D-DAY 70: Under a blanket of cloud
The Advertiser’s coverage of the ’44 invasion was extensive, but most people knew someone taking part anyway, as BARRIE HUDSON reports...
SWINDON didn’t really need the Adver to tell it that D-Day had dawned on Tuesday, June 6, 1944.
Having had their sleep disturbed by the thrum of aircraft engines overhead, all heading in the same direction, they knew something big was happening.
Many of the aircraft were carrying personnel and supplies for what is still the biggest invasion of its kind, while others were bombers tasked with pulverising the defences the Germans had built during four years of occupation.
Airborne troops were parachuted into the Normandy countryside hours ahead of the seaborne landing, which began at 6.30am.
The paratroopers’ mission was to sabotage enemy artillery, cause mayhem among the defenders and secure routes. Landing craft brought more than 150,000 British, Canadian and American men ashore in five zones spread over some 50 miles of coastline.
The names of those five zones – Utah, Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha – were immortal world history by sundown.
“SLASHING INTO FRANCE,” ran the Evening Advertiser’s headline a few hours later.
We wrote: “‘Commun-ique No 1’ set the world agog today.
“It was issued from Supreme GQ Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF for short) at 9.33am.
“It stated: “Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied Armies this morning on the Northern Coast of France.”
That first report revealed that more than 640 naval guns were bombarding coastal defences.
An unnamed correspondent sent back a report from the scene: “The Allied Troops landed in Europe under a blanket of cloud, 5,000 feet thick.
“In a flight up and down the French Coast we could see nothing except clouds, the flash of heavy flak exploding and a pale pinkish glow in the clouds in the area of the heavy bombardment.
“The airborne troops who appeared over Tactical Bomber bases just before the bombers took off dropped to the ground through cloud.
“Over the Channel close to the British coast, the cloud broke and we could see escorted landing craft leaving long twin wakes in the Channel behind them.”
By the time first June 6 edition hit the streets, we were already reporting that two beachheads had been secured.
By the end of the day, they would all be secured at the cost of more than 4,000 Allied troops killed and more than 7,000 wounded.
What the world didn’t know for many years was that Eisenhower’s announcement of success wasn’t the only message he drafted in relation to the invasion.
The success of the landings, against such an entrenched, well-equipped enemy, was never guaranteed. Until the Allies arrived in France, they didn’t know for sure how much resistance they would meet.
That other message drafted by Eisenhower, which mercifully never had to be issued, 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 on 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.”