70 years have passed since, in the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies on the northern coast of France.’ Operation Overlord, or D-Day as the invasion is known to posterity, was astonishing in every sense; not least because weather conditions on 5/6th June 1944 were far from ideal to execute an amphibious landing against a well-entrenched enemy.
Even military men were surprised by the comparatively light casualties (4,413 killed); many had anticipated a bloodbath. Major General Sir Frederick Barton Maurice (a retired soldier who later turned to teaching military history at the University of London) wrote in the Spectator at the end of August 1944:
‘The campaign of Normandy is unique. Three years ago the problem of landing large armies on a closely watched and strongly defended coast was regarded as insoluble. Hitler evidently thought it was insoluble right up to D-Day.’
The problem had been solved, the major general said, by the realisation of an exceptional plan through the application of immense power – military, industrial, financial and scientific:
‘It has been solved by courageous strategy, supported by careful co-ordination of all the means which British and American science and industry have, during the war, placed at the disposal of the Allied land, sea and air forces. Before a landing on the French coast could be attempted we had to secure a high degree of control of the air and such mastery of the Channel as would prevent interference by E and U boats. With the number of Channel and Atlantic ports at the disposal of the enemy this last is probably the more difficult task of the two.‘
In the event, the U-boats, a menace for so much of the war, were routed.