80 years of D-Day: Beginning of the end for Nazi Germany – DW – 06/05/2024 (2024)

It was the largest such maneuver in history: Operation Overlord, the landing of Allied troops in German-occupied France, had been planned and practiced for months.

Bad weather delayed the operation, but, on June 6, 1944, the time had come. Thousands of ships, supported from the air, took off from the southern coast of England and brought about 150,000 soldiers from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other Allied countries to the beaches of Normandy. Their goal was to liberate France and then advance on Germany to put an end to Nazi rule throughout Europe.

When Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler learned of the invasion, he is said to have gleefully remarked: "As long as they were in England, we couldn't lay our hands on them. Now, we finally have them where we can beat them."

The German army, the Wehrmacht, had indeed been preparing. The coast of occupied France had been heavily secured with bunkers and artillery emplacements, known as the Atlantic Wall. However, the largest German military units were waiting in the wrong place, near Calais, where the English Channel is at its narrowest. The Wehrmacht had fallen for a deliberate deception.

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Germans outnumbered,outgunned

It was a battle with heavy losses — on both sides. The Germans fired from their positions at the soldiers coming ashore. Heavy fighting continued inland, behind the beaches and around the villages and towns in the hinterland.

The Germans were outnumbered and outgunned; the tank reserve was their only hope. However, Hitler left it too late to give the go-ahead for tanks to intervene.

There was a very banal reason for this, military historian Peter Lieb told DW: Hitler's habit of staying up late and rising up at midday. That's what happenedon June 6, 1944.

"That morning, when the tanks should have been deployed quickly, Hitler was still asleep," Lieb said. "Nobody dared to wake him up, and the High Command of the Wehrmacht did not have the courage to disregard an order from the Führer and just go ahead and deploy the tanks."

80 years of D-Day: Beginning of the end for Nazi Germany – DW – 06/05/2024 (1)

Hitler's unconditional order to never retreat was also to prove fatal. His decree was:"There is no evasion and operation here. It is a case of standing firm — hold or die."

The German soldiers were worn down. "The Allies won," Lieb said, "because they had air supremacy, because they had naval supremacy, because they had the element of surprise and because they had been practicing for this day for months."

On August 25, the Allied Forces liberated Paris. The German occupation of France came to an end soon afterward. The death toll in the few weeks after June 6, 1944, was extremely high on both sides — including among French civilians. Tens of thousands of German and Allied soldiers were killed, as well as thousands of civilians.

World War II would continue for more than nine months, claiming millions more lives.

Germany joins commemorations

The commemoration of D-Day has its own history. For the former Allies, June 6 soon became a fixture for commemoration. The ceremonies in Normandy regularly brought together veterans, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, the American and French presidents and other heads of state and government.

German dignitaries were not invited for a long time — and the country's leaders had no objections. In 1984, Chancellor Helmut Kohl said "There is no reason for the German chancellor to rejoice when others celebrate their victory in a battle in which tens of thousands of Germans perished miserably."

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"Kohl came from a generation that had very much been shaped by the war," Lieb said. "He was close to members of the generation that had lived through the war. And, for them, it would have been unthinkable to celebrate together with American, British and French soldiers."

Slowly, however, the narrative was established that "the landing in Normandy was also the beginning of the end of the German Reich and thus also the beginning of democracy in Germany."

The first German chancellor to attend the D-Day celebrations was Gerhard Schröder, in 2004. Today, the participation of the former enemy, Germany, has become widely accepted. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also intends to take part.

Russia will not take part in 80th D-Day event

This year, one of the most sensitive issues was whether to invite a representative from Russia. D-Day was the beginning of a "second front" in the war, which Soviet leader Josef Stalin had urgently been calling for following the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. With an estimated 20 million dead, the Soviet Union had by far the highest number of casualties of all parties in the war.

80 years of D-Day: Beginning of the end for Nazi Germany – DW – 06/05/2024 (2)

To honor the Soviet contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany, the French hosts invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the 60th and even the 70th D-Day anniversaries. The latter took place in 2014, just weeks after the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

"After 1989/'90, there was great euphoria that the world would be more peaceful, that Russia, as a democratic state, would adopt the Western model of society," Lieb said. That, he added,changed completely with the start of Russia's full-fledged war on Ukrainein 2022.

Despite criticism from the US, UK and Germany, French leaders had considered inviting the Russian ambassador to attend this year's 80thcommemoration ceremony, but ultimately decided against it.

"In view of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which has intensified in recent weeks, the conditions are simply not right," read a message from the office of French President Emmanuel Macron. Russia will not have a representative at the event.

Instead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will travel to France. Together with Macron, US President Joe Biden, Britain's Prince William, Germany's Olaf Scholz, some of the last surviving veteransand other state guests, he will commemorate 80 years since the originalD-Day on the beaches ofNormandy.

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

80 years of D-Day: Beginning of the end for Nazi Germany – DW – 06/05/2024 (2024)


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