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D-Day. Why it Matters Today

Why was the Normandy invasion such a big deal? Just ask Hitler. In November of 1943 he issued Directive No. 51, stating, “For the last two and one-half years the bitter and costly struggle against Bolshevism has made the utmost demands upon the bulk of our military resources and energies.” “The situation has since changed. The threat from the east remains, but an even greater danger looms in the West: the Anglo-American landing! In the east the vastness of space will, as a last resort, permit a loss of territory even on a major scale, without suffering a mortal blow to Germany’s chance at survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds in penetrating our defenses on a wide front, consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.”
On the 6th of June 1944, the allies landed in Normandy France. Nearly 175,000 men poured out of landing craft, landed in gliders, and dropped from the skies to establish a beachhead. In the following months the Germans suffered “consequences of staggering proportions.” The war in Europe was over in less than a year.
The public owes most of its understanding of D-Day to Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Longest Day. These films gave the audience an exceptional depiction of the men and material that secured victory in Normandy. But why does D-Day get such recognition? Why is it referred to as the “Longest Day” or the “Day of Days.” Simply, why does it matter?
To understand its significance one has to examine the counter factual outcomes – What if D-day had failed? Historians can only speculate.
During the Teheran Conference in Iran in late 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin agreed to persue a cross channel attack on German occupied France. Stalin had lobbied for such an attack for some time in order to open a second front against the Germans. He was counting on his western allies to relieve the growing pressure on the eastern front.
Had D-Day failed, it would have taken years for the allies to mount another offensive. Maybe they would have poured their resources into the drive coming up through Italy. Maybe the “Germany First” policy would have changed to the “Let’s try Japan” policy. Regardless if the western allies failed to open the second front, it would have drastically effected the Big Three alliance. It is likely that Roosevelt would not have been reelected and possible that Churchill too would be replaced.
One thing is certain, with such a cataclysmic failure on the shores of France, Hitler would no longer be concerned with a threat in the West. The U.S. would have been scratching their heads while England may have thrown in the towel after so many years of war draining their resources. Hitler would have been free to move a large portion of his units from France to the Eastern Front. German troops would have been in Moscow in no time.
The counter argument here is what if Hitler refused to remove any troops from France, (since he actually thought the Normandy invasion was a decoy in the first place) and left them to defend against the “real” invasion? In this case the Russians may have managed to take Germany by themselves. And if they were to take Germany, what would have stopped them from moving into France? Under this speculation lies a blueprint for communist control of Western Europe. If this was the case, we are compelled to ask, would the United States have dropped the A-bomb on the Russians?
Regardless of the theories and hypothetical situations that play out like war games in the minds of historians, Europe would have been devastated by the continuance of bombing campaigns. It is more than likely atomic detonations would have erupted over European cities.
Regardless of hypothetical outcomes, let us be sure that the stakes have never been higher than they were on June 6th 1944. 

Comments

  • brenda 4 years ago

    Really enjoyed the article. I plan to use it in my American History class this year. Hope you can work out a day or so that you can come and speak to my sophomore classes again. Last year was awesome when you were able to give us 3 weeks, but we'll take whatever time you can give.
    br

  • Hart 4 years ago

    It is interesting to read Directive 51 when most everything Hitler said or wrote publicly that I've come across was propoganda based in rhetoric and not realism.

    Nice piece West.

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