The storms that had rocked the boats so badly, and had filled their holds with the sickness and misery of wretched troopers and sailors, had finally abated. The weather had cleared at least enough to permit the operation to proceed. And so, the great invasion fleet made its way across the English Channel to mount the greatest beach invasion in history.
Over a million men marched off the landing craft that day. Tens, then hundreds, and then thousands, died in the surf and sand, choking on seawater and gunned down by German infantry positions on the cliffs above, torn apart by artillery shells. The waters ran red with their blood and their mangled bodies lay where they fell, for there was no way to retrieve them yet or dig graves for the dead.
And still, they marched.
Off the boats, they marched.
Through the waves, they marched.
Into the very teeth of Hell, they marched.
They were the Greatest Generation. And every year, fewer and fewer of them are left to remind us what true sacrifice, heroism, and fidelity really mean.
Now, my Russian readers are probably either amused or annoyed (or both) by my annual tradition of honouring those who died on June 6th, 1944. (And yes, I do in fact have one or two readers from Russia – or so my site stats tell me.) As they will (correctly) tell you, WWII was not a European or American victory. It was a Russian one. They paid such a high price that their Rodina STILL has not recovered, more than 75 years after the end of the war.
It is no dishonour to the Russians to honour those who landed at Normandy. Nor is it any dishonour to point out that WWII was, in many ways, both an inevitable and an unnecessary war. And it is assuredly no insult to say that the evidence increasingly points to the reality that Hitler’s invasion of the Eastern Front happened prematurely and was precipitated by the massive buildup of Soviet infantry and tanks.
There are a few facts about WWII that nobody wants to acknowledge, but which we must recognise if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous generations.
The first of these is that if the British and the French had taken action in 1935 to post so much as a MARCHING BAND on the bridges leading into the Saarland, the German army would have turned around and gone straight back to Berlin, and Hitler would have been deposed in a coup by his own generals. That is not hyperbole. It is absolutely true. And it was the Allied failure to act that emboldened Hitler and strengthened his position.
The second is that Hitler never actually wanted war with Britain. He considered the British to be kindred spirits and admired their culture and imperial strength, and had absolutely no interest in tangling with the Royal Navy or Air Force. It was Churchill who provoked him into war against Britain after he became Prime Minister. And it was Churchill who was responsible for the bombing campaigns which flattened residential areas of several German cities, with minimal impact upon actual war production, and enraged the Germans to the point where they had no choice but to launch an all-out aerial attack on England.
The third is that Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe would have happened eventually, but Stalin forced his hand. Saying this in Russia is a great way to piss off the Russians – which I don’t recommend doing, by the way. I love Russians, but I’ve seen them at both their best and their worst, and their worst is truly appalling. The Russian belief that Operation Barbarossa was an unprovoked and entirely unwarranted invasion of Russia, and an outright betrayal by the Nazis, is a foundational aspect of their national self-image. But it is almost surely not true. The latest data on the subject prove this beyond any reasonable doubt.
The fourth is that Stalin himself was directly responsible for destroying the Red Army’s ability to fight off the invasion. He was both arrogant AND stupid. Stalin wanted it both ways. He wanted to threaten Germany with the overwhelming military power of the Red Army, while also purging it of what he thought were “disloyal elements”. The result was the mass purging (and killing) of tens of thousands of the best and most experienced parts of the USSR’s officer corps. And, unlike in Western armies, they didn’t have a solid NCO corps to bolster the ranks. So Stalin, very stupidly, took the very sword that he wanted to use to decapitate Germany, and smashed it into uselessness against the pavement.
(Most Russians that I know agree with that part, at least. Stalin’s memory is very much a mixed one in Russia. The government under Putin has been busy rehabilitating his image of late, but both the government and the people no longer try to downplay the horrors of the great purges and the Gulag Archipelago under the mass-murdering dictator.)
None of these facts change the reality of what the Greatest Generation did on that day, and throughout the war. They did their duty. They fought the good fight. And they showed the rest of us that evil must be confronted and destroyed immediately – the price of leaving evil alone to fester is too great. Tens of thousands of white crosses lie on Normany Beach, and hundreds of thousands more across the battlefields of Europe, bear mute and terrible testimony to this most basic of truths.
The Greatest Generation taught the rest of us what it means to stand firm in the face of evil. And for that, we owe them a great debt that we can never repay.
HAIL the victorious dead!