By June, 1944, it was widely known among the leadership of the warring nations that Hitler’s productive capacity would not be able to win World War II. It was widely known that Germany did not have enough oil to stop the Russian advance in the east. It was widely known that Hitler was becoming delusional about his chances and would not allow Model’s Army Group Center to retreat although the south was lost.
But the Western Allies (led by the United States) invaded continental Europe anyway.
It was widely known in military and intelligence circles that England could rest safely in dominance of its sea passages. It was widely known that Germany’s “super weapons” like the V-2 and the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter wouldn’t change the outcome of the war. Intelligence and scientific experts agreed that German science would not produce an atomic bomb before America (we didn’t even know if we could produce one).
In short, we didn’t have to land in Normandy. Hitler would have lost anyway.
With the Winter Line in Italy broken, Monte Cassino taken and the German 10th Army in full retreat, there was nowhere for the Nazis to go. In fact, if General Mark Clark had not disobeyed orders (he instead made a triumphal entry into Rome), the entire 10th Army would have been captured or destroyed.
So, given all that, why did Eisenhower, Churchill, and Roosevelt decide to risk over 150,000 troops, 6,939 naval vessels, and over 2,200 bombers to gain a tiny foothold in the Cotentin Peninsula? Why did we proceed with Operation Neptune?
It wasn’t really to appease Stalin, although the Russian dictator continually complained that the Western Allies were taking their sweet time pinning down Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s extensive command as OB West (Army Group B, G, and H, and Panzer Group West). Those troops would be freed to move east to counter the Soviets if we had not invaded. But von Rundstedt had no stomach for fighting Russians. Stalin’s Operation Bagration, generally agreed by historians to be the death knell for Germany, would have proceeded anyway.
Eisenhower, Churchill and Roosevelt knew what the Russians represented. They invaded for the sake of liberty. If the Western Allies liberated France and defeated Germany, those countries would remain free. If Russia conquered all of Germany, they would have suffered the same fate as East Germany. Instead of an Iron Curtain, there would be a Communist Continent, demarcated only by the intrusion of the Alps to protect Switzerland, Italy and Greece from Stalin’s boot.
The men who fought the Germans on June 6, 1944 didn’t know any of this. They knew they had to fight to beat the enemy. The 4,413 who gave their lives, including 2,499 Americans, did so not for the sake of winning, but for the cause of liberty.
We should remember that, 72 years later, when our troops are deployed in places like Afghanistan, or protecting the blood-soaked hills of South Korea. We owe no debt to those countries; in fact, from a strictly financial or realpolitik viewpoint, there’s little value to us being there.
We must apply America’s greatness and strength with the goal of defending and preserving freedom and liberty. Only then do we honor what those men, 72 years ago today, fought and died for.