The British & Commonwealth D-Day Story

Mat McLachlan interviews military historian Paul Reed, highlighting the British and Commonwealth’s essential role in the D-Day Landings and Operation Neptune.

Online PR News – 04-June-2020 – Sydney, Australia – On 6 June 1944 the Allies landed around 156,000 ground troops on five assault beaches in Normandy – Utah Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, the Allies had established themselves on shore and could begin their advance into France. Involved in these landings were over 83,000 British and Commonwealth ground troops (over 61,000 of them British), supported by 7900 airborne troops, 73,000 American ground troops and 15,500 American airborne troops. Up to 3000 Australians were involved in the D-Day landings, most were airmen – flying decoys and dropping paratroopers into conflict – with men also serving in Allied units under other flags. Around 200 Australian soldiers were among the 600-strong naval and merchant ship fleet carrying troops to Normandy ahead of the landings.

Mat McLachlan: “D-Day is one of those topics that I think everyone feels they know about but there's always something more to learn. It was just such a huge venture just such a such a great undertaking. Today, let’s talk about the British contribution because it was a very significant part of the story and one often overlooked.”

Someone who knows about this in great detail is British military historian Paul Reed: “Absolutely, I mean if you watch Saving Private Ryan it is one of the defining movies of the Second World War of recent times it really underplays and down plays the contribution of the of the British and Commonwealth forces in the D-Day operations…. positing that the real murder on D-Day, the casualties were at Omaha but really every beach was a difficult landing and there were tremendous casualties on all of the Normandy beaches.”

Paul Reed: “There were two purposes from the British point of view. The aim of the landings on the British and Commonwealth beaches – Sword, Juno and Gold - was to push inland and capture the ground between Bayeux and Caen to open up the routes beyond Normandy and assist the breakout push into Paris. If you get Paris you've got France, from France you've got Belgium, from Belgium you've got the Netherlands, and the Netherlands give you a routes into Nazi Germany and the defeat at the Third Reich.

“Initially for the Americans, with the landing in the sector between Omaha and Utah, the task was to capture the Cherbourg Peninsula and go for a deep water port so they could resupply their troops directly from the United States and not have to come through Britain. Then once they'd done that the US plan was to build up their forces and then assist in the Allied breakout from Normandy - because we can't see these Allied partners in isolation, it was coalition warfare.
“We've got to emphasise the fact that victory was only possible through this coalition, but we've also got to see imbalance - for the first month of the D-Day operation most men on the ground were from Britain and the Commonwealth. It took that time to build up American troops.

“If you look at where German units were on the eve of D-Day many of them were up in northern France… to approach Normandy they were going to approach the area where the British would come in, so it turned that area of the battlefields into what some people described as Monty's meat-grinder where unit after unit was thrown in to contain these German forces and fight this attritional battle that was in many respects an overture back to the First World War - grind down the enemy with the intention of achieving ultimate breakthrough once the Americans were prepared to assist you on your flanks.

“That is essentially what happened later on in the campaign, but on D-Day it was about establishing that bridge and looking at places to land…”

Listen to the whole interview and the British and Commonwealth D-Day story here:

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