On June 6, 1944, an armada of 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on five beaches in Normandy, France. Their mission: to free Europe from the tyranny of Nazi domination. This event was the largest seaborne invasion in history, and included a collection of American, British, Canadian and Australian troops, with soldiers coming from a total of 12 countries.
Launched as the “Operation Overlord” campaign, the battle that initiated the invasion of Normandy is forever etched in history by one word: D-Day. It would be the day on which the rest of World War II turned.
Some historians consider it the single most important day in the 20th century.
The attack had been planned for more than a year. The amphibious landings were supported by an airborne drop of 13,000 men later that night. More than 11,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships landed across the five Normandy beachheads, code-named Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword, and Omaha. The day was plagued by bad weather. Through it all, the attack remained a secret, one that surprised the Germans.
Upon landing, Allied soldiers encountered thousands of German soldiers dug into high-ground barracks with powerful 150 mm machine guns ready to clip them as they emerged off metal landing crafts. Hundreds of men died instantly; some drowned from the weight of their supply packs. Even if they survived Nazi gunfire, Allied troops encountered heavily fortified obstacles like wooden stakes, barbed wire and metal tripods.
The Allies would not be deterred. Between 4,000 and 9,000 Nazi troops were killed. By the end of the evening, the Germans were in retreat and the Allies had established control of the area.
The cost of victory was tremendous. There were an estimated 10,000 Allied casualties, with 4,414 confirmed dead. But out of this carnage emerged a new way forward, as the western front was finally opened against Hitler, marking the beginning of his downfall.
This invasion of Normandy resulted in a decisive Allied victory over Axis powers in France, and set the stage for an Allied victory over all of Europe one year later.
Miss Montana in midst of D-Day 75th anniversary commemoration
MISSOULA – The planes and the paratroopers are older, but when the skies over the French coastal plane filled with the sounds and sights of parachutes falling through the cloudy skies, thousands cheered.
Right in the middle of the commemoration of the epic D-Day invasion is Miss Montana after more than a year of hard work and dreams — and that’s exactly when the volunteer crew was hoping for.
“And we started early, about 6 o’clock in the seats ready to go. We flew across the Channel with four other ships and joined up with a sixth at Cherbourg and picked up some jumpers,” Miss Montana to Normandy Project co-leader Bryan Douglass said on Wednesday.
“And then an early morning drop over Carentan, which was one of the US drop zones. And then we recovered back to Duxford and picked up our jumpers and made our way across the Channel again. So for the third time,” he added.
That last trip was truly an amazing site as Miss Montana and the other C-47s and DC-3s filled the darkening skies over the French coastline, where thousands gathered to watch the spectacle and imagine — just for a while — what June 6 means to the freedom of the Western World.
While the D-Day paratroopers used stealth and darkness, these “liberators” were greeted by children.
“We had our Montana jumpers on board and it was just so fun to see them because they’ve worked for this too, and prepared for it and spent time and money to get ready and helped us with the airplane,” Douglass said.
“And they’ve been part of this team from the beginning. And it was just great to see them. They were so excited. That excitement was contagious. We just couldn’t be happier to have completed this part of the mission,” he continued. “And now we get to do something else.”
At least one of the jumpers on Wednesday was a D-Day veteran, while others took places of honor in the cockpits of the old warbirds — vanishing reminders of the day when youthful pursuits took a backseat to valor.
“Well, you couldn’t help but think about the boys that were doing it 75-years ago. And we have GPS and iPhones on board, pretty darn good weather,” Douglass told MTN News. “And those guys were doing it at night, crude navigation instruments and getting shot at. So it was a reenactment but certainly not a reproduction.”
The first order of business is for Miss Montana on Thursday was to fuel up before security began shutting down the region for the formal D-Day ceremonies for Allied Leaders.
Douglass says Miss Montana was still scheduled to be among the dozen or so planes that will do the Presidential Flyover above Omaha Beach and the coastline where thousands of lives were lost.
By Dennis Bragg – MTN News