“Striking a blow for freedom” D-day minus One

Photo: Martin’s map of the landing beaches

725 words / 4 minute read

On the morning of June 5, Eisenhower wrote a message, in his own hand, to be published in the event of failure.  It read:  “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.”

 The meeting at Eisenhower’s headquarters at four-fifteen that morning was, Air Marshal Robb noted, “very brief.”  The overnight weather charts were examined, and nothing was found to alter the previous evening’s decision to go.  The orders had already gone out to start the day’s military, air, and naval moves.

 During June 5 a message from Montgomery was read to all troops preparing to embark for Normandy.  Their Commander-in-Chief had his own distinctive style, and also a quotation from the seventeenth-century soldier poet the Earl of Montrose.  “Monty’s” message read:

 “1.  The time has come to deal the enemy a terrific blow in Western Europe.

            The blow will be struck by the combined sea, land and air forces of the Allies – together constituting one great Allied team, under the supreme command of General Eisenhower.

 “2.  On the eve of this great adventure I send my best wishes to every soldier in the Allied team.

            To us is given the honour of striking a blow for freedom which will live in history; and in the better days that lie ahead men will speak with pride of our doings.  We have a great and righteous cause.

            Let us pray that ‘The Lord Mighty in Battle’ will go forth with our armies, and that His special providence will aid us in the struggle.

 “3.  I want every soldier to know that I have complete confidence in the successful outcome of the operations that we are now about to begin.

            With stout hearts, and with enthusiasm for the contest, let us go forward to victory.

 “4.  And, as we enter the battle, let us recall the words of a famous soldier spoken many years ago:

                        He either fears his fate too much,

                                    Or his deserts are small,

                        Who dare not put it to the touch,

                                    To win or lose it all.

 “5.  Good luck to each one of you.  And good hunting on the mainland of Europe.”

 On the afternoon of June 5 the German Army Intelligence Service informed General Jodl that during the previous night the two lines of poetry from a poem by Paul Verlaine had been heard by the Security Section of the Fifteenth Army.  These were the two lines that had been given as the warning order to one of the Resistance circuits about imminent invasion, to be followed by the more immediate warning of forty-eight hours’ notice.

 Jodl and his advisors took no action.  The lines gave no clue as to their meaning.  However, the Commander-in-Chief of the Fifteenth Army, Colonel General Hans von Salmuth, sensed that something was afoot and ordered standby on the evening of June 5.  But even he waited to give the order until shortly before midnight, after he had received “numerous reports of major sea and air movements” from his Intelligence service.

 It must therefore be presumed, commented General Walter Warlimont, who was serving in Hitler’s headquarters at the time, “that none of those involved, including Jodl, attached much importance to the information.”  Alternatively, he wrote, “they may have been waiting for some more definite confirmation.”

At five o’clock in the afternoon of June 5 the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers on board their ships were addressed by Tannoy loudspeaker systems.  Their message was brief and unambiguous.  For the troops of the Green Howards, who were to land at Gold Beach, and who had been on board Empire Lance, at anchor off the Solent for the past five days, its clarity was a relief:  “At 1745 hours this ship will weigh anchor and, in passage with the remainder of the armada, sail for the coast of France.”  Waiting was over.  Seasickness would soon come to an end.  The battle for which they had trained so long was about to begin.

 Excerpt from D-Day

 Read: D-Day

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