This June, the eyes of the world begin to turn to the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy.
Cruise Adviser asked Regent’s onboard enrichment lecturer, Terry Bishop to give us a small excerpt from his onboard talk on the events and incidents of this significant moment in history. Terry will be aboard Seven Seas Voyager as the ship sails in Honfleur in June, just as the commemorations begin.
You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months…
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force
“I can think of little better than sitting outside a small French café in the sunshine with a bucket of Moules Marinières, a basket of bread and a glass of vin blanc! If such a location can also boast a sea view and an atmosphere infused with history then I am doubly contented.
The Normandy channel town of Arromanches offers such an association of satisfactions. But the serenity of the scene on a fine spring day is offset by the images of the thousands of men who poured ashore along this 50 miles stretch of coastline almost 70 years ago. For this is the emotive arena of D-Day, the largest amphibious assault since Admiral Vernon tried to take Cartagena de Indias from the Spanish in 1741!
Following Hitler’s rapid conquest of most of Europe, and the rampage through north Africa, aided by Italy’s Mussolini as his disciple, it was inevitable that the allies, bolstered by the post Pearl Harbour forces of the USA would seek victory through the liberation of the occupied territories. Hitler had taken on the resolve and patriotic zeal of Josef Stalin and the Russians through an ill-timed and over ambitious eastwards assault and the ‘Eastern Front’ would drain Germany of its limited man-power and resources.
General Bernard Montgomery’s victory at El Alamein in the east combined with the arrival of American forces, through Operation Torch in the west, would eventually free North Africa of the Axis powers. The Casablanca Conference in January 1943 between Churchill and President Roosevelt would decide the next step. Stalin was pushing for an immediate ‘second front’ in northern Europe to relieve the pressure on Russia, but preparations for such an endeavour would take time, and Churchill was keen to use the forces available in Africa to an immediate advantage. The invasion of Sicily was launched alongside the preparations for the ‘second front’ via a huge assault across the English Channel.
Sicily was secured by mid-August and despite the overthrow of Mussolini and the surrender of his forces, Operations Baytown, Slapstick and Avalanche would see allied forces land in Italy and grind their way north towards Rome in their desire to push the Germans out of the country.
In southern England the build-up of resources, materials and man-power was relentless, with a target of June 1944 for the ‘great crusade’ to be launched. The planning for the landings was meticulous together with the games of deception being played to fool the Germans hunkering down behind Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ – the miles of concrete gun emplacements, reinforced trenches and coastal and beach defences that had been constructed during the four years of occupation.
Operation Bodyguard convinced Hitler that the attack would come across the narrowest stretch of the Channel to the Pas de Calais, and he retained significant forces there in anticipation.
The French Resistance were finely tuned to respond to coded messages – lines from a poem by Paul Verlaine called the Chanson d ’Automne – with a four stage programme of sabotage and demolition. All that was required was a date – a ‘D-Day’.
Eisenhower had chosen the 5th June, but adverse weather necessitated a delay. With the ‘grand plan’ already in motion, further delay could have been disastrous. Chief Meteorologist Group Captain Stagg noted a window of opportunity for the following day. Just after midnight on the 6th June the airborne troops were on their way to secure essential locations behind the landing beaches and from ports along the south coast of England the vast armada of nearly 7,000 vessels sallied forth to congregate off of the Isle of Wight before setting their courses to the five chosen beaches.
83,000 British and Canadian soldiers headed for the areas code named Gold, Sword and Juno, with 73,000 Americans targeting the beaches of Omaha and Utah.
At 6.30am, following a terrific naval bombardment and strategic bombing by the combined air-forces the first landing craft came within range of the defenders guns.
At a high casualty cost, but lower than anticipated, five beach-heads were established and a slow but persistent advance inland was commenced. German resistance in the ‘bocage’ countryside of the undulating rural landscape was fierce and die-hard, but the succeeding waves of men and material onto the beaches would prove to be irresistible.
The construction of two artificial concrete caisson harbours and a cross-channel fuel pipeline would allow speedier support to the front line as it advanced to its two main targets – the harbour of Cherbourg and the iconic city of Paris.
With the landing of allied forces in the south of France on the 15th August code named Operation Dragoon, and the liberation of Paris on the 24th August the advance on Berlin had truly begun.
Cemeteries and memorials dot the coastline together with the residual concrete detritus of war, and the liberation landings on the French coast are well displayed in the museum at Arromanches, just a few yards from the café where one can sit and view the remains of the concrete harbour and toast the heroes of D-Day, June 6th 1944 with another glass of vin blanc.
Terry Bishop is one of our accomplished enrichment lecturers onboard bringing destinations to life through his lifelong interest in worldwide history, exploration and discovery – ancient and modern – particularly of British forces overseas (France to the Falklands), both land and sea based, has been supplemented by getting to the roots (and often the mud!) of the issues.
He has led groups of walkers across many of the battlefields of Europe and he has explored the sites of battles wider afield such as The Little Big Horn and The Zulu Wars. As many of you are sure to attest, Terry is an experienced presenter, aiming always to inform and entertain, using pictures to their ultimate advantage and incorporating humour, music and song into his presentations whenever possible.
And, being an accomplished folk musician and entertainer, when not ‘lecturing’ with Regent on the high seas, he can be found singing and playing his guitar or banjo in and around his local area or working around their mountainside retreat and walking and guiding in the Sierra de Tejeda.