6th June 1944: American assault troops land at Omaha Beach in Normandy supported by Naval gunfire. (Photo by Wall/MPI/Getty Images)



And, ever so shamefully, we see it here in America, under the obnoxious guise of Making America Great Again, setting out to systematically destroy all those qualities that ever made her great in the first place: A self-governing constitutional republic of checks and balances cemented in the rule of law and the rights and liberty of the people — by the people, for the people.

by David DeWitt

Eighty years ago today, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the largest invasion fleet in human history crossed the English Channel and launched an unprecedented, world-turning assault on Nazi-occupied France. Remembering the enormity of that moment is as critical for America now as it has ever been.

The history

The armada included 1,200 warships and 4,000 landing craft, with 12,000 aircraft providing support. Nearly 160,000 troops loaded in, including the Ohio National Guard’s 112th Combat Engineer Battalion.

German Gen. Erwin Rommell inspects his “Atlantic Wall” beach obstacle fortifications. (Creative Commons).

The Ohio combat engineers were assigned to Omaha Beach to clear mine-laden log posts and ramps, seven-foot steel frames known as Belgian gates, five-foot tall, triple crossbeam steel hedgehogs, and large coils of concertina razor wire that can cut so deep into the flesh it can make you bleed out.

This was 500 yards of absolute hell on Earth, under heavy bombardment from 85 German machine gun sites, 45 rocket launchers, 35 blockhouse pillboxes, 18 anti-tank guns, eight artillery bunkers and four open artillery pieces raining down shells of death and destruction.

Two years after the failed Dieppe raid to test the German “Atlantic Wall” defenses, which ended in disaster, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reluctant at first to agree to American and Russian calls to open up the new front in the war: The Russians to take pressure off them in the east, the Americans to confront the Germans head-on instead of continuing to spin wheels in Africa and Italy. And to foreclose the possibility of Stalin’s Russia from taking Germany alone and having such an upper hand in deciding the post-war fate of the world.

With the Italian front at stalemate in 1943, Churchill acceded and Operation Overlord was born. U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was made Supreme Allied Commander over the operation, overseeing all Allied army, naval and air forces.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, “Full victory–nothing else” to paratroopers somewhere in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. (Photo from the U.S. Library of Congress.)

As Hitler faced heavy losses to the Russians on the Eastern Front, he began to suspect a pending invasion in France and reassigned his top general Erwin Rommel to the defense of the Nazis’ Atlantic Wall. It was Rommel who ordered all of the mines and land obstacles along the Atlantic Wall that the Ohio combat engineers would soon be clearing for Allied troops and tanks to get a foothold.

The engineering feats to make the Allied invasion a success astonish. A secret oil pipeline was laid beneath the English Channel to fuel and refuel Allied invasion vehicles. Tanks were built with flailing chains in front to detonate mines. Other tanks were built to crash into the sea wall and act as ramps for yet other tanks to get hold on the beach. Gigantic floating ports were hauled across the channel to offload supplies once the beaches were taken.

On the intelligence side, the Allies played a masterful game. All of the German spies in Britain had been turned into double agents. Everybody knew the French tides would be at their lowest on June 5, so the location of the invasion, not the timing, was key. The natural location for such a large-scale attack would be Pas-de-Calais, France, across the straits of Dover from Southeast England — the shortest distance between Great Britain and France.

A dummy, inflatable Sherman tank, used to deceive German intelligence during World War 2. (Public domain photo.)


Knowing the Germans were eyeing an invasion in Calais from Dover, fake, blow-up, dummy tanks, aircraft, jeeps, and even barracks were amassed in Dover, England as a deception for German reconnaissance. Propaganda was put out that the much-feared American Gen. George Patton was amassing forces there.

The Luftwaffe were kept clear by the then-dominant Royal Air Force from the actual amassing of troops further west on the southern coast of England, across from Normandy. The Allies also transmitted fake radio calls duping the Germans into believing the attack would indeed come at Calais. Even the Allied troops thought they were going to Calais, until they didn’t.

Meanwhile, Allied bombers attacked German radar stations along the coast, and supply railways, routes, bridges, canals, and oil storage inland. It was Eisenhower who insisted on bombing transportation infrastructure, to stop Germans from shoring up defenses to the actual location of attack, despite the heavy civilian casualties.

Delayed by bad weather on June 5, the Allied invasion of Normandy was postponed one day, to June 6, and almost immediately everything went wrong. The bad weather continued. An air force raid of 13,000 bombs on German beach defenses almost all missed their targets, landing behind the German lines. Paratroopers dropped behind the German defense lines missed designated landing sites due to heavy cloud cover and were bogged down by flooded fields. Gliders bringing artillery to support the paratroopers suffered 33% casualties, but still managed to capture key bridges to stymie German reinforcements.

American soldiers landing in Normandy, France, on the morning of June 6, 1944, the beginning of the long-awaited invasion to liberate continental Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany. (Photo from the Library of Congress.)

Another fortune for the Allies was that Hitler stayed up late the night of June 5, and slept in on June 6. Rommel was back in Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday. This critically delayed German decision-making as the invasion took place.

At dawn on June 6, the weather opened up, giving the Allies the opportunity to strike around 6:30 a.m.

American forces were assigned to take Utah and Omaha beaches to secure the critical port of Cherbourg on the western side of Normandy. At Utah beach, the sea was calm and German defenses thinner, but 1,000 German soldiers awaited the Americans at Omaha. Many tanks at Omaha were launched too early and sank into the sea. Thousands of American soldiers became trapped on the beaches under German machine gun and artillery fire. America suffered 3,000 casualties on Omaha Beach alone that first day.

It wasn’t until after 9 a.m. that Hitler woke up for the day and took stock of the news, but another British deception snagged him: After the Royal Air Force dropped tin foil over the English Channel between Dover and Calais, German radar intelligence was deceived into thinking it was a fleet moving on Calais, and that Normandy was just an elaborate deception.

Eventually the sheer scale and weight of the Allied invasion of Normandy overwhelmed German defenses on the beaches and, after 10,000 casualties, a beachhead was established. The Allied troops then began to move toward their targets inland.

By the afternoon, Hitler realized how thoroughly he’d been deceived and he finally released his Hitler Youth-run Panzer tank divisions to intercept British forces taking the city of Caen. The German 88mm was able to destroy Allied tanks before they got into firing distance. The battle for Caen was supposed to last one day. It took seven weeks for Allied forces to prevail, often in house-to-house fighting through the city.

Meanwhile the other Allied troops swept their way over Normandy that summer, eventually surrounding German forces in an envelope called the Falaise pocket — the decisive final engagement in the Battle for Normandy, cinching Operation Overlord’s ultimate success. It was only days later that, on Aug. 25, Paris was liberated by the Allies after four years of Nazi occupation.

Allied forces suffered 226,386 casualties in total during the Battle of Normandy that summer. America suffered 124,394 casualties with 20,668 killed. An estimated 25,000 to 39,000 civilians were killed.

The significance

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment places flags at the headstones of U.S. military personnel buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (Getty Images.)

D-Day stands as one of the greatest turning points for humankind in world history. It wrote the note of doom for the fascists who had overrun Europe in the second quarter of the 20th Century, abusing the law and using goon squads to seize power, manifesting fear and terror to maintain it, and visiting the most horrifying atrocities on all “others” they deemed sub-human.

The autocrats of the mid-20th Century, whether the fascists in Germany, Spain, and Italy, or the imperialists in Japan, or the Stalinists in Russia, or the Maoists in China, all in their own ways sought to fasten the planet to the same kind of strong-arm authoritarianism that has defined most of known human civilization, through empires, feudalist oligarchies, monarchies, theocracies and dictatorships.

Standing against the forces of fascism at D-Day were the forces of the Enlightenment, and Western Civilization, and Representative Democracy, embodied in the bold heroism of the Allied troops, and the decisive planting of America’s stake as a leader on the world stage.

Today across the world we see strong-arm authoritarianism emboldened again, in Russia and North Korea, in the theocracies in the Middle East, in the autocratic rule of communist China and the corrupt, petty dictatorships strewn about Asia and Africa, and in extremist right-wing reactionary political movements in South America and in Hungary and throughout Europe.

And, ever so shamefully, we see it here in America, under the obnoxious guise of Making America Great Again, setting out to systematically destroy all those qualities that ever made her great in the first place: A self-governing constitutional republic of checks and balances cemented in the rule of law and the rights and liberty of the people — by the people, for the people.

These forces would wish all humanity return to the nationalistic isolationism of the past, to undo the post-World War II alignment of Western Civilization, to allow strong-arm authoritarians to seize power and dismantle institutions so that they no longer serve the people and the rule of law, but serve one man and one political party.

Their aims would roll back global cooperation and commitments, to instead perpetuate a crude dog-eat-dog world of autocrats jockeying for land and resources and using civilian lives as chattel and cannon fodder.

They’re playing a high stakes game of raw power that can be found throughout all of history. But what makes their movement here so un-American — this attempt to place one man above the rule of law, above the constitution, above the people, and above any and all obligations beyond himself — is that they are attempting to regress America to a mean that our foundation, history, and national identity has been one long existential exercise in defying.

In 2024, we face another historic inflection point. The eyes of the world are again upon us.

Those American soldiers who stormed the shores of Utah and Omaha beaches in the prime of their youth, they faced absolute terror; a violent, explosive maelstrom of brutal chaos, bloodshed and destruction that would traumatize any one of us for life, were we lucky enough to survive. Many did not.

Many sacrificed their lives that summer in service to an ideal — the ideal of American representative democracy forever as a bulwark against the forces of tyranny and totalitarianism.

We must always treasure their sacrifice, and never insult it by abandoning that ideal, for which they gave everything, for which those young men laid down their lives and gave their very existence.

David DeWitt

Ohio Capital Journal Editor-in-Chief and Opinion Columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics, and policy in Ohio since 2007, including education, health care, crime and the courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, the environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, and The Athens NEWS. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on X @DC_DeWitt

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.


Your comments can change our community

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.