1. A forecast that may have won the war
D-Day was originally scheduled for June 5, 1944 but poor weather predictions influenced General Dwight D. Eisenhower to delay the invasion. Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist, British Capt. James Stagg stood alone in his assessment of impending rough seas and high winds for the English Channel against the predictions of his colleagues. The improved weather on June 6, while not ideal, is often cited in the overall success of Operation Overlord.
2. The landing craft boats were originally designed for use in Louisiana swamps
Lumber businessman and former Nebraska National Guard Infantry Officer Andrew Higgins had a hard time extracting hardwood trees from the back swamps of Louisiana. His early 1900s era boats kept running aground in the shallow waters. To remedy this, he designed a shallow draft boat and continued to improve the design over the next few decades. After several unsuccessful years of trying to sell his boats, he finally landed a contract with the U.S. Government which purchased more than 20,000 of the Land Craft Vehicle Personnel ships. His boats served in North Africa, Italy, Normandy and the islands of the Pacific.
General Eisenhower once called Higgins “the man who won the war for us.”
Read more: http://www.higginsmemorial.com/higgins.asp
3. The son of a U.S. President stormed the beaches of Normandy
Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of U.S. President and Spanish-American War Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, was no stranger to combat. He had been gassed and wounded in the battle of Soissons during World War I and was quick to volunteer for WWII. Brigadier General Roosevelt had already led troops in Northern Africa and Sicily when he was reassigned to England to assist in the Normandy Invasion. Roosevelt’s several requests to land with the first wave of the invasion were denied, but his final petition was accepted.
Roosevelt at 56 was the oldest man and only general in the first wave to storm the beaches of Normandy. In addition he was the only father to serve with his son on D-Day. His son Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II landed at Omaha beach.
General Roosevelt who had longstanding health problems, arthritis, a heart condition and injuries sustained in WWI, charged the beach with his cane and pistol. Upon learning that the unit had drifted a mile off course during the landing he modified the original plans under fire to attain objective success. Gen. Omar Bradley later recalled that Ted Roosevelt displayed the single most heroic action he had ever seen in combat.
A little over a month after D-Day, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. died of a heart attack. He was buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the beach landing on Sept. 28 1944.
4. Eisenhower and Churchill both feared defeat
General Eisenhower prepared a letter that was to be opened in the event of the invasion’s defeat. It reads “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” He dated the letter July 5 instead of June 5, a simple error from a man under extreme pressure. The contingency letter was labeled “In case the Nazis won.”
Winston Churchill knew defeat all too well. It was his decisions that resulted in the deaths of as many as 58,000 French and British troops during the Gallipoli campaign during WWI. Churchill was removed from his position as First Admiralty of the Navy and the botched invasion weighed so heavily on him that he volunteered to serve in the trenches on the western front.
The invasion of Normandy brought back all too familiar feelings of sending men to their deaths. The charismatic and confident leader confided in his wife on the night of June 5, “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”
5. At Omaha Beach, 9,387 Americans are buried
Thousands of Americans died during the invasion on D-Day and following operations. On D+2 (June 8) the U.S. Army created the American St. Laurent Cemetery adjacent to Omaha Beach to begin the burials of those who died in the past 36 hours. After the war, the cemetery was moved closer to the beach and rededicated as the Normandy American Cemetery. The next of kin of all the deceased were given the option to repatriate their loved ones to the United States or have them be buried at an American cemetery overseas.
The cemetery includes 3 Medal of Honor recipients, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., his brother Quentin who was killed in WWI, Army Air Corps crews who were shot down over France as early as 1942 and two of the Niland brothers which the movie Saving Private Ryan is based on.
6. What did we miss? Tell us in the comments.