One of the things I love about history, in fact probably the main thing, is the stories you can learn. The things people experienced in conditions often beyond your own imagination. Whilst its easy to find accounts for things in books, the D-Day celebrations today have allowed me to hear stories told in person by the soldiers, 70 years on from that heroic day.
D-Day, the 6th June 1944, was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Codenamed Operation Neptune, this invasion started the offensive that ultimately ended the Second World War.
The operation started on the 5th June, when minesweepers cleared tracks for the 5,000 vessels to get through.
That night, French resistance sabotaged rail and communication links and deception operations served to distract the Germans.
On the morning of the 6th, the landings were preceded by air attacks in which 1,300 RAF planes followed by 1,000 USAF bombers targeted specific areas of Northern France.
The invasion occurred on five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
The Germans had been too distracted by the deceptive techniques to pay much attention to the landings and so Hitler was not informed.
James Hill, 3rd Parachute Division –
Mr James Hill was brigade commander of the 3rd Parachute division, specially created in 1943 for the purpose of the D-Day operation.
Before D-Day, he said, ‘Gentlemen, in spite of your excellent training and very clear orders, don’t be daunted if chaos reigns – because it certainly will.’
After an inaccurate landing, they were flown in by bombers used to much greater distances, his brigade was attacked and despite being shot in the process, Hill pressed on.
He met up with the 9th Battalion, and moved on to the divisional headquarters at Ranville, where he had an operation for his bullet wound.
Later that night, they watched the second wave of gliders land and he said, ‘Remember all these things, because you’re never going to see a sight like this again.’
To read more about Hill’s story, click here.
Frank Phillips – Glider
He landed instead in a farmer’s field, and expecting to be scolded for destroying the crops was surprised by an invitation in for hot cocoa.
As they were driving to rejoin their unit, they suffered fire upon their vehicle. A cow stepped out into the road, forcing Phillips to break harshly. The cow was shot, saving them from the bullet that would surely have hit them.
Phillips recalls how he was ‘saved by the cow!’ here.