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Wednesday, June 05, 2024

June 6, 1944: My father on D-Day

This year is the 80th anniversary of D-Day—the day British, Canadian, and American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in World War II.1

For us baby boomers, it has always meant a day of special significance for our parents. In my case, it was my father who took part in the invasions. That's him on the right as he looked in 1944. He was an RAF pilot flying rocket-firing typhoons in close support of the ground troops. His missions were limited to quick strikes and reconnaissance during the first few days of the invasion because Normandy was at the limit of their range from southern England. During the second week of the invasion (June 14th) his squadron landed in Crepon, Normandy and things became very hectic from then on with several close support missions every day [see Hawker Hurricanes and Typhoons in World War II].

I have my father's log book and here are the pages from June 1944 (below). The red letters on June 6 say "DER TAG." It was his way of announcing D-Day. On the right it says "Followed SQN across channel. Saw hundreds of ships ... jumped by 190s. LONG AWAITED 2nd FRONT IS HERE." Later that day they shot up German vehicles south-east of Caen where there was heavy fighting by British and Canadian troops. The next few weeks saw several sorties over the allied lines. These were mostly attack missions using rockets to shoot up German tanks, vehicles, and trains.

The photograph on the right shows a crew loading rockets onto a typhoon based just a few kilometers from the landing beaches in Normandy. You can see from the newspaper clipping in my father's log book that his squadron was especially interested in destroying German headquarter units and they almost got Rommel. It was another RAF squadron that wounded Rommel on July 17th.

The colorized photo on the left is my father in his Typhoon.

The log book entry (above) for June 10th says, "Wizard show. Recco area at 2000' south west of Caen F/S Moore and self destroyed 2 flak trucks, 2 arm'd trucks, and 1 arm'd command vehicle, Every vehicle left burning but one. Must have been a divisional headquarters? No casualties."

Here's another description of that rocket-firing typhoon raid [Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond].
Intelligence information from ULTRA set up a particularly effective air strike on June 10. German message traffic had given away the location of the headquarters of Panzergruppe West on June 9, and the next evening a mixed force of forty rocket-armed Typhoons and sixty-one Mitchells from 2 TAF struck at the headquarters, located in the Chateau of La Caine, killing the unit's chief of staff and many of its personnel and destroying fully 75 percent of its communications equipment as well as numerous vehicles. At a most critical point in the Normandy battle, then, the Panzer group, which served as a vital nexus between operating armored forces, was knocked out of the command, control, and communications loop; indeed, it had to return to Paris to be reconstituted before resuming its duties a month later.

My father was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his efforts during the war.

(A version of this article was first posted on June 6, 2014 and again on June 6, 2022.)

1. The British landed at Sword Beach and Gold Beach, the Canadians at Juno Beach, and American troops landed at Omaha and Utah Beaches.


Anonymous said...

So much sacrifice, and for what?

80 years later who is celebrating the anniversary? The official Nazis in Ukraine and the mostly-in-the-closet (but occasionally openly so, such as in the Canadian parliament) Nazis in Europe and North America.

Throws a rather different light on what actually happened back then, doesn't it?

For the record, the Russians have for a long time been seeing D-Day as a rescue operation of Nazi Germany, not as a real effort to help them finish the war. They had that secured at that point. For that is precisely what happened - it was only launched so late, despite Stalin begging for it for three years, in order to ensure maximum destruction of the USSR, and it was launched eventually in order to ensure the Soviets didn't get too far west. For which purpose deals were made with the Nazi already in late 1944. This is why Italy was surrendered so quickly, and what should have been a very hard obstacle - the Alps - was not much of one at all. The Germans had to send their remaining forces to stop the Soviets in Austria. In the end it worked. What did the US get? Western Europe, highly developed and industrialized and largely intact. What did the Soviets get? Total destruction of a third of their country, plus Eastern Europe, poor and undeveloped pre-War, largely destroyed by it, and all of that had to be rebuilt at enormous expense.

The Russians kept official appearances on these issues all this time in the interest of maintaining peace and good relationships, but there are no such constraints anymore.

John Harshman said...

Is this the current Russian propaganda line? Haven't encountered it before. Putin must be getting increasingly desperate.

Larry Moran said...

@Anonymous: I don't agree with everything you say but it's true that we often forget that Russia played an extremely important role in defeating Nazi Germany. I suspect that Germany would still have been defeated if D-Day had never happened.

I have to smile every time I hear Americans say that they were fighting for democracy in World War II. I don't think the Russians were fighting for democracy and I suspect that Britain's main goal was survival.

Anonymous said...

Britain was "fighting for survival" to the extent that it was trying to preserve the empire. On that task it failed.

But the other main goal was the defeat of the communists, and on that front they eventually succeeded, though with a few decades delay. The plan being to pit the Germans against the Soviets and have them destroy each other.

The ones truly fighting for survival were the Soviets. The British faced no such danger. If they did, we would have seen mass genocide against the French, Dutch, Danish, etc. people in Europe that the Germans conquered. But there was no such thing, instead the last people defending Berlin against the Soviets were French units. Because the Germans saw other Western Europeans as their own. Meanwhile it was a war of extermination against the Slavic people on the Eastern Front, and to some extent in Yugoslavia too. Because those were seen as subhumans. The British were in the "our own" category, so they faced zero threat for their survival. Plus, again, they orchestrated the whole thing to begin with together with the US.

Few people in the West understand the scale of the devastation of the USSR caused by the war. Most of the old Russian Empire was very underdeveloped to begin with. Stalin did shock industrialization to prepare for the coming war, and still barely managed to survive. But at what cost? A whole generation wiped out and then a third of the country had to be rebuilt. A country that, again, was still very poorly developed to begin with. And people claimed communism didn't work because the USSR was worse off than the West during the Cold War in terms of material conditions. Well, yeah, let's do the same to the West and see how well it will be shortly after. The USSR never fully recovered and eventually fell apart.

In that sense the British and American plan for WWII worked out quite well in the end.

Remember that history has been rewritten by the victors and today we always talk about "appeasement" of Hitler in the lead up to the war. It was nothing of the sort, it was *instigation*. In Munich it was the Germans, British, French and Poles agreeing on partitioning Czechoslovakia, not some compromise.

The Soviet/communist soldiers fought for their survival and also for an idealistic vision of a better world in which all people had an equal opportunity in life. In the end they won a temporary pyrrhic victory, the results of which were to be wiped out 45 years later.

Your father thought he fought for freedom, but in reality the people pulling the strings had a very different agenda. And they eventually created the world we live in today, which may well cease to exist soon if the war goes nuclear as it looks set to eventually. So both his and the Soviet heroic efforts were for naught in the end...

Anonymous said...

@John Harshman

Nazism := "a supremacy movement along lines defined by immutable characteristics combined with an aggressively expansionist, often genocidal political agenda".

A few facts about Ukraine.

First, Bandera and Shukhevych are national heroes. Those are people who organized the mass murder of over a million Jews, Poles and Russians during the war, and did so precisely based on such an agenda. But they are national heroes today. There are statues of them, major streets are named after them, etc. etc. To the point that, famously, today right next to the Babyn Yar monument in Kiev, you have Stepan Bandera Avenue and Roman Shukhevych Avenue. Are they commemorating or celebrating what happened there given that fact?

Second, have you ever opened a Ukrainian history textbook? It is quite an illuminating experience. I suggest that you do it, and then recall the definition above.

Third, it is no wonder given that background that pretty much every time you see a dozen or so Ukrainian soldiers together there will be at least some Nazi symbols and various other paraphernalia on them or in the background. When you have units adopting the Dirlewanger Brigade insignia, you are not on the right side of history, plain and simple.

Those are objective facts.

It's also an objective fact that the Canadian parliament invited one of the last surviving Shukhevych men a few months ago to celebrate his "accomplishments", in full knowledge of who that person was and what those "accomplishments" are, despite the later pretense to the contrary, as is an objective fact that Canada is full of descendants of such people and they have had an outsized influence over internal and foreign policy.

Now, again, what did Larry's father heroically fight for 80 years ago...

Athel Cornish-Bowden said...

Considering that Canada made a far larger contribution to the Normandy landing per head of population than the USA, and larger than the UK, I find it depressing that Canada is almost forgotten in today's wall-to-wall coverage of the landings on French television. I only managed to see one Canadian flag (older flag, of course, not the current one) among the hundreds of American, British and French flags. Almost no mention of Canada or Juno Beach in the commentaries: I suspect that most modern French people are unaware of the Canadian contribution.

Anonymous said...

The Battle of Britain is just one of those objective facts you forgot

John Harshman said...

Britain's objective, at least initially, wasn't mere survival. It was resistance to aggression, specifically the invasion of Poland. (You remember that one, the 4th Partition between Germany and Russia, allied until June 1941.) Survival only became an issue after the fall of France.

Anonymous said...

>Britain's objective, at least initially, wasn't mere survival. It was resistance to aggression, specifically the invasion of Poland. (You remember that one, the 4th Partition between Germany and Russia, allied until June 1941.) Survival only became an issue after the fall of France.

This is absolutely ridiculous. What survival?

Was there a genocide against the French under German occupation? Were whole French villages rounded up in churches and barns and set on fire? No. But they were on the Eastern front. Many millions civilians died there, practically none in France.

Life in France went on just as before, with French industry working for the Germans, etc. And, famously, French units being the last to defend Berlin against the Soviets.

The mythical "Resistance" was tiny compared to what it was in Yugoslavia or on the territory of modern Belarus.

If the Germans had taken over Britain, the same would have happened -- they would have united to fight the communists.

The reason Britain fought the Germans is that it was an internal fight for control between capitalist imperial powers. Not a fight for freedom and human rights or anything of the sort.

Which would be silly to begin with. After all, where did the Nazis get their ideas from? From the British and the Americans.

Nobody has ever beaten the British at genocidal settler colonialism since the days of the Indo-European conquest of Europe, and German racial discrimination laws were based on and openly inspired by American 19th century slavery and post-slavery practices.

And the famous abuses of evolutionary theory of the first century after Darwin were primarily a British and American thing.

P.S. Poland has zero moral standing regarding the events of 1938-39 because at Munich it was the British, French, the Germans and the Poles who ganged up on Czechoslovakia. Stalin then asked the Poles to let him defend the Czech (at that time Poland bordered Romania and the USSR had not direct access to Czechoslovakia), the Poles refused. So the Soviets saw a pan-European alliance forming against them and did the deal with the Germans to buy time and move the border as far west as possible.

A very wise decision in retrospect. What happens if the events of June 22 1941 start not from Brest but from Minsk and with Poland on the side of the Germans too? Given that as it is Moscow was almost in artillery range for a brief moment, Leningrad lost half its population during the siege, and a pan-European army was barely stopped from crossing the Volga river?

John Harshman said...

Larry: Sorry to have desecrated your post by encouraging a Russian troll. I'll stop.

Anonymous said...

In the deranged modern Western mind, once again desperately looking for other people's land and resources to loot in order to avoid yet another bankruptcy, objective historical facts can only be "Russian trolling".

Just as it has always been.

Anonymous said...

I see things much as you do Larry, particularly regarding the first point. Although I would qualify the last statement and suggest using 'strategical' instead of ’survival reasons. Like it was the case for the IWW. Also, I don’t see the plot UK-DE described by my namesake as plausible.

Data makes for well-founded views. See which countries were impacted the most by looking at the 'deaths as %' column. (caveat: the data in the table is mostly reliable, but the NL percentage seems as if it was calculated not by a computer, but by a spaghetti-making machine).

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention, your tribute is appreciated. Those who fought and suffered Nazi aggression deserve acknowledgment and honour

Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen said...

"In the deranged modern Western mind, once again desperately looking for other people's land and resources to loot in order to avoid yet another bankruptcy, objective historical facts can only be "Russian trolling".

Yes yes of course. Next you'll tell us Stalin was a nice guy and Russian journalists and politicians such as Navalnyj are genetically predisposed to fall out of >3rd floor hotel/hospital/apartment windows.

And who among us can truly claim to not have suffered an occasional polonium-poisoning like Alexander Litvinenko anyway? Happens all the time...


Anonymous said...

>Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen said...

You know, when you see people who work in science being so brainwashed by political propaganda, you lose all hope for both science and the world outside of it.

It really reveals a lot.

For the record, Stalin wasn't a "nice guy", but he was one of the rare few statesmen who cared about their country and worked hard to develop it (and, in his case, literally save it from extinction), rather than catering to the interests of the elite.

Which is why you have been brainwashed to hate him - the elites were the ones who wrote the history. Both in Moscow and in the West. And they are still mortally afraid of him.

What most countries need today is a Stalin, and purges even more brutal and ruthless than what he did, otherwise humanity is doomed to extinction (ecologically in the long run, and by a WWIII in the short run). We need total physical extermination of both the full set of business elites and most of the intellectual and managerial class below them that provides ideological and political support for the current system. And we needed that years ago, it might be too late now. But such exceptional individuals are very rare and the critical mass of support by like minded individuals isn't there either (electronic as opposed to print mass media made sure about that).

John Harshman said...

I believe I mentioned this last time you posted. My father was part of 8th Air Force, 490th Bomb Group (H), a B-17 navigator, though he didn't arrive in theater until November. He flew his 25 missions over Germany. And while Russia faced a minimum of 60% of German ground forces, considerably more at some times, it was the Western Allies that defeated the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, and of course contributed great amounts of materiel to the Russian fight. Ought to count for something.

Joe Felsenstein said...

Yup, this guy is right-wing Russian nationalism at its finest, the dominant ideology there these days. (He may even think he is left-wing, but he's headed there as fast as he can go). Of course similar ideologies are gaining in almost all countries, and this is a great threat to humanity.

Anonymous said...

"What most countries need today is a Stalin, and purges even more brutal and ruthless than what he did"

How can you rightly denounce the deliberate mass extermination inflicted on the Soviet Union population (and Greece) and then follow with defending the need to carry out in the future more "brutal and ruthless" purges than those under Stalin for the good of the modern world?

Gosh, some human minds, how dreadful and scary

Robert Byers said...

Its right this person says anonymous .Its the most unintelligent historical review EVER. A waste of time to answer anything. I was always so proud canada got a beach along with the two big guys. our forces easily prevailed. later they had lots of trouble howevdr incountry. As a Christian one needs a good moral reason to gey killed or kill. i'm not persuaded cAnadians needed to join WWII.Why should we die?likewise i don't consent to my countrys giving money today to Ukraine to wage war. i say stop the war despite the evil side, Putin, getting its way. human life is the priority and not land. nothing has changed since those stupid war years back then. they still killing over the same land. Canada needs a no war party but has lots of problems anyways.

SPARC said...

Being German I am thankfull for the contributions and the sacrifice by the allied troups that enabled us to overcome Nazism.