Following hours of aerial and naval bombardment, heavily laden troop transports pushed through the swell toward the immense fortifications of the Atlantic Wall that Hitler had termed 'Fortress Europe' with a single objective in mind – liberate Europe. As the troop transports steadily moved towards the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, paratroopers dropped behind the lines began sowing discord and harassing the combined German forces under the command of famous German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
With the pieces in place, the stage was set for the greatest amphibious operation in human history and the beginning of the end for Hitler's 'Thousand Year' Third Reich. Planning began for what would become D-Day and Operation Overlord in 1943 following repeated calls by Soviet leader Josef Stalin for the Western Allies to open a second front against Germany as the nation consolidated its forces on the Eastern Front following the decimation at Stalingrad.
It was decided that prior to an allied invasion of Europe through France, the US and British would stage a series of counter offensives through the Mediterranean theatre with a focus on north Africa and Italy – with the campaign in north Africa successfully won in 1943, it paved the way for the allied invasion of Sicily and the subsequent invasion of the Italian mainland in September of 1943.
Four sites were considered for the allied landings: Britanny, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy and the Pas-de-Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected – meanwhile, the thin sliver of water between Pas-de-Calais was recognised by the defenders as the "most likely" spot for an Allied counter attack and was heavily defended.
In contrast, Normandy provided a broad front enabling simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, while also enabling an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. However, Normandy wasn't without its limitations and challenges – the lack of port facilities would need to be overcome to in order to fully support the planned allied push into continental Europe.
The Allies planned to launch their invasion on 1 May 1944, with the initial draft accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) while famous British General Bernard 'Monty' Montgomery was named as the commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all land forces involved in the invasion.
The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and to speed the capture of Cherbourg. The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.
Eventually, 39 Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: 22 US, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish and one French, totalling over a million troops – all of which would be placed under the overall command of the British.
In contrast, Germany had 50 divisions at its disposal across France and the Low Countries, with another 18 based in Denmark and Norway – with an additional 15 in the process of formation in Germany. Under the overall command of the Führer, operational command was delegated to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who struggled to properly equip their forces as a result of continued Soviet counter offensives on the Eastern Front sapping resources.
Remembering the sacrifice
As the success of Operation Overlord became increasingly likely and the end of the Reich became increasingly apparent, the true horrors of totalitarianism were revealed to the world. As the world was exposed to horrors of ethnic cleansing, eugenics and human experimentation, the sacrifices of the Allies became increasingly justifiable to liberate the continent and world from tyranny.
The end of the Second World War would signal the birth of the modern era, a period of relative peace and prosperity despite the advent of the Cold War and subsequent proxy conflicts as the neo-liberal global economic, political and strategic order established by the US sought to rid the world of the blight of totalitarian dictatorships.
Today's world is now falling victim to the rise of similar personalities and leaders to those who terrorised Europe and the Pacific. As totalitarian leaders in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia continue to empower themselves and enhance the capacity of their nations to infringe on the liberties, interests and freedoms of both individuals and democratic nations around the world, we are reminded that the preservation of a free world and the freedoms we as Australians enjoy is something that requires constant vigilance, nurturing and protection.
Australia is key to supporting the continued liberation of the world and must now accept its role and responsibilities in an increasingly challenging part of the world.
Australia’s security and prosperity are directly influenced by the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, meaning Australia must be directly engaged as both a benefactor and leader in all matters related to strategic, economic and political security, serving as either a replacement or complementary force to the role played by the US – should the US commitment or capacity be limited.
In the famous words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely."
Today, we commemorate the day 75 years ago that the Allies struck back against tyranny and oppression. By the time the Battle for Normandy was already several hours old, hundreds had given their lives, from the paratroopers and sailors through to the Rangers at Pointe-Du-Hoc and those brave pilots from around the world, including Australia – we say thank you.