With all the D-Day 70th anniversary stuff……..some stories you don’t hear too often. Or not enough. Or at all.
Juno Beach and the Canadians
In 1994 then-US President Bill Clinton called a group of historians to the White House advise him on his forthcoming trip to the Fiftieth Anniversary D-Day commemorations in Normandy. Clinton, a savvy monitor of the political pulse, wanted their advice on what would be the appropriate messages to touch on at the event. One participant, the great military historian John Keegan, gave this advice: “Remember the Canadian contribution” and he was spot on. Too often it is British this and American that, and the 14,000 Canadians (3,000 in the first wave) who stormed, took and secured Juno Beach are overlooked. By the end of the day they had advanced furthest of the Allied armies. Theirs is a singular achievement little acknowledged outside Canada and it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Churchill, Eisenhower and the King
Perhaps Dwight Eisenhower’s greatest asset was his diplomatic skill. It was a skill he frequently had to draw on while overseeing the D-Day planning. Not only did he have to deal with his bosses in Washington, FDR and George Marshall , alpha-male generals/psychopaths-in-uniform Patton and Montgomery, the Eiffel Tower-sized ego of Charles de Gaulle, sundry national governments in exile in London, the normal personality clashes of a huge staff planning a major operation……and then there was Winston, the most outsize, alpha-male personality of the lot. Churchill, for reasons I won’t go into here, remained dubious about the D-Day plan almost to the end. As the date drew closer he confided in Eisenhower that he was warming to the plan. Then, at the end of a planning meeting, just as he got up to leave Churchill dropped the bombshell.
He would go in with the first wave, or at least would be on the beaches very soon after. Certainly on D-Day.
Imagine the dropped jaws, the stunned silence. Eisenhower and everybody involved tried to dissuade him but Winston wasn’t to be persuaded otherwise. He would be with the troops, shoulder to shoulder, like his younger self or perhaps his ancestor Marlborough. He refused to even consider the possibilities that his death, or worse, capture, would hand the Germans a huge propaganda victory. Eisenhower had FDR talk to him. He pleaded with Churchill’s wife Clementine to speak to him. He had the British war cabinet lay out what a disaster, at best a monumental distraction, this would be. To no avail. Then Eisenhower played his last card.
Churchill was summoned to Buckingham Palace. King George VI, head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, advised and primed by Eisenhower, ordered Churchill to desist with this plan and told him plainly his wasn’t going. Churchill was furious, but a direct order from his King was something the monarchist in Winston could not ignore. For days he would barely speak to the Supreme commander. However on D-Day he was in the House of Commons, inspiring a wider audience and publicly lauding Eisenhower for his courage. He was well out of harm’s way.
He finally made it to Normandy on D-Day+7.
The Double Bluff
Of course one of the great stories of Overlord is the brilliant deception operation to keep the Germans in the dark about Allied intentions, where the armies would land, how many divisions were involved etc. It helped that British Intelligence had rounded up every German spy in Britain at the start of the war. They were given the choice of face execution, or co-operate in feeding the Germans whatever the Allies chose to feed them. One agent in particular, codename Garbo, turned and working for the British, had a stellar reputation in German intelligence circles, unaware as they were that he fed them tidbits from his British masters.
Throughout early ’44, there was a constant stream of intel naming the Pas-de-Calais as the place for the landings that the Germans knew were coming. They believed anything else would be a feint. The Germans duly stationed their armor in the region anticipating the landing would come across the Strait of Dover. Oddly enough, the most skeptical German was Hitler, who considered Normandy a possibility.
Now most people know that the Allies spent months priming the Germans for an attack at Calais and they were successful. What most people don’t know is what happened next. In the early morning of June 6th, the allies took an extraordinary calculated gamble. They allowed Garbo to correctly inform the Germans that the invasion would land in Normandy.
The coded message was sent through Garbo’s usual channels — by radio to the German embassy in Stockholm, then to Abwehr HQ in Berlin and from there to Rastenburg, the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters in the East. At every stage the message had to be coded and re-coded before it was sent on. The early hours of June 6th ticked away. When the message reached Rastenburg, there was further delay as Hitler slept late and was not to be disturbed. By the time he woke to the new intel at hand, the Allies had already stormed the beaches and secured vital footholds.
But what the “true” intel had done (apart from bolstering Garbo’s reputation as their most reliable spy) was to sow discord among the Nazi high command. Hitler, never really convinced about the Pas de-Calais was for sending the panzers to Normandy. The Generals were adamant it could only be a feint. By the time the tanks were unleashed the Allies were ashore, the beachheads were secure and the Germans had missed their chance to throw the invaders back into the sea.