Transcript for Episode 18s: D-Day History, Normandy Invasion Special

Table of Contents for this Episode

Category: French History

This is join us in France episode 18S in honor of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The 70th anniversary will be heavily celebrated all over France, all over England, and probably all over the United States as well. It will also be celebrated in other countries as well. So, what are we talking about when we’re talking about the day?

What Is D-Day?

D-Day is the day of the invasion of France by allied forces in an attempt to push back the Germans who were occupying most of Western Europe. D-Day stands for destination day, debarkment day.

Movies about D-Day

There are two wonderful movies about this day, one is the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan from 1998. And the other is a much older film from 1962, a film called The Longest Day. Both of those movies are about D-Day and the invasion of the beaches of Normandy. This year is the 70th anniversary of that event, it took place on June 6, 1944. There has been a very big celebrations starting with the 40th anniversary of this event. There were some before then but that’s the one that sticks in my mind for reasons that I will talk about later.

Anniversary Celebrations of D-Day

The 40th anniversary in the 50th were also very big. But this year because of political events and events having to do with the European Community and the idea of world cooperation, this year is being touted as a very important. It’s so important that Pres. Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel, and François Holande the president of France, and Vladimir Putin are all going to come together for the three days of celebration and they are going to be lunching together on June 6 in a Château in Normandy near where the troops landed. So it’s a big media event, it’s a big event in terms of history of Europe, and this is why we decided that it was very important to talk about it.

Touching Events and Celebrations of D-Day History

Yes, what brought my attention to the event, is something that touch me greatly, I read that there is an association of French people in New York who are going to be showering the statue of liberty with 1 million rose petals. And I thought that was a very touching event. The French army is sending helicopter to do the actual work. It’s important to mark the occasion because a lot of wonderful and also awful things happened on that day. For details go to The French Will Never Forget this is the one event that marked all the rest of the 20th century because if this has not happened, and if it had not been successful, who knows where we would be today?

stained-glass window that depicts a paratrooper on D-Day
Celebration of paratroopers at the Sainte-Mère-Église church, photo Annie Sargent

Setting the Stage for D-Day

So one way to talk about this without being too glum is to look at it as if it were a spy novel. Everybody knows that in World War II the Germans took over and occupied all of western France. And they also occupied most of Western Europe as far up as Norway. They had Holland, they had Belgium, they had most of what we would call today Western Europe, but not England. Yes, not England, and the allied forces were based in England. And when you look at a big map you realize that England isn’t all that they, that wonderful small island there across the channel.

The Leader of the French Resistance: Charles de Gaulle

You had the free French forces their head being Charles de Gaulle, who was a one or two star general, he had not been one of the most important generals when France capitulated to the Germans. But he was an incredible patriot, and he refused to give in to the Germans, and he took his forces and his officers, and was welcomed by Churchill in London, and sets up the base for what became the free French forces, and with Churchill, and with eventually the Americans and the Canadians they used England as the base to prepare for the invasion of France. In World War II there had already been fighting of the allies in north Africa and it had been tough going.

German Leadersip: Erwin Rommel

Erwin Rommel was the field marshal, who was apparently a very brilliant soldier, he had been in charge of all the troops in north Africa, and he had pushed the allies quite a ways back. He was German. He was the field marshal which is the title of the German Chief of Staff basically. He was in charge of all the operations for north Africa. The Germans had originally concentrated on that, thinking that the French and the Americans and British would try to come through that way.

Knowing that if they were going to invade, it would take a lot of preparations. They waited knowing that if this was going to happen it would have to happen a lot later, which is what actually happened. And the reason why Rommel invaded North Africa is because of the time a lot of North Africa was in French hands. Yes, it’s also where the Americans went first. Americans landed en masse in North Africa and it became clear that was going to happen is they were going to push up through North Africa to to Morocco then to Italy. And this is what the original plan was, and Rommel did a very good job pushing them back. Eventually, he did lose the fighting in North Africa, and he was pulled back to Europe, and he was given the command of the entire Atlantic coast. This is important because of what happens afterwards.

The Allies Unite Against Germany

What’s really fascinating to know, is where you have Americans, the British, and the Canadians who each have a very Chief of Staff and their generals and they’re all working together as a joint effort, in the German forces everybody had to listen to Hitler. Nobody could take initiative if Hitler didn’t approve of it. And that’s one of the reasons why the allied won in the end, was not the only reason, but it was one of the reasons. The power structure was too centralized, and it was not very realistic because Hitler was a raving maniac anyway, but he was also somebody who refuse to listen to his top generals, he was a dictator. His generals were saying look, this is the situation, but he didn’t listen.

The Requirements of the Invasion

So, what we have, is a plan that was called imagined by the British. And they said, we have to figure out a plan to go across the English Channel and invading France. The reason why it had to be France is that this is where the masses of the troops were. Going into Holland would have done them no good because the land is too swampy. They needed a place where they could invade where they had huge stretches of beach and solid land that was not cliffs, as it is in the northern part of France.

It couldn’t have been too wet, which would have been Holland, and it could not be too far north which would have been Norway. So they knew it had to be France, and they didn’t want it to be too far south because the optic was to get to Paris. And make sure that the Germans would have to retreat. Paris would have been a major loss, because Paris was the headquarters of the occupying forces of the Germans.

The Germans Knew Something Was Up, but Had Too Much to Protect

And the Germans knew this, the Germans knew that there was a plan in the making for an invasion of France. They did not know when and they did not know where. And so, the British who had incredible systems of spying and decoding, it was much better than what the Americans had. The Americans had the air-power, the forces to bring over, but it was the British that were in charge of this part of the operation.

Decoy Operations that Confused the Germans

All the parties involved decided to create a false invasion operation and they named it Operation Fortitude. And the reason they did this is because they had fabulous people were working as double agents. And they had spies were able to decode what the Germans were doing, because the Germans had created an enigma machine which sounds like some sort of fantasy, but it’s really what happened. And so they said if the Germans are listening to everything we do and everything we say by radio and they are breaking into our codes, let’s give them something that they think they’re going to decode and so they set up an entire false operation. A decoy.

And this went on starting with the beginning of 1943. And they let the Germans believed to things: number one, that the invasion would happen further up the coast, that it would happen around Calais, where the sea is narrowest between France and England, even though that’s where the cliffs are. And they let be known that there would be a second maneuver going into Norway. And they set up the meat trucks, dummy buildings, dummy people, it looks like a movie set, you could pick up the trucks in the tanks with one hand, it was all fake.

They set up a huge army base across from Calais and they knew that the Germans had reconnaissance flights over England, but because the British had good artillery, the Germans could not fly very low, because they would get shut down. And they didn’t have satellite pictures as we do now. So at the height that they could fly it could tell that the stuff they were seeing was fake.

So when they flew over and reported back with the photographs and information they they convinced everyone in the German high command, except for few people, that the invasion would happen in Calais. One of the few people who did not believe it was Rommel.Rommel was a brilliant military man, I’m not trying to defend him but he was not the convinced Nazi, he was a man who was a brilliant strategist and his job was to run the Army. Rommel did not know that it was fake, but he told them that there may be a small attempt at invasion around Calais but that would not be most of it. He was right, but nobody believed them, and in particular Hitler did not believe him.

Preparations for D-Day

All through 1943, the allies prepared for this massive invasion further south where going across the channel is very treacherous, it’s a wider area of the English Channel, they knew that this was going to be a terribly difficult invasion. So, the operation it was a fake was called Operation Fortitude, the operation to invade continental Europe was called Operation Overlord, and the operation to invade the beaches on 5 June, it was supposed to be on 5 June, was called Operation Neptune. And it was set up to take place on 5 June 1944, it took over a year for them to prepare for this operation.

Weather and Astronomical Requirements for D-Day

To get as many boats and as many men prepared as possible, to create cover in the air with aerial artillery and fighting, and they also had a general who was in fact a meteorologist and who had studied the phases of the moon. They realized that in the English Channel there are two tides and the parents are very strong, the seas very rough. They knew they had to do this mission in good weather which meant the winter was out, they had to do it on a full moon, they had to do it when the tide was low but coming in because otherwise the tide would pull the men out because they knew they were have to jump out of boats into the water.

And they wanted low tides because the Germans had filled the Channel with mines, and so they wanted to be able to see where the mines were. They also had to have no clouds in the sky. Why? Because they had to make sure that the airplanes that were going to give these invading soldiers cover when coming off of these boats had to be able to see down below. And all of this had to be put together, it had to be pretty much the perfect day.

The Amazing Coordination Required for D-Day

There was a lot of coordination involved. It was so complicated! And we haven’t talked about the number of boats, the number of men, it was absolutely amazing. They rehearsed for months as much as they could without actually going out into the Channel, and the Germans were constantly flying back and forth across the channel, besides the fact that they were bombing London and bombing the coast of England to try and intimidate them as much as they could, but the Germans had never tried to invade England. England can be really proud of the fact that they have only been invaded once in the last 2000 years. But 5 June was decided upon.

Allied Leadership: Eisenhower and Montgomery

Eisenhower was in charge of the American troops, Montgomery was in charge of the English troops, there was a huge Canadian contingent, and there was a small contingent of Polish soldiers as well. Annie had not realized that there had been Polish soldiers until she visited and saw that they were raising the Polish flag as well as the others. They are about to land on this stretch that is 50 miles of beach that is Northern Normandy on the peninsula called the Cotentin peninsula.

What the Beaches Look Like

These beaches have dunes and bluffs but no severe cliffs like up around Calais. And this is the only place where they can have invading forces then move up towards the roads and the countryside and eventually work up there way to Paris. The Germans had set up bunkers all along the coastline, it’s called the Atlantic wall, and you can visit the bunkers. If you look at a map, the Atlantic wall goes from Spain all the way up France Belgium and Norway.

Annie: visiting the bunkers is actually fun for young children because they enjoy climbing around and through the tiny windows. And now when people go to the beach they use the bunkers for shade, it’s kind of weird. There are areas where they left the bomb holes intact. You can still see where the bombs fell and left enormous holes in the ground, so there’s areas where you can see it very well, but there’s others where it’s a beach, it’s used as a beach.

Pointe du Hoc with American flag in the foreground: D-Day History
Pointe du Hoc, photo Annie Sargent

The Invasion

For the purposes of the invasion, they divided into five sections. There were 39 divisions of soldiers and the division is anywhere between 10 and 30,000 men. There were 39 divisions that came in off the boats. This does not even include the aerial assistance. There were two beaches that were going to be invaded strictly by American forces, to that were going to be English, and one that was going to be Canadian and Polish. That’s the way they set it up.

So we have the five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword. To those are the five codenames for those beaches. By the time they get to May 1944, Rommel and a couple of the other heads of the German forces are sure that this invasion is imminent, they are losing the war on the Eastern front, because they’ve stretched out their troops too much, by Eastern front we mean Russia.

The Status of German Forces Before D-Day

The Germans are lacking in petroleum and they are starting to get short on materials, on trucks, tanks. This means that they are starting to be in a somewhat fragile position. And Rommel again contacts the headquarters and Hitler and tells them that they need more soldiers in Normandy because that’s where he felt it was going to happen, and Hitler refused. Hitler still believed that it was going to happen around Calais and further north, and he refuses to send the troops to Normandy.

Why D-Day Didn’t Happen on June 5th as Planned

On 5 June, which is the date supposed to happen, the weather report comes in a couple of days before that says that the weather conditions are not going to be good. Eisenhower confers with all the generals and they decide that if they don’t do it then it’s going to be several weeks more, and in those weeks the Germans might realize that operation fortitude is a decoy, and that they might put masses of German soldiers along the beaches, so they decide that no matter what they have to do it.

How June 6th Came to Be D-Day

And they give it one more day, and that is why instead of happening on 5 June it actually happens on 6 June. And on 6 June, despite of the fact that there is no clear sky, there are clouds everywhere, they cannot get coverage by the planes, and the fact that the winds make the water very choppy, they decide to go ahead with the invasion. It happens that Rommel has gone back to Berlin to celebrate his wife’s birthday, and all the high German officials are so sure that the weather is too bad that no invasion is going to happen of the fifth or sixth or seventh, that all of them take a few days off. There there is nobody in the high command that is around in Normandy on 6 June. That was lucky for us.

Gliders and Paratroopers

On the night of 5 June 24,000 men parachuted behind the lines, half of them are English, half of them are American, a lot of them wound up in the wrong place, a lot of them get pushed by the winds, a lot of them get killed. They used gliders to, they used all sorts of things, but the night before they use nothing but parachutes because they didn’t want anybody to be seen. The gliders coming with the actual invasion.

So, on the day of the invasion, on 6 June, they start at 6:30 in the morning, and they pull across the channel all of these boats, and altogether there were 5000 boats. How do they hide all these boats in England? We don’t know, but the must of been quite the undertaking. In the end the fact that it was cloudy and windy actually helped, these were flat bottomed boats. They had 289 escort battleships, they had 277 minesweepers. Were talking about 20 or 25 km, it’s not even that far, it’s just that they needed to get them all across before the Germans started to realize it was happening.

150,000 Troops in One Day

They say that on D-Day, there is no actual counts, but they say that from the morning until night, in that one day there were almost 150,000 troops that debarked on the beaches. Imagine what that is like! 150,000 troops in one day. By June 11 which is five days later, 326,000 men had come off the boats onto the beach. 54,000 vehicles, trucks, tanks, there were many waves, and lots of people died. There was inevitably going to be a lot of dying, there was far more than was expected because they chose to do it in inclement conditions because they didn’t have the aerial coverage that they had originally planned to have.

And so, a lot of the men, and you see this very clearly in the Steven Spielberg movie and it’s kind of rough, the water was way too choppy, the boats had to stop before they get to the beachhead in the sand, a lot of men never made it out of the water, they got picked off by German bullets just in the water, some got pulled underneath by the current because of all the equipment they had on their backs. The casualty list for day one isn’t as bad as you would imagine considering. There’s been a recent count and the counts now they say that on the first day there were 4414 men who died on the beaches and approximately 10,000 who were wounded.

The Nationalities of the Soldiers Involved

Among the people who invaded the breakdown by nationality is 57,500 Americans by sea, 72,200 Britts and Canadians, and 15,500 Americans by air, and 7900 British and Canadian by air. That was part of the invading force for day one.

Beaches and Bunkers

They did not do what they had expected which was to take the beaches. A lot of them had to hide and when you go you see that there are a lot of bluffs, and there’s a fair amount of beach before you get to the dunes and the vegetation, so they were really out there getting picked off a lot. Because the bunkers where the Germans could hide were strategically placed in the could you shoot them and bombed them from the bunkers.

And one of the tasks for the man led parachuted in and for the planes was to come up from behind and try and take the bunkers. But those bunkers are really heavy and not easy to take, the concrete is really thick and they had artillery guns that moved in all directions. And it is a fact that if the Germans had brought in these extra troops that Rommel wanted, then the invasion probably would’ve been a disaster.

As it was, instead of taking the beaches the first day, it took three days. So they have to go into hiding, and one of the beaches Utah Beach which is the furthest West was the one where they were able to do the most hiding and then move onto the roads which were in the back after you get to the dunes you have the vegetation and then the country roads.

German Retreat

By that point the Germans had started to retreat and they were hiding in the woods and that is how a lot of people ended up getting wounded and killed. Because once they got onto the roads they had to take the tanks and the trucks and they were going very slowly and the Germans were hiding in the woods and were ambushing them left and right. So it was really rough.

June 6 is now D-Day. It took them five days to set up a command in Caen. That is the city that was immediately taken by the Allied forces and became their headquarters and that is why the luncheon that it’s going to be held this year is going to be in the Château in the outskirts of Caen. And it is from there that the troops worked their way across Normandy and into Paris. They thought that it would take them a couple of weeks to go from the coast and the beaches to Paris, but it took them until 19 August. It took them 80 days. There was a huge amount of fighting. There was much more resistance from the Germans, because eventually they brought in more troops, as many as they could find. So it was a very difficult fighting.

The Battle of Normandy

the Battle of Normandy is not just D-Day, it is June 6 to 19 August when they crossed the Seine River and actually made their way into Paris. It was long, it was drawn out, it was bloody, but it’s really changed history! Now this is the numbers. Now it is 70 years later and France and Germany are part of the European Community, and students and young people today they are all friends and they go back and forth and luckily life goes on and we get past this.

Because the numbers are unbelievable, and we won’t even talk about what happened in the rest of Europe. The Battle of Normandy a loan was 425,000 dead or wounded, allies and German. Allies dead and wounded 209,000, 37,000 dead, 16,000 airmen shot down, we have a lot of people who just disappeared and we don’t even know how to identify them. The numbers are beyond a certain kind of comprehension, it’s so many it’s incredible.

The exterior of the Sainte-Mère-Église church
Sainte-Mère-Église church, photo Annie Sargent

Memorials in Normandy

In Normandy there are actually 27 war cemeteries from both sides, from the German side and from all the countries in the Allied side. There is one huge American Cemetery in that is the cemetery at Colleville sur Mer, and it is like all of these cemeteries property of the country of origins of the people buried there. The Americans take very very good care of the cemetery, it’s beautiful. It holds the remains of 9387 soldiers who are identified and 307 who were not identified. This is just the Americans.

There are cemeteries for the Germans, for the British, for the Canadians, and for the Poles as well. There were in the end far more casualties on the German side in the Battle of Normandy. There were more wounded on the Allied side. Were not sure why but that’s what the numbers show.

Normandy Is Now Peaceful and Bucolic

Normandy is a beautiful, green region of France. It has changed a lot since the terrible days of D-Day. There are lots of big fat cows that give us the butter in the camembert, and Calvados. It’s a gorgeous region. It’s a region that has kept the memory from all of this from 70 years ago. There are a series of memorials on the beaches, there are museums, there are the cemeteries, and it is a place that is visited by Americans in large numbers, and Canadians as well, and English people also. Now it’s the children and the grandchildren of these men who fought the battle of Normandy who come to visit and it is a very moving experience.

Daily Remembrance at Omaha Beach

Annie: We went to Omaha Beach and I didn’t realize until that day that every single day the mayor of that town, and I can’t remember the name of the town where Omaha Beach is, it’s not Bayeu, it’s a small little town (actually the is more than one: Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to the East and all the way to Vierville-sur-Mer), but every day the mayor of that town or representative of the mayor holds a ceremony on the beach.

Every day, every single day. Any given year, I think it’s at 11 AM, they hold a ceremony where they raise all the flags of the allied countries that participated in the invasion, they play the national anthems of these countries, they have a moment of silence, and I’m sure they do this on all the beaches, and it has been going on for decades. And it’s very touching. You get whole buses of people. The day we were there we saw buses of American students and Canadian students.

You Should Stop at German Cemeteries Too

The people go and they take a little bit of the sand back with them, and it’s very touching. And the other thing that touched me is that the lady we talked to who was from the tourist office told us that because we’re French-American family obviously we needed to go visit the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer, but also make a stop at one of the German cemeteries, and so this is what we did. And the German cemetery struck me of how sad it was this, because of the way they set up the mausoleum, but it struck me that most of these people if you work out the ages most of them were 18 or 19 or 20. Most of the dead were so young! It is just terrible, and it’s on both sides!

It’s Not About Winners and Losers Today

Today it’s not about winners and losers anymore, because I think if Hitler had gotten his way, Germans would have lost too. I mean, what kind of society was he going to set up? I don’t think there’s anybody in Germany today wishes that Hitler had won. They probably mourn their loss of course because they had lots and lots of losses, but it would have been a terrible world for everybody. So it’s really not about that anymore from this distance. Yes, it is from this distance, because at the time it was far more nationalistic.

The Omaha Beach Normandy American Cemetery

At the American cemetery, there is a monument called the Omaha Beach Memorial and it’s at the entrance and it’s like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, it’s a wall card with the names of over 1500 Americans who died to have never been found. You’re right, when you walk into the cemetery, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Allied one or the German one, when you see this endless sea of of grave markers, and you walk around and you see the ages of the soldiers, it is one of the saddest things you can possibly imagine.

Elyse’s Personal Story

Elyse: I’d like to mention to personal stories. One of my uncles was at Omaha Beach and he survived. I was going to say he lived to talk about it, but in reality he didn’t talk about it for 40 years. He was 20 years old when he landed on the beach, he was wounded on the second day. He landed on the beach and he made it up to the roads be on the beach, he was one of the few people to survive in his platoon, and on the second day he was shot in the leg actually and sent to the hospital in Saint-Lô is where the Americans had set up the hospital.

I believe he was wounded twice and then shipped back to the United States. And I said many years later being shot is in the leg is what saved them. However, he did not talk about it for 40 years, at all. He was my father’s brother and they were very proud of his service so we knew that he had served, they had both fought in World War II. But, my uncle would not talk about it.

And on the 40th anniversary, in 1984, he took his wife and children back to France for the first time. And when he came back, at the time I was still living in the States, we saw them and I asked him about it, and he said that it was the going back and the reception that they got, because 40 years later most of the people who had survived were still alive they were so young when they went. He said that for years not only was it painful from seeing all the battles and the dead and dying and war is horrible.

But he said it took a long time for a lot of people, including him, to understand just how much what they did was appreciated by the French. And he said that wherever they went, not only were they kissed and hugged, but nobody allowed them to pay for anything. They didn’t allow them to pay for the hotel, they didn’t allow them to pay for the food, and he said that it actually made him cry and that it made them capable of talking about it for the very first time.

Statues of soldiers coming out of a landing craft
The landing crafts, photo Annie Sargent

The People of Normandy Feel Indebted for D-Day

Annie: there is no doubt that the locals are really indebted. There are markers on some of the graves that indicates that this grave is maintained by a local group. For the ones who didn’t have family and they noticed that the great hasn’t been kept up, so there are associations of French people who go take care of graves that nobody else takes care of. French people are pretty calloused, and from the second world war I think, well let me put it this way.

France has always had a large Communist Party, there were some in my family who were very vocal about the fact that “don’t forget with the Russians did!” Which is true, we should not forget what the Russians did, if they had been in the Eastern front the Germans probably would not have lost. So the people in France kept harping on about “oh, the Americans, who cares?” For the most part this came out of a political affiliation they had with communism. I think they were wrong and all of that, but it’s not that they didn’t like Americans it’s more like that they wished the Russians had come out on top.

A Few Resent that Englishmen and Americans Came to Save the Day When They Couldn’t

Elise: but there is more to it I think, Annie, there are also a lot of French people especially those who later became connected with the free French forces in the resistance. I think there was a certain amount of resentment that was in a sense a little bit infantile, that it was in fact the British and the Americans who came in to save the day. Now with all the British and Americans who died that we mentioned there were also entire villages of French people who were killed. There were between 15,000 and 20,000 French people who were killed. It’s what is horribly called now collateral damage.

Casualties of D-Day

There are controversies about the way they bombed, the differences between how the Americans bombed in the British bombed, in the long run when you look at the numbers and you see that 400,000 people were either killed or wounded in the Battle of Normandy you can see that 20,000 French people wasn’t very much. But if you were one of the people in the villages in Normandy and getting saved by the Allies meant that you had people in your family killed obviously for people at that time it was very complicated.

It’s easy for us now after all these years, it’s pretty clear now, but it was difficult to take at the time. And were just really lucky that this is not our experience. We are lucky and happy that the Allies won, but also that we have never had to live through this horrendous event ourselves because it was for a half years of horror.

The Vast Majority of French People Love Americans

Annie: I think that overall the vast majority of French people are very grateful. And the vast majority of French people love Americans. My husband is constantly stunts the minute he mentions that his American, they just like him. They want to talk to him, they want to hang out with them, of course he is a very likable person, but the fact is American helps him. We’ve had lots of French people express gratitude for what the Americans have done in the second world war, and we should bring that out because sometimes in America there are people who say that French people are ungrateful or whatever, and that’s just not true. French people are very grateful.

Another Personal Story From Elyse

Elise: life and politics makes things very complicated too. And I like to share one more memory, I just remembered it last night and it kind of made me want to cry. In 1982 as I was finishing my studies I took my first independent trip to France. I traveled around and because I had heard that it was a very beautiful region I went to Brittany and state as a youth hostel. So I was at the tip of Brittany which is further west than Normandie but is contiguous with Normandy and there are lots of bunkers just like everywhere along the coast.

At this youth hostel where I was there was an older man and his name was Richard and he was German. At the time I was a lot younger and he seemed awfully old to me, use probably in his 60s. I don’t remember what his last name was but he was staying by himself at the youth hostel, obviously German but he spoke French, and I stayed there for about a week and to or three of us became friendly with him. At one point I asked him why he was there and he said that he had been stationed in that area during World War II as a German soldier.

He had been drafted in the German army, he was a member of the wehrmacht which is the footsoldier German army. And ever since the war had ended he could not get past feeling regret for what had happened and every single year went back to that region and go to the place where they were young people and talk to them about it. I’m going to cry so I’m good to stop talking. I actually have a photo of the two of us, he sent it to my mom, and I still have it at home, and I hadn’t thought of that in a long time. It’s hard to remember stuff like that because it’s so emotional.

Largest Landing Invasion in History

A statistic to get us back to something less personal. The sea invasion of Normandy is the largest city to land invasion ever in history anyplace in the world, and it’s only the second after William the Conqueror who went the other way. The Duke of Normandy, the bastard son of the real Duke of Normandy, descendant of the Vikings coming from Denmark who decided it was his birthright to control England. England at the time was about half of what is England today and who apparently had an armada of boats but going the other way from friends to England. And so goes the world! And that was in the year 1066.

The Lovely City of Bayeux

If you go to the town of Bayeux which is the first town that was freed by the Allies, it’s a beautiful little town it’s really lovely. It’s very famous because it has an incredible Museum of the Battle of Normandy and its famous for the Bayeux Tapestry. If you don’t know this the Bayeux Tapestry is a piece of embroidery that is 76 m long and tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, all hand embroidered. It’s well worth seeing it’s a little bit more lighthearted.

If you go visit all these memorial sites it’s a little bit heavy and the Bayeux Tapestry is a nice diversion from all of that. It’s a beautiful depiction at a time when there was no other way of visually recording anything. It is remarkable that was spread and needle they were able to show what the armor was like, with the boats were like, it depicts all the significant participants.

Some of the Main Sites of D-Day

Normandy is filled with history, you have the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, you have a place called Arromanches where the portable harbor still stands, it’s called the Mulberry Harbor, it was set up piece by piece as a prefabricated harbor where big boats could come and unload supplies. You have the memorial in Caen, you have the Museum in Bayeux, and you have only two villages. And this year they’re having celebrations absolutely everywhere. They expect about 350,000 people to show up when they have all the heads of state. It’s going to be a big celebration this year, and it’s needed. We cannot forget what these people did, and the sacrifices that they made, because we hope it never happens again.

We Hope Nothing Like This Ever Happens Again

Yes we hope it never happens again. And the idea of the European Community came out of the talks that took place after the end of World War II. It was done for two reasons, to create a very large economic block. And it was done so that the countries would not fight with each other again. Ending war was a huge motivator for the European Union. I’m sure we have failed to mention many of the things but we have been talking for about an hour, we thought this would be a short special. We are grateful for all those who fought and I hope that it never happens again. And if you have a chance to visit it’s a really moving thing to do. Elyse dedicates this episode to her uncle and to this man Richard whose last mention of a new.

Upcoming Episodes

If you want to find a show notes for this episode we’re calling it episode 18S because it’s a special and because we are releasing another episode in a couple of days, about a much lighter subject. Although I’m not sure to be lighter because it’s cheese! But the mood will be lighter anyway.

Thank you very much I have learned a lot, and I think if people listen to this episode and go visit they will get a lot more out of their visit than if they just look at a bunch of bunkers. And it is also a very beautiful part of France, it is just lovely, and it is really a place that will fill you up. We highly recommend that you do visit at some point. Au revoir, and we will talk to you in a couple of days!

A German fortification bunker at Pointe-du-Hoc
A bunker at Pointe-du-Hoc, photo Annie Sargent
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Category: French History