The significance of D-DAY
June 13, 2004
Guyanese and Caribbean service people contributed to a military victory which which was a major turning point in the battles against German fascism.
I WAS greatly honoured to have been present on Sunday, June 6 at a service organised by the Barbados Legion to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landings by Allied forces on French beaches during World War 11.
More popularly known as D-Day, it involved the going ashore in June 1944 of 175,000 British, American, Canadian and units of other nationalities at several beaches on the French region of Normandy. France was then occupied by German forces. Leaving from bases in south England, some 50,000 vehicles including tanks and motor-cycles were also landed. Above, 11,000 planes ensured ensured that the Allies had air superiority.
Despite being tricked that the landings would take place further up the coast, the Germans put up some stiff resistance. Hitler and his generals knew knew that a successful opening of a western front would mean the end of his Third Reich. It was an evil fascist regime.
Some of the best battle-tested German army divisions were there. They also booby trapped and mined the beaches and other possible landing sites. They fought well and credit must go to the rank and file German soldier and most of the officer corps. A sixth of the `defending’ troops were, however, of Eastern European origin (Tartars, Cossacks, Georgians) and forcibly signed up.
Three months later, the German forces were running back to Germany, having suffered approximately 250,000 dead and wounded and 4,000 tanks and other heavy guns destroyed or captured. Less than a year later, after Soviet troops had overrun Berlin and met up with other Allied forces coming from the west and south, Germany surrendered.
As we in Guyana saw while watching the news and reading about the impressive celebrations in France last weekend to mark the 60th anniversary, D-Day is a significant event. It is commemorated in England and Europe with deep emotion and a knowledge of its profound military and political dimensions. This year's activity was perhaps the most memorable, occurring as it did when so many of the veterans are growing old and despite some persons trying unsuccessfully (they are completely different) to link the D-Day landings with the US-led invasion of Iraq.
To this writer's knowledge, there were virtually no Guyanese or Caribbean servicemen who participated in the D-Day landings on the first day. As more troops later came over from England as reinforcements and, using France to go onto the European theatre, they may have come in as members of British and Canadian units.
Guyanese and Caribbean service men and women did, however, contribute to the success of the operations, or `Operation Overlord’ as it was code named. Aside from helping defeat the German Navy's U-boat campaign in the Caribbean earlier in the War, hundreds of men and women from the then British colonies in then BG and the circum-Caribbean area (including British Honduras) served in Royal Air force units for example. Volunteers from India, Ceylon and other Asian countries also assisted in the European theatre as well as in battles against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Many more people laboured in the background training and providing logistical backup for the invasion. According to the book `Why the Allies Won’ (Norton, 1995) by Richard Overy, almost nine million tonnes of supplies and 800,000 troops were shipped over from the United States between January and June 1944. Ordinary working Americans, British and other Allied peoples sacrificed and put their all into the war effort in their fight for freedom and democracy, or "righteous cause" and "moral certainty" as Overy puts it. Parents saw off their sons, knowing that they may not see them alive again. Indeed, some 170,000 Allied soldiers lost their lives or were wounded in Normandy.
Noted Overy: "Victory (in Normandy) depended on a great many things: the prodigious organisation of supplies by sea and air, meticulous planning, the solid virtues of civilian management. But two explanations stand out above the rest. The first is ...airpower...and the second factor was deception (that the invasion would take place elsewhere)."
Another of the speakers at the Barbados ceremony was Mr. Julian Marryshaw, a Grenada-born former RAF pilot whose 193 squadron helped provide air support for the landings. Talking with this writer afterwards, he said he remembered two Guyanese who were also pilots: Dusty Miller, who later became a Chief Justice in an African country, and Ron Hall, later a dentist in London. Aside from those who served on the front lines, many Caribbean people were aircraft mechanics, nurses and in other backup fields.
In an inspiring and moving commemorative address at the Barbados Legion function and speaking on behalf of the British Army, Major General JDC Graham pointed to three main reasons why Germany lost the overall war. One was the mammoth material aid from the United States; secondly the existence of the English Channel which prevented the invasion of the British Isles by German forces; and thirdly, the successes of the Red Army of the Soviet Union on the eastern front which, he said, "bled the German army white".
Major General Graham praised the Russian people for their sacrifices (they suffered millions of casualties both military and civilian) and commended the presence of the present President of Russia, Vladimir Putin at the ceremonies in France over the weekend.
The retired British Army officer concluded that those Nazi leaders who were put on trial at Nuremberg after the war and executed were "criminals who fully deserved the treatment they got." Though he didn't have time to elaborate, Major General Graham would probably agree that there were many more of those conscious, organised elements who escaped by hoodwinking US forces that they were providing intelligence about `Bolshevism’. The Russians at Nuremburg expressed their concern that so many criminals had gotten light prison sentences and/or were never brought to trial. Over a third of all Russian prisoners of war were, for example, executed by the Germans because they were deemed racially inferior Slavs.
On this, the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, let us pay tribute to the brave soldiers who went ashore that day and all those others who contributed in some way. Its success meant that today peoples of all races may have better opportunities to deepen our democracy and live together in peace, friendship and material well-being.
(Norman Faria is Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados)