against Hitler's armies in the west.

Omaha Beach American troops
disembark landing craft in the surf
D-Day June 6 1944 Normandy
To achieve this goal, a vast naval armada of over 5,000 ships had been assembled in England to convey the Allied invasion forces, over 150,000 strong, across the narrow strip of sea that separated the British Isles from the French coast. Originally, the operation had been scheduled to begin early on the morning of 5 June, 1944, but bad weather in the Channel had forced a one day delay. Now, the Allied supreme commander — American General Dwight David Eisenhower — on the strength of assurances from his chief meteorologist, Group Captain J.M. Stagg, had ordered the invasion to proceed. The overall field command of Overlord had been entrusted to British General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery and his 21st Army Group. Subordinated to Montgomery’s headquarters was the American First Army, under General Omar Bradley, and the British Second Army, commanded by General Miles “Lucky” Dempsey.

Gold Beach, King Red Sector, D-Day
The operational plan for Overlord called for the infantry of the first assault waves, plus amphibious (DD) tanks and teams of combat engineers to make five separate landings along a 50-mile stretch of the northern coast of the Normandy peninsula running roughly from the town of Varreville in the west, to the northern section of the Orne River in the east. Each of the assaulting groups was assigned its own beach landing zone. If the invasion went according to plan, the senior Allied commanders expected an early link-up between the different beachheads, followed by a rapid advance inland. But, given the fact that the operation had already been postponed once, this might be, they knew, a very big ‘if’. Luck could also play a role. And General Eisenhower and his staff back in England were well aware of the fact that, once the landings actually began, the success or failure of Overlord would really depend, more than anything else, on the courage, determination, and initiative of a handful of junior officers and platoon sergeants, and the ability of these commanders and the men they led to quickly push inland and to take the fight to the German defenders before they could recover from their surprise. This would be the most critical phase of the entire operation; the crucial, bloody first hours during which the fate of Overlord would be determined.

American soldiers, Utah Beach, D-Day.
Operationally-speaking, the outlines of the Allied invasion plan were relatively straightforward. Dempsey’s Second Army was given responsibility for the three invasion beaches on the Allied left. The first of these, and the easternmost landing site, “Sword Beach,” lay opposite Lion Sur Mer and just north of the mouth of the Orne River, and it was here that the British 3rd Division, with supporting elements, planned to wade ashore; to the west of Sword Beach, the Canadian 3rd Division would land at “Juno Beach” near the coastal town of Courseulles; the British 50th Division was slated to come ashore west of the Canadians and just to the east of Arromanches, at “Gold Beach.” Omar Bradley’s Americans were assigned to two widely-separated invasion zones on the Allied right: the 1st and 29th Divisions were slated to establish a lodgment on “Omaha Beach” — a landing site that placed the Americans more than five miles west of the nearest British troops on Gold Beach; and finally, at the westernmost end of the Allied D-Day objectives, the troops of the American 4th and 90th Divisions were slated to come ashore between the Carentan Estuary and Varreville, on “Utah Beach” — a location that not only offered no defensive protection for the landing zone’s western flank, but that also placed the invading Americans over ten miles from the 1st and 29th Divisions landing to the east.

Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower
meets with the Paratroopers before the D-Day air drop.
To increase the prospects for Overlord’s success, it was decided that the amphibious landings should be supported by a series of large-scale airborne operations. Three specially-trained Allied paratroop divisions — two American and one British — would be air dropped during the night immediately preceding the invasion landings. The important, but dangerous mission of these parachute units and the air-landing troops that followed them would be to seize key advanced positions and, at the same time, to also seal off the beach landing zones from German reinforcements during the critical first hours of the invasion. The actual mission objectives of the airborne forces had been a matter of dispute at SHAEF from the outset. Essentially, Allied planners considered two different mission profiles for the paratroops and their follow-on glider reinforcements. The first and safer plan was to drop the airborne troops close to the invasion beaches so that the lightly-armed paratroopers could disrupt German defenses in the immediate battle area, but where they would also be able to link up with advancing amphibious troops relatively quickly. The second, riskier plan was to drop the airborne units farther inland: this approach sought to achieve the more ambitious goals both of seizing militarily-important objectives, perhaps for several days, and of impeding enemy troop movements toward the early, still-shallow beachheads. The first option offered smaller operational benefits to the overall Overlord plan, but it also did not risk the annihilation of the bulk of the Allies’ elite airborne forces. The second option was potentially far more expensive in terms of potential Allied casualties: British Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, for example, estimated that, even if Overlord went off without a hitch, losses among the American and British paratroopers could easily exceed 50%; nonetheless, it also represented the best chance for the Allies to achieve an early breakout inland from the Normandy coast. In the end, the difficult decision, like a host of others associated with Overlord, had to be made by General Eisenhower, himself. And weighing the lives of his paratroopers against the ultimate success or failure of Overlord, the Allied Supreme Commander, using the harsh calculus of war, reluctantly chose to gamble on the riskier second option.

B-26 Maurader D-Day Over Normandy, France.
Along with their massive commitment of naval and ground forces, the Allies also concentrated theater air assets for a major effort in support of Overlord. At various stages prior to and during the D-Day campaign, combat sorties in direct support of the Normandy invasion were flown by the U.S. 8th and 9th Air Forces, the British 2nd Tactical Air Force, and British Bomber Command. As might be expected, air missions in advance of the D-Day landings mainly concentrated on destroying railroads and rolling stock in France with the aim of preventing the Germans from rapidly transferring men and materiel to the Normandy battle area once the Allied landings were actually underway. [This campaign, although successful in terms of interdicting French rail lines, turned out to be less effective than Allied planners hoped; the Germans rapidly adapted to the escalating air attacks by shifting a substantial portion of their military transport requirements to river barges, which were largely left untouched by the Allied airmen.] However, in the final hours leading up to the invasion, both the tempo and the types of air operations changed. On the night of 5 June, waves of Allied transport aircraft took off from English airfields carrying thousands of American and British paratroopers towards their designated drop zones in Occupied France. And beginning at 0300 hours, still well before the scheduled start of the June 6th landings, Allied air forces commenced a massive bombing offensive aimed at destroying German coastal defenses, and at disrupting enemy lines of supply and communication, particularly in those parts of the Normandy peninsula beyond the range of the invasion fleet’s naval guns. The crucially-important contribution made by this enormous (all told, over 430,000 sorties were flown in support of Overlord) and carefully-choreographed air campaign to the invasion’s ultimate success is indisputable. Unfortunately, this contribution would come at a high price: 10,000 American and British flyers would be killed in combat operations associated directly or indirectly with the Allied invasion, and another 20,000 Anglo-American airmen would end up wounded, captured, or missing during the same period. Clearly, the skies over the battlefield, like the beaches and bocage of the Normandy peninsula below, would be a perilous place for American and British airmen during the spring and summer of 1944.

Aerial view, American troops, Normandy Beachhead.
When it finally came on June 6th, the actual events of D-Day showed that much of the planning and preparation that had gone into Overlord had all been little more than prologue; and that everything that had happened prior to this single overcast morning had really been only a dress rehearsal for the life-or-death struggle that was now about to unfold. Thus it was that, at 0630 hours, the real drama finally began: at that precise moment, the hundreds of small, troop-laden “Higgins boats” that had taken on their human cargo earlier in the morning ceased circling in the deeper water near the transports and turned south towards the obstacle-littered beaches of German-occupied France. The “Great Crusade” to liberate the captive peoples of Western Europe, which by this stage in the war had come to be seen — not just by Roosevelt and Churchill, but by a great many others in the west, as well — as a starkly Manichean struggle of “good versus evil”, had finally begun.

German turret, Omaha Beach, June 1944.
A century ago, the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke observed: “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” So it was for the Allies on D-Day: in many cases, the troops floundering through the surf after leaving their landing craft found that the German beach defenses, despite heavy Allied air and naval bombardment, had largely been left intact; and on one beach, code named: Omaha, a battle-tested and completely unexpected German division lay in wait for the unsuspecting American invaders. In addition, choppy seas swamped most of the Allies’ amphibious tanks before they could even reach the shore; and, most importantly, an unplanned-for tidal current swept many of the Allied Higgins boats far afield of their assigned landing zones. It was a day full of surprises and contrasts: on some beaches, soldiers wading ashore met almost no organized resistance in their own landing zone while their compatriots, only a few hundred yards away, faced fierce German opposition; on Omaha Beach, the first waves of Americans to struggle ashore met a virtual wall of fire from a maze of largely-undamaged bunkers and trenches on the low-lying bluffs overlooking the beach. Ten thousand Allied troops would be killed, wounded, captured, or missing by the time D-Day became D+1; fully half of those casualties would occur at a single beach: “Bloody” Omaha. Nonetheless, in spite of determined and sometimes ferocious enemy resistance, the Allied soldiers pushed inland, clearing the German strong points, one-by-one, until the beachheads, although shallow, could be considered relatively secure. It had been a “near-run thing”, but, by the end of the day, the landings were a success; and the single best chance for the Wehrmacht to defeat Overlord had passed. Back in England, the head of SHAEF, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, took out one of the two “invasion bulletins” that he had prepared in advance of the D-Day landings: one was an announcement that the invasion, because of the determination and valor of the Allied soldiers who had landed on the beaches, had been a success; the other was an announcement that the landings had failed, and that he, as supreme commander, took full personal responsibility for that failure. A thankful General Eisenhower, once he was completely satisfied that the Allied lodgments at Normandy were all safely-established, ordered the release of the first “success” announcement; interestingly, however, the profoundly relieved American general put aside the second bulletin to save as a personal reminder of what might have been.


British Royal Marines land in Normandy, June 6, 1944.
When students of military history are queried as to their personal picks of the most important battles in history, a certain collection of names will tend to show up again and again; among them: Thermopylae/Salamis, Actium, Poitiers, Constantinople, Lepanto, Saratoga, Waterloo, Gettysburg, Sedan (1940), Midway, and Stalingrad. Each of these military engagements is certainly important; and because of their outcomes, each of them undoubtedly affected the course of subsequent events in significant ways. However, in terms of its far-reaching historical and geopolitical consequences, I would argue that D-Day, although it is often left off of this list, is probably the most important battle of them all. And while the reaction — at least in some circles — to this declaration will undoubtedly be skepticism, I stand behind it. In fact, so far as I am concerned, the reasons for D-Day’s historical preeminence — although somewhat dystopian — are, nonetheless, actually numerous and compelling. That being said, here are just a few of them:

Rommel inspecting the defenses, Normandy, 1944.
First, an Allied defeat at Normandy, almost without doubt, would have prolonged the war for another year, perhaps longer; it would also have permitted the OKH (Oberkommando des Herres) to shift badly-needed reinforcements from the west to shore up the Germans’ battered and over-stretched forces facing the Russians in the east. Also, a victory for Hitler’s forces at Normandy would, almost certainly, have immeasurably increased the suffering of the civilian populations who were still prisoners in Nazi-controlled territory by delaying their liberation. Moreover, if Overlord had turned into a complete debacle, its political and military repercussions could well have been profound both in Britain and in the US. For starters, because of growing war-weariness in England, Winston Churchill’s government might well have fallen as a result of a major military disaster at Normandy (due, for example, to a “no confidence” vote); and with Churchill out of power, a new, less resolute prime minister and cabinet — in short, a government that was more open to a negotiated peace with Germany — could very well have taken its place. The US political scene, although farther from the beaches of France than England, could also have been jolted by bad news from Europe. For instance, heavy American losses at Normandy — particularly if they appeared pointless — might well have rekindled long-simmering isolationist sentiment in the US; particularly since President Roosevelt was already in failing health in the spring of 1944 and, for this reason if for no other, would probably not have been able to personally mount a spirited defense of his ironclad “unconditional surrender” policy vis-à-vis the Axis. As to the defeated battlefield commanders, whatever lessons the newly-chastened senior American and British generals might have drawn from a bloody failure on the beaches of France would almost certainly have been detrimental to future Allied prospects. Would the idea, for example, of another cross-Channel invasion of Europe have been viewed any longer as being advisable, or even practicable? Also, if the American and British troopers who had parachuted into France had all been killed or captured, then what plans, if any, would there likely have been for additional Allied airborne operations in the future?

Parisians line the Champs Élysées as the
French 2nd Armored Division tanks and half-tracks
pass before the Arc de Triomphe on 26 August, 1944.
Second, it is important to remember that the success of the Allied Normandy landings virtually guaranteed that, because the western Allies were securely established on the Continent, France and the Low Countries, as well as the western part of Germany would not fall to the Soviets before another Allied invasion attempt could be mounted. An Allied defeat, on the other hand, would have gone a long way towards guaranteeing just the opposite. Needless-to-say, had these captive countries not been liberated by the western Allies then there would probably have been few, if any, pro-western democracies in Europe at the conclusion of World War II. This would also have meant that, not only would a large share of the peoples of Europe have ended up exchanging one master for another, but Soviet hegemony over most of Western Europe would also have virtually ensured that there would have been no NATO as a military counterweight to a larger, and more poweful Soviet bloc.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation
of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945.
Third, if Overlord had failed, it is very doubtful that a triumphalist Soviet Union under Stalin — without the political and military pressure of powerful American and British forces in Western Europe — would have felt compelled to abandon control of Persia at the end of the war. And, if it had not, what would a significant post-war Soviet military presence in the Middle East have meant in terms of the future of the world’s energy supplies? Would an exhausted and bankrupt England, even one that was bolstered by the promise of American assistance, really have been willing to fight the Russians or their proxies over control of Iraq or the Arabian Peninsula? Would Great Britain even have been willing to fight to retain control of its lifeline to the Far East, the Suez Canal? Maybe it would have been; but maybe not.

Soviet troops in Berlin, WWII, 1945.
Fourth, it is interesting (if a little unsettling) to reflect on what the Soviet occupation of most of Western Europe would have meant to the post-war balance of power, if — as would have been highly likely — the Red Army had been able to capture all of the key scientific and technical personnel involved in Germany’s rocket, and other “advanced weapons” projects at the end of the war. Certainly, both the US and Britain had scientists working in similar areas, but would a near monopoly on German weapons experts have pushed Russian research so far ahead of other nations as to give the Soviet Union an uncatchable lead when it came ballistic missile, jet engine, or “stealth” technology?

Leaders of the victorious Allies meet
in Potsdam after the end of World War II.

Fifth, there is the issue of the timing of the Allied victory at Normandy. Overlord came just a little more than a year before the dawn of the “Nuclear Age”: the US succeeded in creating and using a deliverable atomic bomb in 1945. The inescapable question is, had the Normandy landings failed in 1944, would the US president have opted to use America’s small arsenal of atomic bombs against Germany instead of Japan; or what about against a belligerent Russia? And, had atomic bombs actually been dropped on one or more German cities, what would America’s use of nuclear weapons in Europe have meant for the post-war relations between a Soviet-occupied Germany and the US?

First atomic bomb test, near
Alamogordo, New Mexico, July 16, 1945. 
Photo courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Finally, the post-war Soviet Union was not far behind the US in the development of its own nuclear weapons; in fact, Russian scientists successfully tested their first atomic device in August of 1949. Given this fact, it does not take much imagination to see that the chances of a nuclear war between east and west (whether purposeful or accidental) would have been much greater had the Soviet empire, instead of holding sway over its historical Cold War territories, stretched all the way from the Pyrenees (and the English Channel) to the Sea of Japan. As things actually turned out, suspicion and hostility fomented by constant geopolitical friction between the Soviet bloc and America and its allies produced a whole series of direct and/or proxy clashes of varying intensities during the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties (China, Korea, Cuba, the Eastern European uprisings, Vietnam, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East); and at least a few of these conflicts — had political or military circumstances been different — could well have erupted into a full-scale war between east and west.

Seen with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the victory at Normandy was not — like previous amphibious operations such as Torch, Husky, or Avalanche — simply one more Allied success on the long, bloody road to Berlin, but a crucial, even essential, turning point in the war in the west. By the spring of 1944, it had become clear to almost everyone on both sides of the conflict — except, perhaps, Adolph Hitler — that, barring something bordering on a military miracle, Germany’s defeat was inevitable. The new German “wonder weapons”, terrible and destructive as they were, had come too late, and Allied bombing missions — while they may have been largely unsuccessful in destroying Germany’s war production — were, nonetheless, quite effective in devastating Germany’s cities, and the civilians who lived in them. Thus, the only real question that remained to be resolved, and the one that was decisively answered on 6 June 1944, was the actual timing of that defeat. Because the D-Day invasion was an Allied success, albeit an imperfect one, World War II would end in 1945 rather than in 1946, and Western Europe would be liberated by the citizen-soldiers of the western democracies and not by the Red Army. Hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians would, because the conflict ended when it did, survive to begin the laborious process of rebuilding in a post-war world; moreover, the western Allies, as a result of their bloody but victorious campaigns in 1944-45, would demonstrate to Stalin and his advisors in the Kremlin that Russia’s western allies both controlled and were willing to use a powerful military force that was clearly a formidable match for the Red Army. The uneasy partnership between the Soviet Union and the west would not long survive the end of World War II, but the “Cold War” that soon followed it would, because of the events set in motion on D-Day, never escalate into an apocalyptic nuclear clash between east and west. And, in the end, that fact, more than any other, demonstrates the historical significance of the Allied success at Normandy sixty-seven years ago.

Blog Posts about Related Wargames

SPI, COBRA (1977)
SPI, NORMANDY, 2nd Ed. (1971)
CGC, OVERLORD, 2nd Ed. (1977)

Recommended Reference

This book is a handy guide of maps for the Normandy landing beaches.

Recommended Reading

THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU


  • Excellent - and very thought provoking. God bless those who gave their lives in Normandy to secure the freedom of Western Europe.

  • Greetings 9train:

    Thank you for your kind words; and, needless-to-say, I completely share your feelings.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Loved this article and shared it through GrogNews. I wish there was a way to make wargame blog articles like this required reading in high school.

  • Greetings bayonetbrant:

    Thank you for your kind words; I appreciate both your interest and the "link"!

    Your point about high school students is a good one; although, to be honest, I really see little difference between them and college students when it comes to the current plague of historical illiteracy among the young. That being said, one of the reasons that I occasionally write pieces like this one -- I'm sure to the dismay of some of my regular visitors -- is because I know, from personal experience, that my blog is visited by a number of dedicated and able teachers, and I hope by publishing these types of essays to provide at least some of them with a few new ideas for making history interesting and relevant for their students. The real story of D-Day, for example, is far more riviting -- as, I think, "Saving private Ryan" demonstrates pretty convincingly -- than anything that Spielberg could ever invent on his own.

    In any case, thanks again for your comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • I don't disagree that college kids lack in large ways for cultural/historical literacy. I dealt with a lot of them as a teaching assistant last decade. However, college isn't compusory the way high school is, and it would be nice to get them "learned up" before we let them loose on the world.

  • Greetings Again bayonetbrant:

    You are, of course, quite correct. If our young people don't learn the essentials in high school, then the liklihood that anything that happens in college will correct these deficits is virtually nil.

    Along the same lines, I recall a conversation that I had with an old friend of mine several months ago. Like me, he is interested in the American Civil War, and, in the course of our very long discussion, the subject of Civil War letters came up, with depressing implications.
    The reason that I say depressing is that, as a culture, we seem to have gone backward in important ways since the 1860s. In support of this argument, I submit that the correspondence between ordinary people during the Civil War period is really quite illuminating: even people from humble backgrounds and with few advantages seemed, with very few exceptions, to be able to write both with clarity and grace.

    Sadly, these are essential skills -- based on my own graduate school experiences helping one of my friends (who was a T.A.) grade undergraduate papers -- that are now almost totally nonexistent among our current crop of high school and college students. I think the explanation for this disappointing fact is clear: for individuals to write well, it is necessary for them to read the works of others who have already mastered the craft. Regrettably, the requirement to read well-written, challenging material seems to be almost totally absent from either high school or undergraduate cirricula; hence, very few of our young people either read or write well. This is, I think, nothing less than a cultural tragedy. It also, however, helps to explain America's wide-spread and worsening historical ignorance. Reading fiction is difficult enough; reading nonfiction seems, for most students, to simply be "a bridge too far".

    Unfortunately, it looks to me like the "Age of Twitter" has overwhelmed the 'Age of Reason" and illiteracy of all types is on the rise.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • An excellent article. I'll be recommending this on my blog.

    Surprised you didn't mention 21st Panzer Division in this - they could have played an important role if used earlier.

  • Greetings Silent Hunter:

    Thank you for your encouraging words and for the recommendation; I sincerely appreciate both.

    Actually, I initially did have brief mentions of the fact that Rommel was away from France when the Allied ivasion began; and that the local panzer reserves could not be released without the personal authorization of the Fuhrer, but that no one at OKW, including Field Marshal Keitel, had the nerve to wake a sleeping Hitler with the news of the invasion.

    Unfortunately, my long-suffering wife, who is both my proof-reader and my editor suggested that -- given the length of the piece -- I should probably cut those sections out. I was, she explained gently, already taking a few too many detours into the weeds as it was, without adding in yet more text on the events unfolding far from Normandy beaches. She also made me cut out a brief discussion of the Russian and Italian Fronts as well.

    In retrospect, her advice was probably good -- the essay had already grown to about twice its original intended length. Nonetheless, as you note, the intervention of the 21st Panzer earlier in the battle might well have placed the success of the whole invasion in jeopardy. At the very least, it would certainly have given Eisenhower a sleepless night or two!

    Thanks again for your comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Thank you for your very thoughtful analysis of the D-Day landings. As my father (age 88 and US Navy Armed Guard veteran of WW2) sometimes says about WW2: It was quite a fight!

    I sometimes consider how the focus of so much of the world turned to Normandy in those fateful days. The Allied high command was involved in a massive deployment and support effort. My father-in-law left New York on June 6 headed for France as a replacement tank officer, my father was in a convoy in the North Atlantic headed for the UK, a neighbor of my Dad was on a LST that made many runs from the invasion beaches to England carrying US wounded and German prisoners, a friend was in a follow-up wave in a Heavy Weapons platoon of the 1st ID, etc. They prevailed through hard fighting and good luck against a very capable foe.

    I enjoy reading your comments on the old games and like to compare them with what I think of the same games when played in the 1970's and 1980's.

    I think SPI did a lot of innovative work especially in terms of historical analysis although their games were very mechanical. The games often did not give a player a good experience and analysis of what actually happened. That said, I believe that SPI's Year of the Rat is still one of the best games ever.

  • Greetings Donald:

    Thank you for your kind words and for your interest; I appreciate both.

    So far as my own family is concerned: my father spent the war -- at least, from late '42 on -- in the Pacific as a Navy corpsman. Two uncles, on my mother's side of the family, however, both served in Europe. One, an artilleryman with the 4th ID, actually came ashore at Normandy a few days after the landings; the other, a tanker, shipped out as a repacement for the 2nd Armored Division in 1943. Both uncles, interestingly enough, participated in the "Battle of the Bulge"; but in spite of that fact, except for some post-war hearing problems on the part of the artilleryman, neither got a scratch during the entire war.

    Thanks again for visiting and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe, It is Kevin here. I was wanting to send you a personal note. How may I do that?

  • Greetings Kevin:

    You can reach me via email at

    Best Regards, Joe

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