Friday, June 06, 2008

The Longest Day

64 years ago today, Allied forces invaded the coast of France and began the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. D-Day exemplified two kinds of courage. One is the kind of courage portrayed in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. The other is the type of courage General Dwight D. Eisenhower displayed when he drafted this memorandum prior to the invasion:
Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

It was Ike's intention that if the worst happened and Operation Overlord became the greatest military disaster in human history, he would shoulder the responsibility and America and the British Commonwealth could still rally behind Roosevelt and Churchill.

Today's troops have lived up to the extraordinary example their World War II predecessors set.

Lamentably, we can't say the same about today's generals and political leaders.


  1. Montag5:38 PM

    Did you hear what's come out about the Dieppe Raid in 1942 that was such a disaster? It turns out that there was a reason--it wasn't supposed to have been conducted! There was a raid planned, but it was called off to everyone's relief because of the weather. Lord Mountbatten simply rescheduled it without telling anyone. He had to work in secret so the intelligence and a lot of other things were sub-par. The first thing his superiors knew of it was when it was actually taking place. To call it a fiasco would be a compliment. But Mountbatten got away with murdering hundreds of men for a glory stunt. He was actually promoted by sending him to command in Burma. It was all public relations to him.

    In 1979 the IRA blew up his boat, killing him and his Grandson. One has to admit that sometimes terrorists do cut the Gordian Knot while others politely pick at it. It was the only justice Mountbatten was likely to ever get.

  2. Great anecdote; I had not heard it.


  3. Thanks Jeff for that reminder. Not many more months, eh.

    I had never heard of the above Mountbatten anecdote either, but the rout in Burma was impressive though, possibly even more so than the one the Japanese administered to the British in Singapore (The Japanese supply lines totally overextended, failed completely I guess).

    This story does remind me of another IRA attempt to assassinate a British officer which failed, so they had to wait for the workings of poetic justice. There is a small housing estate in Bandon, Cork in the south of Ireland called Singapore named in honour of Arthur Ernest Percival who surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, but was also an enthusiast for brutal counter-insurgency in the Irish war of independence while stationed in Bandon (do they ever learn). From the Wikipedia page on Bandon it becomes clear why the Bandonians were delighted that Percival should end up taking responsibility for the greatest humiliation in British military history, and named the housing estate accordingly.

  4. Another excellent story. Thanks, Chris.


  5. Russ Wellen9:18 PM

    I'm no military historian, but I would venture a guess that in those days, for every Mountbatten of Burma or glory hound like MacArthur, there was an Eisenhower. Today, for every General Petraeus or Jeffrey Miller (of Gitmo and Ghraib fame), there's a, a. . . help me out here somebody.

  6. I'm thinking, Russ, I'm thinking...

  7. Well, while we're talking about the big flag officers of WWII, I've always been a big fan of the two main theater commanders, Ike and Nimitz.

    My sense is that Nimitz had a lot less "help" than Ike did, though he had to put up with Mac A.

    Fortunately, putting Big Mac in his own theater kept him out of Nimitz's hair for old Chester and his boys to get a lot of good work done.

  8. Commander,
    Thank you.

  9. Here's another one for the Iran panic attack file. The guy's a jerk, and probably doesn't really know anything the rest of us don't, but still. It's exactly the sort of thing my cynical despair leads my to expect from our Preznit.

    Here's hoping we won't be making any *new* military history anytime soon.

  10. While not wishing to denigrate American, British, Canadian, Polish and Free French efforts in Normandy, the Red Army (part of the Allied forces!!!!) had been grinding down the best of the Wehrmacht for almost two years. Eighty percent of German military casualties were on the Eastern Front.

    The Battle of Stalingrad had started almost two years previously, the Battle of Kursk had taken place almost a year earlier and a few weeks later, the Red Army launched Operation Bagration which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Army Group Centre and three of its component armies: Fourth Army, Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army.

  11. There are other opinions in the literature concerning Dieppe and Lord Mountbatten's role in it. Probably only Gen. Patton in our history would have dared to be that audacious--certainly a characteristic that has long died among our senior military leadership.

    However, his killing was no martial deed. In addition to Lord Mountbatten the following died as a result of the command-detonated explosive:

    Nicholas Knatchbull (Mountbatten's 14 year old grandson)
    Paul Maxwell (15 year old crew member)
    Baroness Brabourne (83 year old in law who died of her wounds the next day)

    Also on board and severely injured:
    both the mother and father of Nicholas Knatchbull and Nicholas's twin brother Timothy.

  12. By the way, have you heard the story of the D-Day "rehearsal" that ended in disaster? Hundreds of GIs killed by German E-boats, and a very pissed-off Eisenhower.

    I was a right proper War Nerd back in the day, but I had never heard this story. I also read somewhere that the Germans learned fron this that Normandy was the target, but that the info didn't reach the high command in time.

    On the other hand, this might also be a plausible explanation for Allied success...

  13. It was called Operation Tiger. More than 700 GI's died near Slapton in south Devon when the E-Boats attacked the landing craft. The late Ken Small fought for years to have both the British and U.S. governments acknowledge the disaster with a memorial. Ultimately, he bought and positioned a formerly sunken Sherman tank on the beach. After this occurred, the U.S. government set up an official memorial at Torcross.

    The Allies succeeded because the Germans did not end up fighting the decisive battle on the beaches. Their panzer units were all held in reserve until the moment for action had passed. Hitler had no one to blame but himself for personally taking control of the panzers.

    Similar mistakes have been repeatedly early an often since that day.

  14. Thanks for the amplifying info, John. Excellent.


  15. Jon S.12:18 PM

    While the Dieppe raid and Operation Tiger might have been disastrous and should have never taken place, lessons were learned from them that saved a lot of lives on D-Day. They were not a complete waste.

  16. Quite right. Success is the ultimate antidote to previous failures.

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